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Sprinting

The sprints include the following track events: 100 metres, 200 metres, 400 metres, 4 x 100 metre relay and the 4 x 400 metre relay. Although the sprints are events in themselves, the ability to sprint is an important weapon in an athlete's armoury for many track and field events and many sports.

Sprint Technique

Guidance on the sprint technique takes the form of a checklist, for each phase of the sprint, of points for the coach to monitor. The information provided here is for athletes using starting blocks. For details of standing or crouch starts see the sprints start page.

Pre race start

  • Blocks correctly positioned in the lane (200 metres/400 metres at a tangent to the curve)
  • Correct distances from the start line to the front and rear blocks
  • Foot blocks at the correct angles
  • Blocks firmly located in the track
  • Athlete relaxed and focused on the race

On your marks

  • On Your MarksFeet correctly located in the blocks
  • Fingers behind the line
  • Fingers form a high bridge
  • Hands evenly positioned slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Shoulders back and vertically above or slightly forward of the hands
  • Arms straight but not locked at the elbows
  • Head and neck in line with the spine
  • Eyes focused on the track (1 to 2 metres ahead)
  • Gentle breathing
  • Face and neck muscles relaxed

Set

  • SetHold the breath
  • Hips rise slowly to a position above the shoulders
  • Head and neck in line with the spine
  • Eyes focused on the track one or two metres ahead
  • Shoulders vertically above or slightly forward of the hands
  • Front leg knee angle approx. 90 degrees
  • Rear leg knee angle approx. 120 degrees
  • Feet pushed hard back into the blocks

B of the Bang

  • Exhale
  • Drive the arms hard
  • Extend the whole body so there is a straight line through the head, spine and extended rear leg - body approx. 45 degree angle to the ground
  • Eyes Focused on the track 2 to 3 metres
  • Run out of the blocks - do not step or jump out of the blocks

Drive Phase (0-30m)

  • BangDrive the back leg forward keeping the heel low until the shin is approx 45° to the ground and then drive the foot down (see picture to the right) hitting the ground just behind the body's centre of mass
  • Over the next 7-8 strides (approx. 10 metres) the angle of shin of the front leg, before it is driven down, will increase by 6-7°/stride so that by the 7-8 stride the shin is vertical
  • Over the first 7-8 strides the whole body angle will increase from 45° to approx. 30° degrees - approx. 2°/step
  • After the first 7-8 strides you will be at approx.70% of your max velocity
  • Eyes focused on the track to keep low to allow the build up of speed
  • Forward lean of the whole body with a straight line through the head, spine and extended rear leg
  • Face and neck muscles relaxed (no tension)
  • Shoulders held back and relaxed, square in the lane at all times
  • Arms move with a smooth forward backward action - not across the body - drive back with elbows - hands move from approx. shoulder height to hips
  • Elbows maintained at 90 degrees (angle between upper and lower arm)
  • Hands Relaxed - fingers loosely curled - thumb uppermost
  • Legs - fully extended rear leg pushing off the track with the toes - drive the leg forward with a high knee action with the knee pointing forward and with the heel striking under the backside (not the back of the backside as the knee is low and pointing down to the ground) - extend lower leg forward of knee (rear leg drive will propel the foot forward of the knee) with toes turned up - drive the foot down in a claw action with a ball of foot/toe strike on the track vertically below the knee - pull the ground under you into a full rear leg extension - (elbow drive assisting the whole action)
  • On the ball of foot/toes at all times - feet pointing forward straight down the lane
  • Elbow drive commences just before rear leg drive
  • Fast leg action, good stride length allowing continual acceleration
  • Appearance of being smooth and relaxed but driving hard with elbows and legs
  • The drive is maintained for first 20-30 metres (approx.16-17 strides) at the end of which the body is tall with a slight forward lean
  • At the end of this phase you will be at approx. 90% of your max velocity

Stride Phase (30-60m)

  • Smooth transitions from drive phase to stride phase
  • Eyes focused at the end of the lane - tunnel vision
  • Head in line with the spine - held high and square
  • Face relaxed - jelly jaw - no tension - mouth relaxed
  • Chin down, not out
  • Shoulders held down (long neck), back (not hunched), relaxed and square in the lane at all times
  • Smooth forward backward action of the arms- not across the body - drive back with elbows - brush vest with elbows - hands move from shoulder height to hips for men and from bust height to hips for the ladies
  • Elbows held at 90 degrees at all times (angle between upper arm and lower arm)
  • Hands relaxed - fingers loosely curled - thumb uppermost
  • Hips tucked under - slight forward rotation of the hip with forward leg drive to help extend the stride
  • Legs - fully extended rear leg pushing off the track with the toes - drive the leg forward with a high knee action with the knee pointing forward and with the heel striking under the backside (not the back of the backside as the knee is low and pointing down to the ground) - extend lower leg forward of knee (rear leg drive will propel the foot forward of the knee) with toes turned up, stepping over the knee of the lead leg - drive the foot down in a claw action with a ball of foot/toe strike on the track just behind the body's centre of mass - pull the ground under you into a full rear leg extension - (elbow drive assisting the whole action)
  • On the ball of foot/toes with the feet pointing forward straight down the lane
  • No signs of straining or tension in the face, neck and shoulders
  • Appearance of being Tall, Relaxed and Smooth with maximum Drive
  • See the sprint technique photo sequence
  • At or close to the end of this phase you will have reached your max velocity

Lift Phase (60m+)

Around 50-60 metres we will have reached max velocity and now we start to slow down. Technique as the Stride Phase but with emphasis on:

  • High knee action (prancing)
  • Leg action fast and light as if running on hot surface
  • Fast arms - more urgency
  • Hands slightly higher at the front

Coaching Notes

As you monitor the athlete's technique look for:

  • a Tall action
    • This means erect, running on the ball of foot/toes (not heels) with full extension of the back, hips and legs as opposed to 'sitting down' when running
  • a Relaxed action
    • This means move easily, as opposed to tensing and 'working hard' to move. Let the movements of running flow. Keep the hands relaxed, the shoulders low and the arm swing rhythmically by the sides.
  • a Smooth action
    • This means float across the top of the ground. All motion should be forward, not up and down. Leg action should be efficient and rhythmic. The legs should move easily under the body like a wheel rolling smoothly along.
  • Drive
    • This means push from an extended rear leg, rear elbow drive with a high forward knee drive followed by a strike and claw foot action just behind the body's centre of gravity.

Sprint Starts

Canadian researchers, Sleivert and Taingahue (2004)[1], investigated the relationship between sprint start performance and selected conditioning training. When a sprinter leaves the blocks, the drive against the blocks and the first few steps rely on concentric muscular strength. A concentric muscle contraction occurs when a muscle shortens as it contracts.

A squat jump is an example of concentric muscle contraction which simulates the sprint start. 4 sets of 3 repetitions with a loading of 30-70% of 1RM can be used to develop maximal concentric force.

Lower into the squat position, hold for 1 to 2 seconds so as switch off the stretch/reflex, stretch/shortening cycle and to allow for a more powerful contraction. Developing concentric muscle contraction will help the athlete's sprint start and acceleration over the first 4 or 5 strides.

Right foot forward or left?

A question often asked with regards starting blocks is "which foot should be in the rear block?" A team of researchers, Eikenberry et al. (2008)[2], discovered that when the:

  • left foot was in the rear block, reaction time was better
  • right foot was in the rear block movement and total response time was better - time from stimulus (gun) until the end of the movement

The results suggest that the right foot in the rear block will produce a more powerful drive from the blocks.

Perhaps a way forward would be to evaluate the athlete's times over the first ten metres, for both start positions, to determine which produces the best acceleration phase for the athlete.

Stride Length

The initial foot strike out of the blocks should be around 50-60cm from the start line. The stride length should then progressively increase on each stride by 10-15cm until they reach their optimal stride length of around 2.30 metres.

If the athlete lands at 50cm from the start line and increases their stride length by 10cm/stride then they will reach their optimal stride length around their 19th stride - approx 26m from the start line. If they were able to maintain their 2.30m stride length then they would cross the finish line on their 51st stride.

If the athlete lands at 60cm from the start line and increases their stride length by 15cm/stride then they will reach their optimal stride length around their 13th stride - approx. 20m from the start line. If they were able to maintain their 2.30m stride length then they would cross the finish line on their 49th stride.

Rehearsal of this acceleration phase should be conducted regularly. Markers can be placed at the side of the track to assist the athlete to get the feel of the increasing stride length and acceleration. The marker settings for an athlete who lands at 60cm from the start line and then increases their stride length by 15cm/stride are as follows: 0.60m, 1.35m, 2.25m, 3.30m, 4.50m, 5.85m, 7.35m, 9.00m, 10.80m, 12.75m, 14.85m, 17.10m. (Saunders 2004)[3].

Acceleration Training

Zafeiridis et al. (2005)[4] looked at weighted sledge training and their effect on sprint acceleration and they concluded that training with a weighted sledge will help improve the athlete's acceleration phase. The session used in the research was 4 x 20m and 4 x 50m maximal effort runs.

Lockie et al. (2003)[5] investigated the effects of various loadings and concluded that when using a sledge a light weight of approx. 10-15% of body weight should be used so that the dynamics of the acceleration technique are not negatively effected.

Starts over 10-20 metres performed on a slight incline of around five degrees have an important conditioning effect on the calf, thigh and hip muscles (they have to work harder because of the incline to produce movement) that will improve sprint acceleration.

Sprinting Speed

Downhill sprinting is a method of developing sprinting speed following the acceleration phase. A hill with a maximum of a 15° decline is most suitable. Use 40 metres to 60 metres to build up to full speed and then maintain the speed for a further 30 metres. A session could comprise of 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 6 repetitions. The difficulty with this method is to find a suitable hill with a safe surface.

Over speed work could be carried out on the track when there are prevailing strong winds - run with the wind behind you.

Research by Mero et al. (1998)[6] indicates that an elite sprint athlete's foot contact time with the track is 0.08 to 0.1 seconds so it is important with plyometric training that each ground contact (approx. 1/10 of a second) is made as dynamically as possible. Bounding, hopping and depth jumps from low heights (30cm) can play a role in speeding up ground contact times, triggering the appropriate neural pathways and recruiting fast twitch muscle fibres. Example sessions for a mature athlete are:

  • 4 x 10 bounds with a 20m run out
  • 4 x 10 speed hops
  • Depth jumps off 40cm box:
    4 x 4 step off, land and jump for height
    4 x 4 step off, land and jump for distance

Repetitions, sets and recovery should be adjusted so as to focus on the quality of execution not quantity of executions.

Bend Running Technique

In the 200m and 400m set up your blocks so as to form a straight line (tangent) to the inside line of your lane allowing you to initially accelerate in a straight line before moving into bend running. When running the curve you slightly twist your shoulders so that the right arm is coming across the body to mid line, the left arm is going straight back to front above your inside lane line. Your left foot is landing on the ground about 6 inches from the line, remember that if you touch the lane line you will be disqualified. The right foot comes across the front of the body landing in front of the left foot. You will automatically lean into the curve to counteract the inertia which is trying to pull you to your right.

Training Programs

A training program has to be developed to meet the individual needs of the athlete and take into consideration many factors: gender, age, strengths, weaknesses, objectives, training facilities etc. As all athletes have different needs a single program suitable for all athletes is not possible.

Training Pathway

Pyramid

Athletes in the Event Group stage

The following is a basic annual training program suitable for athletes in the Event Group development stages for the sprint and hurdle events.

Athletes in the Event stage

The following are event specific annual training programs suitable for athletes in the Event development stage:

Training Methods

The various forms of training include:

  • Speed
  • Speed endurance
  • Specific endurance - consists of intervals at your goal pace, but not so long as to replicate the entire race
  • Special endurance - the aim is to develop the capacity for maintaining maximal or near maximal velocity
  • Intensive tempo - runs completed at 75-95% effort with the aim of overloading the lactic energy system
  • Extensive tempo - slower version of intensive tempo where we try to avoid the build up of lactic
  • Resisted sprints - uphill running, running with a sledge or tyre, running into a headwind
  • Assisted sprints - downhill running, running with the wind

Developing the Energy Systems

The following table, Rogers (2000)[7], indicates the types of training exercises that can be used to develop the sprinter's energy systems and can be used to guide you in the preparation of training programs.

Energy System Type of training Distance Speed Recovery Total distance
Aerobic Power Extensive Tempo >100m 60-70% 30-90 sec 1400-3000m
Aerobic Capacity Extensive Tempo >200m 70-80% 30-90 sec 1400-2000m
Aerobic & Anaerobic Intensive Tempo >80m 80-90% 30-120 sec 800-1800m
Anaerobic Speed 20-80m 90-95% 3-5 min 300-800m
Alactic Speed 20-80m 95-100% 3-5 min 300-500m
Anaerobic Speed Endurance 30-80m 90-95% 1-2 min 300-800m
Alactic Speed Endurance 30-80m 95-100% 2-3 min 300-800m
Anaerobic Speed Endurance 80-150m 90-95% 5-6 min 300-900m
Glycolytic Speed Endurance 80-150m 95-100% 6-10 min 300-600m
Anaerobic Special Endurance 150-300m 90-95% 10-12 min 600-1200m
Glycolytic Special Endurance 150-300m 95-100% 12-15 min 300-900m
Lactic acid tolerance Special Endurance 300-600m 90-95% 15-20 min 600-900m

Weight Training

The following is an example weight training program for a sprinter.

Phase Loading Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
General 3 sets 12 RM Squats
Step Ups
Bench Press
Dumbbell Arm swings
Lunges
Single leg squats
Bench Press
Power Cleans
Squats
Step Ups
Bench Press
Snatch
Specific Power Cleans & Snatch
3 sets 10RM

Other exercises
3 sets of 5 reps at 10RM
Power Cleans
Bench Press
Step Ups
Dumbbell Arm swings
Snatch
Bench Press
Single leg squats
Lunges with dumbbells
Dumbbell Arm swings
Squats
Bench Press
Competition 3 sets of 5 reps at 8RM Power Cleans
Bench Press
Step Ups
Dumbbell Arm swings
Snatch
Bench Press
Single leg squats
Lunges with dumbbells
Dumbbell Arm swings
Rest

Analysis of running the 100 metres

The following table (Arnold 1992)[9] provides the reaction time and 20 metres split times for the men's 100 metres final at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

Athlete Reaction 20m 40m 60m 80m 100m
Christie (UK) 0.139 2.93 4.74 6.48 8.22 9.96
Fredericks (NAM) 0.138 2.91 4.74 6.50 8.26 10.02
Mitchell (USA) 0.143 2.93 4.76 6.52 8.28 10.04
Surin (Can) 0.124 2.89 4.72 6.50 8.28 10.09
Burrell (USA) 0.165 2.99 4.82 6.58 8.32 10.10
Adeniken (NGR) 0.183 3.01 4.84 6.58 8.34 10.12
Stewart (JAM) 0.154 2.95 4.78 6.56 8.36 10.22
Ezinwa (NGR) 0.172 2.99 4.84 6.62 8.42 10.26

Evaluation of speed

The following table provides the speed (metres/second) of each athlete at each 20 metre point. You will note that, with the exception of Burrell, the athletes achieved their maximum speed at 60 metres.

Athlete Start 20m 40m 60m 80m 100m
Christie (UK) 0 6.83 11.05 11.49 11.49 11.49
Fredericks (NAM) 0 6.87 10.93 11.36 11.36 11.36
Mitchell (USA) 0 6.83 10.93 11.36 11.36 11.36
Surin (Can) 0 6.92 10.93 11.24 11.24 11.05
Burrell (USA) 0 6.69 10.93 11.36 11.49 11.24
Adeniken (NGR) 0 6.64 10.93 11.49 11.36 11.24
Stewart (JAM) 0 6.78 10.93 11.24 11.11 10.75
Ezinwa (NGR) 0 6.69 10.81 11.24 11.11 10.87
Average 0 6.78 10.93 11.35 11.32 11.17

If you plot the average speed for these athletes at the 20 metre marks you find that maximum speed is achieved around 60 metres and from this point speed declines to the 100 metre point when it is approximately the same speed as that achieved at 50 metres.

Speed Graph

The objective now for coaches and athletes is to maintain acceleration through to 80 metres and reduce the decline in speed from 80m to 100m.

17 years later - 100 metres Split Times 2009

The following table provides the reaction time and 20 metres split times for the men's 100 metres final at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009.

Athlete Reaction 20m 40m 60m 80m 100m
Bolt (JAM) 0.146 2.89 4.64 6.31 7.92 9.58
Gay (USA) 0.144 2.92 4.70 6.39 8.02 9.71
Powell (JAM) 0.134 2.91 4.71 6.42 8.10 9.84
Bailey (ANT) 0.129 2.92 4.73 6.48 8.18 9.93
Thompson (TRI) 0.119 2.90 4.71 6.45 8.17 9.93
Chambers (UK) 0.123 2.93 4.75 6.50 8.22 10.00
Burns (TRI) 0.165 2.94 4.76 6.52 8.24 10.00
Patton (USA) 0.149 2.96 4.85 6.65 8.42 10.34

Evaluation of speed

The following table provides the speed (metres/second) of each athlete at each 20 metre point. You will note now that all the athletes achieved their maximum speed at 80m.

Athlete Start 20m 40m 60m 80m 100m
Bolt (JAM) 0 6.92 11.43 11.98 12.42 12.05
Gay (USA) 0 6.85 11.24 11.83 12.27 11.83
Powell (JAM) 0 6.87 11.11 11.70 11.90 11.49
Bailey (ANT) 0 6.85 11.05 11.43 11.76 11.43
Thompson (TRI) 0 6.90 11.05 11.49 11.63 11.36
Chambers (UK) 0 6.83 10.99 11.43 11.63 11.24
Burns (TRI) 0 6.80 10.99 11.36 11.63 11.36
Patton (USA) 0 6.76 10.58 11.11 11.30 10.42
Average 0 6.85 11.05 11.54 11.82 11.40

If you plot the average speed for these athletes at the 20 metre marks you find that maximum speed is now achieved around 80 metres and from this point speed declines to the 100 metre point when it is approximately the same speed as that achieved at 50-60m metres.

100m berlin 2009

The objective now for coaches and athletes is to maintain acceleration through to 90 metres and reduce the decline in speed from 90m to 100m.

Usain Bolt 2012 London Olympics

The following table provides the 20 metre split times in the final of the 100 metres for Usain Bolt.

Athlete Start 20m 40m 60m 80m 100m
Bolt (JAM) 0 2.93 4.69 6.35 7.96 9.63

The following table provides the speed (metres/second) at each 20 metre point.

Athlete Start 20m 40m 60m 80m 100m
Bolt (JAM) 0 6.83 11.36 12.05 12.42 11.98

If you plot the speed at the 20 metre marks you find that maximum speed is still achieved around 80 metres and from this point speed declines to the 100 metre point when it is approximately the same speed as that achieved at 50-60m metres.

Bolt 2012

Evaluation Tests

The following evaluation tests can be used to monitor the sprint athlete's development:

Sprint Time Predictors

Based on test results it is possible to predict potential times for a sprint event. The available sprint time predictors are:

Bounding Controls

Dick (1987)[8] provides a rough guide linking 3 Bounds (from a standing start) and Standing Long Jump to competition performance.

Target Time Standing Long Jump 3 Bounds
10.70 - 10.2.0 2.90- 3.20 10.00 - 9.20
11.10 - 10.71 2.70 - 2.89 9.19 - 8.50
11.70 - 11.11 2.60 - 2.69 8.49 - 7.90
12.20 - 11.71 2.50 - 2.59 7.89 - 7.50
12.70 - 12.21 2.40 - 2.49 7.49 - 7.20
13.2 - 12.71 2.30 - 2.39 7.19 - 6.80

Free Calculator

Free Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that you can download and use on your computer.

Rules of Competition

The competition rules for this event can be obtained from:


References

  1. SLEVERT, G. and TAINGAHUE, M. (2004) The relationship between maximal jump-squat power and sprint acceleration in athletes. Eur J Appl Physiol., 91 (1), p. 46-52
  2. EIKENBERRY, A. et al. (2008) Starting with the "right" foot minimizes sprint start time. Acta Psychol (Amst), 127 (2), p. 495-500
  3. SAUNDERS, R. (2004) Five components of the 100m sprint. Modern Athlete and Coach, 42 (4) p. 23-24
  4. ZAFEIRIDIS, A. et al. (2005) The effects of resisted sled-pulling sprint training on acceleration and maximum speed performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 45(3), p. 284-290
  5. LOCKIE, R.G. et al. (2003) Effects of resisted sled towing on sprint kinematics in field-sport athletes. J Strength Cond Res., 17 (4), p. 760-767
  6. MERO et al. (1992) Biomechanics of sprint running. Sports Med, 13, p. 266-274
  7. ROGERS, J.L. (2000) USA Track and Field Coaching Manual. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics
  8. DICK, F. (1987) Sprints and Relays. 5th ed. London: BAAB. p. 24
  9. ARNOLD, M. (1992) 100 Metres Men. Athletics Coach, 26 (4), p. 11

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2001) Sprinting [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/sprints/index.htm [Accessed

Related Pages

The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic:

Associated Books

The following books provide more information related to this topic:

  • Sprints and Relays, F. W. Dick
  • Sprinting and Hurdling, P. Warden
  • How to Teach Track Events, M. Arnold