Part 3 of 3
- Acceleration pattern sets up the race
The acceleration or drive phase must be uniform in nature according to stride frequency and stride length. Once overcoming inertia, each successive stride will be longer than the previous (until you reach your optimal ratio) and the stride frequency will progress from ‘slower’ pushes with longer contact times to a rapid frequency with short contacts once transitioning to maximal velocity. Assuming the block angles in the ‘set’ position are set up correctly, the athlete should exit the blocks at an angle to the track of approximately 38-45 degrees. The exit trajectory is dependent on strength levels and will be greater with weaker athletes as they will often struggle to achieve triple extension and will ‘pop up’ instead. The acceleration phase needs to be maintained for an optimal period (individual to athlete) of time and as deep into the race as possible. If this phase is compromised and halted too early, you will not only be in an upright running position for a longer duration than your competitor(s) but also decelerating for a greater duration. Each scenario will generally lead to a slower overall time.
Since the acceleration phase precedes the maximal velocity phase it stands to reason that once you set this up correctly your transition will be that much better. You cannot win the race in the first 30m but if done poorly, you can put yourself under duress as you will be chasing the field instead of running with them. Technical aspects to look for and cue in the acceleration phase include:
- Triple extension through the ankle, knee and hip
- Big split of the arms in the initial strides
- Trunk angle and front shin angle should be close to parallel (see photo)
- Low heel recovery; rather than cycling to the hamstring
- A piston like action with the legs; the knee should lead this
- Legs should be pushing down and back
- The head should be focussed downwards and slowly rising as you transition to upright running
- Dorsiflexion of the ankles
- Centre of mass ahead of the support leg
Like any skill, this phase of the race should be practised and drilled year round. Athletes should change their footwear accordingly as the cycles progress moving from racing flats to sprint spikes.
- Understand the difference between injury and training stress (courtesy of JJB)
There is an important distinction to note here. Each athlete must understand the physiological difference between when their system(s) have been stressed through training and when they are at the ‘tipping point’ to injury. As I have come to learn, you do need to push the envelope and challenge yourself and your athletes to persist and be resilient through tough sessions. But, you also need to know when too much pressure has built up. Mature athletes usually knows the signs and symptoms of when they may be progressing into an overtrained state or when ‘something’ is not quite right. This is the time when the coach needs to release the valve and give the athlete a few days break or plan a few low intensity sessions. Younger athletes will generally not have this insight and therefore it is up to the coach to know when enough is enough. Using an undulating periodization model will allow for a pressure release, compared with a linear model. However no programme is perfect as sometimes injuries just happen; but it is up to the coach to use their skills to predict and limit this from occurring.
- Understand which type of training makes you fast (courtesy of JJB)
There will be a certain type of programme which makes each athlete faster. You can use a broad based brush for the GPP, as many athletes just need conditioning (event specific), but once the velocities in workouts start to increase there will be sessions which make athletes and also sessions which break athletes. As above, mature athletes have seasons worth of historical data to provide an informed decision about which mix of sessions is going to elicit fast running. Coaches need to determine, using athlete history, body composition and estimated fibre type composition, where to place the focus for each of their athletes. In this case, there is always going to be trial and error but it should not take too long for athlete(s) to let you know they are feeling strong or fast after particular workouts. They do not have to lighting up the track each night, but once you see a glimpse of the good stuff, take special note of everything which preceded this over the previous four to six weeks. This should then be the backbone of your programme.
- Develop speed before you endure it
This links back to point number 7 but speed must always be at the forefront of athletes who intend to be competitive in the short sprints. Even out to quarter milers, there must be an element of speed maintained in the programme year round. One of my previous coaches used the saying you can only maintain the speed attained. I am unsure whether he stole this saying or not but the focus is always on developing a greater maximal velocity before attempting run speed endurance reps at lower velocities. Repetition work over various distances are effectively the nuts and bolts of all programmes, but there must also be time spent on maximal upright sprinting. Sprint mechanics at high velocities are not going to develop in a timely manner if the technical model is only practised at submaximal speeds. Try to keep the limiting factor to sprint performance as the primary focus for the athlete then play around with the rep ranges and distances after.
In my opinion, if you do not stray too far from these 10 aspects of sprinting wisdom you should find yourself in a conducive environment for fast foot racing.