Sprint Series, Part 1: Starting Stronger

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by RYAN WALSH

Goals of the Start:

Goals of the Start:

To react quickly, accelerate forcefully! So our goals on this acceleration will be as follows:

  • A quick reaction to the gun/start signal
  • Long powerful steps
  • Hitting positions of extension

3-point or 4-point?

For the purposes of this article, we will say we are racing out of a 4-point stance. The set up for the 3-point stance will be very similar, albeit with one less hand on the ground.

Getting off on the Right Foot

The whole start should be just that — a PUSH! This will allow us to effectively apply force to the ground, as opposed to a “pull.”
See what I did there? Anyway, when we are starting in a sprint, we always want to make sure you have the correct leg forward, so that you can have an effective, quick first step. The way to determine the lead leg is easy: you can do the simple snowboard trick where you have a friend push you from behind, and whatever leg goes forward is your “quick” leg (this is typically your “kicking” leg) — thus the other leg will be the leg in front on our start. This “blocking” leg is usually the non-kicking leg — it is the one you plant with if you were to kick a soccer ball, etc. If you are an Olympic lifter, then usually the front leg in the split jerk will be your lead leg in the 3-point or 4-point start.

Once we have your legs determined, we will now work on our set up. Most sprint events that require you to have a start from a 3-point or 4-point start will have a line for set up. We will usually set up perpendicular to this line.

It’s All About the Angles

I want to give you our end goal for what a proper start position looks like before we delve into how to set it up. The following figures are from The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdling: 2013 Edition by Ralph Mann, Ph.D., used by permission of the author.

Article Pic 2

Copyright © 2016 CompuSport LLC

So this is where we get into the details of the start and set position. It will take a bit of trial and error on set up. But thankfully with coaches/friends or your trusty phone handy, you will be able to get some video to double check. The first angles we will look for in a solid start position will be about 45 degrees relative from the front of your shins to the ground. Your feet are firmly planted, ready to push through the ball of the foot, not the heel. Secondly, we will look for about 90 degrees behind the front knee, relative from the calf to the hamstring. On the back leg, we will look for about 120 degrees from the calf to the hamstring. Give or take a few degrees, this will be our optimal angles for acceleration: this will allow us to effectively push out of our start position aggressively and allow for large pushes against the ground down the track. The whole start should be just that — a PUSH! This will allow us to effectively apply force to the ground, as opposed to a “pull.”

Hands & Arm Positions in the Start

Hand position in the 4-point stance will be right behind the line, with the hands bridged up. Thumb and fingers will be parallel to the line, in the neutral position. Arms should be straight, and down about shoulder width.

Push vs. Pull

To emphasize Frontside mechanics, the term push typically will mean a hard, aggressive push through the big toe, leading to extension through the ankle, knee and hip.
Certain cues have connotations, and the rationale behind cuing an athlete to push vs pull is as follows: To emphasize Frontside mechanics, the term push typically will mean a hard, aggressive push through the big toe, leading to extension through the ankle, knee and hip. “Pull” will tend to connote backside mechanics via “pulling” the big toe through the heel (over-emphasis on the knee flexors results in unnecessarily long ground contact times). This can also result in larger-than-necessary stride lengths in order for the athlete to effectively “pull” through the ball of the foot, which is again undesirable. Now this should be clarified that the athlete is striking the ground with a fast foot, and not simply jamming the leg into the ground: the foot is rotating backwards as the leg extends for touchdown, allowing for efficient ground contact.

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