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How To

Improve your sprinting speed

Nigel Hetherington explains how to improve your sprinting speed

Keeping it simple while being effective is the challenge with developing most fitness components and improving sprinting speed is no exception to this. Breaking things down into a series of manageable chunks usually makes things easier. For sprinting we might consider a logical order for progression to be:

Correct running (striding)

The initial priority is to ensure correct sprinting while remaining almost upright otherwise all training sessions will only serve to further ingrain any lack of technique. Developing a technique that is optimal for the athlete may take a long time but is crucial for maintenance of top speed. In some cases we may have to 'fix' poor points, even undo some long-established habits - this can require 'neural remodelling' as well as the more obvious physical development and we must be persistent and patient. Energy systems dictate that all athletes start to slow down after 5-8 seconds. Striding is about developing a sprinting action that serves to minimize energy losses and hence minimizes the inevitable speed losses.

Key elements:

  • Leg 'cycling' - Biomechanics of 'foot lifting and cycling' rather than 'knee lifting'
  • Lightness of contact - maximize energy return / minimize energy loss / maximize biomechanics
  • Focus on ball of foot contact
  • Posture - relating to core strength / warning signs may include hips sunken - leading to early foot strike and loss of energy
  • Balance- relating to core strength / poor proprioception / lack of bilateral development - warning signs may include torso rotation, foot plant 'cross-over' and a non-linear path
  • Relaxation - minimize energy usage / maintain biomechanics. Sometimes seen most obviously in the shoulders and neck area leading to imbalance in the upper body and arm cross-over in front
  • Appropriate use of drills - range of movement, contact, posture

Poor striding leads to premature loss of maximum speed attained during the acceleration phase.

Accelerating

The objective of acceleration is to attain maximum speed in as short a time as possible. Key elements:

  • Set position - biomechanics (this is not limited to a track sprinter but the emphasis still needs to be on establishing a start position that emulates that of the sprinter in the set position or shortly afterwards)
  • Pushing the centre of gravity - assuming a near linear posture from head to toe with a forward lean
  • Leg speed and extension of stride
  • Appropriate power / explosivity energy system training
  • Appropriate drills - leg speed, range of movement, power development

Transitioning to stride

The key here is to move from a powerful forward leaning position held during acceleration through to the relaxed upright position of striding without sacrificing speed. The key to transition is 'smooth' over as fewer strides as appropriate.

Starting

This is specific to track sprinters and requires developing the best position biomechanically (for the skill) and anthropometrically (for their body) to allow the maximal and fastest drive from the blocks. Reaction and response are the key factors to move swiftly into the acceleration position.

Lifting

The final piece in the sprinters armoury is to slightly modify technique in the final drive to the line - many female sprinters accomplish this with a slight quickening of tempo through shortening of action. Male sprinters often find a deliberately longer drive of the arms can work to extend the stride. Neither serve to reaccelerate only minimize speed loss. Both appear to have merits depending, not necessarily, on the gender of the athlete.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • HETHERINGTON, N. (2005) Improve your sprinting speed. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 24 / July-August), p. 13

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • HETHERINGTON, N. (2005) Improve your sprinting speed [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni24a7.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Nigel Hetherington was the Head Track & Field Coach at the internationally acclaimed Singapore Sports School. He is a former National Performance Development Manager for Scottish Athletics and National Sprints Coach for Wales. Qualified and highly active as a British Athletics level 4 performance coach in all events he has coached athletes to National and International honours in sprints, hurdles as well as a World Record holder in the Paralympic shot. He has 10 years experience as senior coach educator and assessor trainer on behalf of British Athletics. Nigel is also an experienced athlete in sprint (World Masters Championship level) and endurance (3-hour marathon runner plus completed the 24 hour 'Bob Graham Round' ultra-endurance event up and down 42 mountain peaks in the English Lake District). He is a chartered chemist with 26 years' experience in scientific research and publishing.

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