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Maybe I should rename this post, “oversimplifying simplicity”?
Remember taking golf lessons when the 3 golden rules for hitting a tee shot were (1) don’t move your head (2) keep your left elbow straight and (3) keep your eye on the ball?
The overall concepts are correct, but it’s NOT the best way to teach hitting the clubface to produce a straight shot.
Novice Track and Field coaches, especially for Youth athletes, will tell kids 3 golden rules to how to come out of the blocks for a 60m or 100m sprint.
They are (1) react to the gun, not listen to the gun, and flick your left hand and arm out in front of you explosively – assuming the right leg is rear leg (2) stay low coming out of the blocks (3) take quick choppy strides to get out faster.
:o( <- NOTE: this is not a happy face
I cringe when I hear that advice. Not that it’s wrong, or right for that matter, but that’s not the point of the short sprints events.
True, kids have a limited capacity to remember details, and the fewer the cues, the better.
It’s just that these coaches don’t see the big picture. If you look at the Tom Tellez breakdown of a 100m sprint, acceleration is the biggest component. So one should focus on drive phase and acceleration.
Drive Phase and Acceleration
I define acceleration as driving your center of mass in the direction of travel, which is a linear horizontal line. You have 2 forces from ground contact once you leave the blocks: horizontal and vertical. You get the most power from horizontal. Ask anyone from the East Coast when you help push a car out of the snow. Are you upright or low to the ground?
But if you pop up out of the blocks (or use Moye Blocks) you don’t get the power anymore. You are actually in a better position to take short choppy steps. But if you an older Master’s sprinter, a youth athlete, or even Bill Collins, a standing start or using Moye blocks may work better for you anyways. (note: ALWAYS BE AWARE OF YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES)
Leaving the blocks should be at 45 degrees with full extension to maximize your full power. Please don’t teach kids to “stay low”. That’s not the point. Carl Lewis, a tall athlete who isn’t considered a great starter, has perfect form coming out of the blocks in a 200 meters as seen in the photo (circa 1988).
Stride length is important too, but not at the expense of a braking action. (see my previous article on the trend towards longer strides) Sprinting faster times is about greater force you apply to the ground down and away, as your body moves forward in the other direction. Concurrently, your hips will drive the other leg forward, and this combination will give you the maximal stride length you require. You don’t want to do “bounding” either as you want a smooth momentum in the direction of travel.
Frans Bosch has coined the term “whip from the hip” and I can’t say it better than that. I won’t get into details about dorsiflexion and triple extension in this article.
Drive phase and acceleration isn’t limited to sprinting in Track and Field. Take a look at the first 20 yards of a 40 yard dash, or a baseball player stealing 90 feet. (actually, it less than 90 feet with the lead, and there’s a pivot involved, too)
Training Drive Phase and Acceleration
So how do we train drive phase and acceleration?
The best way is get on the track, of course. Technique must be carefully adjusted, especially when trying to break bad habits. We all know those bad habits creep back when fatigued or when you get stressed and nervous at big meets.
But if you break it down, it comes down to 3 points covered in detail in older posts: Power, Speed and Strength
For Speed, there’s pure speed work of course, plus the use of acceleration ladders and speed ladders. Phil Campbell’s 40 yard dash DVD (read my review here) has a lot of good drills with ladders at the end of the video.
CONCLUSION: ALWAYS run within your means, and don’t sacrifice bad technique to compensate for power and speed, or from a lack of strength for that matter.