Longer Strides, Faster Steps Key to Sprinting

A new study asks what technique athletes should do to get maximum acceleration from short sprints. The key seems to lie in stride length, leg strength, and a good start.

Sprinting is an incredibly important part of field sports. A player’s ability to repeatedly make short, violent sprints determines how many plays he will affect. A blocked shot, an intercepted pass, a saved goal – the difference between success and failure is a tiny fraction of a second. And that time will be gained or lost in the sprint leading up to the play.

So what technique should athletes use to get maximum acceleration from short sprints? That is the subject of today’s study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Researchers examined 22 healthy young men who played field sports. The athletes were asked to run repeated bouts of maximal 10m sprints.

Researchers examined the data and asked, “What are the faster sprinters doing differently than the slower sprinters?” First, a longer stride correlated with faster sprints. Athletes with longer flight time during each stride (cue music from Top Gun) reached the finish line faster. Also, shorter contact time with the ground was an indicator of a faster sprint. The fastest athletes were experts at driving their feet to the ground quickly, applying force, and then pulling their feet off the ground quickly. The amount of force applied to the ground also made a difference. On the last stride, the fastest sprinters were applying significantly more force to the ground than the slower sprinters.

So according to this study, the keys to a successful short sprint are long strides, short contact time with the ground, and applying as much force to the ground as possible. But a previous study showed that short, numerous strides resulted in faster sprints. This illustrates the difficulty with studying sprinting technique.

But if we combine the strongest predictors from each study and apply some experience, then we can probably close in on the truth. Both studies recommend short contact times with the ground for each step, so that factor is probably universal. Today’s study found that greater force applied on the last stride results in faster sprints, which indicates that leg strength is paramount to sprint success. That also passes the sniff test. Finally, the previous study spoke to the importance of the first step in the success of a sprint. If you have spent any time with athletes trained for sprinting, then you know this is true. The start is the most critical and skill-dependent portion of a short sprint.

So like most things in life, the full answer isn’t neatly packaged and delivered to us with a bow on top. But by examining the intersection of multiple resources and applying some experience, we can coax the truth to emerge.


1. Lockie, Robert G. et al. Influence of Sprint Acceleration Stance Kinetics on Velocity and Step Kinematics in Field Sport Athletes. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: September 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 9 – p 2494–2503. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827f5103.

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