2014 Archives

A Faster Human: Are We Unique In Our Ability To Get Better?


The following is from the May 6, 2014, edition of National Public Radio. Peter Weyand, Associate Professor of Applied Physiology and Biomechanics at SMU and one of the world’s foremost experts on human performance, provided expertise for this story.

By Eyder Peralta

Sixty years ago today, Roger Bannister accomplished something humans had only dreamed of decades earlier.

Bannister had become the first human to run a mile in under four minutes, shattering all sorts of notions about the limits of human performance.

As we thought about the 1954 feat and how humans keep pushing the limits of what was once thought impossible, we wondered if it made us unique.

Have animals, for example, gotten faster?

"The best data-based, short answer to your question is no," says Peter Weyand, a Southern Methodist University professor of applied physiology and biomechanics who specializes in the limits of human performance.

Specifically, he was referring to a landmark 2008 study by Stanford biologist Mark Denny.

Denny looked back at as much as a century's worth of records and found that while the performance of racing horses and greyhounds has stagnated for decades, humans have continued to improve.

"The superficial, easy answer why is that you can only get so much out of selective breeding, and [the horses and dogs] are optimized and there's nothing more you can do," Weyand says. "Why are humans getting faster? That part is really complicated, and it's only a partially biological phenomenon."

Read the full story.

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