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Rapid acceleration and deceleration are vital for survival in many predator and prey animals and are important attributes of animal and human athletes. Adaptations for acceleration and deceleration are therefore likely to experience strong selective pressures--both natural and artificial. Here, we explore the mechanical and physiological constraints to acceleration. We examined two elite athletes bred and trained for acceleration performance (polo ponies and racing greyhounds), when performing maximal acceleration (and deceleration for ponies) in a competitive setting. We show that maximum acceleration and deceleration ability may be accounted for by two simple limits, one mechanical and one physiological. At low speed, acceleration and deceleration may be limited by the geometric constraints of avoiding net nose-up or tail-up pitching, respectively. At higher speeds, muscle power appears to limit acceleration.

Original publication




Journal article


Biol Lett

Publication Date





610 - 613


Acceleration, Animals, Biomechanical Phenomena, Deceleration, Dogs, Equidae, Running, Selection, Genetic