by RYAN WALSH
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.
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 Hurdling, is 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.
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”).
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.