A 200 metres run at the 2005 Athletics World C...

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This article is the second of a three-part series discussing speed and how to train for it.  In the first installment of we covered the factors affecting speed;  the structure and make up of an athlete’s muscles, flexibility, fatigue, technique and stride length and stride frequency.   In this installment of Taking Flight – Speed Training 101 Part 2, we are going to delve further into the importance of speed  training, more technique and the difference between acceleration and maximum velocity running.

Because proper technique is essential to running fast, it’s important that one understands what should be happening during “ideal” sprinting technique.  Not to be confused with the phases the sprint race – ideal sprinting technique can be broken down into two phases: the driving phase and the recovery phase.

Driving Phase – The driving phase begins when the lead foot makes ground contact on the outside of the forefoot just in front of the athlete’s center of gravity (i.e., the athlete’s hips).   The foot is driven to the ground by the hip extensor muscles.   It’s important that the quadriceps fire as the foot makes contact with the ground to keep the knee from flexing too much, which would dissipate elastic energy.   The ankle should be dorsiflexed with the foot in what we call a “toe up” position.   The combination of ankle dorsiflexion and the foot in the “toe up” position allows for the storage of elastic energy which is used later to help propel the athlete forward into the next stride once the foot makes ground contact.

The athlete continues to exert force with the hip and knee extensors and pulls themselves over the center of gravity.  As the hips pass over the foot, the athlete is plantar flexing the foot until the toes break contact with the ground.  The driving phase ends once the athletes toes leave the ground.

Recovery Phase – Once the foot leaves the ground, the athlete should immediately dorsiflex the ankle to about 90 degrees with the foot again in the toe up position. While the athlete is doing this, they should be quickly flexing the knee and bringing the heel up toward the hips/buttocks.  Thus “shortening the lever” allowing the leg to swing forward more quickly.

As the heel is being drawn to hips, the leg swings forward.  The athlete should visualize themselves trying to step over the opposite knee with the swing ankle.   As the athlete steps over the opposite knee, the leg will naturally begin to unfold.  While all of this is happening, the leg is driven back down to the ground from the hips, ending the recovery phase.

The athlete should swing their arms from the shoulder in opposition to the legs.  This helps with balance and momentum.    Again, pivoting at the shoulder, the hands  should be swung from the hips to shoulder height without crossing the mid-line of the body. For more information on proper arm drive see The Importance of Arm Action in a previous article.

Acceleration or Maximum Speed? – Running mechanics are different over the first 12-15 meters of a sprint.  During the first 12-15 meters, the athlete is increasing their velocity and stride length.  As stride length is increasing the foot is initially making contact with the ground behind the athlete (depending on starting position), then it will make contact in front of but closer to the athlete than during maximum velocity, which will mean a lower shin angle during foot contact.  This also means that during the first 12-15m, the athlete should be concentrating primarily on frontside running mechanics (i.e. high knees, dorsiflextion) rather than backside mechanics (plantarflexion, heel to hip) because body lean will be too great to allow for backside mechanics to take place at this point.

Other than track and field, there are not many sports where an athlete sprints more that 12-15m in a straight line.  In most sports the athlete sprints a short distance, decelerates and then quickly changes directions.  This brings into question whether or not an athlete should even focus on maximum velocity running if they rarely use it in their sport?  We firmly believe that improved athletic performance comes from a balanced training regime that includes technique drills to improve maximum velocity running as well as aid in the athlete’s conditioning, develop coordination and improve mobility.

Technique Drills – Technique drills are used to break the sprinting motion down into more teachable parts.  This  approach is  extremely important because breaking down these skills into their parts and mastering them sequentially from a slower to faster speed makes them easier to learn.   With repetition, the athlete should be able to transfer the components of the drills to the technique required to sprint effectively at maximum speed.  There are several categories of technique drills that are used to teach the aspects of speed.  These include arm-swing drills, ankling, heel kicks, high-knee drills, A drills, and B drills.

In the final installment of this article we will further discuss these and other drills that can be used improve sprint technique as well as drills to improve stride length and stride frequency.   In the meantime if you have any questions on this discussion or need additional information on Flight101 Sport Speed Development, feel free to contact me at  jmurdock@flight101ssd.com.

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