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Here is a slow motion rail-cam view from the 2011 Monaco Diamond League Men’s100 meters. It’s a great instructional video, and there are a lot of take home messages and a few aha moments too.
Just a recap, we have Nesta Carter on the outside lane with a blazing start, and Usain Bolt is playing ketchup. (i.e. catch-up). It’s not until the last 10 meters where Bolt wins the race. Stride for stride, he gains a few inches every time. The video shows the last 60 meters or so of the race.
Here are some notes that I observed, and a few changes that could be improved upon. Note: The video doesn’t show the smooth transition from the drive phase to the max velocity phase. Oh well.
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- Eyes. You should be focused at the end of your lane, aka “tunnel vision”. No peeking side to side. Unless you are 100% sure you have won.
- Head. In line with the spine, high and straight.
- Chin. Should be down but not out or else you will strain the neck.
- Face. Relaxed with no tension. Mouth relaxed, even a flopping jaw with cheeks flopping..
- Shoulders. Should be normal and not down nor up. You should see a long neck. In this video, Usain appears to have his shoulders higher than normal as compared to 2008 or 2009.
- Reminder: There should be no signs of straining or tension in the above.
- Upper Back. No Hunchback of Notre Dame here. Relaxed and square.
- Arms. Hands should go towards midline near at face or chin level on the upswing. On backswing, it could brush your vest if you have a loose vest. You may even knock off your hip number. I think Asafa has one of the best arm mechanics out there, as he has such great synchronicity with the arms and legs. You will also notice Usain Bolt’s right hand does not come up as high as compared to his left hand. This can be seen back in 2008 or 2009.
- Elbows. Drive down, not back with elbows. As you can see, it is impossible to keep them locked at 90 degrees, especially on the back swing with the forces being generated. Focus on hands and synchronicity with the arms.
- Hands. Relaxed! The fingers are loosely curled with thump on top. I prefer to have a loose clenched fist, but more and more people like the open hand. Whatever you choose, stay relaxed!
- Hips. Note the slight forward rotation of the hip with each forward leg. This is where you can gain the extra inch, and 40 strides can make a meter difference! (click here for that article) It’s really hard to see in this video, as an above head shot would clearly show what I am talking about.
- Feet. With all the talk about stride rate and stride frequency being the top 2 variables in determining sprint speed, you really have to consider the force that one pushes against the ground AND how long one applies that force (i.e. ground contact time). Note the foot landing is directly under the Center of Mass (COM). Note the “long” ground contact time, and the strong push off from the balls of the feet right up to the toes! Arms and elbows should in synchronicity with these actions. These world class sprinters all have super stiff spike plates. While the video shows a braking effect (which will happen if you over stride), they are actually clawing the ground with such huge forces while pulling the ground under you . The feet should be pointing forward straight down the lane (see article on Sprinters being pigeon-toed)
- Legs. Note how fully extended the rear leg pushing off the track with up to the toes. Note the drive the leg forward with a high knee action, but not to parallel as some coaches insist. Why? Because your hips would drop too much. Also note how tight the angle is with the upper and lower leg on the forward leg drive. A shorter pendulum will swing faster. Notice where the dorsiflexion, and it’s a lot later than you think.
- Overall: Staying Tall, Relaxed and Smooth with the optimal stride rate and stride length for the maximum drive and distance.
Anyways, this is only a summary, and a whole thesis could be written on proper stride mechanics after the drive phase.
The above is a quick checklist when I’m watching a training session or a race. The only thing missing is sound, and sometimes you can tell when the athlete is landing heavy. If there is an imbalance, or some incorrect mechanics, then it could be a sign that can lead to soft tissue damage down the road. So it’s best to address it early while you can.
Coaching is more of an Art than Science sometimes.
And a lot of Psychology for certain athletes! (You know who they are!)