Sprinters should kick-off with their right foot

All sprinters should start with their right foot in the rear kick-off position on the starting block. Doing so will give them an advantage of about 80ms compared with starting with their left foot in that position. That’s according to Adam Eikenberry and colleagues who say the effect of foot position on starting time has to do with differences in the workings of the left and right brain hemispheres.

Ten experienced and ten novice sprinters were timed as they repeatedly launched into a sprint with either their left or right foot in the rear position on the starting block. The rear foot is the one responsible for driving the sprinter forwards. Regardless of the sprinters’ favoured foot positioning, or their general ‘footedness’, two key findings emerged.

When the left foot was in the rear position, the sprinters tended to respond more quickly to the starting signal, with an average reaction time advantage of about 26 ms. This was judged according to when the force of their foot on the starting block first began to decrease. The researchers said this advantage probably reflects the fact that the right hemisphere, which is largely responsible for control of the left foot, has a more specialised role in attention than the left hemisphere.

However, when the right foot was in the rear position, the actual movement of the sprinters off the block was faster by an average of 104 ms. This ‘movement time’ was measured from the moment that the sprinter’s foot started moving (the instant of reaction) to the moment it was completely clear from the block. The researchers said this movement advantage reflects the left hemisphere’s (controlling the right foot) specialisation in movement execution relative to the right hemisphere.

Overall, these effects meant there was approximately an 80 ms advantage on average to starting with the right foot in the rear position. “The right foot rear response time advantage found in the present study suggests that teachers and coaches in these events should emphasise a right foot rear stance for their athletes,” the researchers said.

EIKENBERRY, A. (2008). Starting with the right foot minimizes sprint start time. Acta Psychologica, 127(2), 495-500. DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2007.09.002

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

5 thoughts on “Sprinters should kick-off with their right foot”

  1. Not convinced by this. The title is probably true but the reasoning is probably false.The sample size is twenty. The split of ten experienced versus ten novices is fair. But I don’t see the split of “footedness”. It was not explicit (in the abstract anyway) that was also 50:50? So without that knowledge I must assume not. It still may be true that the evidence is sufficient to “prove” the faster reaction in the left leg. But “footedness” correlates even more obviously with strength – right footed athletes have stronger right legs. That would surely be more likely to explain the more powerful push-off?

  2. Maybe I'm a freak…

    I'm right footed and I started with my right foot in the front…I did this because I pushed off with my front foot, no my back. Then my left foot took my second step (While still “Falling” out of the blocks) then it was up to my right foot to get me balanced and POWER me into the race.

    I'm only a high school sprinter, but I won some awards and no matter if I won or not, I was ALWAYS the first out of the blocks.

    (I also had my right foot (Front) very close to the starting line and my left foot (Back) back pretty far.

  3. I think it’s because the right brain responds to the bell and the left brain anticipates it. I guess this because of the consequence of splitting the corpus collosum. The right brain responds to reality accurately, the left brain explains decisions and attempts to explain behavior in a cohesive way, it interprets and analyzes

    If one was going to be the one to fill in the blanks for an advantage, it would be the left brain

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