Sprinting Mechanics and Technique

by NSCA's Guide to Program Design
Kinetic Select December 2018

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This book excerpt is an overview of the fundamentals to sprinting mechanics and technique. It also covers starting, acceleration, drive phase, recovery phase, and deceleration.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book NSCA's Guide to Program Design, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Technique training for sprinting can be divided into five areas: starting, acceleration, drive phase, recovery phase, and deceleration.

Starting

Athletes start from a variety of positions, including stationary or moving. Athletes in sports such as baseball and softball generally initiate all speed movements in a two-point stance from a stationary position, while those in other sports (e.g., field hockey, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse) may also initiate movement in a two-point stance but from an active movement (jog, shuffle, or backward run). American football offers a variety of starting positions, including a stationary three- or four-point stance for linemen and fullbacks, a two-point stationary stance for quarterbacks, receivers, and running backs, a stationary or moving two-point stance for linebackers and defensive backs, and a moving or stationary two-point stance for players on special teams.

When beginning a speed movement from a two-point stance, the athlete should be in a comfortable position, with feet shoulder-width apart or slightly narrower, body weight equally distributed on both feet, and the arms bent at 90° angles, with the hand on the lead-leg side next to the buttock and the other hand at the side of the face. The athlete’s center of gravity should be above the front foot, with the front leg bent at nearly 90°. Before initiating movement, approximately two-thirds to three-fourths of the body weight should be shifted to the lead leg. The start should occur with both feet applying force to the ground and an explosive movement forward. The rear foot should leave the ground first with a fast forward swing and the rear arm should propel forward (10, 16, 29).

The start from a three- or four-point stationary stance should occur with the athlete in a comfortable position. The body weight should be evenly distributed between hands, feet, and knees, the arms should be in a straight alignment shoulder-width apart, and the head and back should be aligned. Prior to initiating the start, the athlete should align the center of gravity above the lead leg, bend the front leg to nearly a 90° angle and the rear leg at nearly 125°, move the hips shoulder-width apart or slightly wider, and straighten both arms and place them slightly in front of the hands. The start occurs with an explosive driving force from both feet, with the rear leg moving first with a forward swing. At the same time, the alternate arm should move actively (10, 16, 29).

The moving start transpires with the athlete moving at an easy walk or jog, with only a slight forward lean. During the start, the athlete should apply force to the ground with both feet and explode forward, with the rear foot leaving the ground first with a fast forward swing and the rear arm propelling forward (10, 16, 29).

Acceleration

During the acceleration phase, the body gradually straightens and the strides lengthen. As the ball of the foot makes contact with the athletic surface, the foot should be in a dorsiflexed position. The athlete should look down and limit torso flexion at the waist. Acceleration differs from maximal velocity (drive and recovery phase) in the following ways: Stride length is increased over the acceleration period and front-side mechanics are stressed (e.g., leg action that occurs in front of the body) (6, 10, 23, 29).

Drive and Recovery Phases

The drive phase of each stride begins when the ball of the lead foot creates forceful contact with the surface and ends when the foot leaves the surface. The athlete’s center of gravity should be slightly behind the lead leg at the initial point of contact. The forceful contact of the ball of the dorsiflexed lead foot is extenuated by extension of the hip, knee, and ankle. The short period of surface contact should continue until the athlete’s center of gravity passes over and in front of the lead foot. When the ball of the lead foot leaves the ground, the drive phase is completed (6, 10, 23).

The recovery phase of each stride begins as the ball of the lead foot separates from the ground and continues until the foot returns back to the ground. Keeping the foot dorsiflexed, the athlete should flex the knee and pull the heel toward the hip rapidly. This allows for a faster swing of the recovery leg due to a mechanical advantage, since the leg is closer to the hip’s axis of rotation. Once the heel reaches its maximum height, the athlete should drive it forward, with the intent of passing the dorsiflexed foot above the opposite knee. As he or she begins to straighten the leg in preparation for ground contact, the athlete should focus keeping the foot in a dorsiflexed position and driving to the surface with powerful hip and knee extension (6, 10, 23, 27).

While moving through the drive and recovery phases, athletes should consider the following factors. The head should be kept in its normal alignment with the trunk and the torso and shoulders should be kept steady to avoid rotation. The body angle should remain between 80° and 85°, and the muscles of the head, neck, shoulders, and upper extremities should remain relaxed. The arm swing should start with the lead arm bent to 70° (opposite the trail leg), with the hand beside the cheek on that side, and end with the rear arm bent to 130° (opposite the lead leg) and positioned slightly past the hip on that side (6, 23). With appropriate positioning, the sprinter will display an upright trunk, level head, and maximal hip height during a maximal-effort run.

Deceleration

Successful deceleration and stopping in sports allows athletes to transition between acceleration or maximal velocity to change direction, based on what the action dictates. The key to deceleration and changing direction without coming to a complete stop is to flex the ankles, hips, and knees as each foot contacts the ground. This extends the time that force may be absorbed and distributed throughout the body, allowing athletes to reduce speed and make a change in direction or come to a stop (10).

Developed by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), this text offers strength and conditioning professionals a scientific basis for developing training programs for specific athletes at specific times of year. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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