sprinting technique

The Three Biggest Myths Regarding Sprinting Technique

Sprinting is one of the most awesome of all human movements to witness. Almost all sporting movements and activities require sprinting and power. Think of the gymnast sprinting down the runway to jump off the vault or the pole vaulter sprinting down the track with the pole in their hand.

Every ball sport including soccer, basketball, football, rugby, tennis, volleyball, baseball, racketball, softball, lacrosse and hockey require sprinting and speed. So if almost every sport requires sprinting it makes sense that athletes competing in these events would want to be competent in sprinting technique.

Ironically very few athletes I have worked with have had formal sprint coaching and if they have had coaching they usually are taught incorrectly. Many athletes who are fast are fast in spite of their training not because of it. One has to ask how much faster they could be if they fixed many of the faults in their sprinting technique and didn’t listen to the many myths that are still being taught to countless number of athletes.

There are many myths regarding proper sprint technique instruction. The following are three of the most common myths regarding sprinting technique.

1) The Arms in Sprinting should always remain at a 90-degree angle.

Although the cue to keep the elbow joints in sprinting more or less at 90 degrees is a valid one, the reality is that elbow angle will close slightly as the shoulder goes forward into flexion, and it will open up as the arm/hand move backwards into extension. Taking the relaxed fist or open hand from cheek to cheek (cheekbone to butt cheek) without excessive tension in the face, is what the arm/shoulder action needs to be with a more or less 90 degree (but not exact) angle.

The cue of maintaining a 90 degree angle is still used since most people will naturally open up the elbow angle a bit during the shoulder extension phase of sprinting and slightly close the angle on the flexion phase. The key to healthy and dynamic arm action during sprinting is to ensure that the shoulder joint is the axis of rotation, and not the elbow.

2) The best way to improve sprinting is to increase stride length.

This is a common myth which will lead many misguided coaches (and parents!) to instruct their athletes or sprinters to “lengthen” their strides. The unfortunate effect of this recommendation is an athlete who might start landing in front of their center of mass (hips and pelvis) which actually causes a breaking mechanism and can also cause excessive strain to the hamstrings and posterior thigh muscles.

There should be no conscious effort to lengthen stride length and any lengthening of the stride should occur naturally as an acceleration effort (either in a sprint race or repeated sprint activity/RSA in a sport situation) approaches higher velocities. The more explosive strength that someone develops, coupled with adequate mobility and suppleness, the more the stride will open up. Ultimately, there should be a balance between stride length and stride frequency and it might be different for each runner.

There is no “one size fits all” recommendation for optimizing stride length and frequency. The key to quality running or sprinting mechanics is to deliver a healthy amount of force to the ground on each ground contact.

3) The best way to improve sprinting is to improve stride frequency.

This myth is really the other half of the stride length myth. The common recommendation to increase stride frequency often results in the individual trying to be “quick,” which can lead to insufficient force production into the ground (both horizontally and vertically) since the foot is lifted before the full impulse of force can be delivered.

It is often said that those who are trying to purposely increase their stride frequency are “looking fast but going nowhere!” The goal in sprinting is to apply explosive force to the ground (especially during the acceleration phase) with each step as long as is needed but no longer. Sprinting and acceleration in particular requires patience, and one has to learn “how to wait for it,” as the late famous Canadian Sprint Coach Charlie Francis was known to say.

Here’s a great analogy to help explain this need for “patience” during the sprint cycle: think of riding a bicycle very quickly, you really only need to add more juice/power to the pedals right before it hits the top of the pedaling cycle. If you apply power to the pedals too late or for too long, you simply end up spinning your wheels!

There are many more myths that the ones mentioned above but if you can overcome these misconceptions and use common sense, you will be on your way to better sprint technique and increased speed. Be sure to check out our videos for instruction on how to improve sprinting mechanics and overall athleticism. Sprinting is not just for the “Elite” athletes. Sprinting is for everyone and is a skill that can be cultivated.

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