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Phases of Sprinting

By: Coach Street - at June 18, 2012
For a 100 meter sprinter, there are a number of things that you must be extremely focus upon in order to maximize your sprinting potential.  This is equally true for all sprinters and all sprinting distances (40m, 55-60m, 100m, 200m, and 400m).

For the sake of this article, I will first break it down in terms of the 100m dash.  The Five Phases of Sprinting every sprinter needs to recognize are:  1) The Start.  2) Acceleration.  3) The Transition.  4) Maximizing Speed.  And, 5) Maintaining Speed.

Many Sprinters make the mistake of only acknowledging two of these phases in their race.  Those phases are The Start, and Maximizing Speed.  Unfortunately when you do this, you cannot create the proper progression to actually meet or maintain your maximum speed.  This breakdown, when followed will train your mind and body to smoothly move through the phases to get you over the finish line faster and faster.  If you have sprinters, or are a sprinter that is having a hard time breaking past your current times, it is likely because you aren’t able to locate the points within those 10.5 seconds where you can improve.  Breaking down these phases will help you do this.

Phase 1 – The Start:

Everyone knows how valuable a good start is for any sprinter.  A good start sets the tone for the rest of your race.  In competition a great start gives you a competitive mental advantage over you opponents.  The Start, and sprinting in general is all about complete explosive and precision power.  Every flexation must be preformed to project the body in a forward motion.  During The Start, you are at a competitive advantage to making this happen. 

We categorize The Start, as the first 20 meters.  I also like to categorize it as, blocks to 6 steps.  I say this because many sprinters are confident in the speed and quickness of their first step, but it is important to know that it is the chaining of these first 6 step that creates a good start, and not just the first two when pressing out of the blocks.  In a good start you need to maintain these keys.  Each one can be worked on to some degree independently, but the absence of any of them during the race will utterly destroy the speed and power of your start.

The first key is the most commonly expressed.  I hear it repeatedly during practices and block work.  “Stay Low”.  The key to this is a little more difficult and in this is the first explanation of why you won’t have a successful start if you are missing any of the keys.   When leaving the blocks, you are at a competitive advantage over any other point during the race at creating forward momentum.  But of course this comes with a sacrifice.  This sacrifice is balance.  Coming out of the blocks you need to compromise your balance and depend on the velocity of your quickness to counteract gravity.  You SHOULD feel like you are going to fall on your face during these first six steps.  The goal positioning is 33 degrees, although all may not be able to achieve this degree or feel comfortable attempting it.  A general goal for a great start is, when your driving (extended leg) foot is on the ground, the leg should be extended.  The runner should be concentrating his/her power to the Quadriceps and Gluteus Maximus.  Grounded foot should be behind the knee, knee behind the hip, hip behind the shoulder, and shoulder behind the head.  All should be no more than 45 degrees from the ground and in a straight line connecting all four points. 

The second key is to exaggerate the arm motion coming out of the block and through the first six step.  Because of the quickness needed in each step, you may be inclined to try to shorten your arm motion in order to maintain balance.  Fight this impulse.  The legs follow the arms.  If the arms don’t extend all the way back at the shoulder, then the legs will not get full extension either, and you have eliminated the advantage of the blocks.  Use perfect form.  For more on Perfect Form, click here.  You can practice the quickness of getting you arms in full power from ‘earlobe to pocket’.   

Phase 2 – Acceleration

This is the most underappreciated phase.  But if you had a great start and your opponents are already creeping up on you, this is the phase you need to focus on.  It is also the hardest phase to focus on and takes a lot of discipline to improve upon it.  Once you understand discipline is the key to this phase, you will be well on your way to shaving time off your races and catching the competition off guard.  This phase takes place between 20 meters and 40 meters.  It is possible to push this phase to 50 meters.  The key to this phase is simple in its driving concept.  “Don’t pop up”.  This phase you want to maintain the forward lean, and continue to use Quad, Calf, and Glut as the primary muscle group creating your speed and power.  As I mentioned before, this is not easy to do.  The discomfort of maintaining this lean mean you will still have that ‘about to fall on you face feeling’.  Continue to keep your head down.  You are completely committed and confident in your ability to continually create more and more power.

Phase 3 – Transition

You’re already near halfway through the race.  During this phase, it is time to begin to shift the power from your Quad to your Hamstring.  This will transition into a shared workload for the Quad and Hamstring.  Again, “Don’t pop up”.  Popping up creates a disconnection of your body with the track.  If you are in the acceleration phase and you stand straight up, all the energy you are putting into your quads are redirected straight up rather than down the track.  Likewise, trying to switch power from quad to hamstring during the acceleration phase will cause a sprinter to effectively slam on the brake as you will be attempting to rotate your heel past your knee and your hip in order to create traction with the back of the leg.  At this point the hamstring will be over extended and you risk injury.   For this reason, discipline in the acceleration phase and precision in the transition phase is key.   The Transition Phase takes place between 40 meters and 60 meters.  It involves slowly and gradually moving into a more upright position, and likewise gradually incorporating the hamstring.

Phase 4 – Maximizing Speed

Now that you are completely engaging the race physically, you can now add to the speed obtained during the acceleration and transition phase, through the ability to increase your frequency, traction hamstring to quad, and most importantly, increasing the length of the stride with each step.

Phase 5 – Maintaining Speed

Despite what most people think, leaning on the hamstrings is not what maintains the speed.  In fact, the main use of the hamstring is not creating the speed.  What it is is the catalyst that allows for, speeding the frequency of the steps and positioning the leg to create a longer and more dynamic stride.  Maintaining speed can be reduced to this to things:  Form, and Will.  The maintenance of your form will be the maintenance of your speed.  A link to more on running form is here.  Unfortunately, There isn’t a article for the ‘Will’ portion yet.  Best of luck!






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