Coaching Sprinting Mechanics must not be ignored in speed training!
‘SPEED’, the buzzword in the world of sports. Those who have mastered the art of sprinting dominate those who have yet to develop it. Speed wins, every time.
Top speed sprinting is one the most complex, high-velocity human movements in sports. Top speed means 10+ yards after acceleration. Sprinting is a skill and it CAN be learned. To coach a skill, you must first seek to understand the movement and then master the mechanics.
True speed can be an elusive skill to master, and as a result, is often not strongly emphasized in programming. All too often, I hear the phrase, ‘you can’t coach speed’. This statement is likely made because many coaches simply don’t know how to train speed, never mastered the skill themselves, don’t seek to understand its full value or have never been properly educated on how to include proper sprinting mechanics and athletic movement in their coaching. More familiar methods, such as strength training, provide visible weight room results and PRs that look good on paper and pass the ‘eye test,’ but don’t always translate to the field. An athlete with impressive weight room stats, who can’t move quickly and efficiently, will not succeed on the field.
Why does learning sprinting mechanics matter?
As coaches, we need to create well-rounded programs that focus on all aspects of athletic development. Sprinting is a pillar of sports performance. The foundation for ALL my performance training is ‘Building Better Athletes, Not Weight Room All-Stars’.
When developing athleticism, one question must be answered. What type of movements are performed during the sport and how can we develop speed, power and explosiveness within these skills? Once we determine this, then we can program to improve movement skills, like sprinting, with drills and exercises focused on mechanics, mobility, power and strength.
Unfortunately, lost in the obsession of building bigger and stronger athletes, is the mastery of skills like sprinting, jumping, cutting and improving overall movement. An athlete’s ability to squat 400 lbs (even if the bar speed is explosive), only matters if they can actually apply their strength and power to on-field movements. If it doesn’t transfer, it doesn’t matter.
I’m certainly not here to say that strength doesn’t matter. Strength training is undoubtedly another pillar of athletic development. Speed and strength go hand in hand to create a successful athlete. Instead, I’m here to challenge and bring awareness to the amount of energy and importance our industry places on strength. Think about the amount of training time that is allocated to learning Olympic lifts like the power clean. Compare that to the amount of time spent on coaching and developing movements like sprinting mechanics. One skill (sprinting) is performed on every play of every game, and one is not (i.e. power cleans). If the time dedicated to learning how to properly move and sprint does not outweigh, or at least equal, the time dedicated to learning Olympic lifts, we are failing our athletes.
Learning how to sprint requires breaking down the movement into steps (as seen in the video below), developing good habits and efficient fluid movements. SPEED CAN BE LEARNED by training posture, body position and mechanics and utilizing specific drills, along with teaching athletes how to efficiently produce force during the action of sprinting. Drills help athletes simplify the complex skill, allowing them to focus on just one aspect.
The goal when coaching sprinting mechanics is not perfection. Every athlete will have slightly different quirks and movements, but the question to always ask is whether or not they are moving efficiently. Perfection is the enemy, while efficiency is the ally. Everything from how and where the foot lands, to the position of the head, must be performed with intent and purpose. Most athletes never learn to run correctly and the result creates bad habits during their developmental years. It is our job as coaches to determine if they need to relearn the skill of sprinting or just improve a few aspects, then communicate it with simple cues during speed workouts.
Not every athlete is born with equal natural abilities and each individual has a genetic ceiling. As coaches and mentors, it’s our responsibility to help athletes reach their full potential by providing the tools, confidence, and skills to reach peak performance on the field. I have successfully coached the art of sprinting to well over 2,000 athletes. It is a process, it takes time, and you must be confident and able to break down movements and sprinting mechanics for each individual.
Teaching proper sprinting mechanics does not have to be intimidating. Take the time to fully understand the movement and break down the individual steps. Like any other skill, the more you practice, the more confident you’ll become coaching, cueing and helping your athletes develop into proficient, powerful sprinters.
Along with the Simple Speed Coach ‘How to Sprint’ video, I’ve included a simple overview to help you follow my 9 coaching cues shown in the video.
How to Sprint Video Overview:
Step 1: Neutral Head: Chin neutral, eyes up.
Step 2: Sprint Posture: Neutral pelvis w/ forward lean, rod from ear through hip.
Step 3: Hip Flexion: Thigh slightly below parallel to the ground.
Step 4: Knee Extension / Flight Phase: Violent motion of leg extending towards the ground.
Step 5: Ground Anticipation: How the foot strikes the ground.
Step 6: COG: Where the foot lands.
Step 7: Recovery Leg: Action of the leg as it drives up and in front of the body.
Step 8: Arm Action: Powerful and efficient arm swing.
Step 9: Relax: Utilize only the muscles needed for fluid motion, breathe.
*STRIDE TO TURNOVER RATIO
Stride is determined by recovery leg action (Step 7) into Hip Flexion (Step 3). Turnover is the velocity through the leg cycle.
Teaching sprinting mechanics can be an incredibly enjoyable and fruitful process as you develop athletes. Take the time to thoroughly understand sprinting mechanics before you begin your instruction, and enjoy watching your athletes get faster and faster.
Paul Aanonson, MS, CSCS, FMS – Paul is the owner of Simple Speed Coach and has directed the sports performance program for North Colorado Sports Medicine since 2008, training over 2,500 athletes. He oversees the return to sport rehab program and has mentored and prepared over 130 collegiate graduates through his internship program. Aanonson graduated from South Dakota State University with a B.S. in Exercise Science and received a M.S. in Sport Administration from The University of Northern Colorado. He was a four sport all-state athlete in high school and a FCS All-American return specialist for the South Dakota State University football team.
For even more detailed information about sprinting mechanics and speed development, check out the IYCA Certified Speed & Agility Specialist course. The CSAS is the most comprehensive and scientifically sound speed certification in the athletic development profession. It truly prepares you to teach and develop speed. Click on the image below to learn more.