When looking at various types of human movement, it’s common for most coaches to give advice associated with lifting. Today I want to steer the conversation in a bit of a different direction, and address how to tweak the sprinting gait, and how to hone it in order to sprint more intelligently.
No matter what type of physical activity is about to be performed, the key to doing it right is to properly set up and apply quality technique. Failure to do this will only snowball into a more undesirable outcome.
Just as when lifting barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells, there are rules to follow for correct technique in sprinting. In my 15 years of experience, I have found that there are six fundamental rules to remember. Three of these rules apply to the upper body, and three apply to the lower body. These rules apply to everyone, and they have always served me well.
The Six Rules of Sprinting Technique
- Run with the hands moving from the hips (pockets of pants) to the chin, eliminating side-to-side motion.
- Maintain a 90-degree bend of the elbows, and drive the elbows back.
- Keep the shoulders square.
- Pull the knees straight up, and do not allow them to angle towards the midline of the body.
- Run by striking the ground directly below the hips, particularly when accelerating.
- Run on the balls of the feet. Don’t be flat footed and noisy. If I can hear you coming, then you’re too slow.
Progress Your Sprinting With Intelligence
The key to intelligent sprinting is to use the same approach as intelligent lifting. Along with solid technique, we should also ease into the intensity. We don’t have to look to hit PR’s immediately. Your focus should be on learning and applying a smart progression. Once you have a hold on the technical aspects of sprinting, we can then shift the focus to performing sprints in ways that build proficiency, and fine tuning the motor skills that are necessary for full-effort sprints.
Level 1: Sprint in Place to Build Proficiency
By performing sprints in place, you can direct you focus to the six rules of running and work to balance out arm motion and foot placement. The emphases of knee drive, body control, and overall efficiency should be at the center of your attention.
One element I like to get my students to focus on is how their feet are striking the ground. I always cue them to “pull their knees up,” rather than cuing them to “lift their knees up.” This may seem like a debate on semantics, but I’ve found that it is easier for them to internalize the difference when cued to “pull” their knees. The result is a knee drive with more control and precision.
Level 2: Practice Building Up Sprint Distance And Intensity
Beginners should perform sprints at a manageable distance, while at the same time performing them at a reasonable intensity based on individual fitness and ability level. It’s reasonable to assume that, in general, a beginner shouldn’t go out and try to burn up 100 yard sprints at full capacity. You should first have a handle on technique, along with a respectable level of fitness.
A good way to build up is to steadily increase both distance and intensity. Start out performing 10 to 20 yard sprints, and gradually add speed. Once you are used to building up speed at this distance, then focus on a full effort for the whole distance. Once full effort has been achieved for a given distance, you can increase that distance and repeat the cycle. This is safe and practical progression that requires nothing more than some running space.
Level 3: Resisted and Assisted Sprints
Once you have a handle on sprinting for a reasonable distance and intensity, you can look at manipulating intensity further by performing resisted sprints and assisted sprints.
- Resisted sprints can be performed by adding an external load to make a sprint more challenging. Tools for this include bungee cords, a weighted sled, or a weighted vest. This can be structured to reach a desired outcome for more speed, or to just simply make the conditioning aspect of sprinting more challenging.
- Assisted sprints force you to run faster than you would be capable of running on your own. Assisted sprints can be performed by running on a slight downhill grade, or by using a bungee cord to assist the speed of the runner.
Resisted or assisted sprinting will add another degree of intensity to facilitate progress in your sprinting ability. Once the practical rules are in place and the progression is applied, you can readily progress your training for a more proficient gait.
Practice the Fundamental Skill of Sprinting
Sprinting is a tremendous part of fundamental human movement. I enjoy wrestling with the iron as much as the next guy, but I also believe in addressing all of the fundamental elements of human performance.
Sprinting is a skill, and like any skill, it must be practiced and honed to achieve greater results. There are technical components to consider, and with the rules that are outlined here, you have a blueprint for an effective plan of action.
How does sprinting work, anyway?