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Remember that old primary school joke: If you answer both questions correctly, I will give you a million dollars:
Q1) In 1912, name the ship that hit an iceberg and sank with over 1500 casualties?
Q2) Name all the casualties.
This is the same with coaching and the 2 magic questions to your athletes:
Q1) What are your goals?
Q2) How do you get there?
The opening remarks of the USATF National Podium Education Project asked, “What is the difference between a 9.74 and a 10.24 100 meter sprinter? half a second? No, 0.01 seconds, because 50 steps x 0.01 seconds = 0.50 seconds.
Great, so now we know to shave off 0.01 second per stride, but how do we accomplish that? You Know What to Do, but can you “Do What you Know”?
At a simplistic level, we all know sprinting is all about stride rate and stride length. 99% of the coaches and athletes I know try to come out of the blocks as quick as possible to achieve a higher stride rate, with their stride length increasing until they reach top speed.
You have probably seen the “ladder drills” or drills using the wooden hurdle barriers, with spacing between the steps increasing slowly over distance. Adarian Barr is the only coach I know who has the alternate theory of trying to maintain your stride length from the start, which I’ll save for another post.
To achieve a stride rate of 5 per second is easy if I lie on the ground, lean back on my shoulders, and do the “bicycle” in the air 5 times per second! Thus something can be said about ground contact time.
In the second half of Dr. Ralph Mann’s presentation, he presented 25 years of research ranging from men and women, and from average, good, and elite athletes.
Several theories were concluded, such as the maximal horizontal speed that a sprinter can produce is dependent upon the effective vertical force that the athlete can apply during ground contact.
Or, when looking at the 5 general performance descriptors (horizontal speed, stride rate, stride length, ground contact time, and air time), it is ground contact time that should be exploited to produce maximal results, achieved through increasing stride rate. There was no difference in air time in average and elite sprinters.
In addition to the above, the Front Side mechanics vs. Back Side mechanics were discussed, with emphasis on the the Front Side mechanics, especially coming out of the blocks. Once again, the importance of the start could not be made clearer. All this is covered in depth in his book which can be purchased directly from Compusport.
Lastly, when they discussed the hand and arm action, several coaches were contradicting Dr. Mann’s theories including Baylor’s Clyde Hart and HSI’s Jon Drummond (sprinter turned coach). This led to a good and amicable discussion, especially when Jon is involved.
However, Adarian sums it all nicely. He quotes “The best way to alter either one (i.e. stride rate or stride length) is with hand action. If you want speed up or slow down the turnover then increase or decrease the hand frequency. If you want to increase or decrease the stride length then alter the range of motion the hand travels.”