Sprint Series, Part 1: Starting Stronger

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by RYAN WALSH

Sprint Series, Part 1: Starting Stronger

Starting Stronger: Article 1 is the first of a series for optimal sprint mechanics for the pro athlete or the weekend warrior.

My guess is if you are reading this article, you are interested in improving your sprint mechanics. Why? To have faster speeds than your competition, develop a leaner body composition… the list of reasons to be a capable sprinter go on.

The first article in this series will be focused on general mechanics & the optimal start position. This will allow the athlete to consistently drive aggressively out of the start and set up for a fast sprint down the line. The set-up will become second nature with practice and quality repetition.

Says Who?!?

Much of my influence as a coach for sprint mechanics comes from Dr. Ralph Mann. He was an Olympic Silver Medalist in the 400m hurdles & 5-time national champion in the hurdles, and he earned several other national, collegiate and international titles. He started the Elite Athlete Program, analyzing specifically the sprint and hurdle events. His book, The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdlingis a definite resource for any sprint coach. His practices and models as a coach are based off the best sprinters the world has seen; thus for me as a coach, this is the gold standard for sprinting mechanics and speed development.

Frontside Mechanics

[H]igh speed sprinting is a SKILL and not a natural action! The mechanical positions needed to perform a successful high speed sprint required conscious execution.
One of the critical aspects of Dr. Mann’s work was that through the evaluation of the data of all the world-class sprinters involved, they determined that high speed sprinting is a SKILL and not a natural action! The mechanical positions needed to perform a successful high speed sprint required conscious execution. This is where we get into those positions: Frontside and Backside mechanics. When an athlete sprints, there is movement of the leg forward and backward — flexion and extension — along the sagittal plane. When one divides the sagittal plane in half down the athlete’s body, partitioning into the front and back, you can then describe those actions of flexion and extension of the upper and lower body as Frontside & Backside mechanics: “Frontside” referring to actions occurring on the front of the sagittal plane and “Backside” occurring in the rear. When you tell your average person to run from Point A to Point B as fast as they can, the common action is to let the leg rotate underneath and behind the body — think the commonly-used drill for “butt kicks.” Those are a good example of backside mechanics, an action we want to minimize. According to Mann, it is imperative that Frontside mechanics are emphasized throughout the entire sprint event, as once the athlete fails to maintain them, they are impossible to restore; as such the sprint event is considered failed.

Article Pic 1

Above is a sprinter clearing the blocks. The entire acceleration should emphasize frontside mechanics!

Elite sprinters were found to maximize Frontside mechanics and minimize backside mechanics. So in the sprint, the elite sprinters aggressively pull their upper leg into the high knee position to ready for the next step; in doing so, they minimize the backwards rotation of the upper leg, not letting it rotate underneath and behind (the “backside mechanics”).

TAKEAWAY: The athlete should minimize excessive backwards rotation of the leg during the entire sprint; they should aggressively push down the track and aggressively recover the leg to the high knee position for the next step.

Fast & Aggressive vs “Quick”

So when it comes to accelerating, the goal is maximal development of force down the line. What does this mean when it comes to executing the start? The athlete pushes off from the start, driving down the track. The ground contact times are longer, and as the athlete reaches higher speeds, they shorten as a result. “Quick” can sometimes connote a shortened ground contact time on the start, resulting in slower top end speeds down the line. Longer powerful ground contacts are normal during acceleration. The athlete is not jamming their leg into the ground but instead aggressively pushing down the track.

TAKEAWAY: Short quick steps are a result of high speeds during top speed efforts. During the acceleration, long powerful aggressive steps = faster times down the track!!!
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