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Would you run faster in lower air pressure?

  1. Sep 6, 2009 #1
    i was just thinking recently and thought that since drag is caused by a body colliding with air particles. It would be logical to think that when there is relatively lower air pressure, there would be less particles to run into, therefore less drag, and therefore you would run faster.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2009 #2
    Not really, aero drag isnt that important at the speeds humans can run at. Basically is not the limiting factor for speed.

    Strictly speaking yes, less aero drag means that you should be able to run faster, however the benefits are likely to be negligable.

    However! If you are talkuing about less air, then people wouldnt be able to run as fast, less air means less oxygen. It's why althletes specifically do altitude training, to overcome the prople of altitude.
  4. Sep 6, 2009 #3
    A tiny fraction of a second can make the difference between winning a race or breaking a record.Athletes who wear streamlined clothing are given an advantage.
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2009
  5. Sep 6, 2009 #4


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    It is not a new question; but there is no clear answer.
    You should be able to find lots of information about this by googling "1968 Summer Olympics".
    (which took place in Mexico City, 2000 m above the sea).
  6. Sep 6, 2009 #5
    I think if you go by # of world records for the sprints you see they mostly come from European tracks. And they are not high altitude. I think the sprinters and biophysicists have homed in on certain tracks due to their hardness and traction at certain temperatures. I will assume we are not talking about long races like marathons. Fast times clearly come at moderate temperatures 50 to 60 F on courses that are fairly straight and fairly flat to slightly downhill without a lot of variation. Lots of variables that are mostly technique, and track with a good dose of human physiology assuming we pick the right track for sprints. Oxygen would clearly be a concern at high altitude, even for the shorter races.
  7. Sep 6, 2009 #6


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    Races less than about 400m are anerobic - you are burning energy in the muscles. At 800m it' about 50/50 aerobic/anerobic - in a 100m it's a waste of energy to breathe.

    Most records aren't set at altitude - but this is partly because most premier tracks aren't at altitude, the same could be said for latitude - most places near the equator don't have expensive stadiums attracting world class athletes.
    On paper it doesn't look like air density has a significant effect on speed (except perhaps for long jump?) but it might have a psychological effect for an individual athlete.

    There is another real but separate effect - if you train at altitude with reduced oxygen (and ideally if you can arrange for a few 1000 generations of your ancestors to do the same) then compete at sea level you do have an advantage in aerobic (endurance) events.
  8. Sep 6, 2009 #7


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    I am pretty sure that is mainly because the vast majority of international races take place in Europe (which in turn is because Europe is the only place where Athletics is a big sport at the professional level). There are virtually no big events (comparable to Golden League etc) anywhere else in the world (to be honest I can't think of a single one; with the expception of some Marathons).
    Hence, the only time you are likely to see a world record broken anywhere else is during the summer olympics or the world championships.
  9. Sep 6, 2009 #8
    No doubt about training at altitude and then coming down for longer events. There are clear physiological effects. Sprinting is still not well understood though. Myoglobin, which stores oxygen actually might be important in sprinting and the concentration might be reduced at higher altitudes. But I have also seen studies that say myoglobin is not important in sprinting.
    I think this is debate is still up in the "air". No running event is totally anaerobic. I also think premeir tracks might be at altitude if it actually made enough difference. imo if someone thought they could break Bolt's record at altitude, they would make a track at altitude.
  10. Sep 6, 2009 #9
    apparently you run fastest if your name is bolt.
  11. Sep 6, 2009 #10
    I think we could match him in the 100m fall off a building.
  12. Sep 6, 2009 #11
    hes so skinny there may be less drag on him and he'd still beat you by a hair ;)
  13. Sep 6, 2009 #12
    I might be round though...
    Or maybe pear shaped.
  14. Sep 6, 2009 #13
    Am I the only one that finds his name ironic?
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