Sprinting through History: Changing Times & Perspectives
Determinants of Sprinting: Technological & Historical Progression
Sprinters: The People
World Record Performances
Historically, the 100m sprint has been recognized as the gold ribbon event of Track & Field, deciding the iconic title of “world’s fastest athlete”. Close cousins, the 60m and 200m are considered to be premier events, carrying high stakes, high prizes, and a spectacle to match.
The 100m sprint made its first appearance in the Modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, where it was won by American – Thomas Burke – who sealed the win with a time of 12.0 seconds. Since then, we have witnessed an evolution of progress throughout the 1900s to the modern day. We will below start our journey into understanding the genesis of the short sprint events – and their evolution, by briefly exploring how they have morphed into the popular spectacle we see today.
Sprinting: A journey through changing times and perspectives
Acknowledgements: Credits to PJ Vazel for his significant contributions to the contents of this section.
Year: 776 BC onward – Ancient Greece
The first documented Olympic Champion was Koroibos of Elis. In 776 BC, he won The Stadion – a sprint race – which remained the only Olympic event for 13 games until others were introduced later – from 724 BC. This date is key because it reflects the first date ever documented for a sprint race, meaning that the history of the sprints didn’t start from a date of birth, death, or war – but from the sprint performance of this one athlete.
In its earliest form, four running races were held during the Olympics:
Held from 724 BC onward, the Diaulos race was a double Stadion involving the athletes running away from then back towards the starting line, around a turning post. The distance ranged from around 175m to 190m, according to the venue.
Contested from 520 BC onward, this race involved carrying a helmet, sword and shield, weighing a total of about 50 pounds. The distance varied according to the track used, but ranged from 350m – 800m.
The great Leonidas of Rhodes won the Stadion, Diaulos, and Hoplitodromos in 4 consecutive Olympics (164-152 BC). Not much is known about how athletes from this era trained, aside from that stated in the Philostratus text. We can only imagine given the immense importance these races held, that the Greeks developed a huge technical & theoretical knowledge on sprint training.
Excerpts from a collection of scientific notes and sketches by Leonardo da Vinci (Paris Manuscript A) reveal interest at this time was being directed to the basic kinematics of running:
“The faster a man runs, the more he leans forward towards the point he runs to and throws more weight in front of his axis than behind. A man who runs down hill throws the axis onto his heels, and one who runs up hill throws it into the points of his feet; and a man running on level ground throws it first on his heels and then on the points of his feet.”
As reported in The London Chronicle (5-8 March 1757) the first known timing of a sprint race occurred in a 100 yard match between two tradesmen. The sprint was won in 11 seconds.
On April 6, 1896, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece – with athletes from 14 countries participating. The men’s 100 meters race was the shortest race on the Athletics program at these Games. 21 athletes were entered in the first round, divided into three heats of seven runners, but six of them later withdrew. It was ultimately won by Thomas Burke of the US, in 12.0 seconds. Burke was the only athlete who used the crouch start (putting his knee on soil), which caused confusion. Eventually however, he was allowed to start from this position.
The Games of the VII Olympiad were held in Antwerp. During these Games, the Belgium city was witness to a 100m victory claimed by Charley Paddock (USA) – in an equal Olympic Record time of 10.6 seconds. He was followed by Morris Kirksey of the USA, who took the silver in a time of 10.8 seconds.
Jesse Owens was the star of the Berlin Games in 1936, winning the 100m in a time of 10.3 seconds. In the same Games, The women’s 100 meters final was won by American Helen Stephens, in a time of 11.5 seconds.
The 1948 Games of the XIV Olympiad, were held in London, England. The final was won by American Harrison Dillard, who clocked a time of 10.3 seconds, equaling the Olympic Record. The race was recorded by a photo finish, marking the first time a photo finish camera and wind recording equipment was used at an Olympic Games.
Year: 1950 onward
In the second half of the twentieth century, competition to become the World’s Fastest Man got tougher: From 1977 onward, automatic timing was required for World Record ratification. As such, records could now be attributed to hundredths of seconds. Consequently, Jim Hines, whose 9.95s Olympic Record in Mexico City had given him a share of the World record at 9.9s, now became the sole holder of the record.
At the same time, in the United States a drive toward wider use of international measurement meant more sprinters were competing at 100m, and fewer at the imperial distances of 100 yds and 110 yds.
Aiding the evolution in speed was the transition from dirt tracks to synthetic surfaces, which offered better traction and returned more energy to sprinters. Bob Hayes’ 10.0s in Tokyo 1964 (automatically timed as 10.06s) was on a soft, chewed-up lane 1; four years later on a synthetic track in Mexico City, benefiting from altitude as much as the improved footing, Jim Hines ran a time of 9.95s.
Determinants of Sprinting: Technological & Historical Progression
As we have witnessed sprint performances evolve through the past century, we have likewise seen an evolution in supporting technologies. Below is a summary of key technological progressions which have aided the evolution of performance in the short sprints.
The first electronic timing in a competition occurred as early as 1874, during the match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities: an innovation by watchmaker James William Benson. However, for some reason the timing failed and only the hand times were given in the results (see picture below). Electronic timing was used by the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association during meets every year from 1883. However, it was not widely available in the early 20th century athletic events. Coordination of the timing to the starter’s gun became electronically automated in 1912, whereby current standards are such that electronic integration must not add a delay of more than 1/1000th (0.001) of a second to total time. Prior to 1912, hand-timing via use of stopwatches was used to determine winning times, and shortly after, chronographs and photoelectric recording technology became compulsory for timing accuracy. In 1965, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) began accepting automatic electronically timed records for up to the 400 m event. Automatic timing to the hundredth of a second became mandatory on January 1, 1977.
The Sprint Start & Starting Blocks
There are controversies about who was the first to use crouch start, with various claims abounding from assorted coaches and athletes. However, it is known that crouch start was used in professional dual races during the nineteenth century as a handicap. Is it very likely that some sprinters using that handicap still won races and actually felt better starting this way and it gained popularity.
Meanwhile, the traditional starting position for sprinting was a standing start, although other variations existed (see above photo). Records suggest however, that as early as 1884, athletes began to adopt a crouched start position through choice. Following this change, the use of divots dug into the ground to better support the feet in this position became common.
A patent for starting blocks was filed in 1927 and published in 1929. However, starting blocks were not authorized by the IAAF until 1937. Ten years later in 1948 they were first used in the Olympic Games in London. Today, starting blocks have become real technological tools, detecting the athletes’ reaction time to 1,000th of a second, based on the pressure exerted. According to IAAF rules (1991) a reaction time of less than one-tenth of a second was considered a false start. However, it has since been left to the discretion of the starter to chose the false start threshold – usually 0.100 or 0.120s).
Since the 18th Olympiad held in Japan, the last venue to host an Olympics with a track made of cinders, all running and approach surfaces have been made with synthetic materials. Percy Beard pioneered the first synthetic hard surface track in the 1940s. Since then, synthetic track surfaces have dramatically advanced to provide greater recoil for improved running times. The first US champs using tartan occurred in 1963 where Bob Hayes broke the 100y world record.
Research surrounding synthetic tracks has been contradictory. According to Stafilidis & Arampatzis (2007), although changes in track stiffness may cause differences in joint displacement of the athlete, the center of mass movement, ground contact times and lower limb mechanics remain unaffected. Whereas in the study by McMahon & Greene (1979), very compliant surfaces were reported to contribute to an increase in ground contact time, and decreases in step length, leading to slower running speeds.
The first track spikes made their appearance around 1850 and began to be sold commercially in the late 1800s by Joseph Williams Foster, who is famous for beginning the company that eventually became Reebok – the name is Afrikaans for the grey rhebok, a type of African antelope. The first spiked shoes used in a track meet were seen in 1868 hosted in London, and according to historians the shoes were helpful in winning a prize in every event in which they were used.
In the 1900s, improvements to track spikes hit their stride. A German cobbler named Adolf Dassler began experimenting with the spiked running shoes to see if he could improve them with lighter materials and better spikes. Dassler’s company, first named Addas, became Adidas. His brother, Rudi, who originally started with him, broke off and formed Puma.
In the late 1960s track spikes progressed with a material that would once again revolutionize the shoe and sport. Plastic bottom plates were added to toe area where the spikes were screwed in, and soon after, the leather material for the uppers transitioned to synthetic and mesh materials, making the spikes even more lightweight.
It is commonly thought that stiffer spike plates (generally made of carbon fiber) are preferable, providing a stiffer contact to the ground. Stefanyshyn & Fusco (2004) determined that increasing shoe stiffness increases sprint performance by modifying tension in the calf muscles. However, coaches and athletes alike should also consider the merits versus drawbacks of using stiffer spike plates.
One study looked into the influence of midsole bending stiffness on joint energy and jump height performance, and found that energy generation and absorption at each of the ankle, knee, and hip joints was not influenced by the stiffness of the shoe midsole. The stiff shoes with the carbon fiber plates did not increase the amount of energy stored and reused at the metatarsophalangeal joint; however, they reduced the amount of energy lost at this joint during both running and jumping. Vertical jump height however, was significantly higher (average, 1.7 cm for a group of 25 subjects) while wearing the stiff shoes (Stefanyshyn & Nigg, 1999).
Another study explored the relationship between shoe bending stiffness and sprint performance. While some athletes improved sprint performance times between 20-40m in a 40m sprint by using spikes with a stiffer plate (carbon fiber composition) others did not. Caution should therefore be exercised and individual choice and mechanics should be considered (Stefanyshyn & Fusco, 2007).
External determinants in sprinting and their implications
Coach Pfaff discusses the impact of weather conditions such as wind, rain, cold and heat on sprint performance.
The impact of competing at altitude.
Coach Pfaff discussed the impact of some of the key IAAF rules below, in force from 1st November 2017.
Rule 161 – Starting Blocks
Rule 162 – The Start
Rule 163 – The Race (Lane infringement)
Rule 166 – Minimum Time between Rounds
Coach Pfaff: Thoughts on competitors & the influence of others in the short sprints
Sprinters: The People
In the two videos below, Coaches Pfaff & Behm provide insights into their experiences surrounding characters and characteristics of sprinters.
Coach Pfaff on stereotypes surrounding call room behavior
In the video below Dan shares his thoughts on whether aggressive call room behavior and ‘trash talk’ are common at the elite level of sprinting.
Coach Pfaff on athlete morphology
A commentary on the various shapes and sizes of athlete we see in sprinting.
Coach Pfaff on how anthropometrics influence technique
Coach Pfaff on what qualities coaches should look for in young sprinters
Sprinting: The Statistics
As technology, movement mastery, programming and experimentation evolve, World Records will continue to be challenged. If one analyzes the various World Record performers it is always easy to find gaps or inefficiencies in program design, sports medicine approaches, lifestyle issues, competition planning, biomechanical flaws, etc. So a World Record performance is a fluid, dynamical system of factors and inputs of which it is rare to find many of these metrics in full bloom at the same time in an athlete’s career. Because of these multifactorial influencers, it is impossible to place numerical ranges or guesses upon current records and their evolution.
Videos of selected senior world record performances can be found below:
60m Christian Coleman
100m Florence Griffith-Joyner
100m Usain Bolt
200m Florence Griffith-Joyner
200m Usain Bolt
Video stop: Coach Pfaff – Historical Changes in Sprinting
As a final stop in this module, take some time to share Coach Pfaff’s exploration surrounding historical changes in sprinting and sprint models.
The sprint events have seen significant evolution, alongside evolution of technologies.
There are a range of external determinants which have impacted the evolution of performance.
Sprinters come in a range of shapes, sizes, and display a range of personality traits. However, in the best performers, there are some key commonalities.
What any discussion pertaining to ‘sprinting’ is truly referring to is running at maximal or near maximal speeds. This is achieved via the attainment of maximal acceleration, maintenance of maximal velocity, and minimization of deceleration – allowing the athlete to propel their body down the track over a given distance – in the shortest time possible.
Sprinting has specific kinematic characteristics differentiating its gait from walking, jogging, or submaximal running. Understanding what the gait cycle looks like is therefore a key tool in being able to error detect and correct against a model of motion.
What is ‘Speed’?
In the context of sprinting, speed describes the the rate at which an athlete can cover a specific distance. Short sprinters must cover 60m, 100m, or 200m, and it is those who cover the specific distance in the shortest amount of time that are considered to be the ‘fastest’. Those who take longer to cover the same distance are considered to be slower. Speed is a scalar quantity – meaning a physical quantity that only has magnitude and no other characteristics. In the sprints it is measured in time (seconds) and meters per second (m/s).
Video stop: Coach Pfaff further discusses the meaning of speed
The terms velocity and speed are often used interchangeably in coaching circles, however it is important to understand that velocity refers to a specific set of parameters.
In contrast to speed – a scalar quantity – velocity is a vector quantity used to represent physical quantities that have both magnitude and direction, and is used to define displacement (meters, inches, feet) per unit of time (seconds, milliseconds). Essentially – when we need to know which direction, as well as how fast a person or object moves, we would use this measure rather than speed.
Instantaneous v average measurements of speed and velocity
The use of two different measurements (average versus instantaneous) for reporting speed or velocity in studies can be confusing for coaches, and can often skew one’s interpretation of data if the difference between the two measures are not realized:
The velocity that a 10.0s 100m sprinter averages over 100m is 22.4 mph, but this doesn’t tell us the sprinter’s top velocity, which could be as high as 26 mph (42 km/h). Further, this doesn’t tell us anything about the sprinter’s acceleration or deceleration – which is the rate at which velocity (or speed) changes.
In sports science studies, stationary high speed cameras are often used to calculate average times over 10m segments. These provide a more accurate picture than an average calculation over the whole distance of the race, but they still don’t pinpoint exact or instantaneous speeds within these 10m segments.
Nonetheless, if you’re interested in crudely calculating average distances, speeds, or time taken to cover a distance in your own environment, the following equation can be used:
A more advanced method to accurately define speed or velocity at a certain position in time can be achieved by calculating instantaneous velocity measurements, using laser systems. For example, in a 100m race lasers placed 15m behind the start line allow the operators to use optical control devices to follow the athlete’s back during the whole race. Using the known speed of infrared light, the distance between the laser detector and the reflecting object (the athlete’s back) can be measured 100 times per second. From the position-time history, the athlete’s exact speed can be calculated at any given point in the race.
Discussion point: Data sets and the reporting of speed
Although research of the maximal velocity phase of sprinting is well documented, the caliber of subjects, and subsequently the range of velocities, is limited and often not indicative of the speeds achieved by elite level athletes.
Research on elite athletes is sparse due to the difficulties associated with collecting data, both within training and competition environments. Elite athletes are less willing to have training interrupted for the purpose of data collection, and strict rules at elite levels of competition limit what analysis can be achieved (Sides, 2014).
As reported by Sides (2014), the variation in subject information reported by authors often makes it difficult to compare research. In some cases authors state the personal best times of the sample as their evidence of elite athlete status, however this gives no indication of how they perform on the date of the research. For example Morin et al. (2012) used an athlete with a 100m personal best time of 9.96 seconds for their research, however during testing the athlete only achieved speeds of 8.66m/s.
Further, not all research reports the maximal velocity due to the difficulties of obtaining instantaneous speed measures. Often only an average horizontal velocity over the full testing and/or competition distance is provided. Likewise calculating velocity from stride length and stride frequency measures (as reported by some research) only provides an average velocity over each individual step. (Sides, 2014).
When looking at data sets, we should always therefore consider the following:
– If measurements and figures are calculated using average or instantaneous speed data.
– The method of measurement e.g. Laveg, speed guns, timing gates.
– The validity of the method of measurement.
– The conditions and population used to achieve the measurement.
Remember, correlation does not automatically imply causation. Always look deeply on this front.
Finally – beware of conformational bias when you look at models, or literature. Try to seek out studies that disconfirm your view, and use them to rationalize why you believe what you do to be true.
Video stop: Further thoughts on instantaneous versus average measurements, and research data sets.
Components of Speed
Speed covers a multitude of subcategories, which represent a spectrum of qualities including:
Below, we will provide an overview of these qualities, before delving into greater detail in how they fit into the short sprints in subsequent modules.
1. ‘Starting’ speed: The reaction-response-movement to a stimulus
The co-ordinative element of starting speed involves reacting to a stimulus – namely the starting gun firing in a sprint race. The time taken to move following the input of a stimulus is derived from a combination of both reaction and response time. Both are factors heavily influenced by neuromuscular coordination.
Reaction time is the time taken between the stimulus (e.g. starting gun) to the initiation of a muscular response as a result of the stimulus. In the sprint start, the stimulus is provided via the sound of the starting gun or device, and reaction time is measured by the first change in force on the blocks after the gun.
One of the main factors affecting this response is the number of stimuli an individual is faced with. If only faced with one possible response (e.g. react to the starting gun) the time taken to react should be reasonably short. This is termed ‘simple reaction time’. However, if faced with a number of possible responses, the time taken to choose which stimulus to react to will take longer – for example – reacting to various defenders in a football game. This is called ‘choice reaction time’.
Hick’s work (1952) explains that our reaction time increases proportionally to the number of possible responses, until a point at which the response time remains constant despite the increases in possible responses. This is termed ‘Hick’s Law’.
Discussion point: Do reaction times differ according to the race distance being contested?
Movement time describes the onset of the response until the end of the movement. In the sprint start, movement time is monitored from the end of reaction time, when the force by the rear foot on starting block is 0 Newtons, to when the same foot has completed its first successful strike on the ground. (Majumdar & Robergs, 2011).
Aside from any reactive / response elements, initial starting movement requires the ability to overcome inertia, and therefore relies on absolute power indices. The term ‘starting speed’ is therefore used to describe the velocity produced once any and all movement is initiated. It can be described by instantaneous or average data points depending on the researcher.
Response time in the sprint start represents the time interval beginning at the onset of the starters gun signal through to the completion of the movement, the first foot strike. It therefore represents the combination of reaction time plus movement time. Factors that can influence an individual’s response time include:
Stage of learning
Gender and age
Intensity of the stimuli
State of alertness
Length of neural pathways
Number of possible responses available
Level of fitness
Time available to make the response
Body Temperature (when body temperature drops reaction times slow down).
Acceleration, measured in meters per second per second (m s−2) refers to an individual’s rate of change of velocity. All speed development discussions should include acceleration factors and associated kinematics, kinetics and metrics. The term acceleration is often used interchangeably with speed, but the two terms have different meanings. This is because an object can be moving at speed, yet not be accelerating – i.e. it has a constant velocity. If the velocity of an object is not changing, then no acceleration is occurring.
Acceleration is a complex skill set and utilizes postures, mechanics and energy factors that change as the athlete becomes more upright and begins to hit maximum speed parameters. On average, it takes trained athletes around 5 seconds to accelerate to maximum speed. In five seconds, an average 13 year old with average biometrics will travel 35 or so meters, a World Class male, perhaps 40m plus. The distance covered in 5 seconds depends on skillsets, rate of force development abilities, kinematic factors, surface, weather, state of readiness, and the like.
The chart below exemplifies this, showing 10m race splits across 100m sprint performances, and reveals that the majority of top sprinters do not reach reach top speed until between 50 and 60m, with the fastest doing so through to 70-80m. This means that up until this point the athlete is accelerating.
Discussion Point: Deceleration & Safely decelerating in sprinting
Deceleration mechanics are often overlooked in Track & Field circles despite the fact that every run in training or in a race involves slowing down to a stop. The number of micro-trauma insults over a multiple sprint session from faulty deceleration concepts is staggering upon scientific reviews, and analysis by those who have studied this phenomenon.
The ability to decelerate after a run whether it be in a training session or at a race is a key wellness factor, especially as one’s career evolves and ages. Just think of the number of decelerations an athlete under goes in a weekly cycle: Warmup runs, acceleration runs, speed runs, alactic runs, special endurance runs, etc. They can easily number in the 100s each week. The velocities and forces of this decelerative process are as varied as the type of run executed.
Do we teach how to slow down in a safe and effective manner – no matter what the speed, forces involved, environmental obstacles, etc?
Do we develop skill-sets and body absorption factors in ancillary training regimes for deceleration?
If you have ever watched a world class indoor 60m race you’ll note slamming on the breaks to stop before the barrier is highly risky: Numerous leg, hip and spine injuries occur each season with athletes trying to find methods to stop in a safe and or effective manner. Often times we see athletes crash into pads after running up an inclined bank in an indoor track, hitting said pads with suboptimal body positions to absorb forces, with resultant awkward ground landing postures after collision with the crash pad.
We have charted and measured “slow downs” at hundreds of world class 100m races. Normally we see runners coming to a stop halfway around the curve or at the 150m mark in total distance covered. It is doubtful that many of these athletes have been directly coached into this paradigm, they just figure it out over time learning from the school of hard knocks. As coaches, we can do better than that. At ALTIS, we teach and coach amortization skills, foot placement and strike angles, and uniform deceleration curve awareness. We hold people accountable to this every day, all day long. In our experience, athletes who short change this KPI, experience way more chronic injury factors and increase the likelihood of acute injury occurrences.
The video below shares further thoughts on this topic with Coach Pfaff:
3. Absolute Speed / Maximal Speed
Absolute speed represents the ability to execute a specific movement or task in the shortest possible time. In terms of maximal sprinting speed, in its simplest form – speed can be considered as a product of stride length x stride frequency. However, the components influencing these factors are wide ranging. Like acceleration, speed is a skill and should be taught as such. The absolute maximum speed an athlete reaches is often defined as the top speed indices attained in two to three 10m segments back to back. As charted in the above table, this may occur anywhere between 50 and 80m for super elite sprinters.
Coaching perspective: Chidi Enyia shares thoughts on his philosophy for coaching speed
4. Speed Endurance
Speed endurance is defined by the ability to express and endure the highest possible speed for the longest possible time. This is usually between 75-100% of maximum speed over distances up to 600m. However, realize that even with speed endurance, developing maximum speed levels are still critical, as without developing high levels of speed in the first place what exactly are we enduring? The higher the absolute speed potential of the athlete, the higher the ability to endure at submaximal levels over longer distances. In the 200m for example, an athlete running sub 20 seconds has to be able to run the first 100m segment at around 97-98% of their maximal speed to be able to complete the race in a sub 20 second time.
Gait and Sprinting
It is our view that the key to athlete health is technical proficiency. As sprinting underpins all field-based sports, it is imperative that coaches understand how to effectively teach appropriate sprinting technique. No amount of specific strength will ‘bulletproof’ an athlete with poor technique. Understanding gait is therefore a cornerstone of the development and teaching of technical proficiency.
The gait cycle is the basic unit of measurement in gait analysis (the analysis of human locomotion), and begins when one foot comes in contact with the ground, and ends when the same foot contacts the ground again. Global landmarks commonly used to describe the gait cycle include:
Initial contact / Touch-down: The point where the foot contacts the ground.
Stance Phase: The weight-bearing phase of gait cycle. During the stance phase, the foot is on the ground acting as a shock absorber, mobile adapter, rigid lever, and pedestal as the body passes over the support leg. Stance ends when the foot is no longer in contact with the ground. Mid stance, or full support describes the maximum point of compression / amortization during the stance phase.
Toe-Off: The beginning of the swing phase of the gait cycle indicating the point at which the rear (stance) foot leaves the ground.
Swing Phase: The phase where the foot is no longer in contact with the ground and the free leg is recovering forward in preparation for ground touch-down.
Flight (Float) Phase: (Seen in running only) representing the period where neither foot is in contact with the ground. This includes the swing phase above.
Take a moment to watch the video below, and identify these phases for yourself.
Walking gait differs from running in that there is unbroken contact with the ground. This means one always has a foot in the stance phase while the other foot is in the swing phase. Because the stance phase in walking is longer than 50% of the gait cycle, there are two periods of double support when both feet are on the ground. People generally walk at speeds of 1.4 – 2.5 m/s.
We transition from walking gait to the running gait at a certain speed threshold between around 2.0 – 2.7m/s (Schache et al. 2014). The demarcation between walking and running occurs when periods of double support during the stance phase of the gait cycle (both feet simultaneously in contact with the ground) give way to two periods of double float (or flight) at the beginning and the end of the swing phase of gait (neither foot touching the ground).
Then, as the athlete’s speed increases, less time is spent in stance. Jogging is normally seen at speeds of around 3.2–4.2 m/s, running at around 3.5 to 6.0 m/s, and sprinting, anywhere upwards from there, depending on the individual. In sprinting, there are no periods when both feet are in contact with the ground.
The phase of the gait cycle where no ground contact is present is termed ‘flight’ or ‘float’ in the literature. In the ALTIS Kinogram method – we also reference Maximal Vertical Projection in this phase (to be discussed later in this course).
The diagram below shows the transition of walking to running to sprinting. At point A on the chart, stance phase is equal to 50% of the gait cycle, then – moving between point A and B – periods of double support in walking transition to double flight in running. Point B also represents a change from rearfoot to forefoot initial contact, for as a person speeds up, their point of ground contact shifts towards the forefoot.
When approaching maximal speed (12.17 m/s for Usain Bolt’s 100m current World Record), we see subtle differences in gait to that noted in submaximal running. As running speed increases, time spent in swing increases, stance time decreases, flight time increases, and cycle time shortens. Generally as speed increases, initial ground contact changes from being more hindfoot to forefoot. The faster the speed, the greater the reflexive supination of the foot prior to touchdown (Novachek, 1998). This is not something that normally needs to be cued, but it should be understood.
Sprinting: Foundational Biomechanical Principles
Most people are familiar with mechanics as the field of science which studies the motion of objects. Biomechanics is a related field of science, but is purely concerned with human motion. It is a science which is interested in the forces that act upon a human body, and the effects these forces produce. Sprinting comes about as a result of the application and redirection of a combination of forces, both internal and external. Understanding the essentials of biomechanical concepts is therefore imperative for coaches and performance staff, as it allows us to comprehend how sprinters move, balance, stabilize, and apply force. Those without at least a basic knowledge of what is involved in the science and application of biomechanics are likely reducing teaching efficiencies, and slowing progress.
Due to the elastic nature of the human body, the laws of rigid body physics studied in traditional mechanics do not always necessarily apply to human performance – this is why the study of biomechanics is so interesting. The elastic nature of the human body encompasses a complex system of couples, springs and three dimensional freedoms – creating multiple movement possibilities. These systems work in harmony to allow us to move asymmetrically, distort our bodies, and make incredible compensations not possible in rigid mechanical movement.
At ALTIS we firmly believe, therefore, that biomechanical efficiency should drive both training and technical model selection. Mastery of mechanics should also be of paramount importance in any program. A knowledge of this platform helps us to provide meaningful instruction, based upon the appropriate and accurate evaluation of these physical movement skills.
Coaches and athletes without a grasp of biomechanics can easily fall into the trap of mimicking incorrect style based upon the latest and greatest athlete’s performance. This is a dangerous trap, as the forces an athlete is able to apply can heavily influence the expression of movement patterns, and these two parameters are inextricably intertwined. Attempting to get a young or developing athlete to emulate the movement expression of an elite performer violates biomechanical possibilities in most cases, and will end in frustration. Recognizing what correct looks like with respect to mechanics allows us to recognize the presence and cause of these stylistic nuances. These nuances may occur due to injury, or an inability to eliminate a bad motor behavior, but being able to spot them, and understand their source is a key coaching skill to develop.
Branches of Biomechanics
As a movement science, biomechanics encompasses many realms. The three major branches of science deeply influential in the research and application of sprint development concepts and theories include: motor learning, biomechanics, and kinesiology. Concepts which base themselves on these branches of science serve as analysis grids, teaching tools, and as experimental modeling formats. Be aware however, that some of the information used in models is highly theoretical, and we are limited by technological advances in determining the validity and reliability of some of the stated claims. It is therefore important to apply rigorous analysis to claims, hypotheses, and research methodologies as they arise before accepting them as truths.
To understand the symphony of components included in this field, we’ll start by taking a look at the constituent branches of biomechanics, and what they refer to:
Linked to kinematics are two important fields:
Motor learning: A field which explains changes in movement patterns, resulting from practice or a new experience. It often involves improving the smoothness, repeatability, and accuracy of movements.
Kinesiology: The science dealing with the interrelationship of physiological processes, and the anatomy of the human body with respect to movement.
Biomechanical models and sprinting
Current discussion on sprint theory and modelling is often focused between the ‘biomechanical model’ school of thought, and the the ‘self-organization camp’. Our take on this discussion is that one has to teach to some sort of model or schematic to improve understanding of key factors like postures, angles, pathways of limb movement, etc. Study of elite speed athletes in any sport discipline – at any stage of development – provides the opportunity to identify many metrics of commonalities in execution by these athletes. Then, within any given model there are bandwidth factors to each of these metric factors, for no two athletes have identical movement signatures.
These individual differences in movement expression could be due to over-development of certain systems; genetics; skill sets; injury factors and faulty previous instruction. So, with all due respect to the ‘self-organizational theorists’, in our experience teaching towards a model speeds up the learning curve, improves efficiency coefficients, and reduces injury factors considerably. We cannot avoid the reality that there are undeniably common denominators in positions, movement schemes, and vectors to those who win World and Olympic finals: it is not a self-organizational free-for-all that got them there.
Video Stop: Further thoughts on self organization factors
A model simply describes an object, plan, or theory that represents or imitates many of the features of something else (“an attempt to represent reality”). One of the major issues we have in modeling sprinting is the fact that the human body is a complex organism, containing a series of biological springs, dampers, levers, fluids, and motors; which to fully understand and measure involves very advanced mathematical skills and understanding. To simplify we often use rigid mechanics and algebraic equations. However, this in turn overlooks the complexity of these systems and can yield false assumptions, for the storage of elastic energy occurs through the stretch shortening cycle in sprinting, and rigid mechanical models do not account for this phenomenon.
Below, we will explore some of the most widely recognized models of sprinting.
The Spring Mass Model
Overly reductionist modelling is where we get into trouble with biomechanists a lot of times. In biomechanical studies levers in the human body are often explained algebraically or with fundamental calculus, however this is an over-simplification. If we look deeper, we realize that there are in fact three degrees of freedom: There are three axes to every joint. As such, a more accurate representation of what is happening is instead yielded by exploring spring mass models. Spring mass modelling takes into account the elastic nature of human lever system interaction. Priming these springs is an important consideration when teaching sprint mechanics. The spring mass model is shown in the diagrams below.
What the spring mass model shows is that every joint in the body has a spring theory component to it. So when an athlete is in stance, the kinetic chain – from the foot to the Center of Mass (CoM) – acts like a spring, so we see ‘bouncing’ moments occur, rather than simple linear lever interaction (Brughelli & Cronin, 2008). Consequently, the classic impulse formula often applied by biomechanists, researchers, and coaches (get off the ground as quick as possible) is called into question when we consider this reality. The fact is, there is a unique amount of time on the ground for a given individual at a given rate of acceleration; at a given component of the race. This is dependent on an individual’s ability to coordinate balance, and project at the correct angle upon ground departure for the given velocity.
The Two-Mass Model
Developed in the SMU lab by Ken Clark and colleagues, the two mass model then progresses the thinking described by spring mass model. Their research suggests that the pattern of force on the ground can be accurately understood from the motion of just two body parts: The foot and the lower leg stop abruptly upon impact, and the rest of the body above the knee moves in a characteristic way. This new simplified approach makes it possible to predict the entire pattern of force on the ground, from impact to toe-off, with very basic motion data. In the video below created and narrated by Dr Ken Clark, this model is further explained.
Video Stop: Stiffness v Compliance
How do we balance these two factors to maximize sprint performance?
Free body diagram modelling
Much of the current software and film analyses formats utilize what is called a free body diagram. A free body diagram is a simplified drawing of a mechanical system, isolated from its surroundings, showing all force vectors, various angles, and torques. The goal of this modeling is to create a general format that enables us to apply a broader application of a process or results. The diagram below, for example shows ground reaction forces, gravity, air, and friction factors impacting the forward movement of the athlete.
Recognizing the point of action of a force is also important for this type of model. Drag forces for example act over the whole body but are usually represented by a single arrow acting somewhere in the middle of the body. With free body diagrams, the longer the arrow, the greater the force. A friction force will act on the foot of the sprinter, and the weight will act on their center of mass. Reaction forces act at the point of contact between two objects.
Gravity, friction and wind resistance should be considered carefully. They have huge impact – and although not necessarily under our control, they should be understood. Much of an athlete’s energy is used overcoming these factors
A deterministic model determines the relationship between the measure of a movement outcome, and the biomechanical factors that produce such a measure.
To gain an understanding of the kinematic variables which govern maximal velocity sprinting Hay (1993) originally developed a ‘deterministic model’ to explore the interactions of different variables and their relative influence on maximal velocity.
More recently Hunter, Marshall, and McNair (2004) adapted this mode to provide an overview of the components influencing maximum sprint speed.
Deterministic models such as these are useful in their ability to identify a theoretical basis for outlining potentially limiting factors in performance, and the relative importance of factors influencing movement outcomes. However, they don’t tell us how those factors are achieved from a movement strategy perspective, nor do they necessarily account for individual expression based upon athlete-centered considerations.
Maximum Velocity Models and Analysis
The use of photo sequences or kinograms to outline landmark positions and compare against technical models is also a commonly used method of analysis and review. However, as with all models, athlete centered considerations may impact what the final expression of technique looks like. Such considerations include genetics, anthropometrics, strength, endurance, mental capacity, learning capacity, ability to handle work, and fragility: all of which develop ultimate ‘style’. We will further explore the use of kinograms later in this course.
Coaching models and systems: A brief review
Coaches and athletes are always monitoring and experimenting with dynamics to increase speed. They leverage variables of kinetics and kinematics to gain speed increases, movement efficiencies, and to reduce injury occurrences. Using a combination of the above models, and/or their personal interpretation of what sprinting should look like, various individuals have come up with assorted models.
Bud Winter, Jim Bush, Payton Jordon, Tom Tellez and Brutus Hamilton were some of the pioneers of sprint modeling in the USA. Coach Tellez was Jim’s assistant at UCLA for years, while Tellez seems to have built upon this work – as has John Smith, Charlie Francis, and most of the Jamaican coaches. They have tweaked and twisted things, but the root system is still there. Loren Seagrave’s work on the neuro-biomechanics of maximum velocity sprinting is also widely read. As is Peter Weyand’s research, which suggests faster running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces, not more rapid leg movements.
More recently, Ralph Mann, and Frans Bosch are two individuals who have proposed specific models of sprinting with differing nuances on the requirements of speed. Bosch, in particular has brought an awareness of the criticality of coordination to a broad audience. Also, he has positively influenced exercise designs (in relation to promoting the value of dynamically changing movement challenges which contrast with the (generally) formulaic approach to movement drills in Track & Field 20 years ago). However, in relation to how we currently perceive coordination, and how we subsequently train it; retrain it; and optimize it, we have perhaps slipped into a conceptual rut, and need to break out of it. We need to try and understand how folks acquire, stabilize, actualize and refine movement over time and during careers.
It would be well spent time to do some research into the methods and models used and proposed by these individuals. However, it is our view that training is multi-factorial, and a big concern is with the polemic stances and tribalism which can be observed when individuals only look at one person or model. For example, dynamical systems theory has become a dogma (an unquestioned dogma) – in that it’s over-interpretation has led to a theory induced blindness whereby we have our heads down staring at the theoretical map; but aren’t looking up to see what’s in front of us.
It’s exciting to discuss theory for most, but hard work to implement, experiment and actually produce results at all levels of sport. Interesting how folks dive down the rabbit hole deeply and produce null results. Having said that, key issues, for example – applying movement perturbations around common movement themes – has a place. However, be mindful of the stated kinesiological factors, motor learning results, and the presence or absence of a fractal analysis of kinematics, kinetics, EMG, and the like in studies. Ideally, we should see layers of support and longitudinal evidence.
Ultimately, no coach can be absolutely certain about each and every method they put into practice. So while each of the aforementioned systems have produced levels of success, we would advise you don’t get stuck on someone else’s conceptualization of how to coach speed. Break it down and investigate what makes sense and is logical to you: How does that fit into what we know to be true in terms of KPIs? Reason from first principles – not analogies or what someone else is doing; instead boil to fundamental truths – what are we sure is true – and reason up from there. Henk Kraaijenhof sums this up well in an article on his website entitled ‘new and improved‘ – which is well worth a read.
Video stop: The Biomechanics of the Sprint Events by Kevin Tyler
Below you will find an audio-visual presentation outlining the biomechanics of the sprint events by Kevin Tyler. We hope this brings some of the biomechanical concepts to life before we move onto our next module.
Sprinting refers to running at maximal or near maximal speeds.
The terms velocity and speed are often used interchangeably in coaching circles, however it is important to that velocity refers to a specific set of parameters.
Average and instantaneous measures of speed reveal different results and implications.
Speed covers a multitude of subcategories, which represent a spectrum of qualities including: Starting speed; acceleration; absolute speed and speed endurance.
The gait cycle is the basic unit of measurement in gait analysis (the analysis of human locomotion), and begins when one foot comes in contact with the ground, and ends when the same foot contacts the ground again. Walking, running and sprinting gait reveal differing patterns.
Sprinting is based on key biomechanical principles which should be understood by coaches to enable the development of effective technical models.
The ALTIS Technical Model for the 60m, 100m, 200m and Associated KPIs
The Trainability of Speed
Of all the biomotor abilities, speed is considered to be the most associated with ‘talent’ (innate ability). It is also considered to be the least trainable of the main biomotor abilities when compared to endurance and strength.
However, we also have to remember that sprinting is a skill. As a skill, sprinting should therefore be practiced with a certain density per week, per month, per months of year. We see a lot of people under-train acceleration and speed mechanics, and there are still a lot of people who are into ‘building a base’ before later trying to ‘work on getting fast’ close to competition. That simply doesn’t work, and unfortunately, such methods mean individuals spend months during which the skill of acceleration or sprinting isn’t being developed: This is not a conducive way of training speed abilities!
Video stop: Further discussion on speed as a skill
Speed & Specificity
Understanding the speed requirements of a given task is a critical first stop in any planning surrounding speed development; as is giving due consideration to the specificity of the task being trained for. While mechanics are fundamentally the same for any expression of linear running speed, it is imperative to consider factors such as the rate of acceleration required, and whether the event demands maximal speed or the ability to endure speed.
Specific speed requirements for 60m, 100m, 200m
In the short sprint events there are patterns of acceleration, attainment of top speed, maintenance of speed, and controlled speed declination at the end of a race. The majority of athletes decelerate in the 100m and 200m races towards the later stage of those races, while many do not show this decline in the 60m race distances. Instead, the 60m race allows athletes to execute sections of the race with more abandon from a neuro-energetics standpoint and the control over rate of acceleration does not appear to be as critical as it is in the longer sprint race distances. How an athlete acts upon the rate of acceleration will determine where they hit their top velocities, and ultimately how many steps they take at top end of speed before exhibiting a decline in speed – due to bioenergetics and peripheral fatigue factors.
Video stop: Further explanation on bioenergetics, neuroenergetics and peripheral fatigue factors in sprinting
There are also patterns for the systematic rate of increase in speed as the athlete hits their top end levels. When we do intra-athlete studies of top 5 races versus average races, this rate of acceleration and the uniformity of hitting top end speeds are always evident. If one rushes the rate of acceleration, and/or executes a radical change of speed as they hit their ceiling speed, normally they hit their top speeds earlier in the process, and show a larger decline of speed during the maintenance and later phases of the race.
Most athletes at the elite level of 100m running reach their top velocities at distances ranging from 45 to 50m and are able to hold on to this speed for 2 to 3 10m zones. After that there is a uniform decline in velocities over the subsequent 10m zones. In a few rare cases, this decline is minimal but all athletes show some reduction.
In the 200m races, it is evident that the second 50m segment is the fastest for both genders and from there on it’s a battle to minimize speed reductions. One can also note the elapsed time for the first 100m and compare that to that athlete’s open 100m PR. It is evident that for speed conservation and negotiating running on a curve that athletes run with a much more tempered pace and control, especially on the rate of acceleration from the blocks to the first 50m split time.
Video stop: How does the bend in the 200m impact speed requirements?
Specificity: Expressing speed in a competitive environment
Equally important is considering how the athlete needs to express speed in the context of competitive performance. For an elite 100m sprinter, for example, with a goal of competing successfully in the Olympics – they must be prepared not just to run one 100m race as fast as possible, but to do so with 7 other athletes around them. They have to be able to do this after having run consecutive rounds in previous, or same days.
Deep consideration of an event’s competitive demands is therefore a crucial part of defining ‘sports speed’ for a given distance. Further, understand that in the same way that speed characteristics can be developed by intelligent teaching and programming, they can be destroyed by inappropriate training or programming which fail to match the requirements of the task in hand.
Specificity: The demands of single races versus championship rounds
In our experience, running a single race on a given day is a very different puzzle when compared to running rounds on consecutive days in a major championship. Some athletes struggle to successfully execute in rounds, others struggle to do one off races. Through experimentation in training programs, race selections and scheduling and data analysis at the end of each season, we have been able to identify gaps in preparation – current and past – along with deficiencies in recovery protocols as the main culprits in mastering the ability to do either sort of race demands. The inability to perform in rounds has obvious consequences at major championships – but likewise, the inability to do a single round race at a Diamond League meeting can be a career-ender also. Some athletes struggle mentally, and perhaps physiologically doing one off races so creative work on warmups, mental skill development, etc., are critical tools in overcoming this performance issue.
Our personal bias on development for rounds running is that coaches do not do enough top end speed running through various distances and or zones in a given training session in a systematic way over the entire training year. Many folks train sound density, volume, and intensity factors for acceleration purposes and likewise for top end speed purposes but fall short when it comes to the later stages or zones of the race. To give a specific example for 100m runners, we always have sessions like 3 x 70m, 3 x 80 or 3 x 90m with full recovery as a KPI session several times a cycle. If athletes can not hit consistent times with good form during these runs, then they will struggle with rounds in our experience. These runs have to be near race pace and reveal consistent characteristics from run to run on all metrics.
Video stop: Coach Pfaff further discusses the topic of athletes who excel running rounds, versus those who excel in single races.
Video stop: Chidi Enyia – How can coaches identify and regulate the emotional load that comes with competition?
Strategy: Biomechanical, biological and cognitive strategies for speed expression
The biomechanical, biological and cognitive strategies for racing over different distances is always a topic of conversation among athletes and coaches at any level. We have found through years of experimentation, data collection, debriefs and actual seasonal metrics that we adhere to the belief that one trains the 100m model in the main and then makes adaptations for specifics from there, whether racing up or down.
Our research shows that athletes modulate the rate of acceleration, manipulate zones of maximum speeds and find specific strategies over time for speed maintenance. Despite these strategic adjustments; sound biomechanics, training appropriateness and respect for biological processes must be tenement. It is also our belief that the use of ergogenic aids have distorted and perhaps wrongly influenced individuals trying to decipher the puzzle in a non-drugged state.
The greatest variable of change when racing over differing distances is usually noted by a defined change in the rate of acceleration ranging from actual block clearance values up to the attainment of top end speed. Sampling of dozens of both male and female metrics from athletes under our watch show an up-tempo rate of change when racing indoors over 60m compared to the normative data exhibited outdoors over 100m. When we analyze 100m metrics and compare them to the 200m race distance, a corresponding shift in this rate is also seen.
Video stop: Further discussion on how changes in the rate of acceleration ranging from actual block clearance values up to the attainment of top end speed are manifested
It is interesting to note that several of our athletes exhibit a consistent pattern, leaning to the 100m scheme, during indoor 60m competitions and have produced very elite results with that strategy. It is also pertinent to note that a majority of athletes actually exceed their PR in the 60m race when racing the 100m event outdoors. Weather conditions, time of year in the training process, etc., may contribute to this metric – but it is relatively consistent over decades of observation.
This subtle shift in rate is influenced by a variety of kinematic and kinetic adjustments. The landmark positions and effects that we describe when discussing the sprint start, acceleration factors and high speed obtainment adjust in a uniform and systematic manner when up-regulating or down-regulating race distances. There does not appear to be a reductionist or linear shift in these variables across populations in our data sets; it involves a conspiracy of factorial changes that are subtle, but uniform in nature.
A difficult area to measure and analyze is the biological/biochemical differences that occur when one adjusts strategies and rates of effort. We have seen hundreds of athletes manipulate their block clearance values; speeds to 10m, 20m and 30m; and zones of maximum speed to match values exhibited by the world’s best. Unfortunately the cost biochemically was too large, and their ability to produce effective speeds in later zones of the race were drastically compromised.
One must be aware of the energy costs for each zone of the track raced and how to be energy efficient through the various zones in order to have substrates for future efforts in the later zones. There are also biological waste product factors involved which often fall under the heading of buffering systems when one accelerates substrate utilization. We use the analogy of effective gas mileage use as in automobile travel: Jack rabbit starts are fun, exciting, and powerful – but the cost at the pump often tempers this desire to race from the green light. There is also a structural cost as RPMs elevate as shown in car engine and drive-train analysis. Compare the problems encountered by drag racing enthusiasts to that of road touring cars for example.
Video stop: Further thoughts on energy costs for each zone of the track raced and how to conserve energy through the various zones.
Video stop: Further discussion on biological waste product factors.
Sprinting: Teaching, analysis, and the use of ‘phases’
Before we move onto an exploration of philosophy, technical models and KPIs, we want to drive home a key point: When defining the constituent elements of speed, the literature often discusses a start phase, drive phase, transition phase, and maximum velocity phase. As a teaching exercise, we will be exploring these constituent ‘phases’ both in the sections below, and throughout this course to provide structure for our discussion. However, realize that from a coaching perspective this is not the best way of teaching, nor a paradigm that athletes should be concentrating on: Separating a race or any other accelerative / sprinting activity into ‘phases’ does not accurately explain the fluid and progressive nature of effective acceleration through to top speed.
An athlete should never perceive speed expression, an overall race, or sprinting itself through the lens of separate ‘phases’: This more often than not results in significant compromises of posture, rhythm, and pressure.
Instead, athletes should be thinking about the expression of speed as a fluid, blended, activity – with an execution from start to finish which manifests itself as a harmonious whole; irrespective of the distance being covered. Rather than teaching ‘phases’ when communicating concepts to athletes, we should focus on coaching mechanics and concepts i.e. teaching rhythm, postures, head position, arm use, and leg positions. We should teach concepts surrounding ground contact times, and flight times, and – above all, uniform acceleration patterns as a whole. By doing so, we will be building a mental model which – through acceleration and maximum speed zones – directs them to:
Project maximally with each step
Raise their center of mass with every step
Increase their rhythm with every step
Doing so will bring far greater benefit than trying to force an athlete into contrived ‘phases’, regardless of whether we are talking about covering 60m or 200m. Further, whenever we discuss acceleration, speed, and related concepts, ensuring athletes have a holistic understanding of the blended and interdependent nature of these variables allows us to better communicate technical requirements, and give our words greater impact.
Guest view: Coach Stuart McMillan on separating the race into phases
The use of ‘Key Words’ & the ALTIS Philosophy of Sprinting
Written by Stuart McMillan
Key Words and complexity
Carson and Collins have discussed the use of ‘motoric words’ (or ‘mood words’) as a strategy to work through the complexity. These types of words have been used by coaches for generations to communicate what is important within their methodology. Carson and Collins opine that these mood words “may offer a better balance between verbal and nonverbal retrieval processes explained by Paivio’s (1971, 1986) Dual-Coding Theory; that is, activation of a powerfully resonant verbal code serves to automatically activate associated motor networks within the nonverbal system.”
They go on to describe a variety of research describing consistent benefits from using ‘holistic’ as opposed to part-process words; the use of such words – such as ‘drive’, ‘thrust’, ‘smooth’, and ‘glide’; as opposed to ‘arch back’, ‘hips up’, and ‘wrists firm’ – especially when performing under anxiety conditions – have, for decades, been shown to lead to superior performances.
From a coaching perspective, as long as these key words provide a high level of context for the athlete, and are situation-specific (i.e. they give a clear understanding of the technical objective), it seems they may form a bridge between conscious and non-conscious control of movement.
Rather than detailed technical explanations, if coaches can provide feedback in such a way as to promote a ‘feeling’, perhaps we can more effectively bypass cognitive consciousness, and acquire more efficient movement earlier in the teaching process.
Guest view: Stuart McMillan explains how he developed his use of keywords to promote feeling and bypass cognitive consciousness
Defining key words
The following are the words we find ourselves using most often to describe the most important concepts to sprinting fast. These form the basis of all our conversations regarding the technical execution of the sprinting process:
Instead of teaching to disparate phases, our eight words form the basis of all our conversations with athletes regarding the technical model we teach to, irrespective of the distance they are training for. These words are selected specifically for their ability to speak to the athlete – to simplify otherwise complicated concepts, to communicate the holistic nature of sprinting, and allow for the most efficient bridge between conscious and non-conscious control of movement.
Pressure implies the force that is applied per step. In the sprints this speaks to the magnitude of this force, as well as the direction in which this force is applied. In the 100m, for example, we are attempting to apply maximum pressure on every step. Practically this actually plays out as a feeling of increasing pressure through the sprint until the athlete is fully upright then – like a kettle of boiling water – an ultimate release – where the athlete will find the freedom to let go and to bounce through to the finish. With other events or sports, we must select the appropriate amount of pressure relative to the tactical strategy to be employed.
It is important to understand that the direction of application of pressure must change during every step until the athlete is fully upright. It is here where most athletes get it wrong – as rather than gradually climbing through their acceleration, applying pressure incrementally more vertically with every step, many athletes attempt to ‘stay low’ – pushing back for as long as they can. However, this is a sub-optimal approach, because in reality there is a velocity change with every step, so there must be a concomitant kinematic change – athletes must feel like they are continually climbing. If the athlete does not orient their force in an incrementally more vertical direction with each step there will be a pressure gap – and an associated reduction in pressure in subsequent steps. ’Staying low’ may get you to 50m fast but you will no doubt pay for this tactic later in the race. The athlete that understands the most optimal magnitude of pressure as well as the most appropriate direction in which to apply it will be the one who ultimately comes closer to maximizing their performance.
Rhythm refers to a regulated recurrence in the time of a temporal pattern within a movement or set of movements, where the constituent parts are relatively stable (MacPherson & Collins 2009). The importance of rhythm in the manifestation of sport performance cannot be overstated, and is highly correlated with concepts such as coordination fluidity and flow; with the best movers among invariably having the best rhythmical abilities.
Research suggests that in order to perform gross motor actions we assemble coordinated rhythmic movements holistically; with contributions from the nervous system, the circulatory system, the musculature, and the skeletal system – as well as the interplay between them – all determining efficient movement. The better the communication, the more coordinated this interplay, and the greater the protection from the potentially disruptive cognitive and emotional states that inhibit fluidity. In fact, MacPherson & Collins (2009) suggest the attainment of rhythm “may be the only necessary strategy when attempting to produce peak performance.”
In sprinting rhythm refers to the coordinated interplay between stride length, stride frequency, time in the air, and time on the ground. It involves alternating periods of contraction and relaxation: strong and weak elements – attractors and fluctuators. Importantly, it describes not only how efficiently an athlete can contract and relax within each stride but how the athlete can coordinate this over the given distance of the entire sprint. The most effective rhythm for a 100m sprinter, for example, can be expressed as a crescendo – where stride length, stride frequency, and time in the air should incrementally increase from the first step, until the sprinter has reached maximum speed. At the same time, the time spent on the ground should incrementally decrease over the course of the same period. This is the same rhythm as seen on the Long Jump or Triple Jump runway – there is a reason jumpers request a crescendo hand clap rhythm!
Like rhythm, timing is highly related to coordination, fluidity, and flow. However, where rhythm is the interplay of stride length, stride frequency, ground contact time, and flight time through the entirety of the sprint, timing is how the limbs coordinate within each sprint cycle. Good timing means that amortization times are optimized – both in the air and on the ground. The reorganization of the limbs, working effectively with oscillating and undulating hip and shoulder axes, goes a long way to determining sprint speed. In flight, more elite sprinters fluctuate between periods of contraction and relaxation more effectively than their novice counterparts; moving through stronger and weaker elements (attractors and fluctuators) in a highly organized and efficient manner. On the ground, elite sprinters are those who begin their strike towards the ground at the most optimal time, in the most optimal direction; initiating ground contact at the most optimal position relative to the sprint, and to their center of mass. Elite sprinters will time the strike such that the greatest amounts of force are produced during the first half of the ground contact – orienting their mass relatively more vertically. The timing of the limbs is potentially mediated by the fascial system, whereby elite movers seem to have a more efficient ‘communication pathway’. In fact, the musculoskeletal system interacting with the nervous system in a highly organized manner tends to be highly correlative to elite sprinters.
Guest view: Stuart McMillan – further discussion on the concept ‘… in flight, more elite sprinters fluctuate between periods of contraction and relaxation more effectively than their novice counterparts; moving through stronger and weaker elements (attractors and fluctuators) in a highly organized and efficient manner.”
Shape refers to the positions an athlete occupies during the course of a sprint, as well as the nature of the changes in these positions over time. Any given ‘shape’ must accommodate the bandwidth of the following:
It is important to understand that there is an appropriate shape for each task, for each individual, in each situation. Too often coaches blindly copy the best in the world and affix this ‘idealized’ mechanical model to their athlete population regardless of the above. While there are biomechanical truths that must be adhered to, we must always remember to teach to the athlete’s most efficient movement solution – not ours. An essential part of a coach’s job is to recognize and respect each athlete’s particular manner of movement – the shapes they make – and teach to an individualized model based on this. For the most part once these optimal shapes are identified they should remain fairly consistent over the course of the sprint while respecting that – especially with the longer sprints – there are periods of lesser and greater intensity. Abrupt transition between shapes is energetically inefficient and is why teaching to phases can be so ineffective. In short sprints especially, shapes should remain uniform from the start to the end of the sprint.
Elevation relates to the overall height of the CoM through the sprint cycle. Recent research tells us that sub-elite sprinters experience 5-6 degrees more flexion at both the ankle and knee through mid-stance of ground contact than elite sprinters (Sides 2014). Elite sprinters apply a majority of their force during the first half of the ground contact, thereby orienting their forces relatively more vertically. Where elite sprinters will seem like they are bouncing their way down the track, less elite tend to over-push, meaning they spend too much time on the ground behind their CoM leading to a back-side biased cycle and all the kinematic adjustments that relate to this. Once upright, athletes should be instructed to elevate – to push down, or for some to lift up. While ‘nice and tall’ is a common coaching cue to speak to this concept, more often than not it fails to emit the correct technical response – instead leading either to excessive plantar flexion or spinal extension or both.
Guest view with Stuart McMillan: Further discussion on the point “… elite sprinters apply a majority of their force during the first half of the ground contact, thereby orienting their forces relatively more vertically.”
It goes without saying that power plays a critical role in speed, however it is rarely the most powerful sprinter that wins the race, or beats their opponent. Elite sprinting requires that the sprinter not only produce high amounts of force, but also produce it in the optimal amount of time, and align it in the optimal direction. As it relates to our key words as an efficient retrieval of a technical concept, power is important only during early acceleration – when time on the ground is in excess of time in the air. Once flight time exceeds ground-contact time (in most elite sprinters somewhere around the 6th-9th steps) the word power is no longer effective, and we should move on to words that more accurately describe our technical objective for the remainder of the run. However, because the speed reached in the initial steps highly correlates with the speed reached at maximum velocity it is important that the athlete maximize this portion of the run. Power is a word that resonates with most athletes, and when they have the time required to feel a horizontal push during initial acceleration power is most useful in reminding the athlete of the specific objective and feel.
As it relates to sprinting, to run with peace means to be fully present – to be mindful of what we are doing. When there is no attention given to either the past or the future we have more control of the present. Optimal movement requires the clarity attained from being mindful – free from stress or anxiety – to move peacefully. This mindfulness is what allows the athlete to run free – with a fluidity of movement that is only manifested when the athlete is at peace with what he-she is doing. Many coaches use the word ‘relax’ – but ‘relax’ may be the most non-sensical and over-used cue there is. Relax means nothing to an athlete – it is actually the antithesis of what we want and will not allow for the effective illustration of pressure, power, rhythm, or timing – nor the optimization of elevation and shape. It is peace that we want: an emotional-psychological notion where all the other abilities can be achieved.
Guest view: Stuart McMillan on the cue ‘relax’
Perhaps the biggest technical issue we see in sprinting is athletes who rush their acceleration. In a hurry to stand up and sprint, many especially youngsters, don’t maximize their time on the ground during the initial stages of the run. Generally, when we get anxious we rise our head and jut our chin forward. In sprinting we will often see this fairly early in the race, or run – especially under pressured situations. This cervical extension inhibits the ability to maintain a neutral pelvis and will often lead to a relatively backside cycle. Instead the relationship between the chin, the chest, and the pelvis must remain consistent; any deviation in this will negatively effect pelvic position and lead to sub-optimal performance. When instructing an athlete to be patient, we often relate it to an airplane taking off. The bigger the more powerful the plane the longer it needs to accelerate – effectively the more patient it is. Smaller planes – with less power – do not require the same distance to travel before take-off. This is the same with athletes – the bigger the ‘engine’ – the higher the eventual maximum velocity – the more patient the athlete needs to be during acceleration. The coach must then ask themselves “what size engine does the athlete have?” The rate of rise and the rhythm of the run is dependent upon this.
KPIs: What are they?
In the video below, Coach Pfaff explores the meaning of a KPI, and how they are relevant to coaches.
Creating a KPI hierarchy
One of the first things a coach must understand when considering a technical model is the hierarchy of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and what the vanguard obstacles are to executing them effectively. If we select the right cue, for the key problem, at the right time – to effect change in a technical model – then many of the smaller problems we may see will also disappear. Like weeding in a garden – find the main root, rather than pulling away at the leaves. When considering what to cue to impact a technical change, first identify the most powerful viruses interrupting the desired outcome. If you clear the most powerful virus, the derivative viruses will often clear up.
Oftentimes, young coaches may see a lot of things that are wrong, but don’t know how to rate KPIs to know which to cue first to clear faulty schematics. This can cause confusion as they end up cueing everything just to ‘be sure’. Indeed, too often, coaches satisfy the assumed need for immediate answers by leaping in and tackling the most obvious cause to the problem at hand. To find the root cause of any aberrant movement, or technical dysfunction, however, is one of our greatest challenges; and one which should be considered more deeply within the movement’s KPI hierarchy: Experienced coaches know that movements existing outside of the athlete’s bandwidth of normality have many potential causes, and that it is our job to identify the root cause. There is always a reason for aberrant movement. If an athlete starts to move differently to ‘normal’, there is a reason for this – don’t just attribute this to a fluke. It needs to be recognized as soon as possible. While sometimes there are multiple causes it is still practical to do all we can to best determine ‘the root’ or the causal KPI virus highest in the hierarchy, and then find the branches from there.
ALTIS KPIs for the short sprints
Literature reviews, coach/athlete interviews, program auditing done worldwide, observational note taking, and the personal journeys of our coaching staff has led us to define some globally accepted KPIs for the short sprints. The art of coaching is exemplified by including these major factors into your programming in a systematic manner, within a noticeable hierarchy assigned to the various building blocks. Realize however, that the variables are fluid and the ranking of importance may change with in a microcycle. The following listings are not all inclusive but we feel like they identify the big rocks for program design, monitoring, and analysis.
Starting speed: defined as the velocity obtained during the first step of a race.
Acceleration ability: defined as the ability to effectively and consistently produce a velocity curve that results in improved performances.
Event specific speed: entailing the analysis of every section of the race distance under review. These are normally done in 10m segments on most biomechanical reviews.
Absolute, starting or inertial strength: a quality that produces effective starting speed in a consistent manner.
Relative strength: the ability to produce necessary forces in the right sequence and direction during a speed run.
Power indices: metrics that define various kinetic and kinematic results during each step of the run.
Elastic strength: including strength factors associated with collagen based architectural systems and those systems ability to aid the movement solution in running faster.
Speed strength: a term that defines the athlete’s ability to apply forces in a timely, efficient manner.
Skill (technique or form)
Sprint specific skills: including things like the ability to effectively start from the blocks, master various kinematic and kinetic requirements for the entire run and limit fatigue factors at the end of a race.
Power demands: these hugely influence the ability to execute the above mentioned factors. A deficiency in power expression at key instances will compromise the movement solution options and execution of said options.
General efficiencies: these fall under the header of movement literacy both general and event specific.
Stamina (work capacity)
A base of specific demands for sprinting: this includes biochemistry factors, bioelectric factors and architectural efficiencies.
A base of general demands: including qualities necessary to support more event specific work types and loads.
Complexity of training units and multilateral adaptations: these must be respected at all times as none of the above factors ever operate in isolation.
This is a general term of classification that specifically tries to define movement control factors of the body, and in particular joint specific actions and timing for the various tasks found in a sprinting event. The major players in this movement expression puzzle include:
Muscle systems and contraction types
Joint Integrity and Function
Neurological Inhibition and Expression
Guest view: My KPIs for the short sprints – with Donovan Bailey
Guest view: My KPIs for the short sprints – with Bruny Surin
Technical models for the short sprint
Here at ALTIS we teach towards a sound technical model for 100m running, even during the indoor season while racing 60m events. It is our experience that athletes normally increase the rate of change in a systematic manner for the shorter dash, especially if they are well schooled in the principles and concepts.
The 100m model does have variances in section execution, depending on many factors from athlete to athlete. Knowing strengths, weaknesses, common error points in the race, and reviewing previous race histories are starting points for fine tuning the race model. The biomechanical principles proposed in this course must be evident, and the dynamics of each step must change in a uniform, systematic manner.
For example, some athletes are great starters and accelerators so keeping that quality strong while manipulating training and concepts for what to do when they reach top end and how to hold onto those speeds would be the biggest part of the puzzle. Other athletes may be adequate starters but what they execute in the top end speed zone is what separates them from the field so again keeping this feature prominent while improving the start and late race tolerances will be the game plan for those individuals.
Dan to do
For the 100m, it’s commonly understood that an abrupt transition from acceleration to maximum velocity posture is an inefficiency that disturbs rhythm and momentum. To address this sprinters regularly practice a violent, patient and uniform acceleration through transition, where the hips and shoulders rise together.
In the 200m, it’s irresponsible to hammer the entire curve at 100% effort and expect to establish control through arguably the most important segment of the race (80-130m) – or have adequate energy for an optimal finish. A common 200m tactic is a 50m acceleration, followed by about 40m of high speed maintenance. Then a second effort at about 90m, with very specific technical focus to enhance the curve to straight transition.
Obviously each one of these examples are somewhat over simplified since there are a number of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that lead to fast times, but that paints a broad picture; in essence – race modeling is the opportunity for the coach and athlete to develop a sense of race day independence. This is achieved through the application of strategic plans that maximize their specific skills, within the context of the event’s technical demands. In the process of doing this we raise athlete awareness to elements that can negatively influence their execution, and ultimately the outcome of a race. We’re looking to set them up for the best possible outcome – no matter the conditions on that day – whether they win or not.
Contrary to what some might be thinking, this isn’t a promotion of rigidity if you’ve developed contingency plans along the way; but rather an establishment of stability within the common chaos and uncertainty that exists in a highly competitive environment on race day.
In order to be an effective tool, race modeling must be integrated into training schemes throughout the year – early and often. Sufficient time should be spent teaching the technical components of each event, while also addressing their respective specific velocity and energetic demands. Look at the 200m for example; we know some of its KPIs are high level acceleration; maximum velocity; speed reserve and speed endurance – but there also needs to be a sound conceptual understanding – built through repetition – of how those pieces fit together harmoniously.
If you want to address the curve, accelerations at varied distances plus timed race pace runs through 50, 90 and 100m checkpoints are helpful. A sample session could be 1×30, 40, 2x50m in blocks plus 2-3x timed 90m with full recoveries, to work through feeling the high speed maintenance zone. Through experience, I’ve noticed that athletes are able to dial in tempos not only at lower intensities, but at higher, more race specific velocities; therefore timed runs are a good tool to create a reference point they can refer from to establish their own pattern.
For accuracy’s sake, there’s a tendency to see about a 0.25-0.30s difference in time when comparing open 100m and 100m split times for Olympic Games and World Championship participants: So if you’re using a 100m checkpoint in a specific session, it’s safe to say you’ll want to go through at about 95-96% of your perceived best effort. If you’ve been monitoring and recording times and other relevant information regularly, you should notice trends that give you an idea of what the athlete is ready to run on any given day.
For transition work, accelerations can be done starting at different points on the turn – ending anywhere between 30-80m from the finish – while cueing posture, control and positions within the lane. A sample session here would be 1 x 90, 105, 120, 135m w/ 10-12’ recoveries. Timing different segments within those runs is useful for tracking velocities and strengths / weaknesses from person to person.
Finally, you can use different combinations and variations of speed, or special endurance runs to promote a quality blend of those components that improve finishing velocity. So, a good option is 1 x 250, 200, 150m at around 95% perceived max on that day – with full recoveries, and a huge emphasis on relaxation and composure.
These suggestions aren’t absolutes, but they should give you some ideas to work with. Ultimately, you’ll have to make adjustments for the level and type of athletes you have.
Video stop: Coach Pfaff – further thoughts on race models for the 60m, 100m & 200m, and what they tell us
Video stop: Chidi Enyia – on running your own race and race modeling
In the video below, Coach Enyia explores what it really means when an athlete says “I ran my own race” in the context of race modelling.
Using data to create context for race modeling
Below, the final section of this module provides an example of some key data sets which coaches can use to develop race models, technical models and KPI factors.
Example energy distribution model
Based on a 10.0s 100m sprint, Coach Tom Tellez reports an estimated distribution of each of the factors in the following graph.
Example race model
The diagram below outlines the acceleration pattern used over a 100m – 200m distance. It is based upon data taken from Usain Bolt’s performances in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.
Collating data, such as found in the table below is a useful exercise for coaches, as it provides information on what performance indices we should be working towards.
100m Sprint – example data
60m Sprint – example data
Among currently ranked all time top 10 sprinters for the 60m, data reveals the following:
200m sprint – example data
Among currently ranked all time top 10 sprinters for the 200m, data reveals the following:
Of all the biomotor abilities, speed is considered to be the most associated with ‘talent’ (innate ability). It is also considered to be the least trainable of the main biomotor abilities when compared to endurance and strength.
Understanding the speed requirements of a given task is a critical first stop in any planning surrounding speed development; as is giving due consideration to the specificity of the task being trained for.
The greatest variable of change when racing over differing distances is usually noted by a defined change in the rate of acceleration ranging from actual block clearance values up to the attainment of top end speed.
Separating a race or any other accelerative / sprinting activity into ‘phases’ does not accurately explain the fluid and progressive nature of effective acceleration through to top speed.
Key words can be used to provide context and promote feelings.
Identifying and ranking KPIs is a key facet of coaching the sprints.
Technical and race models should be understood and applied in a manner relevant to the athlete’s stage and development.
Please be aware, that while we are examining starting abilities in isolation for teaching purposes in this module, we feel that the whole process of any sprint – from start to top end speed – is a transition process.
Starting ability refers to an individual’s capacity to overcome inertia in an efficient manner, resulting in faster results for the distance in question. Start positions are dependent on the athlete’s current health status, skill sets, and bio-motor factors. However, all starting models should be taught with a push mindset, and must involve balanced starting positions and postures which allow the athlete to apply efficient and effective forces to accelerate properly for the task at hand. The overarching principle for any start must always be considered with the aim of placing the body in the best possible position to overcome inertia, with the maximum amount of power, as the athlete begins to accelerate.
Research shows that with each step taken from the stationary start position, ground contact times lessen and flight times increase. At the same time, stride frequency and stride length increase – growing in nature with each step. This process is uniform and defined in part by power indices and technical mastery. The crux of effective starting lies in the harmony of these variables, and demands precise awareness of time spent on the ground and thigh angle displacement – by both the athlete and coach. Longitudinal data sets gathered over the past 40 years reveal that the distance the center of mass displaces off the start, as well as the speed of that displacement are a major KPI to fast times. This is evident in both inter and intra athlete studies.
Compromise in these factors, as well as positions and alignment factors may result in greater initial parameters, but will cost the athlete in later phases of the event activity. Any metrics analysis should therefore measure not only initial kinematic results on takeoff, but factor in all the other variables until task completion is obtained. For example, an extreme attack angle (below 45 degrees) off the start may result in superior 10m and 20m time results, but will fail to produce effective times at 60m and 100m.
Types of Starts
The method of starting style or format used by an athlete is often dictated by current state of health, energy levels, weather conditions, surface availability, time of season, and type of session being utilized; meaning coaches may choose a range of various starting derivatives for a given day. However, irrespective of start position, the aforementioned first principles still apply, and should guide the execution of the model you are working towards: In any start position, if we push down and back against the ground, the body will move forward and up and the opposite arm will rebound forward.
A wide array of starting methods exist, including:
Standing Hanging Start
3 Point Start
4 Point Start
Drop in Start
Skip in Start
Dribble Bleed Start
These methods will be discussed in our teaching inventory module – Module 8.
Of note, it has been very interesting for us to collect data on athletes executing relay starts, hanging starts, and 3 point starts by sprinters of all skill levels, genders, ages, under pressure, and in solo attempts, etc. Our findings reveal that when using these methods, a majority execute better in terms of velocities, acceleration curves, kinematic landmarks, and kinetic data points. Perhaps we should study how they run fast from those positions and somehow transfer those lever positions, angles, balance points and weight distributions over to the blocks?
Setting up the Start: Block Set Up
Correctly setting up blocks is a critical factor in starting efficiencies. Time should be spent with the athlete to ensure block set up optimizes their ability to effectively and consistently project themselves off the start-line. This can be monitored by addressing:
Angles that permit proper and efficient force application
Positions that result in effective force application duration
Vectors summing and being developed to maximize displacement
The above should be addressed while keeping in mind the necessity to create a movement signature that promotes health and well-being.
Block spacing is individual to each athlete, and determined by individual anthropometric, skills and physical capacities. However as a starting point we suggest using two shoe lengths to the front block and three shoe lengths plus a hand spacing to the rear block as a good starting point.
Block pedal angle
Right angles are the strongest structural angle possible. It is why most building construction occurs with that consistency. With that in mind we try to have right angles at the ankle joint area on the blocks – meaning foot axis compared to lower leg shank. We also know that for stationary propulsion a 45 degree angles produces maximum effect. Taking these simple principles we therefore recommend that the lower shank or shin angles be at or around 45 degrees to the ground at the set position. This allows for a synchronized dispersion of forces throughout the entire body upon reaction to the starting stimulus.
In order for balance and force application to be optimal this also strongly supports having the block pads also set at 45 degrees. Steeper block pad angles will result in extreme ankle flexion and most likely too low of a projection line of force at initiation. Our data sets show disjointed body positions, irregular movement signatures, and compromised forces with athletes who choose drastically different positions of the block face angles.
Setting up blocks on a bend
Video stop: For novices, which foot should be the placed forward in the blocks?
On your marks position
As the athlete contacts the blocks, we prefer both toes to be in contact with ground as they fit into the block pad. This helps to set up tension within the foot and posterior leg through myo-fascial slings, it also increases hydraulic pressure in the forefoot region.
In general, foot position is very important. Dorsiflexion of the ankle alongside toe flexion helps to load the ankle and foot like a spring. This also promotes good fluid dynamics in the myriad of joint structures present.
Discussion point: Different schools of thought on block contact
Arms should be perpendicular to the track, and shoulder width hand spacing should be used. The shoulders should be directly over the bridge made by the hands.
Hands and Fingers
Most athletes use a ‘V’ position between the thumb and fingers. We study the pressure on the finger nails when the athlete is on their marks, and we do not want to see an increase in pressure in the nail beds as they rise to the set position and hold this position. We coach balance and pressure in the front hip area with corresponding pressure on the back block. If that occurs, there will be minimal weight on the hands.
Head and neck
The head and neck should be neutral and relaxed – with the eye line slightly behind start line.
The front knee should sit close to, but not touching the middle of the athlete’s forearm.
The rear knee sits on the track, directly underneath the hip, at a distance of 6 to 8 inches in front of the front pedal. In most instances the femur will be perpendicular to the ground.
The Set Position
Once the athlete is commanded to come to set, we want them to feel most of the weight and pressure centered in the front upper thigh/hip area, with no increase in pressure on their arms or hands. The angles of the knees and lower leg shank can be observed by the athlete to some degree if head positions are in line with the spine, or with the cervical area in a rounded state. A slight stretch should be noted on the rear leg as the top of the set position is obtained. The stretch should not encourage a loss in the 120-130 degree angle that we look for in the rear knee.
Coach Tellez used to have his athletes hold this set position for an extended period of time during early season introduction of process cycles. Some of these holds were done over a 1-2 minute period. If balance and weight bearing efficiency is obtained, it should be easy to stabilize and hold said position. In our experience, even the most novice athlete can hold their stationary posture in a 3 point or hanging start position once the fundamental landmarks are taught. Placing the second hand on the ground should not alter positions to a great degree when transitioning from a 3 point to 4 point starting position.
We encourage a slow, deep stomach breath as the athlete rises, and then a deep breath hold with ribs expanded at the top of the set position. The inhalation should be via the nose.
Video stop: Further thoughts on breath holding
Hip / shoulder axis movement
As the athlete moves into the set position, their hips will rise directly upwards so the shoulders remain directly above hands. Head and neck should be in neutral alignment with spine.
Many athletes have a tendency to roll the hips forward as they raise their hips. However, understand that this will put undue pressure on the hands; will off center the fulcrum balance point of the front leg and hip; and in general result in over rotation of the body system upon extension from the blocks.
The hip axis should always be higher than the shoulder axis at the end of the set position, usually with the arms perpendicular to the floor.
Video stop: Further comments on weight distribution
The head should be dropped or in-line with the spine. Many coaches, including Coach Tellez like head in line with spine. We prefer cervical flexion to aid spinal reflex actions; as we feel rounding through the spine and shoulder/chest area in the set position can allow athletes to apply more force as a result of myofascial factors and fluid dynamics within the vertebral disc systems.
Strong and skillful athletes attempt to present a 90 degree angle at the knee joint. As discussed previously, at rest – right angles are very strong and stable angles. For athletes with lesser power and or skill abilities, a more open knee angle will be more effective. Carl Lewis, for example, consistently presented 100 – 105 degree knee angles. He had very long lever systems, was very skilled but did not possess extreme levels of starting strength or stationary inertial strength. Many women have a 105-10 degree knee angle. There is no magic in the 90 degrees – it’s more spectral than that. If an athlete is set up at 90 degrees on the front knee and not strong enough to utilize this angle, the knee will yield (drop) meaning they will most likely project the total body axis too low and as a result will step out with the lower leg to catch himself from the over rotation forces or exhibit a zigzag start.
In our experience athletes swing out the lower leg, casting, and or zig zag due to a projection angle that is too extreme or low for their abilities or state of readiness on that run. We think that the rightening reflex takes over when extreme systematic rotation occurs so that one’s only option to counter such negative forces is to stand right up or swing out the lower leg to catch oneself. The zig zag phenomena may be a reaction to alarm theory and are panic reactions to stay on pace with the general alarm dynamics of task. The femur to torso angle upon ground departure is also important to maximize force application. Being too closed at the front knee at set resulting in a low projection angle may make it difficult to open up the chest and hit this landmark position.
The angle should be between 120 to 135 degrees. Looking side on, the shins should be pretty much parallel to each other. Realize also that their angles dictate the force vector coming out of the blocks.
Video stop: Further discussion on stability and ankle, knee and hip angles
The athlete should be pressing into both pedals to put a stretch on the posterior chain (by pressing heel down). When an athlete comes to the set position, the weight should be primarily on the hip of the front leg. Pretension should be present in the glute, tensor fascia latae, etc. The more tension the athlete puts on the gastroc-soleus complex, the better the reflexive action off the pedals will be.
Discussion point: Further thoughts on pretension in the set position
Case study: An overhead perspective with Coach Pfaff
The video below provides a differing perspective of the start, reviewing some of the key points discussed so far.
Go and block clearance
Our biases and areas of emphasis are based on 45 years of experimentation with athletes of varying abilities and experience. Our number one goal for the execution of initial movements from the blocks is to find a sequence that is easily remembered under pressure, can be replicated consistently, has contingency factors built into the design, and allows for athletes to monitor and describe the process. The descriptors earlier in this module on how to set up blocks is a chapter in this process.
Reacting to the gun
We teach the concept of being shocked by the gun, not listening to it; but again this is a very personal bias. Sound and percussion waves travel at vastly different rates, and percussion waves are detected by skin sensors. That information is transmitted way before the inner ear architecture and CNS can process the auditory waves. There is also a large body of work on the acoustic startle reflex that may play into this information/reaction loop. Blast overpressure research is also an interesting area to address on this complex biological reaction to noise, waves, and resultant forces. From the startled reaction, our cue system varies with each athlete; with a wide array of athletes utilizing analogies, some using internal cue formats, and many using an external cue map. It truly is an experimental game at that stage of the process for us. On the breath side of things, during the reaction/propulsion phase, we teach a forced exhale via the mouth at that stage of movement.
Video stop: Further discussion – should athletes be reacting to, or anticipating the gun?
Discussion point: False starts
False starts have been radically reduced since the adaption of the no false start rule by the IAAF in 2003. U.S. High Schools have adopted this rule at different times over the same period. We practice false start recovery mechanisms and contingency plans even though the numbers haven fallen drastically. The ability to refocus and regroup is a complex skill and must be challenged systematically on a regular basis. It is our opinion many false starts occur due to imbalances in the set position, guessing on the starter’s rhythm, over emphasis on listening loops, and lack of reflexive contributions to the start signaling.
Leaving the blocks
On the first step, the head should move up, and the CoM should push ahead of the start position or line. The shank angle of the lower leg should be very acute in the first couple of steps. For the first 4-6 steps the leg action should also be piston like – striking down and back, after which the stride becomes gradually more cyclic. Whenever the foot leaves the ground, the athlete should maximally dorsiflex the foot, as this aids in producing stiffness upon ground contact.
It is also critically important that the athlete push into a ‘high-post’ – violently and completely up, with a large sweeping action of the arms as the shoulders travel along the line of force. At its completion one should observe the ankle, knee and hip within that same line, so the entire force can travel through the body to maximize the velocity and distance of the launch. This action is exemplified in the video below:
If athlete does not push up along a high post line, the hips will stay behind and they will be bent over at the waist. This type of faulty posture leads to a loss in energy which ultimately means decreased velocity, as shown in the graphic below.
Guest View: Chidi Enyia “Patience” and “Power” off the Start
Pushing into a high post position off the start requires the athlete to execute with patience and power. Coach Chidi Enyia discusses this point further in the video below.
Projection angles off the start
Projection angles of the athlete’s center of mass off the start are a product of force application. Elite sprinters generally project around 45 degrees, and from this position most rise within a bandwidth of somewhere between 6-8 degrees per step for men, and for women 8-10 degrees per step. Really strong people may change their projection angle 6 degrees each step, so may not be upright until the 12th or 14th step. To be able to achieve this means these athletes have overcome the fear of falling. However, most world class folks are upright by step 8-10. The continued acceleration to 40-60m is achieved via force angles and ground contact time manipulation.
In stationary start methods, generally we look for an attack or projection angle somewhere in the neighborhood of 45*. Skill level, energy state, injury status, environments, etc. will all influence the bandwidth on this. Normal ranges are noted from as low as 36* to as high as 50* with novice athletes. On the start methods whereby the athlete is already in motion when serious force application methods are instigated, the attack angles and resultant rate of change with these angles are velocity dependent. The faster the entry speed, the less the attack angle.
Younger athletes with less developed power indices should start at a higher projection angle. Starting too low for this population will usually result in undesirable compensations. So if we have a young athlete in middle school with lower power, they can’t attack at 45 degrees – 50 or 60 degrees would be better, and body angles may instead change 12 degrees each step. Forcing young athletes into the same pattern as elite athletes simply doesn’t work.
Angles should change with each step taken from the start.
What about ‘staying low’ and ‘lean’?
Correct starting technique has nothing to do with ‘staying low’ or trying to ‘lean’. The angle of projection or ‘lean’ we see off the start is a product of force application. Whether or not an athlete appears to be projecting low or ‘leaning low’ is a consequence of the angle of application of these forces; how we contact the ground; at what direction; and how hard we are pushing. So if there is a faulty lean – either the vector or the force application is wrong. All forcibly trying to ‘stay low’ achieves is loss of force, lateral stepping, or stumbling.
Cueing ‘stay low’, or ‘lean’ when an athlete may be upright by the 6th step only serves to interfere with rhythm and patterning. Athletes with lower skill or power levels will be up sooner and transition faster than world class power machines. With younger athletes, they may hit top speed by 40-50m – that’s all they can produce – so it’s key to have great mechanics and proper alactic values to hold on the rest of the way. Increasing mitochondrial stores will also aid this enduring process. This is not done by longer runs like 150s or even 120s. It is done by sessions like 2x2x70 or 80m with big recoveries. Times should be equal and very fast once they learn how to do the sections.
Discussion point: Chest to thigh angles off the first step
You don’t see anyone with low free leg knee positions in Olympic finals. But how does the knee get there? It’s not about just ‘getting your knees up’. The landmarks here are a litmus test of having done the preceding things well. If you push against the back block and put a big stretch on the heel, the leg will rebound to a closed position. The kinaesthetic feeling is similar to what the athlete experiences when doing an upright skipping action. The unconscious movement scheme is to apply force into the ground with the support leg while letting the free leg react to those forces by relaxing, and just getting out of the way. We struggle mightily with athletes who come to us and have been cued to actively lift their knees during the initial steps of acceleration.
Discussion point: The toe drag
Many coaches who join us onsite for the ACP ask us about the toe-drag. The videos below discuss this concept in further detail.
Stride frequency, stride length, ground contact time off the start
We know from studying the best people at all levels of sport that stride rate and stride frequency qualities grow in harmony with each step taken from the start. We derive this information from studying foot patterns down the track, collecting force platform data, using Opti-jump apparatus, and implementing 1080 data algorithms, etc.
As each step gets faster it also gets longer until the athlete hit tops end speed (world class men 55-65m, women 50-55m). There is a tendency in novice athletes to over do either stride length or stride frequency. Our data shows a greater tendency to over exaggerate the frequency curve as opposed to over pushing during the first four steps of a start. Instead, to begin the process of harmonious transition to top speed, the start should be driven by the athlete intentionally pushing step by step. With each successive step there is less time to push, so as discussed previously, angles of projection have to change towards upright maximum velocity sprint posture. This step by step long axis change is outlined in the diagram below:
Over rotation, stumbles, and zig-zagging off the start
In stationary starts – if you look at long axis of body projection, projection angles are around 45 degrees for elite sprinters coming out of blocks. When most athletes get lower then 45 degrees they over rotate, and as a consequence flight time is reduced. Due to the decrease in flight time, the athlete’s ability to rearrange the limbs correctly to strike the ground on the next step is compromised, and so they will either step out forwards and block to counter the over rotation, or zig-zag out of the start stepping out side to side in an attempt to apply force. As such, if we see an athlete’s lower leg swing out, causing them to stumble, our first instinct is to look at their preceding step. When we see a stumble, the preceding step is generally too low causing the athlete to over-rotate and feel as if they are ‘falling’ – so they step out to catch themselves – it’s a stumble reflex. The cause of this is either spending too long on the ground on the preceding step causing an over-rotation; or pushing at too steep an angle.
Video stop: Further discussion on ‘zig-zagging’ off the start
Discussion point: Should we be cueing a low heel recovery off the start?
The low heel recovery debate baffles us. There are plenty of guys sprinting well with higher recoveries. If we refer to classic physics, the recovery height should grow each step if dynamics are in proper order. Heel recovery height is controlled initially by set up in the blocks and how one loads the block at set. After that it ties to double leg pressure upon reaction. The recovery height is a result of these factors; it’s not the KPI people are making it out to be. We have seen no evidence that it has huge effects on sprint speeds. Possibly the reason it draws attention is that it is easy for a coach to see, as opposed to the other items we have mentioned; so folks gravitate to things they can see and play with.
What we should see however, is a vertical axis of the foot off the start. Note the photo below – almost every sole of the foot is vertical – the athletes did not over plantarflex from the block, because if they did they would have over rotated and fallen.
Video stop: Why should we see symmetry off the start?
Analyzing the symmetry of the body provides a useful metric for force production and balance of forces. Coach Pfaff discusses this concept further in the video below.
The block start – a video summary
Before moving onto some specific case study discussion on starting to close this module, the video below features Coach Pfaff reviewing the discussed landmark features of the block start. Take a moment to recap on these landmarks before moving on.
Starting: Video Case Studies
A commentary on a competitive group block start practice session with Coach Pfaff.
A rear view block start commentary with Coach Pfaff.
Block start side view commentary with Coach Pfaff
Sound principles are universal: Johnny Peacock – 2 x Paralympic Gold medalist
Starting: Kinogram Case Study
The use of kinograms was most recently popularized by Eastern Bloc countries in the 20th century. They made the tool more common in their coaching education circles during the 1960s and 1970s with artist/coaches like Ozolin and Birkner leading the way in volume and complexity of designs. Video and film technology was expensive, logistically difficult and not very accessible in that era so the use of still film photos and drawing transfers from limited film libraries filled the gap. American journals such as Scholastic Coach, the Athletic Journal and Track Technique were early resource suppliers for this tool here in North America.
We feel like the use of this tool is a foundational stage for developing the ability to see movement. Photo analysis, varied speed video review, perspective of views and reverse video processes are just some of the essential skill development parameters needed by a coach interested in movement skills development and or efficiencies. There are limitations in this approach such as the inability to see tempo analysis, rhythm analysis, elastic/reflexive analysis and precise movement expression pathways. Efforts in the utilization of kinograms can not limit these restrictions but in our experience, practitioners will fail to use the more complex grids if they can not identify KPI factors from still photo sequencing. Another limiter in this mode of analysis worth noting is that it is 2 dimensional in format.
In our experience this methodology is also a valuable tool for athlete education, not just problem solving for the coach. Many athletes do not understand or can list in detail what are the KPI factors for their event or the particulars of their event at key moments in the race. They fail an even greater test when asked to list in a hierarchical manner the KPIs that they can identify or deem imperative. They have a tendency to watch film like they are at the movie house and their comments as to what they see or noticed are often not that useful and often times are unfounded.
Film speeds, angles of camera setup, panning versus still, parallax, resolution of film, perspective of view, background to establish frame of reference and ground markings for reference are all factors to consider and control when utilizing this scheme of analysis.
The first stage in developing a scheme to utilize this instrument is to identify key spatial landmarks and landmark moments for the section of movement to be analyzed. In addition to these landmarks we can also do rudimentary analysis of movement pathways of certain limbs, anatomical body parts and the center of gravity. It is helpful to use background objects to add in consistent analysis.
Our first level of analysis for block start and initial acceleration dynamics sees a still photo of the athlete at the set position. Some coaches will also use an on your marks photo to see if there are inconsistencies of position during that phase of the start.
From those beginnings we have identified key moments and positions for analysis to occur at toe off, mid-flight, touchdown and mid-stance for each stride taken in the movement period under review. We look at angles of projection, lines of forces, joint positions and angles, appendage positions/symmetry and flight dynamics.
These variables are compared against what we term a normative technical model. While appreciating individual nuances and solutions, in our opinion there are normative actions and positions with some degree of bandwidth. Deviations or bandwidth are then compared to inter and intra athlete data sets over time to study efficiencies and injury risk metrics.
Once errors of movement are identified it is imperative to do a causality listing. Many movement errors are sourced in preceding executions. There is also a knock on effect meaning a major fault early in the process may have ramifications and movement compensations for several resultant strides or contacts.
Key point: We caution coaches who become enamored with a key position or movement path during these analysis. Realize this is just a frame or series of frames of the entire movement. We see many inexperienced coaches cueing athletes to hit a specific position or to execute a particular movement path and while those may be useful for a certain stage of development, we must always consider that many movements and positions are created by earlier movements and positions. We must always keep in mind the entirety of the task at hand and become more expert at determining why an athlete can not hit a position or movement arc. Just demanding a position does not ensure synergist influence.
Kinogram case study – Usain Bolt, Jamaica: 8 time Olympic Gold Medalist; 11 time World Championship Gold Medalist; WR holder 100 & 200m
In photo 1, we note fairly normal block angles with relative close block spacings, wide arm spacing, slight forward lean, toe contact with the track, hip axis well above shoulder axis, head in a extended position with the spine, greater than 90* front knee angle and shins relatively parallel. The shank angle of the front leg appears less than 45*. Concerns with this setup are systemic imbalance and possible forward rotation of the system from the inherent setup. The wide arm stance also lowers system C of G height. Rear foot position shows noticeable rear foot pressure on the block pad. The rear knee angle is greater than 130*.
In photo 2, initiation of movement finds simultaneous hand pickup and noticeable amortization of the front block ankle. This amortization response is often referred to as front leg knee drop. While not as extreme of what we see with some athletes, it is still an energy leak. Concerns for this reaction are over rotation, extremely low projection angles, reduction in time for rear leg recovery and repositioning and resultant lateral step by the rear leg. While producing huge horizontal forces with this tactic, there are critical risk reward factors at play in my opinion.
In photo 3, knee drop/ankle amortization factors stalls with shank projection angle being near 30*. Knee and hip extension of the front leg is late compared to normative data.
In photo 4, we see rear leg recovery dynamics. Front shank angle is still somewhat low and body limb symmetry is apparent. Lead arm block finds the humerus well in front of the torso with an open elbow angle. Head position is in line with spine. Heel recovery height of the rear leg is within 30 year norms. Head position is now in line with the spine.
In photo 5, Total body extension is occurring. Note lead arm excessively above the head, very steep left leg shank angle at block departure that is not an extension of the entire leg axis, relatively open torso to right thigh angle, extreme torso extension and lack of appendage symmetry. In our opinion most of these away from normal bandwidth positions are due primarily to the front knee drop discussion previously noted.
The humerus of the rear arm blocks at right angles to the torso. Left ankle plantar flexion is excessive and is not harmonic with ipsilateral knee and hip extension values. In photo 6, we see an execution of toe drag acting upon the left leg this time. Note retardation of recovery mechanism in order to effect this movement path. Rear leg touchdown distance from rear block is within normative data sets.
In photo 7, we note a strong foot bridge on the right side, continued foot drag on the left side. Very low heel recovery evident. Arm are elongated with very open elbow angles. C of G has risen within accepted norms. The right foot contact has drifted severely to the right side of the lane which is indicative of the preceding attack angle being too low or steep. Torso symmetry to lower leg shank angles is off. Friction of drag distance is large.
In photo 8, we see a very closed posture of the upper body, appearing to be less than in photo 5 implying a compromised position to regain force potentials. Torso to thigh angle on the left side of body is below normative range.
In photo 9, we note an acceptable shin angle of support leg. The total body axis angle to the ground is now within normative ranges. Front arm block of hand near shoulder height, rear arm block with elbow open. Head position in line with spine. Forearms show sound symmetry to one another and with lower leg shanks for both legs. Strong foot bridge dynamics evident. Some femoral internal rotation showing. Left ankle exhibits normative dorsi-flexion values.
In photo 10, we see symmetry of attack leg lower shank and the torso of the body beginning to appear. Extreme plantar flexion at the right ankle joint. Thigh to torso angle now in line with normative metrics. Attack angle of the lower body not in harmony of the upper body attack angle and as a result, increase hip extension to compensate on the right side. Forearms exhibiting better symmetrical alignment.
In photo 11, we note a dorsi-flexed left foot contact and a lagging, very low right leg recovery moment. There is noticeable listing to the athlete’s left with the long axis of the body. There is noticeable right arm flair out and away from the body in this frame capture. The left shoulder exhibits noticeable drop in the horizontal plane. The right leg recovery position is late according to our norms. Head position and gaze has dropped from previous positions in earlier frames. Lower leg shank angle and torso angle line up well in this frame. Elbow angles are a bit drawn and closed compared to norms.
In photo 12, we see a continued strong foot bridge on the left side with other appendages beginning to hit timing landmarks expressed in normative data. Arms are not synchronized in this frame. Contact leg shank is parallel to torso in this frame.
In photo 13, we note an extremely rigid support ankle complex. Arm positions are synchronized and relatively symmetrical with the right leg. Head position is in line with the spine. Right ankle dorsiflexion angle is short of the norm.
In photo 14, we see a solid attack angle with a nice line of extension on the entire left side of the body. The left arm front block exhibits a very closed elbow angle. The right lower leg is a bit casted outwards yet appears symmetrical to the line of attack. The right thigh to torso angle is a bit more acute than normal on this frame. Head position is slightly forward of torso.
In photo 15, we see a hinged upper body position as downward thigh velocities begin. The elbow/knee angulation relationship ( right knee, left elbow) is also lacking complimentary timing. Very strong right ankle dorsiflexion and foot bridge postures evident just before strike contact. Head is in line with spine. There is a maintenance of closed knee angle on lead leg, no outward casting of the shank.
In photo 16, we note elbow extension and complimentary balance features of the arms with left arm slightly ahead of schedule. Ground contact lower leg shank angle and ankle rigidity is on par with model dynamics. Upper body is closed and not harmonic with ground support angle of shank. Heel recovery dynamics are normal for this step number from the blocks.
In this sequence, if one uses the stadium background for reference we are starting to note C of G rising when compared to early sequences.In photos 17-20 we see an attack series with the left leg in recovery mode and striking the ground.
In photo 17, we see the recovery leg shank parallel to the ground. A noticeable heel sink upon contact is evident as this puts posterior structures on stretch. Shank angle of support leg is in direct line with torso.
In photo 18, we see the heel of the recovery leg passing the support leg at knee height. Strong foot bridge dynamics evident. Arms are still parallel to support shank angle.
In photo 19, we see a toe off that reveals controlled ankle, knee and hip extension. The forearms of both arms are aligned with shank of the free leg. The total body attack angle appears lower than the previous contact on the opposite leg.
In photo 20, note maintenance of closed knee angle on lead leg, no outward casting of the shank. Shank strike angle is greater than torso attack angle at this instant.
In photo 21, we see just after touchdown that the heel of the support leg sinks to create stretch. Heel recovery height shows shank parallel to the ground. There is reduced elbow extension on the left side. When compared to frame 17, there is a more drawn and kyphotic posture evident.
In photo 22, we see what can be described as mid-stance phase. Heel recovery height is above support knee by this step count. Forearms show symmetry with attack leg shank. Torso is aligned with support leg shank. Foot bridge is rigid and evident of distal foot restrictions. This is evident in all comparisons of right to left foot bridge dynamics in the entire sequence.
In photo 23, we see the extensive phase of this sequence, just before toe off. The line of force for the total body axis is beginning to show alignment of all joints monitored. Total body line of force aligns with free leg shank position. The arms are a bit incongruent compared to earlier frames.
In photo 24, we see toe off features. Flight time is evident. We see a collapsed elbow on left side. There is some eccentric casting of the lower right leg. There is over extension of the ankle joint at the toe off moment.
Coach Gary Winkler – Starting & Acceleration
As a final stop in this module, the extended video below shares an insightful presentation by Coach Gary Winkler on starting and acceleration. We suggest you ring fence some time to watch this in full before progressing onto the next module which expands on the principles discussed in this module, looking specifically at acceleration.
Starting ability refers to an individual’s capacity to overcome inertia in an efficient manner, achieving faster results for the distance in question.
With each step taken from the stationary start position, ground contact times lessen and flight times increase. At the same time, stride frequency and stride length increase – growing in nature with each step.
The method of starting style or format used by an athlete is often dictated by current state of health, energy levels, weather conditions, surface availability, time of season, and type of session being utilized.
Correctly setting up blocks is a critical factor in starting efficiencies. Time should be spent with the athlete to ensure block set up optimizes their ability to effectively and consistently project themselves off the start-line.
Understanding key landmarks, cause and effect through the ‘on your marks’, ‘set’ and ‘go’ phases of the start are critical in maximizing starting efficiencies, and should be studied by the coach.
Please be aware, that while we are examining starting abilities in isolation for teaching purposes in this module, we feel that the whole process of any sprint – from start to top end speed – is a transition process.
Fundamental Acceleration Concepts
Acceleration is defined as a positive rate of change in velocity. The inverse term, deceleration, describes a declining or negative change in velocity. Commentators and well meaning spectators will often say that a person is accelerating if they are running quickly. However, a person can be sprinting very quickly, yet still not be accelerating – for acceleration describes a change in how fast person or object is moving. If an athlete is not changing their velocity, then acceleration is not occurring. In coaching vernacular, the term ‘acceleration’ is often used interchangeably with ‘drive’ and ‘transition’. Specifically however, acceleration explains something we are concerned with from the moment the athlete leaves the blocks, or any other start position. When an athlete accelerates our overarching aim is to overcome inertia and generate momentum. This requires the appropriate application of force to raise their center of mass from the given start position.
As outlined in our discussion surrounding the separation of sprinting ‘phases’, it is more prudent to examine the start and subsequent acceleration phases as a part of the whole, rather than elements unto themselves. That is, rather than solely judging the effectiveness of the start and initial acceleration on how fast the athlete gets to 10/20/30m in a 100m sprint, for example, it is wiser to examine its efficacy based on how a given acceleration pattern effects running position, posture, and the ability to effectively apply force given these factors. As such, some of the contents within this module will overlap with those concepts discussed in the previous module, due to the intertwined nature of these elements – both should be considered as a part of a whole.
As we have explored earlier in this course, acceleration KPIs include attack angles, contact times, flight times, stride length, stride frequency, limb movement paths, joint angle analysis, and the like. Any model should of course have bandwidth on each KPI to account for different skillsets, but there must be some movement towards a mean factor in each of these kinematic measures.
Irrespective of the distance covered through the course of an acceleration, the overarching principles for all athletes remain the same. So, as an athlete accelerates from a starting position, with each step we should see:
Attack angles lessening with each step taken, with the long axis body angle becoming more upright by 4-6 degrees with each ground contact for a strong, mature and experienced sprinter. (However, this figure be higher for weaker/younger athletes).
Stride rate/frequency and stride length increasing in a uniform manner, in relationship to one another.
Ground contact time decreasing and flight time increasing. This happens at a ratio of 2:1 at the start (Ground time : Air time), 1:1 during ‘transition’, and 1:1.6 at maximum speed.
Limb angles changing in a uniform manner in coordination with the aforementioned variables.
The speed at which an athlete is able to raise their center of mass and increase their rhythm (cadence/frequency) is determined by their individual acceleration abilities, as well as the intensity with which they are accelerating on the day.
Acceleration and Force
When accelerating, the aim of the athlete should be to apply the maximum amount of force, as quickly as possible, in the appropriate direction. This concept is well explained by Ken Clark: “during acceleration, the two major force requirements are:
1) To apply sufficient vertical force to support body weight and rebound the center of mass into the next step, and …
2) To apply the rest of the available force backwards to propel the center of mass forwards.
“To apply net horizontal propulsive forces during acceleration, the runner positions the center of mass in front of the foot for the majority of ground contact. As the runner continues to accelerate and approaches top speed, the body becomes upright and the majority of the forces are directed vertically down into the ground. Furthermore, ground contact times decrease in proportion to running velocity. Therefore, during initial acceleration, the ground contact times are relatively longer (~0.15-0.20s); but as the runner approaches top speed, the ground contact times are much shorter (0.08-0.12s, depending on the runner’s ability).”
“This implies that during acceleration, the key kinetic determinants are the ability to apply larger mass-specific horizontal propulsive forces during relatively longer ground contact times, while still applying enough vertical impulse to support body weight. At top speed, the key determinants are the ability to apply large mass-specific vertical forces during relatively shorter ground contacts” (Clark, 2018).
Guest view: Donovan Baily – can you remember what an effective start and acceleration felt like?
Acceleration: Global Concepts
It is a non-negotiable truth that without effective and efficient acceleration mechanics, the maximum velocity potential of any athlete is greatly compromised. We use three key words to form the basis of teaching acceleration concepts: Projection, Rhythm, and Rise.
Projection – the hips should project forward appropriate to the force-power abilities of each individual athlete and the angle of projection. If these two are in congruence then projection can be maximal, and will still allow time and space for the feet to hit the ground under the center of mass (remember accelerative strike points are different to Max V strike points). Athletes should be encouraged to understand not only the importance of maximal projection but also the angle of projection. Far too many project too low and either cast out, or skate side-to-side as a consequence. The athlete should find the appropriate projection – maximally – at the right direction at the right time, while fluidly rising rhythmically over time. This is task, environment and athlete dependent.
Rhythm – there should be an incremental increase in flight time and an incremental decrease in ground contact time over the course of the acceleration. This gradual rhythmical change is analogous to a musical crescendo – it should look and sound this way to a coach and feel this way to the athlete. Also remember, there is an appropriate rhythm for a task – a 10m sprint will have a very different one to that of a 100m sprint.
Rise – there should be a smooth and gradual rise of the center of mass with every single step until the athlete is totally upright. At no time should an athlete be told to ‘stay low’ – there is a velocity change with every step that should be accompanied by the appropriate kinematic change. The athlete should feel the hips and shoulders rising uniformly with every single step. Good cues include ‘feel like you’re running up stairs’ or ‘feel like an airplane that has just taken off’.
It is important to understand that to optimize maximal velocity, acceleration cannot be timid; instead full commitment to each step, and an understanding of efficient mechanics of acceleration is the key to maximizing top speed.
From the first force applied into the blocks, force will be returned equally and in the opposite direction in the form of a straight line through the shin from the malleoli, and through the middle of the shoulder joint, at an angle around 45 degrees relative to the ground. This angle will be determined based upon the relative force generating characteristics of the athlete, as well as specific morphological considerations. Generally speaking, the stronger and shorter the athlete, the lower this angle can be. It is important that the athlete pushes back hard through the heels onto the pedals, as this will set up appropriate levels of pre-tension so as to minimize vertical drop of the front knee and shin upon initial projection.
When the athlete has posted up from the blocks and continues to progress following the initial start movements, you should be able to draw an imaginary straight line from the ankle through the ears, and the front shin of the swing leg should be parallel to the angle of the body. From this position, they should actively push the feet backwards to the track so the ground contact happens at or slightly behind the hip as shown in the image below.
The aforementioned actions are necessary to minimize breaking forces and optimize the position of the foot strike for propulsion. If executed correctly, foot strike or ground contact in relation to the center of mass will move from a point behind, to underneath, to just slightly in front of the athlete with each step, in a gradual manner – and though we want a ground contact behind the CoM for the initial steps, it is important that this point should not be too far behind their CoM. Excessively posterior foot strike will lead to an overly horizontal projection, a loss of balance – and either a lateral projection, or an excessive lower-leg swing.
Problems also occur when the shin of the swing leg is cast out – causing it to land in front of the hip where the athlete has to pull themselves forward with the hamstrings. Ground contact too far in front of the CoM will also compromise ankle rigidity, increase ground contact time, and cause subsequent energy loss through the system. Excessive lower-leg swing out prior to ground contact usually results from either:
Pushing back for too long (overpushing) and not rising with every step
Structural abnormalities through the pelvis, sacrum, hip, and/or knee joints
Or, an incorrect understanding of the required movement pattern.
There is in fact a point between step 6-8 where the ratio of ground contact time to air time reverses; meaning at the beginning of acceleration ground times are longer than air times and after a certain steps ground times become smaller than air times. This is shown in the graphs below (credits to Dr Deborah Sides).
To execute correctly, we therefore instruct athletes to rise the hips and shoulders with every single step. No step should look like the step that preceded it – as velocity – and therefore, kinematics change with every step of the run: So, as the athlete accelerates, multiple smooth transitions are taking place:
Thighs and heels will go from piston-like to cyclical action (as a result of increasing velocities, joint stiffness, and muscular co-contractions)
Ground contact time decreases
Flight time increases
Heel recovery height increases
The body rises with every step until maximum velocity is reached (as shown in the graphic below). In addition, it is important to cue the continual and/or increasing aggression of each step and a smooth transition to upright, as opposed to staying unnaturally low for a forced amount of time.
Case studies: Coach Pfaff discusses global acceleration concepts from two different perspectives
A useful exercise when teaching and error detecting acceleration practice is to identify common acceleration errors, pair them with the acceleration concept they most relate to, and build solution strategies for each error – understanding that some errors relate to more than one concept.
There are many different schools of thought on how one should progress acceleration – including accelerations from 2 point, 3 point, 4 point, block starts; the use of acceleration ladders; and short to long / long to short philosophies. The reality is that it doesn’t matter. What does matter is what you do – it is the principles underpinning acceleration that are important, and how you teach them.
Repetitive block starts do not make any athlete a better starter in isolation. Learning the skills that will allow them to accelerate optimally will. The question is, how does the athlete learn these skills?
The traditional way is to block practice block starts (i.e. do a number of block starts in a row in a given session). A better way is to teach the concepts – projection, rhythm, rise – and then be creative with how you challenge the athletes. Acceleration can be taught just the same whether you are in blocks, or on grass doing drop-ins.
Learning is more about challenging an athlete’s understanding of first principles, and appropriately solving problems based on the specific objectives.
As such, we should instead be considering: First – do the athletes understand the concepts, and second whether we are designing practices to challenge their interpretation of these concepts. Doing block starts over and over is one way to challenge this – but not the only way – and probably not the best way.
Understand your first principles. Ensure athletes know this, as well as the practice objective(s). Be creative in practice organization. And foster an environment where the athletes will discover their own solutions to the puzzles you give them.
Video stop: What patterns should a coach hear to help match up what they are seeing with the rhythm an athlete is displaying?
Video stop: Key words – Coach Chidi Enyia on why he cues ‘violence’ for acceleration.
Acceleration: Defining rates of rhythm and rise for different distances
Defining the rate of rhythm, rise, and crescendo is key to setting up the possibility of reaching maximum velocity at the appropriate point for the distance in question. Many athletes rush the initial acceleration and transition forcibly into a frequency driven motif in an attempt to feel ‘fast’. However, by doing so, you pay a price – being frequency driven means you short-change stride length; then if you forcibly try to find length, you kill frequency.
When considering the necessary rate of rise and rhythm of acceleration for a given distance, whether that be 60m, 100m, or 200m it is key to understand the model you are teaching towards. The acceleration pattern is one of the most important factors in speed development, and should be patient, and correctly timed. Maximum speed can only generally be maintained for 1-2 seconds (or 2-3 10m segments back to back), so athletes who accelerate too quickly pay the price by ultimately decelerating over a longer portion of the last phase of the race, or at the crucial moment in a game.
Generally, the athlete who is moving fastest at 50m will beat the athlete who gets to 50m first. Too many coaches and athletes chase front-end speed, when it is back-end speed that is the primary determinant of sprint success. They don’t stop any races at 30m to give our medals: Athletes have a finite amount of ‘energy’ available to them for the task that is presented, so we must determine what is the most efficient and effective manner in which to ‘use’ this energy for each individual athlete. Just because some athletes jump out, and spin like crazy, doesn’t mean that you can – or that the athlete you are coaching can. To paraphrase Coach Vince Anderson – “you need to earn the right to spin. Learn to push first.” Making big, open shapes during initial projection and acceleration should instead be the focus for these initial steps.
Case study: Stuart McMillan – Concepts in Acceleration
To expand on the concepts discussed both in this and the previous module, we will now spend some time first with Coach Stuart McMillan, and then Coach Pfaff. In this first extended video Coach McMillan presents the ALTIS view on key acceleration concepts and his experience in applying them.
Case study: A Classroom Session on Acceleration
This second extended video with Coach Pfaff explores acceleration mechanics through a video review followed by a practical session to show how key principles are applied in a training session.
Acceleration is defined as a positive rate of change in velocity. The inverse term, deceleration, describes a declining or negative change in velocity.
With each step taking during any acceleration we should see attack angles lessening; stride rate/frequency and stride length increasing in a uniform manner; ground contact time decreasing; flight times increasing; and limb angles changing in a uniform manner.
No step should look like the step that preceded it – as velocity – and therefore, kinematics change with every step of the run.
The key words of rhythm, rise & projection are trigger words which can be used to help in teaching the ‘spirit’ of acceleration.
Reading: Clark, K. P., & Weyand, P. G. (2015). “Sprint running research speeds up: A first look at the mechanics of elite acceleration.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 25(5), 581-582.
Clark, K. P., & Weyand, P. G. (2015). “Sprint running research speeds up: A first look at the mechanics of elite acceleration.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 25(5), 581-582.
Weyand, P. G., Sternlight, D. B., Bellizzi, M. J., & Wright, S. (2000). “Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements.” Journal of Applied Physiology, 89(5), 1991-1999.
Weyand, P. G., Sandell, R. F., Prime, D. N., & Bundle, M. W. (2010). “The biological limits to running speed are imposed from the ground up.”Journal of Applied Physiology, 108(4), 950-961.
Clark, K. P., & Weyand, P. G. (2014). “Are running speeds maximized with simple-spring stance mechanics?” Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(6), 604-615.
Weyand, P. G., Sternlight, D. B., Bellizzi, M. J., & Wright, S. (2000). “Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements.” Journal of Applied Physiology, 89(5), 1991-1999.
Clark, K. P., & Weyand, P. G. (2014). “Are running speeds maximized with simple-spring stance mechanics?” Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(6), 604-615.
Ken Clark (2018). Sprint Kinetics, Kinematics, and Training Application.
Maximum velocity sprinting describes the absolute top speed obtained by an athlete over a given distance. This velocity can generally only be maintained for between one to two 10m segments back to back, or 2-3 seconds. So when analyzing maximum velocity, a premium goes to analyzing the 10m segment(s) where these parameters are attained, as well as their relationships to the start, acceleration zone, and how these factors influence the quality and maintenance of maximum velocity zones.
In a flat out sprint the time and distance it takes to reach these segments is very dependent on training age, biological age, skill sets, health, biomotor qualities, event discipline, and dependent on execution of acceleration. As discussed previously, for a young athlete, they may hit maximum velocity between 40-50m. In elite sprinting, some reach it as late as 60-70m, or 70-80m.
The relationship between contact and flight times becomes more imperative in this phase of execution, as does rhythm dynamics. Athletes are in the air approximately 1.6 times longer than they’re on the ground at top speed. Once the athlete is upright and at top speed, the force vector is vertical – and they’re pushing straight down, rather than straight back as in acceleration. If you push backwards rather than downwards in maximum velocity sprinting, you over rotate, over-stride, and become backside dominant with compromised knee lift.
Flight phases are crucial – as they give us time to reposition limbs. The vertical force component is key to achieving this. Generally overpushing once the CoM passes the base of support is a panic response, and the result is a flattened parabola, reduced flight time, limbs getting behind themselves – all sourced from faulty manipulation of ground contact and flight times.
Maximum Velocity and Force
In contrast to the predominantly horizontal force production characterizing the down and back action seen in starting and accelerative actions, maximum velocity requires force be directed in a more vertical manner.
As explained by Dr Ken Clark “from a biomechanical standpoint, recent research suggests that maximal vertical force production during top-end sprinting is a result of a rapid acceleration of the swing limb into the ground, followed by an immediate deceleration of the limb upon ground contact. This research comes from Peter Weyand’s SMU Locomotor Lab.”
“Our Two Mass Model (see further learning section) suggests that a faster lower limb velocity into the ground, combined with a more rapid deceleration of the lower limb after initial touchdown, will increase the impact forces applied during the first half of ground contact, and allow for greater overall force application during briefer ground contact times.”
[During each ground contact when running at top speed, competitive athletes generally apply average vertical forces of 2.0-2.5x body weight and peak vertical forces of 3.0-5.0x body weight. Ground contact times during maximal velocity sprinting generally range from 0.08s (elite sprinter) to 0.12s (team sport athlete)] (Clark & Weyand, 2015).
“From a coaching standpoint, greater magnitudes of vertical force can be achieved by following this technique checklist:
Upright posture with the torso and the hips neutral.
Minimal swing of the thigh behind the body after toe-off.
Maximal lift of the thigh in front of the body during the forward recovery phase.
Aggressive strike towards the ground at the end of the swing phase.
Stiff ground contact on the ball of the foot.
At touchdown, the lower limb needs to immediately decelerate upon initial impact, and the remainder of the stance limb and body needs to stay relatively rigid, yielding little from the ground all the way up the rest of the kinetic chain. The body has to remain stiff in all three planes, as too much compliance at the ankle and knee (sagittal plane) or hip/pelvis (frontal plane) is not optimal.” (Ken Clark, 2018).
Guest view with Donovan Bailey: What did maximum velocity sprinting feel like to you?
The ALTIS Kinogram & Understanding Maximum Velocity
The examination of sprint mechanics in pictorial form was first introduced by Eadweard J. Muybridge in the 1880s, using cinematographical and dynamographical techniques to explore vertical reactions during various gaits. (Vazel, 2014)
‘Cinematography‘ was soon replaced by ‘chronophotography’. A kinogram is a set of still pictures derived from a video source. First found in early 1900s German physiology textbooks, it was also used to describe movement in early 1930s USSR biomechanics publications. It is often used as a synonym for chronophotography, but with a kinogram, we can chose the relevant frames to use; while with chronophotography, the time-interval between still-frames remains constant. (Vazel, 2018)
The ALTIS Kinogram Model
When reviewing maximum velocity mechanics, the following five frames are those used by ALTIS coaches. These also form the ALTIS Kinogram Model:
There are three stance-phase frames in the above series:
As well as two flight-phase frames – which we have coined ‘MVP’ (maximal vertical projection), and ‘strike’ – the initial point at which the swing-leg hamstring is under maximal stretch.
With the understanding that each athlete has their own individual mechanical solution to a movement puzzle, we will throughout this module offer our thoughts on what we feel are appropriate positions for each of these frames. It is up to individual coaches to determine what is appropriate for their own athlete group, and whether there should be any discrepancy from what we recommend.
These positions are those that we feel are most relevant to a sprint population. They are not necessarily those that we would seek from a team-sport athlete within the confines of playing their sport. Having said that – as we discussed previously as it relates to acceleration mechanics – it is imperative that the coach and athlete understands the rules before changing the rules. Understanding the most efficient acceleration and upright mechanics will form a starting point for coach and athlete from which to adjust appropriately to their own sport, event, or position.
Using the Kinogram Model to observe movement
We will start by discussing the reasons as to why we feel a Kinogram Model is a viable means from which to observe movement:
Identify asymmetries and identification of when mechanics are abnormal
While asymmetries, in and of themselves, may not be a ‘bad thing’, observing left leg – right leg differences, and tracking this over time will give coaches a good understanding of how the athlete will ‘normally’ move. If we can identify what is an acceptable level of asymmetry for each athlete, we can then observe when the athlete falls outside of what we feel is an acceptable bandwidth around their ‘normal’. For this reason, it is important that we consistently observe their movement, and are critical with our analyses. Understand, that the athlete is a dynamic system and there will be variability around their movement solution from day to day, and week to week. Our jobs as coaches is to improve their solution over time, while ensuring that any variability throughout this progression is within what is normal for them. This is how we keep athletes healthy – keep them moving in a way that is familiar to them, while patiently improving it over time.
Track mechanical improvement over time
We run each athlete though a kinogram every week, and can thus visually depict any regression or progression of the technical model over time in an easy-to-understand manner. Comparing videos over time is very difficult – especially without expensive software. The Kinogram Model may take a little longer to build, but it is far more effective in the long run.
Compare kinematics across athletes and groups
As mentioned, it is important that we respect individual differences across our athlete groups. However, it is just as important that we respect biomechanical truths; coaching to an ‘athlete-centered’ solution does not give a coach permission to ignore these truths. Comparing across our athlete population – or with coaches across the world can aid a coach in better understanding positions, cause & effect, progressions, and athlete individual differences. We encourage all coaches to post their kinograms either through social media, or on the private ALTIS Facebook Agora Group to promote further discussion.
Track impact of intervention – therapeutic or otherwise
The improvement of mechanics primarily stem from two sources – the volitional action of the athlete to incorporate a technical change, or the improved efficiency of movement, brought on through a therapeutic intervention. Regardless of the cause of the change, a kinogram is a simple way to track it over time – much easier than high speed video, which may require expensive applications.
Improve understanding of key positions, and what we can do to affect them
It’s one thing to identify key positions – it’s another altogether to understand how to interpret them, and use this interpretation to affect change. Still frames are much easier for coaches to identify aberrant positions than is real-time observation and video review. While it is important for coaches to improve their observational abilities, a kinogram can act as a ‘bridge’ and provide context to the positions that we feel are important.
Gain a better understanding of individual athlete solutions
Over time, coaches will become comfortable with inter-group bandwidths, and – once the kinogram process has been repeated multiple times with each athlete – they will become more comfortable in understanding the unique mechanics of each athlete.
Provide a simple feedback process to the athleteusing visual feedback
Perhaps most importantly, a kinogram is an effective and efficient way for a coach to discuss mechanics with an athlete. At every level, it is important that an athlete understand the importance of improving technique. The Kinogram method can provide a visual reference for the athlete to refer to.
Allow for better communication between athlete and coach
Discussion through building a common language: as above, the kinogram affords an opportunity for coach and athlete to sit down, discuss mechanics, and come to common agreement about positions, and technical objectives for future training sessions.
Compare, contrast, and discuss with other coaches around the world though common kinematic positions
As discussed, the kinogram is an easy way for coaches to ‘compare notes’. We sincerely hope that this method is adopted throughout the speed-power world at every level of sport – truly building a network of interactive and interested coaches seeking to better understand, teach, and improve sprint mechanics.
Compare with other athletesfrom all over the world
Kinograms allow comparisons at both the level that your athlete group is currently at, as well as with elites from now and in the past. It’s fun for athletes to see how they match up with their friends, with others at their level around the state, country, or planet, and with elite professionals.
Allow us to compare mechanics at different velocities, on different surfaces, with different footwear.
How to build a kinogram
At first, this may seem like a big undertaking, but with practice, our coaches are able to film, capture, and produce the kinogram final product in less than 5 minutes. It may be challenging if a coach has a group of 30 athletes, but it is important to understand that every repetition of every athlete in every session is not necessary. We attempt to build one kinogram for each athlete per week – normally during a similar training session.
The following is our protocol:
Firstly, it is important to standardize filming. We capture at high-speed video, with an iPhone set in landscape mode, from 11m away. It is important that the distance be consistent – too close will give subsequent frame capture parallax issues, and too far away will lead to decreased resolution. We have found that 11m is the appropriate distance away. We take one knee, and film from about mid-torso height. We do not pan the camera; we simply hold it level, and press record just before the athlete sprints into view.
Try to have something in the background that you can use as a frame of reference when capturing frames.
We are lucky that we have a fence on either side of the outside of the track that we use. If you do not, perhaps you can set up a few hurdles in the background.
Once you are ready to capture your frames, pause the video, and scroll to the point where the athlete is closest to the middle of the video. This is where you will want to capture your stills – closest to perpendicular to the camera.
Now you have the video paused in the appropriate section, zoom in on the video, and slide your finger or thumb across the manual scrolling slider at the bottom of the screen, to stop at the appropriate frame.
Using the screen-capture option, capture frame stills at each of the aforementioned positions. Following is how we recognize each position, in order:
a) Toe-off: the last frame before the athletes support-leg foot is in contact with the ground
b) MVP: the maximal height of vertical projection – as defined by the position where both feet are parallel to the ground
c) Strike: because of the relative difficulty in defining this position, we have determined that using the opposite leg is more efficient. The ‘strike’ position is defined as where the opposite thigh is perpendicular to the ground
d) Touch-down: the first frame where the swing-leg foot strikes the ground
e) Full-support: the frame where the foot is directly under the pelvis – the toe of the foot should be plumb-vertical with the ASIS (front) of the pelvis.
We then repeat this sequence for the other leg, giving us 10 still pictures.
There are generally two ways to present the pictures: from left to right, or in the direction the athlete is sprinting. We have so far, chosen the former – although we continue to experiment. Often, we will also see numbers placed in each frame, so that it is easier to refer back to under discussion. As we are only using 5 frames per step, and our kinograms have been internal only, we have yet to add numbers. Once we begin sharing more widely, we will endeavor to number each picture.
It is now time to edit the pictures so they can be consistent with each other.
Go into your photo application edit mode – press edit, and select the ‘square’ option.
With the objective of having the athlete cover most of the picture, edit the picture so that the bottom of the frame is one of the track lines, and then line up a fence or hurdle in the background with one of the horizontal lines, so we have a consistent size across the group of pictures. Center the athlete in the middle of the frame.
Repeat this step for each of the other 9 pictures.
Go through the pictures, and ensure consistency of positioning.
Using an external application (we use PutPic), combine the pictures together in two rows of 5 frames, and save to your picture application.
You are ready to check out your kinogram!
The video below takes you through this process step-by-step:
Once you’ve created your kinogram, your task is to now analyze what you see. The section below will explain what to look for and how to begin this process.
Following, we will offer the frame positions, key anatomical landmarks, and our expectations of athlete shapes within these positions. As well, we have attempted to identify, and comment on, a few of the more frequent questions we are asked, as well as offering our thoughts on some of the sport’s more controversial subjects.
We will – in order – detail the following five frames:
We do not profess that these kinograms display ‘perfect’ form. They are chosen because of the relative similarities of the training session, the similar abilities of the athletes, as well as some of the unique differences that are evident. Coaches are encouraged to form their own conclusions on where these athletes fit into their own understanding of mechanical efficiency.
The last frame at which the rear-leg (stance-leg) foot is in contact with the ground.
The stance-leg foot should be perpendicular to the ground
There should be slight extension of the hip of the stance-leg: The athlete should be encouraged to push vertically into the ground while they are upright sprinting. Excessive late stance-phase pushing can lead to excessive hip extension, and a retarded swing-leg recovery
We should see only a small amount of hip extension at toe-off
There should be a noticeable lack of complete extension at the knee joint of the stance-leg (please see video discussing the myth of triple extension). Over-pushing horizontally at top speed not only compromises the ground to air ratios, but it reduces the athlete’s vertical displacement. This means there is not enough time for the thigh to block in the correct position in front of the body; nor enough time for the lower leg to swing out and put a stretch on the hamstring and gluteal group. This causes a reduced scissoring action and a strike point underneath the CoM, exacerbating the rearside elliptical running cycle
We will observe an approximately 90 degree angle between thighs. The toe of the swing-leg should be directly vertical to the swing-leg knee-cap
The front-leg shin will be relatively parallel with the rear-leg thigh
The forearms should be approximately perpendicular to each other
The rear-arm should be relatively open at the elbow, while the front-arm should be relatively closed
It is important that there is NO lumbar extension whatsoever – so no arching of the back.
Discussion point: ‘triple extension’
Triple extension refers to simultaneous extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints. Coaches should understand, however, that complete and full triple extension rarely occurs in sprinting. On toe off, we do not see complete extension at the knee, as the thigh moves immediately forward after this point. Furthermore, the activity of extensor muscle groups deteriorates before complete triple extension can support increased force production to contribute to speed production. Requesting triple extension of an athlete is an excellent way to promote increased ground-contact times, anteversion of the pelvis, a relatively larger back-side sprint cycle, ultimately slower velocities, and higher incidence of injury.
In the video below, Coach Pfaff further shares his thoughts on the question of whether or not full triple extension occurs in sprinting.
2. MVP (Maximum Vertical Projection)
The point at which there is maximal vertical displacement of the CoM, as determined by the lowest point of both feet parallel to the ground.
Approximately 90 degree angle between thighs
A greater than 110 degree knee-joint at the front leg (this angle is highly independent)
Dorsiflexion of front-leg foot
Fluid & relaxed throughout. It is in MVP position where we should observe maximum ‘peace’ in the athlete (as discussed in the key word section of this course)
Neutral head carriage
Straight line between rear-leg knee and shoulders
A slight cross-body arm swing that will bring the hand towards the midline in front of the torso, and away from the midline behind the torso. This is due to the natural rotation of the spine, and is not something that should be excessively encouraged, nor discouraged. We will discuss this point further a little later on.
Discussion point: recovery of the free leg at toe off – active or passive?
Some coaches suggest that the recovery of the swing leg from backside to frontside is a passive byproduct of the forces generated at toe-off, while others propose the athlete should actively attempt to bring the leg in to a position of hip flexion. It is important to understand that the recovery mechanism of the swing leg should be a very free, very fluid function. If the athlete strikes the ground appropriately, with the appropriate negative foot speed, the appropriate angle of force application, and the appropriate force, the heel will come to the buttock with the femur at zero and that transference will generally be sufficient to lift the knee.
For example, many kids do skipping activities. They can skip all day long and their hip flexors don’t get tired, but if they do a high knee drill in which they have to think about using the hip flexors, they burn out quickly.
If the hip flexors ‘test weak’, it is generally due to musculoskeletal ‘dysfunction’, faulty enervation, neural entrapment or antagonist inhibition, rather than what has often been described as ‘weakness’. Coaches are encouraged to understand this prior to prescribing any specific hip flexor strengthening protocols.
Video stop: Foot recovery pathway mechanics
The point at which the rear-leg knee is directly vertical to the pelvis, and the femur is perpendicular to the ground. This point should correspond approximately to the first point of maximal extension at the front-leg knee joint.
The thigh of the recovery leg will be close to perpendicular to the track, with the knee directly vertical from the pelvis
The ‘strike’ is where we will observe close to maximal stretch of the front-leg hamstring; it can be compared to the point where a match head first comes in contact with the striking surface; whereas the initial ground contact at touch-down is equivalent to the flame alighting (thus, the name ‘strike’)
We should see approximately a 20-40 degree gap between thighs. Faster athletes will have faster rotational velocity, will place greater stretch on their hamstrings at ‘strike’ position, will have greater reflexive contraction at stretch, and a more violent extension of the front-thigh towards the ground
The foot of the front-leg will begin to supinate in preparation for touch-down
The two flight-phase frames described thus far are the most variable between athletes. If coaches are interested in this further, we encourage them to consider research on attractors and fluctuators: stable and unstable components within a movement.
Discussion Point: lower-leg swing & ’clawing’
If we simply observe the sprinting action without an understanding of the holistic nature of the manner in which the body moves – through reflexes, co-contractions, fascial slings, etc., we may assume that the lower-leg swing, and the concomitant pull-back towards the ground, is a volitional extension of the lower-leg in front of the knee, and an active clawing of the foot towards the ground. In fact, there are many coaches who still use ‘pulling’, ‘clawing’, and ‘pawing’ as primary sprinting cues. This is highly problematic.
It is important to understand that the out-swing of the lower-leg (extension at the knee joint) is a result of the reversal of the contraction of the upper thigh (hip flexion to hip extension). Once the thigh blocks at approximately 90 degrees and starts to move backwards, the lower leg extends while the hip continues to open.
The leg then comes back hard under the hip through a scissoring action, which reverses the pendulum and the cycle repeats itself. To repeat: the ‘casting out’ of the lower leg is not a volitional action; it is simply a result of a strong reflexive action of the posterior chain extending the thigh back towards the CoM.
Video stop: What is the cause of sprinters who ‘pound the ground’?
Video stop: What are the causal factors influencing aberrant running cycle mechanics and excessive front side lower leg swing?
Case study – example of excessive lower leg swing
The video below is a really interesting example, not only of what excessive lower leg swing looks like, but how elite athletes are able to make rapid movement alterations to compensate for movement aberrations. While the video quality is not outstanding (our apologies), we felt its inclusion would still be of great interest to coaches. Watch the athlete’s left leg on the first stride as he comes into shot …
The point at which the front foot first contacts the ground.
Knees together. Faster athletes – or those who push relatively more vertically – may have their swing-leg knee slightly in front of the stance-leg knee. If the swing-leg knee is excessively behind the stance-leg knee, it is normally indicative of slower velocities, weaker athletes, or over-pushing horizontally. Understand, however that – as is the case with all positions – individual differences exist. One of the jobs of a coach is to determine when it is appropriate to make a technical change, and when it is appropriate to leave well-enough alone. A prime example here is the form of the great French sprinter Marie-José Pérec, whose positions were not in-line with what we describe here. Having said that, it is important to build models based on what works for most of the people, most of the time. We should be very careful as coaches to model ‘outlier’ techniques. An example of this is in the late 1980s, when sprinters around the world tried to copy Ben Johnson’s jump start, only to find out that none other than Johnson himself, were able to successfully pull it off – lacking the necessary power abilities.
As an interesting aside – while coaches have for years thought that ‘knees together’ is an appropriate position at touch-down, this rarely actually occurs in competition. It is theorized that perhaps the increased arousal levels of the competitive arena leads to athletes over-pushing horizontally, and retards their ability to recover the swing leg in time for ‘knees-together’ at touch-down. As an example, in the most-recent IAAF World Championships in London 2017, of all the 16 100m finalists in the women’s and men’s competitions, only one (Kelly-Ann Baptiste, of Trinidad and Tobago) achieved this position at maximum velocity. All others either did not achieve this position at all, or were only able to achieve it with one leg (for example, Usain Bolt, Reece Prescod and Yohan Blake).
The shank of the shin should be close to perpendicular to the ground, with the heel directly underneath the knee.
Swing-leg foot will be tucked under the gluteals, with the foot dorsiflexed.
The hands will be approximately parallel to each other, with the elbow angles of both arms similarly open, and the hands close to the intersection of the gluteals with the hamstrings.
Initial contact will be with the stance-leg foot slightly inverted and plantarflexed, contacting the ground initially with the outside of the ball of the foot.
Strike landmarks for the foot upon touchdown
Looking at strike landmarks and what the foot doing is critical for health and speed. Where an athlete strikes in relation to the hip axis and CoM is a product of their speed, strength, skill and timing. As the speed of any running increases, the strike point of the foot becomes more forefoot, with greater supination. Where you strike in relation to the CoM and hip axis is also a product of what kind of convertor you are. With Long Jumpers for example, the slower they are on the runway, and the slower converter horizontal to vertical they are, the further out from their center of mass they’ll have to be on strike to effectively execute. The same principle applies in sprinting – how far you land in front of CoM is dependent on these factors to some extent. Then there is asymmetry: realize that left and right leg strike points may be somewhat different.
How the foot contacts the floor is also critical. One of the greatest myths in sprinting at high school level is that athletes should ‘get up on their toes’ at high speed, or ‘run on their toes’. This is simply not what happens, and is a teaching concept that should never be utilized. When the foot approaches ground contact at top speed, the reflexive nature of the neuromuscular system will almost inevitably prepare for ground contact by opening (plantarflexing) the ankle angle which will also result in the initial strike being forefoot, in a supinated position. The foot then rolls inwards, the heel touches, and foot flattens, and we pronate off. The ankle and hip amortize during this ground contact phase, providing hydraulic input to the rebound mechanism. The firing of the foot as it approaches the floor is reflexive, and not something that we teach.
The position and timing of plantar flexion reflexive prior to ground contact determines the time on the ground, amount of amortization after contact, resultant projection angles, etc. In elite athletes, the lower leg shank angle is consistently perpendicular at strike in elite athletes. Obtuse angles of the shank to the ground result in negative blocking and shear forces. Acute shank angles to the ground create excessive shear forces on posterior muscle chain systems and promote damaging over-rotation forces.
Video stop: The video below discusses further considerations regarding where the foot should strike in relation to the CoM
One of our concerns with the lack of accountability of lower leg (shank) positions at touchdown is the possibility of this kinesthetic position becoming a normative stereotype and the brain plasticity storing this dynamic. An obtuse angle at touchdown creates braking forces and alarming shear forces on various foot, leg, hip and spinal structures. An acute angle will reduce elastic contributions of the lower leg/foot complex. It will also induce a tendency towards hip anteversion along with over rotational forces upon the entire body system. As speed or additional steps occur with this paradigm, one will note longer ground contact times, reduced parabolic efficiencies and extreme rear side movement pathways. The human body coordinates many movement signatures based on an “alarm theory” system and if time is spent excessively in rear side functions, the front side of the stride pattern has to pay a damaging price for this.
As one accelerates and moves to an upright sprinting posture, we note that the lower leg or shank angles change in a uniform manner in harmony with the pelvis, torso and head structures. Some term this ‘transition’ which is a global term covering a lot of factors; but for us it describes body parts changing in orientation every successive step up to maximum speed obtainment. If athletes are not taught this process and held accountable to it, our data sets show increased chronic and acute injury risk, distorted acceleration curves and difficulty exhibiting and maintaining upright sprint postures.
Often times we see this inability to monitor and control shank angles being reinforced by previous training efforts and the unawareness of this damaging factor. The main culprit in our experience is what we call “death march” or “survivor workouts” where biomechanical process is ignored to allow for session completement at any cost. It is epidemic in long sprints and middle distance runners based on our video reviews, analysis and data sets. I think that athletes assume an acute shank position in these sessions in order to reduce overall work costs. By landing with an acute shank, they do not have to exhibit as much work in the vertical plane to overcome mid-stance architectural issues of the foot and tib/fib units. The problem with this is that they actually increase certain work costs by reducing elastic contributions created by a perpendicular shank landing position. They also place extreme shear forces on posterior architectural structures such as the Achilles, gastrocnemius, soleus and hallacus system. Our experience shows that athletes who have a trend towards acute shin angles at touchdown in enduring training sessions store this stereotype deeply and it is easily recalled when fatigue states appear in subsequent training sessions and or competitions once a critical fatigue level is reached.
Video stop: Considerations on how the foot contacts the ground, and what occurs to the foot during ground contact phases of sprinting
It is important that all coaches understand that sprinting is a rotational-torsional activity. At toe-off (point of maximum extension at the hip), we will observe slight oscillation at the hip axis. To counteract this, we will observe similar oscillation at the shoulder axis through mid-thoracic counter-rotation. Similarly – if we watch from the front or behind – we will observe counter-undulations at the hip and shoulder axes. It is important that coaches do not try to limit these rotations in an effort to force the athlete into some sort of linear ‘perfection’. Our spine rotates for a reason; it is our job to make the most appropriate use of this, not to limit it unnaturally. From the side view, we should see a smooth wave-like motion of the hip, as it drops to its lowest point through late-stance full-support and rises maximally through MVP.
Understanding joints and muscle timing systems is critical to leveraging speed. The human body is a hydraulic system where we have fluid in our joints. Hydraulics have a huge impact on our muscle and connective tissue systems to allow us to move greater forces. The arms play a very important role in sprinting, and react to imbalance – so flail or compensation is always the result of something causing imbalance. If an arm is coming across the body, look at opposite leg; for arms counterbalance and help establish balance. The arms angulate from the shoulders, whereby the humerus acts like a pendulum, so tension in the shoulders should be avoided as it impacts the oscillation of this pendular action.
The elbow-joint should angulate through the swing commensurate with the knee-joint. Rigid arm angles mean rotation shifts towards lumbar joints, which are better designed for flexion and extension rather than rotation. Many low back problems can be sourced in the relationship between how the hip and shoulder axis undulate and oscillate with one another. We cannot stress enough the importance of allowing the elbow-joint to open as the hands pass by the hip at touch-down. The arms will naturally close in-front and behind the body, so we will not need to cue this with most athletes.
This is represented by the point at which the stance-leg foot is directly under the pelvis, as indicated by the great toe being approximately vertical to the front of the pelvis, and the heel approximately vertical to the rear of the pelvis.
The swing-leg foot will continue to be tucked underneath the gluteals with the foot fully dorsiflexed
The swing-leg thigh will swing in front of the hip to form a ‘figure four’ position in relation to the stance-leg. The swing-leg thigh will be approximately 45 degrees relative to perpendicular
Lower body stance-leg amortization (yielding) should be consistent from left to right leg. There will be relatively more yielding at the ankle joint than there will be at the knee and hip joints
Excessive yielding can manifest from a lack of specific strength abilities, a relatively more horizontal application of force, or initial touch-down too far in front of the CoM. Understanding amortization factors should be of paramount importance for all coaches, as not only does it effect how we ask athletes to move, but also what we ask them to do. For example, over-yielding at the ankle joint may be a mechanical issue or a strength issue; the good coach will understand both the problem (e.g. weak posterior lower-leg musculature), and the appropriate input (e.g. strengthening of the lower-leg musculature)
The stance-leg knee will yield slightly from touch-down. The degree of yielding is specific to the level of the athlete. The best athletes in the world will yield significantly less than their slower counterparts
The stance-leg foot will roll from outside (supination) to inside (pronation) with all toes coming into contact with the ground
The foot will continue to pronate through full-support and into toe-off, with the great toe being last point of contact. If the great toe does not flex appropriately – and-or if there is a bunion – we may see excessive pronation, and a concomitant ‘whipping’ motion of the lower leg (observing from behind). If this is observed, it is imperative we normalize function of the great toe, otherwise it will compromise effective mechanics and athlete health.
Discussion point: Dorsiflexion
How the foot contacts the floor is also critical. One of the greatest myths in sprinting at the high school level is that athletes should ‘get up on their toes’ at high speed, or ‘run on their toes’. This is simply not what happens, and is a teaching concept that should never be utilized.
While it is important that athletes understand the importance of a stable foot and ankle, we will always plantar flex prior to touch-down. Plantarflexion just prior to ground contact is a reflexive action that intensifies as velocity increases, so we will never observe a dorsiflexed touch-down during a maximum intensity sprint. Having said that, for athletes who over-plantarflex, and contact the ground too far in front of the CoM, cueing dorsiflexion earlier in the sprint cycle can have a positive effect, though rarely is it the sole culprit. Understand that what we do while on the ground will determine, for the most part, what happens while we are in the air. If the athlete over-pushes out of the back-side, it will set up a relatively more horizontal parabola, excessive plantar flexion on the front-side, and early touch-down. If you see big rear-side ‘butt kick’ and no knee lift, it generally means the athlete doesn’t understand pathways and ground contact time. Excessive plantarflexion during the backside cycle, and spending too much time on the ground behind the CoM causes this.
Many question as to whether dorsiflexion needs to be taught in the running cycle. Athletes who experience negative interference from previous activities will suffer if they strike the ground excessively plantarflexed, or complete the running cycle in a plantarflexed position. In this case, the foot will collapse upon touch-down at a radical rate, and amortization rates during early-stance phase are significantly faster than if the ankle and the foot are stiffer. When we observe elite sprinters, we tend to see relatively closed angles at the ankle joint inches away from ground contact prior to the reflexive opening. So, for athletes who have negative transference from other sports (gymnasts for example) cueing dorsiflexion may be critical: it reduces injury, shortens lever systems, and promotes healthy joint hydraulics, and timing.
Understand also that the inability to dorsiflex is rarely due to a lack of strength of the plantarflexors; thus, exercises designed to strengthen the front of the shins are not appropriate at any time, and will generally lead to more problems than they solve. Instead, coaches are advised to measure the passive range of motion at the ankle joint, and ensure that the athlete even has the ability to dorsiflex in the first place. If the passive ROM is not sufficient, then this needs to be addressed before any dorsiflexion cue can take effect.
To bring all the discussed points together, the following videos of the athletes pictured in the still shots above, can be found below. Take a moment to watch it in motion and consider the points raised in this section so far.
Globally, we should see the following when reviewing maximum velocity sprinting:
Neutral head carriage, with eyes looking directly ahead. The human body is an inverted pendulum, and is subject to imbalance through improper head position: This impacts weight distribution further down the chain. Therefore, if the head is out of position, there will be an impact in lower-body joint dynamics. Athletes who throw their head back, or push their chin forward create imbalanced forces. In the upright running cycle, the head should be held in neutral alignment with the cervical spine. Understand that any deviation from this will also negatively affect lumbar vertebrae position, and possibly pelvic alignment.
The pelvis should remain neutral throughout the cycle. This is most-negatively affected by over-pushing out of the back-side, placing excessive stretch on the flexors of the hip to stabilize the pelvis, excessive flexion at the lumbar vertebrae, and a concomitant anteversion of the pelvis. This is perhaps the singe greatest technical error we see – from young athletes all the way up to elite professionals.
A lack of stiffness and control in the lumbopelvic region is also sub-optimal, as forces cannot be transferred optimally upon ground contact through the storage and return of elastic energy. Maintenance of a braced trunk and the ability to do this at speed is therefore an important consideration. The point of ground-strike relative to the pelvis and the angle, and force application at which they’re striking the ground, has huge ramifications on pelvic posture. If an athlete strikes the ground a little posterior, there’s a greater tendency to have anteversion of the hips; if the strike is too far out in front, the hips have a tendency to move into retroversion, and vice versa.
Relaxed hands. It is not especially important whether the hands are closed or open – just that they carry no tension. We will often even observe sprinters who accelerate with hands closed, and open them as they begin to stand up through the course of the sprint (or vice versa). This is something that should be left to the discretion of the athlete. Encourage them to try both, and go with the one that feels most comfortable: i.e. the one where there is less tension.
Slight forward lean of the torso (though this should rarely need to be cued).
We should only observe tension in the muscles that are active at the particular point in time. Excessive tension in non-active movers will only lead to compromised performance.
Discussion Point: Posture
This term refers to both the static and functional relationships between body parts, and the body as a whole. The concept includes over 200 bones and some 600 muscles, not to mention the endless chains of fascia and various connective tissue systems. Efficient body mechanics is a function of balance and poise of the body in all positions possible – including standing, lying, sitting, during movements and in a variety of mediums. These systems are monitored, driven and controlled by a complex network of proprioceptors and their related members.
These functions can be further evaluated by observing excessive stress on joints, connective tissue, muscles, and coordinative action. In the sport of track and field, “active alerted posture” is the goal of all sportsmen. This can be defined by the balanced action of muscle groups on both sides of body joints at six fixing levels:
Head and neck
People often try to design training schemes for posture of the spinal column, head, and pelvis in static routines in which they’re stationary. We see athletes doing incredible balance work in a pretty stationary motif and they look world-class, but when they run down the track, these different postural landmarks just don’t hold up. Posture at speed is very dynamic and involves complex communication between the body’s systems that is difficult to replicate in the weight room.
Now you have been through the analysis information, your next task is to share your kinogram on the ALTIS AGORA Council with your analysis and tag Stuart McMillan and Dan Pfaff in your post. At ALTIS we think discussion and sharing is a critical part of learning, so we really encourage you to share what you have created, as well as your observations.
Some example case-studies
As a final stop in this module, we will below review a range of different case studies which identify kinematic factors seen in various maximum velocity sprinting examples. First, we will spend a few minutes with Coach Pfaff as he explains what he looks for when reviewing film.
Max Velocity review: Video 1
Max Velocity review: Video 2
We can see in the upper frames that the swing-leg foot is significantly further behind the swing-leg knee at toe-off, for example. This gives us a starting place to attempt to identify why this is so.
Discussion Point: Symmetry
The body craves symmetry. If we observe asymmetry, it is almost always due to a musculoskeletal issue – rather than a technical ‘mistake’ on the part of the athlete. If we identify an asymmetry, it is prudent for the coach to attempt to understand why it is evident – rather than trying to cue the athlete out of it. If we identify, for example, that one side of the body has a tight hip flexor relative to the other side of the body (which is evident in the above kinogram), then we can prescribe additional stretching or a therapeutic intervention. This is a far more appropriate reaction to an asymmetry than asking the athlete to focus on one side over the other, which will generally just add fuel to the fire.
Athletes are great compensators – the superior ones compensate better than the less superior – so it is often very difficult to identify what the driver to any musculoskeletal discrepancy is. This is a challenge that we can only address through consistently and attentively analyzing movement. Watch your athlete-group closely. Watch as much video as you can get your hands on. Build out your kinograms, and share with others. Eventually, we will all become better at not only analyzing movement, but in understanding the reasons why movement may be abnormal. This is truly the key to keeping athletes healthy!
Progression over time
The athlete was asked to work on pushing more vertically – bouncing down the track, rather than pushing horizontally – and in warm-up wicket runs to slightly over-exaggerate this feeling. Thus, we see the upper kinogram, where the athlete has pushed overly vertical, and ends up with the free-leg foot significantly in front of the free-leg knee at toe-off. This position, has however, set up a greater hamstring stretch at ‘strike’, an increased rotational velocity, and a more appropriate touch-down relative to the bottom kinogram.
There are far more similarities between all these frames than there are differences – highlighting not only common positions and solutions, but also a common technical model.
Discussion point: ‘modelling’ technique
All athletes will develop, over time, their own individual, idiosyncratic movement solutions.
Generally however, the closer an individual solution is to the most-efficient mechanical model, the better the athlete will be.
The best athletes in any sport will almost always have a solid grounding in basic fundamental technique.It is important to understand, however, that individual differences do exist.
One of a coach’s jobs is to determine if this difference is significant enough that we should step in and attempt to make a technical tweak, in an effort to close the gap to the more ‘appropriate’ model. There is no doubt that this is a multi-layered, complex question to ask
Following are a few heuristics to help us answer it:
If the athlete is young – i.e. still growing – then we source the root of the discrepancy, and attempt to make the change
If the individual solution is asymmetrical, this should not be addressed through a technical tweak; rather, we need to understand the source of the asymmetry, and address that
If the individual solution is so far off the most-efficient mechanical model that it is having negative effects on athlete health – then we source the root of the discrepancy, and attempt to make the change
“Mechanics are the heart of every legit/complete S&C program. Fitness, strength, power, etc are all SIDE effects.” – Dr. Kelly Starrett
The upper kinogram shows the athlete sprinting off the end of a 220cm wicket lane; while the lower kinogram shows 2 consecutive steps at the beginning of the straight-away at the end of a 60m end-bend run (the first step begins 10m off the end of the bend).
The purpose of this comparison is to see how stable the model is by comparing the potentiating, more controlled task with a more race-specific task.
It’s sometimes fun to go back in time, and see how athletes from previous generations were sprinting. Above, we see the 5-frame kinogram for Carmelita Jeter. We have drawn lines over it to more easily depict and measure the angles, if we wanted to further analyze.
1996 Olympic Champion Bailey, seemed to ‘gallop’ down the track – especially when he was at maximum velocity. In the kinogram above, you can can clearly identify significant asymmetries. In matter of fact, Bailey had a significant anthropometric abnormality, so expecting symmetry would have been a fool’s errand.
As discussed previously, French sprinter Pérec had an extremely unique stride: long, and relatively back-side dominant, never-the-less she enjoyed great success. Above, we also see the difference between Pérec’s stride in the 100m (upper kinogram) and the 200m (lower kinogram).
Notice the short arm carriage of Owens, and relatively choppy stride – a few generations later adopted by Michael Johnson.
Short of time?
Optional Kinogram series for those with less time can be based on only two attractors during the gait cycle – touch-down and toe-off. All other positions may be predicted from these two frames.
Motor learning expert, and Head of Athletic Performance & Science for Irish Rugby, Dr. Nick Winkelman offers an interesting alternative that relates to the relative angle of projection:
The question of appropriate selection of frames as it relates to prioritization and simplicity, “is to identify the lowest number of technical landmarks that, if changed, have the largest impact on the entire technique; therefore: 1) toe-off, and 2) full-support. Interestingly, toe-off precedes the primary horizontal change in force-motion (i.e., back to front) and full support precedes the primary vertical change in force-motion (i.e., down to up). I feel that these force-motion shifts (i.e., eccentric to concentric) carry the variability that echoes through the coordination that connects these space-time points. Thus, good coaching can be directed at these time points, with physical development working on the neuromuscular factors that need to deliver the coordinative message.”
Below is what the kinogram would look like if we followed Dr. Winkelman’s recommendation. It certainly is something to consider.
A two-frame kinogram may also be a better way to capture acceleration mechanics.
We use this method to capture projection and rise elements of the acceleration, compare across time, and even compare across varying external loads, as shown below.
The kinogram below shows a sprinter accelerating out of blocks with the equivalent of 40%, 20%, and 3% of additional body-weight in resistance – using the 1080 Sprint Machine. This kinogram was an effective and efficient way for us to track any mechanical changes with the additional external load.
We hope you have found this section valuable, and – whether you coach football players, softball players, or sprinters – will enjoy the kinogram process, and the insight this can give you into the mechanics of the athletes you coach. We also hope that you share these kinograms on-line – through your social media channel of choice, as well as on the AGORA Facebook page. We look forward to continued discussion around efficient sprint technique, and the impact effective mechanics can have both on performance and health.
Further Learning – The Two-Mass model – a guest contribution by Dr Ken Clark
Developed in the SMU lab by Ken Clark and colleagues, the two mass model then progresses the thinking described by spring mass model. Their research suggests that the pattern of force on the ground can be accurately understood from the motion of just two body parts: The foot and the lower leg stop abruptly upon impact, and the rest of the body above the knee moves in a characteristic way. This new simplified approach makes it possible to predict the entire pattern of force on the ground, from impact to toe-off, with very basic motion data. This model is further explained in the video below – created and narrated by Dr Ken Clark:
The term ‘endurance’ as a general descriptor refers to the maximum duration for which an individual can sustain a specific activity at a specified intensity. Used in isolation, the word usually implies whole-body endurance, considered in terms of many minutes or hours (long-term endurance) and is principally limited by cardiovascular fitness and muscle glycogen storage. Local muscular endurance refers to the ability of specific muscles to maintain power output or tension, influenced by similar factors – but with local vascularity predominating over central cardiorespiratory performance. Finally, anaerobic endurance (synonymous withshort-term endurance) explains the ability to sustain whole-body work at supramaximal intensity, measured in terms of tens of seconds (Elsevier Dictionary of Sport & Exercise Science).
Much of the work coaches and performance staff rely on to provide the foundations of their philosophy of training speed endurance are sourced in early works by physiologists in laboratory settings. These works span almost a century of testing, retesting, offshoot experiments and related studies. The main areas of research were centered around blood analysis, heart rates, gas exchange collection, and the like. These variables were easy to identify, quantify, and explore in controlled laboratory settings. Actual field research came in vogue much later in the history of these explorations, and were found in swimming, cycling, and cross country skiing centers. These field based efforts were very limited in scope due to technology limitations, subject pool size and expertise and in some cases, statistical methodology employed. There was a heavy bias to endurance type sports, with little to no work done on sprinting ground based activities, as well as a bias to energy system classification schemes and program delineations.
As technology, biological ergonomics, systems analysis, and curiosity levels have increased in practice, we are now in an era where EMG, Neuro-chemistry, immune/hormonal axis factors and systematic synergy factors are being explored in a layered, fractal approach. This offers clearer and more reliable foundations for creating speed endurance programming.
Video stop: Further discussion on EMG, Neuro-chemistry, immune/hormonal axis factors and systematic synergy factors
Building a base of what?
In our opinion, one of the most damaging results for speed endurance from the early pioneering research on endurance stemmed from scientists with distance event backgrounds and study biases which created the concept of “building a base” as a core principle of training endurance qualities. It was inferred that this base was primarily aerobic in nature – and naturally, well meaning folks accomplished this by doing classical long duration work, and various low threshold velocities for months on end at the beginning of the training year.
While questionable in scope for even middle distance runners, this concept totally ignored many of the salient features needed by sprinters. Our question to young practitioners is: “a base of what?” Sprinters need a foundation of skills both general and specific. Skill work should be a regular and systematic training quality all year long, and has higher influence as the athlete matures in their sport. An over emphasis in classic long distance endurance work blunts this process in many ways and can actually create inhibitors in certain biological realms.
Sprinters need to build large “batteries” for ATP-PC work, and must evolve capacities for alactic type training. They must condition their biological structures to withstand very high forces and velocities over time. Further, they have to improve biochemical substrates and transport systems for specific neurological demands and activities. In some events there is also a strong need for anaerobic glycolytic work to support the last sections of the race event. Once again research bias has folks looking at this section of training primarily from an energy system factorial, which often ignores other biological inputs.
Discussion point: Further comments on the need for anaerobic glycolytic work to support the last sections of the race event
Another concern with the over-prescription of global endurance work for speed athletes is the deterioration of mechanics and movement signatures. Communication systems are very plastic in nature, and repeated efforts with poor movement schemes can mold certain systems in a very negative manner over time.
Logically, the unique stressors of 100m, 200m and 400m sprinting far exceed the work effects of classical endurance inputs. For folks who doubt these concepts of specificity, one needs to look no farther than the NBA and study the type of work these athletes do for 10 months of the year and during their off season activities.
Video stop: The Aerobic ‘base building’ school of thought – further discussion
Video stop: Short to Long / Long to short debates
Speed endurance is a global term used to describe an athlete’s ability to maintain top end speed exhibited in their event for a period of time or distance covered. This usually involves intensity thresholds of 95-100% of the athlete’s maximal speed, for between 7-20 seconds. It may also be used to describe an athlete’s ability to lessen deceleration values towards the end of a run. It is also used to prepare athletes for multiple attempts at these runs, either in training or competition settings during the same day and/or weekend.
The development of maximal speed is of great importance in the short sprints, the 200m particularly – whereby performance outcome relies not only on the athlete’s maximum speed, but their ability to endure that speed. For without developing high speed abilities in the first place, what exactly are we enduring?
Maximum speed endurance training should involve prescriptions that support the development of maximal speed. However, many coaches have chosen to work a system which neglects the development of maximal speed until close to the competition period. This approach is not wise, as it greatly undermines the speed expression potential of the athlete over the given race distance.
Instead, from day 1 of the training year, athletes should be taught sound sprint mechanics, starting and acceleration abilities. Once stable, higher intensity sprints over shorter distances can be introduced up to 60m, followed by the integration of sprints over distances of between 60m – 150m. If we are to truly develop speed endurance, we must be maintaining intensity values which match this quality. Once intensity drops below a sub maximal bracket, or technique deteriorates, the session should be stopped.
Coaches should not expect this progression to be mastered within a matter of a few weeks. Instead, allowing months and years to develop these qualities.
Video stop: How important is speed endurance ability in the short sprints?
Video stop: How do you decide how much rest to take for the aforementioned speed endurance zones – 70m 80m 90m?
Speed Endurance Training and Age
Up until the onset of puberty, endurance should be trained informally using varied forms of games and various outdoor activities. From puberty (11-13 years old for girls and from 12-15 years old for boys), most of the work should then be performed via the general aerobic pathway that was already developed.
Formal endurance sessions such as track intervals including repeat 200m repetitions, for example, should be started after puberty. This is because the ability to use specific pathways depends on aerobic development already being in place. Athletes should first have developed general aerobic capacities through games, adapted cross country distances, and the like – before advancing into intervals and specific training. It is critical to understand that our focus should develop: acceleration, speed and aerobic qualities before tackling speed endurance.
It is also key to develop fundamental speed before specialized speed. (Specialized speed refers to speed specific to your given event). Fundamental speed qualities include the development of:
To break it down further; when working with children and youths, sprint training should begin with a large emphasis on acceleration work, which progresses toward a gradual increase in maximal speed development – peaking in the early to mid 20s.
Acceleration and speed training in youth athletes should be performed using multiform activities and games, not just linear sprinting. This is important as it reduces the likelihood of forming poor movement and rhythm stereotypes, which would cause inhibitions in the long term development of sprint abilities. Athletes who are exposed to wide ranges of speed movements when young develop better motor speed adaptability further down the road.
It is imperative early in an athlete’s development to forge a multilateral and broad base of movement. Remember – for teenagers, the development of speed will naturally improve with age to a certain extent. That is unless individuals are subjected to polarized extremes in endurance or strength training – which can interfere with the development of speed qualities.
Too much of the same thing – such as repetitive drills following the same pattern – are also to be avoided during peak height velocity growth phases; athletes instead need to be able to adapt movement expression to a variety of activities and game scenarios. Developing speed in games also crucially promotes the development of optical and acoustic reaction ability. This aids in the enhancement of steering, acceleration, and deceleration abilities.
Speed endurance qualities can safely be introduced in the late teens. However, you’ll need to be patient with this – as these volumes will peak in the mid to late 20s if developed correctly. In fact, acceleration and speed volumes usually decline first as an athlete approaches their late 20s, because these inputs are very taxing on the nervous and muscular system. Similarly, at a later age, it would be a mistake to focus on high volumes on these exercises as their foundational development has already been in place. We are looking instead to maintain these qualities, and, crucially – avoid injuries.
Velocity Curves and Speed Endurance
Using velocity curves at different ages / abilities can provide useful contextual information to explain the reality that speed endurance plays a small role in elite 100m sprinting in the modern era. In the examples below, the numbers used are based on the 10m splits we have found for athletes at elite levels.
The below graph is created using the average velocities per 10m segment for aforementioned three ability levels.
Elite Male (10.0s 100m) – Reaches a higher velocity, later in the run and has very little deterioration across the final 2-3 10m segments. They also reach comparable velocities earlier in the race than their developing counterparts.
Good School Age Male (11.0s 100m) – Reaches a higher velocity than the beginner, later in the race, but is demonstrating some deterioration in the final 50m’s. Clearly the velocity curve is not flat across the last 50m’s.
Beginning School Age Male (12.0s 100m) – Reaches the lowest max velocity. Reaches max velocity earlier in the race and has the greatest deterioration. In fact they stop accelerating at 40m, plateau through 50m and then lose speed through each subsequent 10m segment.
We can draw a number of conclusions from these graphs. The appropriateness of various training methods across the age spectrum aside, the elite performer has little to gain from emphasizing speed endurance methods, while the developing performers can improve their times significantly if they are able to flatten out the curve. The degradation in the last 30m’s is very small as a percentage of intensity, and the event is being driven by rate of acceleration and maximal velocity.
However, the trap / allure for youth coaches is trying to grab early gains by filling in the back end of the curve before laying down the qualities required to maximize speed as an adult performer. Coach Derek Evely says this best: as a youth coach you may not be using elite principles, but you need to be familiar with them. i.e. understand what tools your 17 year old athlete will need to be an elite sprinter. Stereotyping a young athlete with non qualitative metabolic work, at the cost of speed development, i.e filling in the back end of the curve, will only limit their performance as a elite sprinter. We see this repeatedly in the 400m’s. There are very few good young 400m runners that are good elite 400m runners. In fact most elite 400m runners played other sports or were quality jumpers or short sprinters before they entered the 400m. On the men’s side, you won’t be competitive now in the 400m’s unless you can run 20.2 or faster over 200m. What makes youth good in the event, hinders them as adults.
Of course none of these methods should be used in isolation to the other, so for developing performers trying to increase rate of acceleration, increase max velocity, AND minimize the deterioration of velocity through the back end of the curve, will result in the greatest improvements. In fact, some athletes are so “unconditioned” that training fitness and speed endurance will net the greater improvements in performance. There are obvious long term issues with this strategy, as discussed in the video below, however, from a pure mechanistic perspective there is validity in this position.
Video stop: Further discussion on the issues of training solely fitness and speed endurance in “unconditioned” athletes
On the other hand the elite male should focus on improving accelerative qualities, while increasing maximum velocity, which if achieved will most likely occur later in the run. Understand however, that we are speaking in nuances here. Elite sprinters are always going to do some form of speed endurance, especially as a means to help sustain their newly achieved peak velocities. What we are discussing is prioritization of methods within the broader training framework.
Enhancing speed endurance qualities
The trainability of speed from a metabolic point of view using only the anaerobic pathway, is questionable.
Indeed, it seems that most improvements in speed are instead the result of indirect training factors as explained by the following two points:
The ability of an athlete to recruit anaerobic reserves is highly dependent not just on their physiological make-up – but their motivation; willpower; and concentration. These are qualities strongly influenced by a competitive environment, as well as an individual’s self-determination developed through years of training.
Remember, the three energy systems (alactic, lactic, aerobic) influence each other in all sport activities. They do not operate in isolation. Screening long term improvements in anaerobic metabolism cannot be made in separation from the other metabolic pathways. This is because an increase of the intensity and velocity of movement in short duration sport activities is accompanied by increased signals of aerobic (ventilation & pulse rates, oxygen consumption, etc) and glycolytic (lactic) biological markers.
The three energy systems start at the same time and overlap – so its difficult to separate and define what improvement is based upon.
So on one hand, anaerobic metabolic processes depend on aerobic processes; and on the other hand, the highest levels of lactate are produced after very intensive efforts in the athletes whose aerobic capacity condition is well developed (Israel, 1973). Practically, this means that an athlete must develop their speed (anaerobic alactic) and endurance (aerobic) physical abilities before engaging into speed endurance (lactic) in the long-term career plan, but also in mid-term seasonal plans.
Discussion point: The impact of technique/mechanics on the improvement of sprinting efficiency and hence overall endurance capabilities.
Sometimes what seems like “running out of energy” is caused by a technical problem, not an energetic one. The video below discusses this point further.
Speed Endurance Training Methods
The below provides an outline of the type of work which can be performed to enhance speed endurance qualities. The headings are listed in order of perceived intensity, ranging from 70-80% with extensive tempo, to 95-100% with speed and special endurance.
Note: In the text below PEI is an abbreviation for Perceived Exertion Index. This is a term which describes, on a given day the relative intensity of the perceived exertion of the athlete on a given run. RPE is a similar term, standing for Rate of Perceived Exertion.
Video stop: Coach Pfaff on PEI / RPE and why we use this
The majority of athletes will not be able to maintain maximum speed values for distances greater than 30m once maximum speed has been reached, therefore this type of speed endurance is critical for success in the 200m, but also the 100m. However, it should also be understood that depending upon abilities, two athletes can run the same distance and be working very different systems. For a late developing athlete that is achieving maximum velocity at 40m-50m, a 150m run is very different than that of athlete that is hitting max velocity at 70m-80m. The metabolic effect is going to be different, they should likely run fewer reps at a shorter distance at the prescribed velocity. For this reason we feel using time is a better tool to classify activity i.e:
Speed: 0-7 seconds
Speed Endurance: 7-20 seconds
Special Endurance I: 20–40 seconds
Special Endurance II: 40” – 2’
What is happening at 50m is very different for a mature athlete vs a late developing teenager, but what is happening at 5” is very similar.
Quality and intensity
While we use percentages, every run is performed with quality, meaning sound mechanics dictate loading and density etc. Practicing this form of highly specific work with bad mechanics leads to bad motor programs. This is problematic if you believe the last rep performed is very influential on motor behavior. Most coaches let these sessions run too long and should end the session sooner. Also, fatigue and poor mechanics are a big contributor to injury.
(Side Note: 90-95% and 95-100% is a wide range. We’ve always treated speed endurance as 95%+ (of training intensity). Having a 11.0 female 100m runner, run 12.1 is hardly speed endurance. Building on this is the fact that with many sprinters sound mechanical practice is force dependent, which means it is intensity dependent. The speed should always be one where the athlete is in a “max velocity” position. Some athletes will have trouble getting there at 90%, so intensity may need to be prescribed on an individual basis).
The impact of high intensity effort
Different athletes have different responses to high intensity efforts. In fact, some athletes are so greatly impacted by high intensity effort that the polarized approach (training high and low intensities only – as discussed in the Foundation Course) detrains them, because the density patterns are so low they can’t get enough training stimulus to do well. We have definitely seen this in the ALTIS sprint population. Hence, with many athletes we need to train the entire force velocity curve, running at a variety of speeds. For these athletes the middle intensity work provides the load they need, while protecting their nervous system. This isn’t advocating large training blocks with no quality speed work, it is however, acknowledging that some athletes can only achieve the required volumes through the addition of sub-maximal work, which is in fact complimenting the intensive work: acceleration / max velocity / higher intensity speed endurance. From our experience this is particularly true with women. The irony is that a lot of people are trying to get very specific in the weight room, manipulating movement patterns and bar velocities, but they are not training the entire velocity curve (hence manipulating force application times) with their running work. As such, we’re starting to think of intensive tempo as highly specific ‘general strength’.
A note on work to rest ratios
Rest to work ratios are based on commonalities seen in elite sprint groups world wide and that have been tested within our own programs. They are just guidelines and not ironclad. Many variables can influence these timings. It is also important to note that in our research, there seems to be a bias to incomplete or short rest across all types of sessions and components. We feel that needed research efforts are called for within this topic and paradigm. Too many athletes and coaches are just blindly using work to rest ratios. In the end, our decisions on work to rest ratios within and between sets should be influenced by the biologics we want to stress in the main. Manipulating these variables in truth determine which biological systems and sub-system we want to predominantly influence by the session. It can also have major influence on the quality of movement so should be used with that prime metric always in the background of analysis.
Extensive Tempo Runs
Such runs usually involve repetitions of distances from between 100m to 200m to provide an aerobic stimulus. Intensity may range from 70-80% of PEI, with recoveries ranging from 45 seconds and under between repetitions, to around 2 minutes between sets. Extensive tempo runs are used to develop aerobic capacity and power.
Intensive Tempo Runs
Intensive Tempo sessions use repetitions of distances of greater than approximately 80m to develop anaerobic or lactic acid capacity. This provides a blend of aerobic and anaerobic stimuli, at intensities ranging between approximately 80-90% of PEI.
Alactic Short Speed Endurance
This type of work focuses on the development of anaerobic power and alactic capacities, predominantly stressing the anaerobic and alactic system. Prescribed distances will generally range from 30-80m, with intensities spanning between 90-95% PEI. Recoveries of up to 2 minutes between reps and 7 minutes between sets should be allowed. Maximal intensities of between 95-100% PEI with recoveries of up to 3 minutes between reps and 10 minutes between can also be prescribed.
Glycolytic Short Speed Endurance
Distances of up to 80m are used to target anaerobic capacity and power, as well as lactic acid capacity, under the anaerobic glycolytic energy system. For intensities between 90-95% of PEI, rests of 1 minute between reps and up to 4 minutes between sets should be prescribed. For maximal intensities of between 95-100% of PEI, recoveries of 1-3 minutes between reps, and 4-6 minutes between sets can be used.
Runs over distances between 80-150m target speed endurance while stimulating anaerobic power and lactic acid capacities. The system stressed remains the anaerobic glycolytic system. Intensities of between 90-95% and 95-100% PEI both require recoveries ranging between 5-6 minutes between reps and 6-10 minutes between sets.
Special Speed Endurance I
This is a term used by many to describe long speed sessions ranging from 20–40 seconds, utilizing very fast paces and massive rest intervals between runs. In fact, running multiple races in the same day is a form of this training. This work stresses the anaerobic glycolytic system at intensities ranging between 90-100% PEI. Recoveries can range between 10-12 minutes between reps and 12-15 minutes between sets.
Special Speed Endurance II
This header describes sprints performed for 40 seconds – 2 minutes, to target the lactic acid system and to develop lactate tolerance and lactic acid capacity. Intensities may range between 90-100% of PEI, with long recoveries needed of between 15-20 minutes to full recoveries.
Specific Speed Endurance
This is term that describes very fast efforts over a specific under race distance session. A common example of this workout for us might be a 60, 70, 80 m ladder workout with very fast efforts and up to 20 minute recoveries.
Discussion point: Coach Pfaff discusses how technique and mechanics change during speed endurance vs special/specific endurance runs in a fatigued state. What KPIs does one need to pay attention to in order to have good speed maintenance and decelerate the least amount?
Lactate and the Lactate Shuttle
Starting in the 1970s, University of California, Berkeley professor George Brooks began to show that lactate wasn’t a waste product; it was a fuel, and in fact is often the preferred source of energy in the body.
“It was thought that lactate is made in muscles when there is not enough oxygen. It has been thought to be a fatigue agent, a metabolic waste product, a metabolic poison. But the classic mistake was to note that when a cell was under stress, there was a lot of lactate, then blame it on lactate. The proper interpretation is that lactate production is a strain response, it’s there to compensate for metabolic stress. It is the way cells push back on deficits in metabolism.” – Brooks
As well as a fuel, lactate serves two other primary purposes within the body: 1) it’s the major material to support blood sugar level; and, 2) it’s a powerful signal for metabolic adaptation to stress.
From the article, as it relates to the ‘lactate shuttle’:
“He discovered that normal muscle cells produce lactate all the time, and coined the term “lactate shuttle” to describe the feedback loops by which lactate is an intermediary supporting the body’s cells in many tissues and organs.
We all store energy in several forms: as glycogen, made from carbohydrates in the diet and stored in the muscles; and as fatty acids, in the form of triglycerides, stored in adipose tissue. When energy is needed, the body breaks down glycogen into lactate and glucose and adipose fat into fatty acids, all of which are distributed throughout the body through the bloodstream as general fuel. However, Brooks said, he and his lab colleagues have shown that lactate is the major fuel source.”
The Sprint Finish
This is a term that describes what an athlete does to position themselves during the last few strides of the race. In tightly bunched finishes that we see indoors, especially in the hurdle events, this quality can be a game changer. The videos below further discuss these qualities.
Video stop: Running through the line
Video stop: Surviving rounds and speed endurance
The term ‘endurance’ as a general descriptor refers to the maximum duration for which an individual can sustain a specific activity at a specified intensity.
Speed endurance is a global term used to describe an athlete’s ability to maintain top end speed exhibited in their event for a period of time or distance covered.
This usually involves intensity thresholds of 95-100% of the athlete’s maximal speed, for between 7-20 seconds. It may also be used to describe an athlete’s ability to lessen deceleration values towards the end of a run.
Maximum speed endurance training should involve prescriptions that support the development of maximal speed.
If we are to truly develop speed endurance, we must be maintaining intensity values which match this quality.
Different athletes have different responses to high intensity efforts – this should be considered when planning appropriate session loads.
Starting and acceleration teaching inventory progressions and tools
Teaching progressions for starting & acceleration
We are an error detection and correction based center, as such, our teaching progressions are based on viewing early attempts in execution by the athletes in attendance. From here, we note positive effects first, describe negative effects second, and then experiment with cues or changes in movement strategies from there. The KPI factors listed in previous sections serve as an analysis grid, and as talking points during the session.
Considerations for starting & acceleration development
There are schools of thought who avoid acceleration work in preparation phases of the training year, and only practice this closer to competition time. In our view however, this is a mistake. Acceleration is a skill, and should be taught as such from day one of the training year. It is safe, and necessary to rehearse acceleration year-round, as it is the first building block of any running activity.
Positions, rhythms, rates and intensities are all elements that need to be rehearsed. While acceleration workouts can be intense, realize that intensity is self-regulating to some degree, and one can still have sessions at sub-maximal efforts by:
Limiting the distance of the acceleration
Accelerating on the grass
Staying in flats/trainers
Accelerating from a walk-in/skip-in start (this limits the intensity of overcoming inertia at the beginning)
Manipulating rest intervals to the specific workout goals
We make sure our positions are clean before layering intensity within our acceleration skill work. However, once the athlete has achieved positional and rhythmic stability, the introduction of more intense efforts during training sessions can be added.
Track workouts for starting and acceleration development
We normally try to fit in two sessions weekly on this realm but also have some accountable accelerations built into our daily warm up. The ability to accelerate is a skillful process and thus needs repetition on a regular basis. We use all sorts of starting positions, ranging from hanging or rollover positions to block starts, skip in starts, three point starts, and various other derivatives. We have found that if one is truly applying solid efforts on each run that it takes about 8-10 starts to reinforce and develop biologics. We have had some athletes total up to 18 runs with no decline in times over distance or kinematics.
An acceleration development session would usually involve 3-5 sets of 3-4 reps of runs, ranging from 5-30m in many instances. If shorter than 10m is used, the total run number may involve up to 20-24 runs, as the distance covered has different stressors on various systems. For these figures, we generally find rest of 1-3 minutes within a set, and 3-5 minutes between sets to be appropriate.
The majority of our work is done over 10, 20 and 30m distances. With elite males, this may move out to 40m. We often ladder the session, i.e. 10, 20, 30m, then repeat to total the overall number for that day. On other days, we pick a distance and stay with it the entire session.
As with other menu items, skill ability, training age, injury history, time of season, etc., are all controlling metrics that influence ultimate number of runs. Quality of mechanics and finish time consistency are paramount. We have strict accountability standards on these sessions.
In early season these efforts are done in solo fashion. In season we add competitor stimulus on some days, and even use handicap positions to simulate contingency mindsets.
Video stop: Structuring practices for starts
Starting: Teaching inventory
Two-point standing / hanging start
If the athlete is truly novice in starting, then we would normally have the athlete stand in a staggered stance, two point in nature with their dominant leg forward in said stance. We encourage a relaxed, curved spinal posture with eye gaze looking down at their feet with a relaxed neck position. The arms are left in a hanging position. From that positional setup, we ask the athlete to uniformly increase speed. Due to higher levels of motor control and horsepower, elites can often assume more complex and demanding start positions and with a few key positional adjustments, train without many issues. These positions include deeper two-point set ups with a flexed spine (which mimics the greater joint angles of a block start) and four-point starts early on in the season.
For more experienced athletes, starting in a deeper two-point set up with joints at greater degrees of spinal flexion mimics the greater joint angles of a block start. This also modifies length-tension relationships and creates larger moment arms. Subsequently, there is more force required over longer durations to complete the first step. While these positions will eventually become advantageous for the elite athlete, they also require more physical abilities.
The skill to unravel the spine and coordinate the timing of this spinal extension moment with the proper angle of projection and length of impulse is often overlooked with these more complex positions. It takes greater coordinative abilities to finish the first push with a relatively neutral spine and pelvis from a flexed position. The young athlete will often drift to the extremes and keep a posteriorly tilted pelvis while limiting absolute extension at the hip, or overextend at the lumbar and “lift” themselves out of their start position, which makes rearranging the limbs for the second push much more difficult.
A final benefit of these more remedial two point set ups is the ease of teaching athletes to load both feet, or more accurately, to load both legs/hips. Putting a 16 year old in the blocks for the first time and expecting him or her to understand how to exert pressure on the rear pedal without rocking their center of mass back, if you haven’t provided any previous context, is a recipe for disaster. Because of the above reasons, placing high school athletes in start positions where they can be successful from the beginning, and teach concepts for the transition to block starts, is paramount.
However, once mastery is evident in this hanging start we would then progress to a variety of three point, four point and eventually block starts utilizing the same KPI features and teaching points. Below, you will find these progressions.
Video stop: Considerations for teaching starts to youngsters
Three Point Start
This start addresses setup and stationary constraints on running session dynamics. We use it as a teaching progression or regression for block starts.
Four Point Start
Once the three point start has been mastered, the athlete can progress to the four point start variant.
Walk / drop in start
A walk-in, drop-in or skip-in start changes the speed challenge to acceleration dynamics. It provides another constraint variation which lessens the power on need of stationary start excellence. It also reduces starting strength needs and energy depletion rates.
Skip in start
Standing Start with Throw
Dribble Bleed Starts
Dribbling over the ankle mimics the lower heel recovery height we would generally see at the start of an acceleration run, as well as the ground to air contact ratios. Session volumes for this would follow ‘Plan A’ menu items for a given session. Alternatively, this can be used to provide context as a warm up activity, or as a teaching complex alongside acceleration themed-exercises.
The post up drill, also referred to as ‘half starts’, is a method which helps athletes understand to be strong or ‘posted up’ from stance along the long axis. This can also be used to help athletes understand angles off the start. For athletes that break at the start, this aids in creating context and the feeling of keeping the hips up and forward in a strong position off the start.
Tape accelerations develop fundamental movement signature skills for acceleration, create postural awareness, and contingency correction schemes.
Tapes are placed on the ground at unique intervals appropriate to the athlete’s skillsets. The tapes supply visual feedback, and easy coach analysis grids to monitor, teach and evaluate: postures, contact times, flight times, stride rate, stride length, rhythm dynamics, global movement strategies, and coping mechanisms. Sets/reps/recoveries should follow your acceleration day metrics for load.
Board / Stick accelerations
We use this format predominantly in the fall. It forces athletes to apply force without using their arms, and challenges them to counter-balance and keep trunk stable among other things. They are a great way to reinforce lower-body mechanics.
Guest view: Further inputs on the use of board accelerations, with Coach Stu McMillan
Hill sprints place unique constraints on the athlete forcing them into movement solutions not achieved on flat sessions. The incline creates increased demands for starting strength, power, elastic force production, and postural awareness. Hills also provide useful teaching possibilities, as the contextual interference creates a new environment with the motor stereotype between stride length and stride frequency: It is very difficult to over stride with hills. They are also a useful tool when dealing with larger groups as these types of runs are not reliant on equipment, or setting up harnesses as resisted accelerations are.
Session volumes can be defined according to time of year, incline slope, rest intervals used, purpose of session, athlete experience, athlete efficiencies, etc. However, the similar volumes as per repeat accelerations performed on flat surfaces are generally used.
Resisted sprint training for acceleration development
Research coming from Morin et al. (2011) and Rabita et al. (2015) has suggested that sprint performance, particularly throughout acceleration, is determined more so by the orientation of force application rather than the magnitude of force generated. More specifically, horizontal force application and the sustainment of such through increasing velocities appears to be a separating factor between elite and sub-elite sprint performances.
Heavy resisted sprint training has been a hot topic of discussion lately. Spearheaded by research from the likes of Morin, Clark, Samozino, Petrakos, Cross and others, as well as case studies presented by Cameron Josse and Bob Thurnhoffer, the effectiveness of traditional loading of 10-20% bodyweight is being questioned. Some suggest that loading upwards of 100% bodyweight may be the answer for the training of effective force abilities (ie. the appropriate magnitude and direction of application in the appropriate timeframe).
It may come as no surprise that the 1080 Sprint Machine has found itself at the center of this discussion. If you are unfamiliar, 1080 Sprint is a portable resistance training and testing device for sprints, skating, swimming and change of direction movements. It uses intelligent variable resistance technology to provide a very smooth and controllable resistance. It measures power, force, speed and acceleration with high accuracy – 1080motion.com
It is imperative to safeguard against any negative kinematic transference – a popular argument from skeptics of heavy resisted sprint training. While this is an understandable argument, we believe it can be sidestepped via appropriate implementation. For instance, thus far we have not exceeded 6 repetitions at loads greater than 50% bodyweight in any given week for any athlete. To put this in context, this is roughly 10% of the total accelerations performed in a week. In our opinion, this is not nearly a high enough percentage to carry with it any negative kinematic transference, particularly with an athlete population that carries such a high training age.
Resisted sprinting has been a part of our programming for quite a while but we now have found ourselves in a position to do so much more. Namely, we now have greater control over the type and magnitude of resistance with the ability to capture data around power, force, speed, and acceleration.
Resisted starts can also be performed utilizing a pushing action rather than a towing action. As with most menu items, proper posture, kinematics, kinetics, mood and outcome numbers drive the daily adjustments of load, we do not encourage doing numbers for numbers sake, it must be efficient, non-threatening to wellness, and provide consistent metrics during the session.
Resisted marching variants
This exercise is used to simulate the feeling of aggressively pushing down and back into the track. It can also be used as a Plan B exercise on days where an athlete is not able to complete aggressive, high intensity accelerations.
Wall drills are positional and movement path related teaching exercises whereby the coach and athlete can focus on longitudinal body axis positions, actions about the hip, knee and ankle regions, and experiment with contact/shank angles upon landing and force application moments. The set/rep/total volume schemes are very athlete dependent and normally done during preparation periods. Some coaches use these to develop specific work capacities also. We suggest that one lets form, quality of movements, impulse times and athlete feedback on fatigue levels to be initial monitoring and program evolution metrics.
Acceleration bounds – flat, up hill, free or resisted
Targeting global development of elastic strength abilities, bounding allows additional time on the ground & in the air for the athlete to feel key positions, potentially improving the development of technical elements (ie. timing of ground strike & direction of push and awareness of position. We use this both as a stand alone exercise, but also as part of an acceleration complex session. Athletes should strike the ground flat footed on this exercise – do not allow toe first contacts.
Skips for distance
Skips for distance form a simple and safe exercise easily mastered, which allows athletes to acquire basic plyometric foundation skillsets, explore elastic endurance capacities, improve movement signature skillset adaptations, and serve as a fatigue movement screen.
As with most menu items, proper posture, kinematics, kinetics, mood and outcome numbers drive the daily adjustments of load. Common loads utilized at our center are 2-5 x each exercise completed over 30-70m.
We try to include one or a portion of these types of activity weekly, all year long. This exercise is normally completed after a speed or speed endurance running session, or as part of a complex session.
Multiple Throws are simple, foundational, and safe exercises which are easily mastered. They allow athletes to acquire basic projection foundation skillssets, as well as explore power in projection dynamic capacities, improve movement signature skillset adaptations in a variety of planes of movement, and serve as a fatigue movement screen. In addition, they can be a great method of enhancing power expression without the load factors incurred in plyometric training. There are also key eccentric, isometric and switching moments trained by these activities if designed well.
Exercises can include:
Overhead Backwards Throws
Between Leg Forward Throws (also called underhand forward UHF)
Various throws at different angles working on projection skillsets – as photographed above
A key point for acceleration and starting strength throwing exercises is that we do not use a countermovement, as this is more specific to the task requirements of starting and accelerative strength.
Spin-Bike sessions – Acceleration Development Theme
Bike sessions train CNS systems, hormonal chemistry, immune factors, motor cortex organization, joint sequencing, and more. We use bike sessions either when weather or athlete status means a plan A is not possible. We have found positive results from the use of these sessions as an adjunct to our key themes, and research shows favorable adaptations from bike workouts similar to those used below to be evidenced.
The acceleration bike workout sees an athlete complete 15-25 bouts of accelerations on the bike for 10 seconds per repetition, at a very high wheel resistance. Depending on the volume chosen, these can be divided into sets as desired (e.g. 4×5, or 3×6 etc.)
The athlete should not start the timer until they reach critical speed threshold. Rest intervals should be prescribed at 1 minute between repetitions, and 3-5 minutes between sets. Between sets it is best to get up and walk around to avoid “bike butt” issues.
Seat height is dependent on health issues, and – as per acceleration kinematics – near full knee extension is desired if health issues permit this range of motion.
Start and Acceleration Complexes
Potentiation & Prep
This is an acceleration complex to work on different aspects of acceleration. We have found sprinters can often have short attention spans, so we like to rotate them through various exercises. We sometimes prefer complex exercise groupings as opposed to blocked for learning purposes. This goes back to blocked vs random practice in skill acquisition etc. This complex sees the athlete perform 4 sets of:
Four activities are complexed in this acceleration session. We teach that during the first four steps, the leg action is like a piston in a car, not like on a bicycle. One should think to drive down and back and let the leg rebound forwards and upwards, so the focus is on driving down and back with recoil doing the front side actions. We actively coach shin angles to be parallel to trunk angles. The stick provides an external (to the body) focus the athlete can zero in on. So instead of focusing on the movement or individual body parts, the athlete can direct their attention to the stick and can be cued externally as such, projection and rise can therefore be focused in on – i.e. have the stick rise a little each step (as you accelerate). The stick also takes the arms out of the equation, forcing the athlete to stabilize through the hips and trunk and find new ways via the hips and legs to apply force into the ground. The stick runs are followed by confirmation acceleration runs to stabilize the objective with more specificity.
Activity 1: Drop In acceleration – 35m
Activity 2: Hurdle Stick resisted Run Rocket acceleration – 15m
Activity 3: Run Rocket acceleration- 20m
Activity 4: Drop In acceleration – 35m
On a hill, we complex the following three activities with the general theme of projection:
Stick drop in x 20m
Skip for distance x 40m
Drop-in x 30m
The hill gives us a gentle incline constraint to project/push up on, without needing to emphasize this to the athlete.
A drop in and skip in start is less taxing than an acceleration from a static position (or even a roll over), as the athlete doesn’t need to overcome such inertia. We use drop ins quite a bit in the fall to save the athletes some wear and tear. The drop in also allows the athlete to be aware of their torso angle upon drop in, zero in on the correct angle, and rise continuously out of it. If torso drop in is too acute, the athlete will over-rotate and stumble, if the torso drop in is too shallow the athlete won’t be able to project forcefully, and the acceleration will lose pressure.
Acceleration is a skill, and should be taught as such from day one of the training year.
It is safe, and necessary to rehearse acceleration year-round, as it is the first building block of any running activity.
An acceleration development session would usually involve 3-5 sets of 3-4 reps of runs, ranging from 5-30m in many instances.
There are a range of progressions and regressions that can be used to develop starting and accelerative abilities. Dosage and densities should be defined by the needs of the individual.
Teaching inventory items and progressions for Speed and Speed Endurance
We believe that precise work on maximum velocity and usable speed endurance loads are built on the ability to accelerate efficiently and consistently. Once that component has stabilized, we can take the general schemes we have implemented for upright running skills and apply greater stress to those skills, by requiring higher velocities and sustained velocities over time and distance. If we can hit top end velocities on a regular basis we can then evolve into special speed endurance sessions to enhance biologics needed in that time duration. We also believe that one has to progress speeds and loads on these two parameters in a systematic manner, based on quality of repeatability over time during the session, and several sessions of work.
Another overlooked factor in these program qualities is the fact that competitions train both of these, often in an supra intensity fashion. Doing multiple events, relays, etc., are huge loads in many areas of biologics and must be accounted for in workouts leading up to race day – and, in particular – workouts the following week post competition.
Structuring track workouts for speed and maximum velocity
We define speed sessions as runs that enable an athlete to reach velocities over 95-100% RPE for at least one 10m zone of effort. More advanced athletes should be able to string together at least two 10m zones of top end values. The distance used is based on this standard, so less developed athletes may hit this zone at 30-40m where as an Olympian may hit these zones in the 50-70m region. We have found that extended recovery between runs is needed to ensure consistent results within the session, so it is not uncommon to see 15-20 minute rests between runs in season. We find that less skilled athletes can normally total 3-4 runs, while elites can often handle 6 runs. In a few cases, we have had athletes exhibit good mechanics and consistent times for up to 8 runs if distances used were under 60m.
Speed Endurance is a general term used to describe the ability to hold onto top speeds, and/or minimize the loss of that speed over time and distance. The amount of speed endurance needed and types of speed endurance factors is dependent on the length of the sprint race or event demand being worked towards. We feel that time and effort must be spent in as many zones as possible once one passes their endpoint of their top end speed abilities. We assume that top end speed dynamics are stabilized before treading water in this area of work. We use both time and 10m boundaries for classification purposes. If one uses time as opposed to distances, one should have biological reasoning for the selection of the time interval utilized.
Analysis of many sprint systems world wide reveal use of speed endurance efforts over 40, 50, 60, 70,80, 90, 110, 120, 150m for example when training world class 100m runners. As with speed workouts, these efforts are performed at high velocities, for the biologics involved are very speed dependent. Rest intervals must enable adequate restoration of necessary biological systems before the next effort is undertaken. Running 13 second 120m repetitions does very little to prepare a 10.0s sprinter for the stressors and biological demands of that race effort. We work towards hitting splits in these runs that will approach values exhibited in the race itself. These times need to be worked towards during the training year, and ultra fast runs over these distances classically happen during the competition phase part of the training year.
Maximum Velocity teaching inventory menu items
True maximal speed training can be strictly defined by intensity – maximum velocity requires 95% or above of maximal speed expression. If performances decline below this, we are not truly training maximal speed. Volumes of this type of activity are highly dependent on time of year, skillsets, and rest intervals utilized. Outcome results are key determinants, along with kinematic variables. Recovery from a maximum speed session can take between 48-72 hours, so density patterns should be planned accordingly. Please bear these points in mind as you work through the items listed in this module.
Repeat maximum velocity sprints may include 2-3 sets of 3 runs over 50-70m (2-3 x 3 x 50-70m) with unique recovery intervals dictated by athlete status and needs. Recovery between repetitions over these distances may be 3-5 minutes, and between sets, 5-8 minutes. The majority of athletes can only effectively tolerate up to 6-9 runs before intensity or quality of movement deteriorates. These runs should be performed as close to maximum intensity as possible for a given day. If you see a drop off in times below 95% of the target time, understand that you are no longer working maximal velocity.
To decide on distances to be used for the development of maximum velocity your litmus test is to ensure the athlete is hitting their fastest two 10m segments back to back within the distance covered. Depending on training history, power indices and the like, some athletes may hit maximum velocity sooner – between 40-50m. Then as said, in elite sprinting, some reach it as late as 60-70m or even 70-80m. Landmarks discussed throughout these modules, and as seen in the video below should be demanded. This is critical to ensure quality of execution, and – importantly – athlete health.
Flying sprints eliminate the impact of starting and initial acceleration skills, and allow for a wider range of acceleration schemes to allow the athlete to reach critical speed zones. Volume and recovery metrics used in speed training sessions should apply here.
To set this session up effectively, you need to ascertain the length of the approach needed to enable the athlete to reach full speed. Put a marker down at that point. We then usually measure either a 20m or 30m zone and mark the end of the zone. The aim is to get the athlete to reach top speed just prior to hitting the first marker and entering the ‘zone’, and then maintain that velocity over the speed zone. Note – the athlete must be achieving max velocity just before entering the zone to make it a true speed, rather than acceleration drill.
Younger or less powerful athletes may only require a 20-25 meter approach. Stronger, more elite athletes may need 40m to 50m, while others may need 30-35m. The video below provides excerpts from a flying sprint session.
Sprint-Float-Sprint (SFS) motifs
Sprint, float, sprint motifs see us break the run into thirds. We accelerate to a high speed for the first part of the run, relax and float without slowing for the second, and then re accelerate for the third section. The key is to avoid re-leaning and changing posture on the second acceleration. Instead we encourage the athlete to learn to effect speed maintenance or increases in upright posture.
This session is often used by coaches to emphasize the dynamics of relaxation of key body systems during the ‘float/flight’ stage of the run, and then trying to keep said factor during the second pickup phase. These runs are also used to break dynamic movement stereotypes; whereby too much repetition with the same activity can create neuro-muscular ‘glass ceilings’ so to speak. This paper provides some interesting adjuncts to this point.
End Bend Runs
End bend runs highlight and emphasize a section of the track during which time the athlete is exiting the curve, and transitioning to the straight away section of the track. Some coaches use cones and barriers within the lane to encourage constraint based learning situations. Critical factors for these runs are maintenance of speed values, effective kinematics and movement signatures to withstand centrifugal forces and the necessary changes in strike mechanics, postures and most importantly force signatures to allow for the athlete to safely and effectively maneuver the corner of the run. Common mistakes made here are lane drift, forced/artificial lean postures, premature rightnening responses and various axes malalignments (hip, shoulder and foot). In 200m racing, the velocity curves are somewhat athlete dependent but data shows very high exit velocities and common positional schemes by leading sprinters. Training these factors at close to threshold speeds that mimic race values may reduce inefficiencies and will for sure lessen the injury risk potentials for athletes who have to race on a curve portion. In terms of where in the lane the athlete runs, that would depend on the lane. Don’t sacrifice shapes for distance. If you’re on a tight radius, running on the outside of the lane may actually be better.
Segment Runs are runs that involve multiple speed/gear/effort/frequency changes within the run. This over-rides the pattern of steady-state sprinting and challenges the athlete’s nervous system, focus and execution. The difference in segment runs versus tempo runs is that it evolves more into a fartlek like session whereby athletes runs certain sections of the run at a unique speed value. We have used ascending sections, descending sections and irregular demand sections in the main for this type of work. In terms of direct segment values we use both equal segments and unequal segments. An equal segment run might be a 45 second effort with segment change intervals occurring at 15 second intervals throughout. An unequal segment session might include segment changes occurring at 10,15 and 20 second intervals.
Grass segment runs
We use these types of sessions early in the training year to preserve joints and tissues as they adapt back to training loads and also use these sessions while on the mend from particular types of chronic or acute injury insults. Grass segments are easiest done for time. We generally have used three segments per run (though there is no reason one couldn’t use less or more). An example could be a 27 second segment run in the grass, with three 9 second segments.
Track segments can be done for time or distance. Track segment runs serve as a good bridge between intensive tempo runs and speed endurance runs. The segments on the track allow for the introduction of fast sprinting in small, controlled chunks under states of fatigue. This is a good precursor to all-out, full speed endurance runs. An example could be running a 150 with three segments of 50m. The first segment would be run at a perceived exertion rate of MEDIUM, the next 50m would be FAST and the last 50m would be FASTER. Once an athlete gets used to MEDIUM/FAST/FASTER one could progress to FAST/FASTER/FASTEST.
From a progression standpoint throughout the season we normally will go:
– Segment Runs in the grass
– Segment Runs on the track in flats/trainers
– Segment Runs on the track in Spikes
Sub-max patterning is a term we use to describe sessions that are foundational for building a race model over the race distance or near race distance. It would involve having systematic and uniform execution at reduced pacing compared to a competitive run. The goal is to practice the individual race model and implement the key execution points. This serves as a sub-maximal rehearsal without having to fully go to the well. The added cognitive repetitions allow for the athlete to gain a deeper comfort level with the race plan.
Full runs are near competitive like efforts done at race or near race efforts. They require high recovery times and must be used judiciously. These are in season only tools.
Dribbles for Maximum Velocity
Dribbles for maximum speed development can be used either as a complementary intensifier for stride frequency and stride speed, as a teaching tool, or as a Plan B exercise.
In terms of teaching maximum velocity concepts, we would suggest that mastery of the various dribble exercises is safer, a better teaching progression, and for sure a deeper screen for issues than just throwing kids onto the track or field, and having them sprint with no context or information to guide movement strategies. Dribbles teach vertical force production and projection angles, improve amortization skills, develop elastic energy batteries, and improve elastic force production skills.
Speed dribbles are a great way to dial in switching, posture, and vertical impulse. The key is to have a concentric circle traced by the heel during the recovery, exactly like you would feel if on a bike: it’s imperative to demand concentric, symmetrical pathways. As health and/or fitness improves, you can allow the athlete to have a more elliptical path of recovery which will allow greater speeds across the ground. The beauty of dribbles is that it is an adaptive form of running. It can serve as a constraint led series that enables the athlete to discover both global and event specific literacies, but it also lessens extension stress on all body parts – while allowing you to keep the CNS and biochemistry factors really primed – without fear of injury.
Because of the nature of dribbling activity, one pushes off sooner and with more vertical purpose. This off-loads hamstrings, adductors, spine and hips hugely. It also forces the foot to become much smarter in movement efficiency. In order to roll through the foot and keep the toes from touching the ground, the intrinsic system has to reorder firing patterns drastically. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is a gait modification process. So if one wants to teach, correct, emphasize certain components of gait, etc then in my experience these activities allow one to do that.
We cue athletes to land deep on the foot and try not to let the toes touch the ground, even on departure or toe off phase, then release from the ball of the foot, not toes. The bottom line is smooth, quiet landings that strike way back on the heel bursa region and smooth rolling through the foot to the bridge of the ball of the foot. These exercises also therefore impact intrinsic foot muscles in a unique load stretch parameter. The height of recovery is landmarked by the exercise – ankle means no higher than the maleolus on recovery; calf means no higher than upper gastrocneumius/soleus interface region; knee means stepping over the knee joint of the support leg. As one goes higher, it forces you to time and utilize greater vertical force/velocities curves which is critical in sprinting.
As a plan B exercise, it does narrow down the “gap” during rehab, poor weather conditions, limited space, dealing with huge numbers on certain teaching points, etc. We have used them across the spectrum from acceleration plan B workouts all the way up to anaerobic glycolysis type sessions for 400m Hurdlers. We have used this scheme since 1995 and tweaked it every year.
Wickets for maximum velocity
The use of wickets is a very useful teaching tool for maximum velocity sprint posture – meaning it is used to help teach upright sprinting technique. One traditionally uses 6 inch mini/banana hurdles as the main equipment. These mini-hurdles are set up in a strategic spacing to allow the athlete to sprint through, with increasing speed, bounce and rhythm. The primary purpose is to train proper upright running posture, while working on vertical strike, force production and increasing limb speeds. The wickets form an obstacle course that forces the athlete to self-organize into proper upright running posture and force production. It is a training drill we incorporate year round in a variety of different forms.
All these exercises have upright sprinting as their most important theme. We like going from exercise to exercise to provide several examples of context (at varying speeds) and opportunities for execution. Complexing exercises forces the athlete to stay engaged in slightly different tasks, and we have found rotating them through a variety of exercises keeps them more focused: overall learning and retention seems to be better as well.
This drill was originally created by Vince Anderson – who has been kind enough to write a short section on the inception of the exercise:
“I try to conform my training to scientific and biomechanical models advanced by Tom Tellez and by USATF Coaches Education, of which I am a product. In my 34 years of observation, I have never had incoming athlete that sprinted functionally at maximum velocity — a position which optimally requires a vertical posture from which a sprinter must dynamically “step down from above”.
In every case, athletes come to our program as overstriders, or “reachers” – as Coach Tellez likes to call such athletes. Without going into great depth, I feel that such universal dysfunction is easy to explain given the mythology, vocabulary stagnation, and conceptual inaccuracy of American sprint culture over decades. Briefly, the culture of American sprinting has always enabled and rewarded a “long stride” as a source of optimal performance, and therefore, made the “long stride” technical goal as well. The word “stride”, often used as a verb, takes on a super-understood, heavily evocative meaning to every athlete who takes the command.
Into this void, the responsible sprint coach must teach proper mechanics. In my case, I rapidly tire of watching bad sprint posture, and will not do so for more than a few reps, before calling practice closed. I searched for a way to teach optimal mechanics, so the athletes could FEEL the “stepping down from above”. Further, “stepping down from above” feels to athletes internally VERY MUCH LIKE MARCHING IN PLACE (which any child can do beautifully). The result of my thinking was the VMax drill (also known as the wicket drill) which forces athletes into relatively tight little spaces that they refuse to step out of, lest they step on a plastic hurdle. It took a few days of trials to come upon a reasonable spacing formula, to produce a progressively aggressive sprint performance over six inch hurdles (wickets). Rapidly, through trial and error, we discovered the drill really sang when we choreographed a run-in to the wickets. We soon discovered that we got even better result when laid the hurdles down (a marker on the ground serves nicely as a bump in the ground; the marker need not have any height to serve its purpose).
I think the drill is effective because humans simply do not want step on any bump when they sprint. The wickets simply take up space, and force athletes into a posture of rapid down-stepping action, versus the dreaded, but historically revered, out-stepping or out-casting pattern of their formative training years. Gradually, the repetition chips away at the athlete’s technical consciousness and the sweet strike spot moves more and more close to the center of mass. Active learning (self-awareness) allows athletes to transfer ‘down-stepping from above’ onto the open track, when wickets are no longer present.”
Further application of wickets
The use of this drill is really only limited by one’s imagination. We have found a variety of ways to incorporate it into our training program, and on average, we use wickets twice a week.
Before a Speed or Speed Endurance Workout
We use wickets to prime upright postures before either a speed session or a longer speed endurance session. Upright sprinting comprises the key element in either session and we want to ensure that the athlete has the proper positional context before executing the main element of the workout. Traditionally we would do anywhere from 3-6 repetitions through 12-22 wickets.
As part of a Complex
We often rotate through several exercises to reinforce key movement themes. For example a session based off the following exercises:
An upright march holding a board overhead
A wicket run of 18 mini-hurdles
A 30m flying sprint.
Wickets with a Run Off
Oftentimes athletes will be able to display good sprinting posture with the help of wickets as a constraint. The “obstacle course” helps set their positions. Unfortunately once the constraint is removed their form breaks down. To counteract this phenomenon we often use an extended run out after running through wickets. An example would be wickets for 30m and then a 30m run out for a total of 60m. We challenge the athlete to set good postures through the wickets and upon exiting continue to hold established posture. This allows the athletes to work on executing proper technique in the open.
From several steps away (usually 6-9) the athlete runs in aggressively towards the wicket row. The athlete should reach upright sprint posture BEFORE they enter the first wicket. Upon entering the wickets one continues to build limb speed and march aggressively. The emphasis should be on stepping/striking down and producing vertical force. The athlete continues to pick up speed and move their “parts” faster and faster. The challenge becomes to increase limb speed, while maintaining open shapes/range of motion. Good speed and proper posture should be maintained until exiting the last wicket.
Guest view: Coach Andreas Behm on how he uses Wickets
Wicket Set up
For set-up we aim to determine the maximum spacing (stride-length) we want a particular athlete to cover and work our way backwards. Maximum stride length is based on such things as force application capabilities, limb-lengths, footwear, surfaces, wind-direction. Other considerations include the training time of year and purpose within a given workout.
The goal is to have a smooth run up through wickets into the desired maximum spacing. So all preceding wickets help build into the maximum spacing. Generally we increase wicket spacing by 10cm every 2-3 wickets leading up to maximum desired spacing. Once the maximum desired spacing is reached, the wicket spacing remains constant. The typical amount of wickets used can range anywhere from 12 to 22, but this is just a general recommendation.
So, say the maximum desired spacing we are looking at is 2.40m, we would then set up wickets at 1.90 (2) 2.00 (2), 2.10 (2) 2.20 (3) 2.30 (3) … and then the rest at 2.40. These shorter wickets help build into the desired max spacing.
Wickets can be set up on grass or track, be done in flats or spikes, be tipped over or at 6” inches in height. The surface, spacing and wicket height are largely dictated by the time within the training year.
One nice feature is that this drill can be done with minimal cueing. The athlete oftentimes will figure out what to do, given the spacing is appropriate. This allows the athlete to shift their focus hind-brain and just flow through the wickets. Some things we do emphasize include entering the wickets in max-v posture, continuing to increase limb-speed, stepping down or marching through the wickets (we realize the movement is more cyclical … but to most athletes inside their body it feels like marching, sometimes even marching in place), making big/open shapes with their limbs.
Coach Pfaff’s view: “Overspeed is a much discussed and researched topic and in my opinion often misapplied in practice and designs. One of the biggest issues with this concept is how to apply assistance whether it be will rubber tubing, pulley systems, downhill slopes, wind, or sophisticated apparatus like a 1080 system. Unless one has budget, staffing and climate controlled environments, the use of high tech assistance devices is limited. The main issues with many of the other choices is the consistency of tow, resultant biomechanical strategies and the anchor points of harness apparatus. My major concern is that we may be creating dynamic stereotypes in running movement schemes that inhibit proper movement when without apparatus and that the risk/reward factor has not been well thought out. High speed braking postures are well documented chronic and acute injury conspirators. Our data sets show that most athletes default into a breaking posture and movement scheme if the assistance surpases their ability to coordinate and apply effect forces and these strategies deteriorate exponential with fatigue . There are also arguments on how many steps or distances utilized at said overspeed to have a positive input on changing motor schema. In my experience, racing with adrenalin, tailwind races/ runs and perhaps very slight downhill slopes are time proven methodologies across a wide variety of athletes, sports and cultures.”
Guest View: Coach Behm shares his thoughts on Overspeed Training
Discussion point: Should we be considering different volumes of sprinting for speed work for males versus females, as females are generally working at lower overall speeds?
Speed Endurance – menu inventory items
While maximum speed relies on the ability to attain absolute velocities, speed endurance is about enduring the ability to run at high velocities over a period of time. The menu inventory items below provide suggested activities designed to aid in this process.
Tempo runs are not technically speed endurance workouts, however, they serve as a precursor to help build towards speed endurance sessions.
Extensive Tempo Runs
These runs usually involve repetitions of distances from between 100m to 200m to provide an aerobic stimulus. Intensity may range from 70-80% of PEI, with recoveries ranging from 45 seconds and under between repetitions, to around 2 minutes between sets. Extensive tempo runs are used to develop aerobic capacity and power.
Grass tempo runs are used by many programs as a methodology to reduces stress on body architectural structures while challenging various biological and biochemical systems. Literature reviews show distances used ranging from 50m up to 600m for short sprints and up to 1km for long sprints. The volume, intensity, density patterns, work to rest ratios are highly dependent on athlete needs, event discipline being trained for, current state of fitness, injury issues, time of year and other stress metrics one uses to categorize training item listings.
These types of runs can also be manipulated to work on mechanic efficiencies, serve as recovery running sessions and as tools to offload cognitive stressors in season. They also create a new puzzle for ground reaction factors in the dynamical systems front. Shoe types can be a limiting feature on these efforts so it is imperative to watch and or film key sections of the run and note foot dynamics. We have seen some troublesome issues occur in these sessions where footwear was not sufficient.
Intensive Tempo Runs
Use repetitions of distances of greater than approximately 80m to develop anaerobic or lactic acid capacity. This provides a blend of aerobic and anaerobic stimuli, at intensities ranging between approximately 80-90% of PEI.
Alactic Short Speed Endurance
This focuses on the development of anaerobic power and alactic capacities, predominantly stressing the anaerobic and alactic system. Prescribed distances will generally range from 30-80m, with intensities spanning between 90-95% PEI. Recoveries of up to 2 minutes between reps and 7 minutes between sets should be allowed. Maximal intensities of between 95-100% PEI with recoveries of up to 3 minutes between reps and 10 minutes between can also be prescribed.
Glycolytic Short Speed Endurance
Such sessions use distances of up to 80m to target anaerobic capacity and power, as well as lactic acid capacity, under the anaerobic glycolytic energy system. For intensities between 90-95% of PEI with rests of 1 minutes between reps and up to 4 minutes between sets should be prescribed. For maximal intensities of between 95-100% of PEI, recoveries of 1 minute between reps, and up to 4 minutes between sets can be used.
Speed Endurance Runs
These are usually performed over distances between 80-150m target speed endurance while stimulating anaerobic power and lactic acid capacities. The system stressed remains the anaerobic glycolytic system. Intensities of between 90-95% and 95-100% PEI both require recoveries ranging between 5-6 mintues between reps and 6-10 minutes between sets.
We use repeat sprints to develop skills and capacities to minimize kinematic flaws and velocity reductions over time and/or distance. In such workouts we look for parameters of maximal speed at =/>95% intensity held for 7-15 seconds to train the alactic system, or 0-7 seconds to train the ATP-PC system. Recovery should be appropriate to allow for repeated runs at similar velocities, and or outcome data. Workouts will have unique values for within-set, and between-set recovery mechanisms. One can, for example, take what is accepted as a classic speed session and turn the last part of said session into an alactic stressor by manipulating work to rest ratios the entire session.
Speed endurance sessions have high CNS demands, so 48 hours or more will be needed for full recovery. Also understand that for repetitions up to 15 seconds, an athlete may only be able to perform 2-3 repetitions before technique or intensity reduces to the point where the session becomes an intensive-tempo workout. However, for most speed or special speed endurance runs we have found that athletes can generally manage 4-9 runs, with generous rest intervals between. On race modeling and or speed endurance sessions, the general number of efforts range from 1-4 with appropriate rest intervals utilized.
Special Speed Endurance I
This describes long speed sessions ranging from 20–40 seconds, utilizing very fast paces and massive rest intervals between runs. In fact, running multiple races in the same day is a form of this training. This work stresses the anaerobic glycolytic system at intensities ranging between 90-100% PEI. Recoveries can range between 10-12 minutes between reps and 12-15 minutes between sets.
Special Speed Endurance II
This describes sprints performed for 40 seconds – 2 minutes, to target the lactic acid system and to develop lactate tolerance and lactic acid capacity. Intensities may range between 90-100% of PEI, with long recoveries needed of between 15-20 minutes to full recoveries.
Specific Speed Endurance
These sessions involve very fast efforts over a specific under-race-distance session. A common example of this workout for us might be a 60, 70, 80m ladder workout with very fast efforts and up to 20 minute recoveries. Recovery will be dependent on the goals of session in terms of mechanics, energy system factors, and athlete wellness indices.
Ancillary Speed Endurance modalities
Up-backs are a term we use to describe a type of running session that addresses acceleration, transition and upright running mechanics, while influencing various forms of speed endurance depending on goals of session. On the capacity side of things, these sessions can address short speed endurance, long speed endurance, alactic factors and even anaerobic glycolysis values – depending on how you shape the session. I began experimenting with this form of work back in the 1980s when I had several athletes in need of speed endurance work where due to injury history, lacking skillsets, or inability to maintain efficient kinematics – they were unable to do classic longer distances of runs utilized by most coaches world wide. So, if we were doing 150m repetitions for example, I would break this into a 75m run up the track, in a straight line, control the deceleration with proper mechanics, turn around and repeat the 75m back to the start point. The interval on the turn around ranged from 10 seconds upwards to 30 seconds depending on speeds used, fatigue levels, and skills at decelerating. I found this format gave me two chances to observe the skill of accelerating, transitioning and maintaining upright form on each up/back run. I also found that elapsed running times of actual running were faster than when they ran the entire distance in one go. For athletes who – for health reasons – should not be running on a curve that often, these runs have proved to be very valuable. I have found across the board athletes execute much higher levels of technical efficiencies doing these formats compared to the longer runs, when judged in quality control over the entire session. It is also a solid format for developing special speed endurance in environments where running a longer run is impossible due to facility or crowd factors.
Our session format will involve 3-6 up backs depending on goal of the session, and the distances run. We use distances of 40-90m in the norm. The rest interval will also depend on goal of session, speed of runs, distance covered, and health of athlete. Early season workouts normally utilize 2-3 minute recoveries, while competition season sessions often find the rest interval to be 10 minutes or longer.
In terms of repeated sprint abilities, as mentioned previously, we must define the precise ergonomics of our sport discipline to make decisions on training formats. Repeating acceleration or speed runs in a field/court sport involve change in direction factors, unique and varied rest intervals, along with huge cognitive/perceptual loads. Work in this realm is addressing the ability to keep velocities and skills at high levels within a particular, relatively short time period. Repeat sprint ability in athletics however, may mean the ability to race several times with a day, or weekend. It may involve a jumper being able to use their approach over multiple jumps in a 2 hour competition. The rest intervals are larger, and the biochemical factors are very different from games sport demands.
Wickets after a speed endurance or special speed endurance workout
During certain times of the year we will do wicket runs AFTER a longer running workout. The purpose is for the athletes to work on holding postural integrity under intense fatigue. It is one thing to have good posture at the beginning of a workout, a whole different thing to force yourself to do this when tired and mentally drained. For end of workout wickets we usually shorten the pattern slightly to account for fatigue, for the athlete understandably may not have the same force output capabilities as when fresh. Usually we have done roughly 2-4 total wicket runs in this scenario.
Curve runs are done on an apparatus, a curve treadmill unit. This tool is a relatively new product on the market and research on various factors is somewhat limited at this writing. The big difference in these units is that the belt is self propelled by the athlete which in turn creates unique strike point dynamics and movement solutions. As with motorized treadmills, there are pluses and minuses with this instrument.
We use them primarily to allow for detailed video analysis of various gait dynamics at varying speeds. It is climate controlled and uniform in environmental conditions for comparison of data matrices. We are also experimenting with doing various types of recovery workouts using this apparatus but data collection is limited in terms of longitudinal results. Kinematic comparisons to flat ground running seem to align up to and just before critical speed obtainment. It is a risk/reward issue for us in using near maximum speeds on this unit so thus far have avoided that end of work. The workout dynamics are dependent on purpose of the session. We use similar work to rest ratios, volumes, intensities and kinematic demands on the curve that we would institute if said session was being done on the track.
Example Workout schemes
We use the Curve for Max Velocity, Tempo, Segment, and even Dribble Runs. Essentially, the machine can be used for any type of upright running workout.
Max Velocityconsists of an athlete powering up to top speed they feel comfortable reaching on the machine and then shutting it down. We would do anywhere from 3 to 8 reps of this, with generous recovery time in between.
Tempo style workouts include a variety of different schemes. For example: 8 x 40sec with 2mins rest, 8 x 15 sec with 45 sec rest, 8 x 30sec starting at 2.30 rest, and then decreasing the rest by 15sec each rep … so increasing the density pattern of work. We generally don’t prescribe an exact speed.
Segment runs see us switch the rhythm/speed during the run. An example would be a 15 sec run, where we go from medium the first 5 sec, to fast the middle 5 sec and then faster the last 5 sec. We generally give larger recoveries here than on the tempo runs, as the intensity of the segment runs is higher.
Dribble runs are just truncated ranges of motion. Stepping over the calf or ankle – instead of the knee. One can execute these quite well on the curve.
Curve vs regular treadmill
Athletes can definitely do similar sessions on a treadmill, bike or even elliptical. However, none of those machines come close to the sensation of sprinting as the curve runner. In reality though, sometimes one is traveling and the local gym only has certain equipment available for use, so one needs to be able to make due with what one has to work with. The curve would definitely be our first choice (unless there is an injury situation where one needs to unload). Volumes may be slightly different from equipment to equipment as the loading is different, so one would need to dial this in based on the equipment and individual athlete.
We use spin bike sessions both as a Plan B exercise, and as an alternate means of developing specific qualities.
The rest intervals on the workouts below vary depending on desired endurance qualities to be challenged. They range from 30 seconds up to 5 minutes the session goal of the original daily plan will dictate the rest factors. For athletes with acute injury, we have found it valuable to do these sessions using one leg only. This maintains key biochemistry during periods of acute unilateral injury.
Workout: Speed Development Theme
Our speed theme involves the completion of 10-15 bouts of 20-30 second sprints at high resistance. Once again, the athlete should not start the timer until they have accelerated to reach the desired speed value.
For this workout we use 2-3 minutes rest within the set and 5 minutes rest between sets. If health permits, we use a seat height that allows for 90-95% knee extension values.
Workout: Special Speed Endurance Themes
The special speed endurance theme requires the completion of 8-10 bouts of 45-60 seconds at medium to high resistance.
Again, the athlete should not start the timer until they have reached prescribed speed values.
Bike sessions can be performed with a single leg setup in the event of acute injury on one limb.
Activities to develop abilities complementary to speed endurance
In addition to the above, we also use various body weight and ground based circuits of a variety of movements to foster postural awareness and movement skills under fatigue. Elastic endurance schemes such as our ‘MJ Trek’ or ‘MJ Extended’ schemes are also used as a complementary activity to aid in elastic endurance development. Note that ‘elastic endurance’ is a rather ambiguous term that appears in numerous literature searches and coaching courses. To us, it describes the ability of the athlete to execute an efficient and desired movement signature involving elastic component utilization that is in harmony with other propulsion systems of the human body. If an athlete exhibits a signature bounce or vertical/horizontal signature when running at top speed and that signature degrades with fatigue, then a possible area to explore is that athlete’s elastic capacity values.
For the series below, dependent on athlete wellness we may use 1-2 sets over 20-40m, we often use grass for these schemes.
Multiple Jump Series – Trek
Skips for height
Skips for distance
Straight leg scissors
Flexed leg scissors
Alternate leg bound
Multiple Jump Series – Extended
Straight leg scissors
Flexed leg scissors
Alternate leg bounds
Strength & Power Development for Maximum Velocity and Speed Endurance
As stated in several sections beforehand, these qualities are adjuncts to the sprint program in most cases. Speed endurance is tightly bound to both acceleration metrics and speed metrics and we have found that once we discover better trends in developing those features in the weight room, we have had little need to explore enduring factors for speed endurance in the weight room.
Having said that, Eastern Bloc countries did copious amounts of endurance work in the weight room, and several western coaches abide in this approach also. However, several attempts at experimenting with these concepts yielded very scattered results in our experimentation periods.
We believe that precise work on maximum velocity and usable speed endurance loads are built on the ability to accelerate efficiently and consistently.
Once that component has stabilized, we can take the general schemes we have implemented for upright running skills and apply greater stress to those skills, by requiring higher velocities and sustained velocities over time and distance.
If we can hit top end velocities on a regular basis we can then evolve into special speed endurance sessions to enhance biologics needed in that time duration.
We also believe that one has to progress speeds and loads on these two parameters in a systematic manner, based on quality of repeatability over time during the session and several sessions of work.
Realize that competitions present supra-intensity loads and should be factored into the demands of any loading considerations.
One of the most frustrating occurrences in sprinting is dealing with chronic and or acute injury factors. No matter how careful one is with planning and other key performance factors, injuries happen in sport. As a Staff, we have been blessed to coach a variety of events, and as a result travel and network in a wide array of sports, countries, and geographic locations. Everywhere we turn, injury prevention, return to play and ‘bullet-proofing’ athletes are major topics of discussion, research, and concern.
It is our hope that the discussions in this module will help coaches to become better consumers of sports medicine services, improve communication in a horizontal design paradigm by all parties involved, reduce lost man hours and missed competitions, improve reporting skills by all involved, improve wellness and efficacy of movement and – above all, reduce chronic and acute injury occurrences.
A review of our data sets, which are floating five year norms, reveal the following with respect to most common injuries in the centers and networks that we share data and reporting with:
Ligamentous injury areas: Ankle, Knee, Elbow, Foot, Pelvis, Hip Labrum
Fractures and or Reactions
As with most muscle injuries, causality is complex and diverse, and often has multiple sources. Fatigue due to generalized loads and/or compensation loads are also a major player in the puzzle. This is why we lean so heavily on movement analysis, fundamental movements, essential movements, and “feel” through Performance Therapy to access health status daily.
We have found there to be four main drivers for injury; whether that be acute or chronic. These drivers include:
This is a major factor especially in return to play periods, where we too often see a neglect for deep and layered analysis over time pertaining to possible factors of contribution to injury timing, occurrences, and patterns of occurrence.
These factors could include: diet/nutrition skills, sleep hygiene factors, life management, mental resilience factors, coping strategies, contingency planning, etc. Said factors are reasonably simple to observe and identify but very hard to change, as this requires major behavior modification, monitoring and accountability on the part of the athlete.
Operating towards a sound biomechanical model – not only event specific, but in all training tasks is critical. Many individuals have a biomechanical model for sport specifics, but fail to consider having similar models for every activity on the daily training plan. Furthermore, athletes must be coached and held accountable to said efficiencies for schemes to work.
We also have issues with the self organizational academics discouraging a model concept, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Fatigue is a major variable in sprint training, whether the athlete is healthy, or in a return to play scenario. Changes in kinematic and kinetic expressions are heavily influenced by a myriad of fatigue influencers. Many times athletes are identified as having weak or poor muscle force metrics obtained in clinical settings, however, in our experience muscle analysis in static, prone, supine or abridge positions reveal only certain actionable information.
Our concern with poor muscle function in a clinic setting is understanding the causal nature of the result reported, and ascertaining whether it is fatigue driven, or a result of faulty joint positions acting on the muscle system. Alternatively, there could be neurological or lymphatic influencers. There are many factors controlling movement. Clinical testing often ignores or reduces the power of many of these contributors. Our use of EMG and TMG data collection over time on diverse populations and intra-athlete retesting reinforces our opinion on these matters.
One of our major concerns in current sports medicine trends is the use of isolatory exercises and conditioning motifs that are totally unrelated to specific sport tasks. Moreover, the use of these modalities as a stand alone answer, and the allowance of huge training gaps on many biological factors during the rehab period shows a total lack of understanding of event demands, needs, and qualities by practitioners.
The research archives are full of discussions on types of muscle contractions to be used, schemes for tendon and ligament loading, tools and gadgets utilized, as well as data sets on less than elite subjects, etc., to name a few. However, if we truly dig down and explore motion and movement control, what we truly find is a harmonic symphony involving a myriad of players operating in relatively defined relationships and tasks. In our experience, the major players in movement control actually involve:
Tendons, Ligaments, Bursae, Fat Pads and Capsules
Brain, Spinal Cord and CNS
With that in mind we find current sports medicine practices severely lacking on addressing many of these components in the rehab or return to play process, especially in an integrated, systematic fashion. Another major area of concern that is often minimized in clinical practice is the cognitive perceptual loop, and its interactions with all of the above mentioned components.
Prehabilitation and Rehabilitation schemes
We have no doubt that at times special prehab or rehab exercise can result in positive changes, but without integration into the whole being done with real time and real work factors, it has limitations.
One of our biggest concerns with Physical Therapy or selective exercise prescription is the cost benefit factor, and if it truly identifies the “culprit”. If we believe that movement has many sources of input, and is based up a truly dynamic system, then how can isolating a component always be a home run so to speak? Even if we are pretty sure of the efficacy, we still have to move through additional tests and movements in a progressive manner until we arrive back at the sporting task desired. That is where it falls apart for so many: They may be onto something with their research and schemes only to fail – not because their hypothesis is wrong, but because they failed to address the additional steps back to form.
If chronic injuries are created by progressive erosion over time, then rehab must follow a similar path back to health. The complex menu of activities that created the issue must be reverse engineered with program design to regain health and function in our experience.
Fascia and Collagen Matrix Research
A relatively young and new branch of biological inquest is found in the field of fascia/collagen matrix research, and how this ties into fluid dynamics and the fluid engineering factors so often ignored in western medicine.
All joints have collagen soft tissue design with tensegrity construction supporting a vast fluid transport and reservoir system. As such, joint positions and resultant fluid transport are critical factors in movement dynamics.
The human hydraulic system includes:
So with this background in mind, how do we go to work on some of these issues? Why even bother?
If we can identify culprits that seemingly trend towards un-wellness or inefficient movement then perhaps we can become more proactive in practice and scope. Keep in mind there are many co-conspirators to this process. Bias runs amok with athletes, coaches, and health practitioners. Many suffer from myopic analysis of factors, trends and current practice. We battle silo thinking and turf wars daily. The blame game is rampant by all parties.
Last of all, we don’t know what we don’t know. It is why diverse networks, debriefs, audits and dialogue are so very important to conquering the injury epidemics found in modern sport.
The cost-benefit of changing movement
When we study movement it is prudent to always do a cost/benefit analysis before we undertake a “change” in how we move. We must look for energy leaks – things that waste valuable biological energy. Of course we want to reduce acute and chronic injury occurrences – so seeing energy leaks, faulty movement paths and strategies, etc., are critical in avoiding interference with key movement competencies and expressions.
To do a systematic effort on this front it is imperative to have technical models for every activity that a sprinter encounters – either in training or competition. While of course athletes have bandwidths with key kinematic and kinetic expressions, it is our experience that there are fundamental shapes, positions, curves, vectors and movement signatures for elite athletes.
The common denominator factor of these variables are evident when one travels from extreme rehab of walking gait control, to the other end of the spectrum of world class sprinting. If we do careful intra and inter athlete study of athletes – no matter what age, skill set, culture and experiences – we can see these commonalities. Longitudinal studies also lend credence to this concept.
Logic, common sense and the ease of replicability are support skills needed by the athlete, coach and support staff when surfing this paradigm. The cognitive-perceptual factors are heavily influenced by feedback loops, so deep dives into the research and experimentation with things like cue systems are also prime instigators of productive change.
This leads us into the realm of movement analysis or screens.
Movement analysis & screening
We believe in having multiple layers of screening crossing many factors of complexity. Great coaches have used movement screens for decades: it’s called watching practice intently!
Every item on our training menu is a movement screen – from running sessions, to weight room activities, to plyometric training, to throw and power conversion training. We have to train the eye or use video at times to see these critical landmarks, planes, axes, angles and overall movement signatures. However, seeing in real time is built upon video review, photo sequence analysis, and reinforced and validated by various kinematic and kinetic tools.
Athletes develop positive and negative movement strategies built upon experiences, injuries and misconceptions. We are injured at birth and it is a bit downhill from there – we incur injuries learning to crawl, stand and walk. Then we really pile on injuries in our youth learning to ride bikes, taking crazy risks in movement exploration, and from sport specific insults over time.
These injuries are often not addressed at the time, and as a result compensatory movement patterns evolve. Some of these can be overcome in time, but many persist the rest of our lives. It is our experience that finding the movement signatures of athletes when they are excellent at tasks is imperative to building a frame of reference for bandwidth during various times of the training process. Developing bandwidths for acceptance of movement is critical in deciding when to change or end a session, resign from a competition, or for use as a tool for medical interventions.
Movement expression and signature
In the literature the term “movement signatures” or “movement expression” are currently hot topics in sport science circles. We have spent years experimenting with, and trying to maximize forces, improve rate of force development, and improve joint stiffness to manipulate ground contact times. Researchers in our network such as Dr. Matt Jordan, Ryu Nagahara, Peter G. Weyand and Sophia Nimphius have done landmark work in this realm of research. Takeaways from their findings show that movement expression is a complex phenomena: Reducing things down to myopic approaches is limited, and can often inhibit movement excellence. Many attempts to use reductionist constructs such as these have lead to entire generations of sprinters battling injuries not seen in such number in previous decades. Instead, vectors, timing, sequencing matter and must be accounted for.
Doing deep induction interviews with athletes and their previous performance team is a critical part of determining compensation tendencies, movement signatures, bandwidths for precise movement expressions, gaps in physical development, and over arching movement strategies.
Along with this format we utilize various types of debriefs for both athlete and performance staff on these topics at various intervals in the session, week, month, cycle, and phases. However, someone has to be the gate-keeper and decision maker when armed with this information; in far too many cases it is a therapist or doctor with little knowledge of sport specific factors. It is critical to have vast and diverse networks to draw information from in deciding what to do with these metrics. Lastly, we are now seeing the power of genetical information supply input into strategies for movement efficiency development.
With sprinters, we have found they utilize the following factors to affect speed:
Leveraging of variables
Use and application of lever and axes systems, joint / muscle timing systems, and Alarm Theory
Speed of movement and manipulation of support phases
Manipulation of flight phases and pathways of limbs
So with that in mind we use the following perceptual grid for analysis:
Range of Movement
Speed of Movement
Sequencing of Gross Movements
Sequencing of Fine Movements
Postures of Key Support Mechanisms
Perspective of Observation
Axes of Rotation (Longitudinal, transverse)
Contact/Flight time relationships
A special note on symmetry
Well meaning sports medical practitioners are always promoting and nudging athletes towards balanced muscle system relationships and body symmetry. However, this may not always be the best option. Athletes have bandwidth on these metrics and as long as they are in operationally safe bandwidths, change to a more perfect model may in fact promote injury or a decline in performance.
Because of the biological determinants of starting, one leg has unique development due to the nature and requirements of overcoming inertia. The opposite leg is always working in a more dynamic and momentous fashion, so there is built in asymmetry just through everyday tasks and the sport task itself. Our data has shown every athlete in our care has some degree of stride length asymmetry, range of movement asymmetry, and contact duration asymmetry.
However, if one or several of these indices are out of bounds on our accepted bandwidth/technical model we will then intervene with:
Prescribed Flexibility or Fascial Exercises
Soft Tissue Manipulation
Re-cueing of correct themes or movements
Cessation of session
Refinement of Long Term Rehab/Prehab Strategies
Case study: What else, where else?
The philosophy of looking elsewhere – ‘what else, where else’ for other co-conspirators affecting the area of original complaint is a key factor in maintenance of health, and injury recovery. In the video below we will see an athlete who missed almost 2 years of training and was battling bilateral Achilles tendonitis. When he came to us he was barely able to walk unguarded and was unable to do a majority of movement tasks. He had been to dozens of experts all over Europe, completed extensive rehab protocols, had series of injections, etc. Nothing had changed the complaint or ability to move.
From this rear view, please note:
– The actions of the calcaneus upon touchdown – severe and extreme medial heel slide is evident.
– Note the fascia of the spine as exemplified by the rippling evident in the shirt he is wearing.
– Also observe closely also the left shoulder position and movement paths.
Long story short, one would not see these factors in a clinical setting, nor would one see this from observation using a head on, or side view. Where you monitor and what you monitor is critical.
For this athlete, by treating foot issues, knee patterns, hip ranges of movement, spinal function, and lastly addressing a left shoulder injured in his youth, he was able to return to form and earn a silver medal in the 200m at the European championships that season. He went on to make his Olympic team in 2012. From the ashes rise the Phoenix.
‘Plan B’ Formatting
‘Plan B’ describes sessions we prescribe when either the whole, or elements of our ‘Plan A’ session cannot be executed – either through injury, weather issues, fatigue, facility access, travel, general health qualities, or incomplete coach coverage. Plan B series will help keep biochemical properties stable, positively influence neurotransmitter pools and pathways, and do wonders for cardiovascular functions: There really is no excuse for not staying half way fit during times of unscheduled interruptions.
When an athlete is unable to complete a pre-season set of sprint workouts due to injury, it is imperative to support previous years influences on plan A schemas by the inclusion of key workout themes, and the appropriate time of year. Anecdotally, we have found this keeps biochemistry markers challenged, activates key muscle systems and chains, speeds healing, promotes positive emotional chemistry factors, reduces immune influences, and the like – so it is critical in our mind.
Depending on athlete need, health status, and equipment available, we use Plan B workouts to act as substitutes for the Plan A theme for the day.
If, for example, we have an acceleration session scheduled and the athlete is dealing with a hamstring complaint, we may shift to an adaptive gait session whereby we would execute the exact set/rep/rest scheme scheduled in plan A. However, we would do it with things like dribble exercises with various shapes, forces, speeds and distances. If the complaint did not allow us to use ground based adaptive running gaits, we may then go to a ‘Plan C’ format using precise and specific stationary bike sessions taxing the same biochemical factors as ‘Plan A’. If the bike session caused complaint then we might shift to a ‘Plan D’ session using hand crank cycles to replicate biological stressors.
Another example might occur in the weight room, whereby double support work is contraindicated so our plan B would be to do single support exercises that closely mimic the demands of plan A. This cross education effect is a critical factor in closing gaps during rehab principles. The video below provides further insights on the cross education effect.
Guest view: Donovan Bailey – how did you use Plan B to maintain form during times of illness/injury/travel?
Acute rehabilitation and Return to Play Strategies
As stated earlier, return to play is a critical concept in sprinting. Injuries happen to various body parts and systems, so having a layered plan for returning to full tasks is a must. One must therefore define acute rehab for the first hours and days post injury. This must transition to a more complex scheme of activities and therapy during the following days and weeks. The final test would be real time/real world training demands.
A component analysis of sessions/sport tasks and landmark mastery checklist and systematic progression of forces, velocities and angles are featured components of elite return to play planning. Far too many sports medicine practitioners are tied to timeline determination of progressions and or return to play. Gaps abound with this formatting. Genetic differences, therapy input expertise, agents used systemically, etc all have major influences on how an injury repairs.
As such, we utilize a layered format of land mark mastery of tasks overlaid upon accepted medical timelines supplied by elite practitioners, with longitudinal data used to support said timelines. The cognitive/perceptual tasks involved in movement are also key performance indicators during the entire rehabilitation process.
Stu video – Andre DeGrass/Ameer Web
Return to play paradigms
There are conflicts abound in elite sport teams about whether to use acute, wrote sports medicine paradigms or whether to shift to a more holistic, concurrent, return to play philosophy.
Observation shows there to be a trend in current sports medical circles which fails to observe sport ergonomic factors, and develop KPIs for sport specific menu items before creating resultant hierarchical rankings of these KPIs. In our experience, isolatory PT schemes fail on many fronts. Concurrent, systematic methodology is the way of the future. Forces, velocities, angles and movement expression are a dynamic system, so it is just illogical to consider that linear, reductionist solutions would work in elite athlete populations.
One of our biggest complaints with standard sports medicine care is that practitioners have no idea about the complexity of training and sport specific demands. They tend to operate in silos and disdain horizontal relationships. In contrast, when an injury occurs at our center, we shift immediately to a ‘Plan B’ format meaning that we will do what is originally planned for in ‘Plan A’ but with unique modifications of tasks that would not endanger the repair of the injury or overall health status. Far too many athletes are thrown into joint specific exercise series, pool workouts, non-targeted energy system work, told to rest, or off load injured structures, etc. In our experience, this does irregular harm in terms of training gaps and specific detraining.
Athletes build complex skills, biology and biochemistry via their training plans over time. An interruption and transfer to general, isolatory training formats will always result in detraining in many realms. This acute detraining is also a factor in long term development, as support from previous cycles and years supply foundation for future cycles and years; so gaps presented by bad formatting have huge ramifications upon these features. It is our job to responsibly load athletes during return to play.
Realize also that Plan B schemes have a huge psychological impact on athlete preparedness and health. By continuing Plan B sessions close to Plan A ones, we provide confidence booster for an injured athlete: no athlete likes to be idle and sit out. By giving them targeted workouts explaining how they will help maintain key KPIs during injury, the athlete is – in our experience – more engaged, motivated, and maintains a more positive outlook. This attitude is likely in turn to have a positive effect on their biochemistry, further enhancing recovery – this has found to be true in our populations at least.
Keeping athletes engaged and positive during return to play protocols
As stated earlier, injuries both major and minor are a big part of the athlete’s journey in sport and there are many psychological factors that play a huge role in the gaining, prevention and rehabilitation of injuries. Some of the factors prevailing in current research that attempt to predict and moderate injury include personality (i.e. mental resilience skills, internal locus of control, trait anxiety etc.), history of stressors (i.e. life stress, previous injury), and coping resources (i.e. coping behaviours, social support, stress management, attentional strategy, medication).
Factors including self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence often decrease post-injury, but – if managed effectively – can improve both during and post rehabilitation. Our network analysis reveals that horizontal management techniques utilizing systematic debrief systems with open and transparent communication to be major influencers on this process.
One major tool that we utilize on a regular debrief format is founded on emotional responses to injuries being monitored using the Profile of Mood States (POMS). The analysis of POMS within our groups and related research has shown that emotional coping strategies such as avoidance, denial, impaired autonomy, support dissatisfaction and inhibition lead to higher levels of negative emotions. Likewise, Mankad, Gordon & Wallman (2009) found that the simple intervention of logging emotional thoughts and feelings that have been experienced can reduce mood disturbances. This will also serve as a major springboard to discussions in the layered debrief process with all parties involved.
We are constantly in search of psychological factors that lead to appropriate, positive behavioral responses. There are several predictors to adherence to rehabilitation include personal factors such as self-motivation, self-assurance, assertiveness, independence and goal perspective. The most poignant personal factor that influences the behavioural response to athletic injury is athletic identity so knowing the drivers for the injured athlete are imperative. Blindness to athlete motivators, drivers, influencers, etc will only delay or derail the process in our experience.
Additionally, an individual’s coping ability, social support availability, and cognitive behavioural interventions are shown to be effective in an athletes adherence to rehabilitation programs. It is imperative that these KPI factors be monitored systematically and are topics of regular debrief sessions with all parties at the table.
A major tool introduced into our network some time ago is referred to as the Sport Inventory for Pain (SIP). It measures five aspects of the perception of pain including:
Direct action coping strategies
Mental coping strategies
Catastrophising and despair
Avoidance coping strategies
Somatic stimuli sensitivity
Finally, it is not uncommon to find an injured athlete that enters the final step of rehabilitation with a degree of worry and trepidation. These negative associations with a return to competition can be attributed to the fear of re-injury or believing their not strong enough to return. This is why we are so bold in utilizing a mastery, systematic and graduated scheme of rehabilitation that dovetails but is not servant to medical timelines. Athletes intuitively sense the complexity and unique demands of competition level stressors. They know when there is a gap in readiness based on training menu item experiences and notations of perceived efficiencies of said activities. It is the number one reason we do not believe in clinical, reductionist, isolatory medical interventions. The gap is real and is foundational on mental resilience factors. Again, the processes we have described in this section with real world, real time examples promote these positive motivations.
Case Study: Return to Play the ALTIS Way
Below, we share a case study presented by Coach Kyle Hierholzer on return to play paradigms.
In the sporting world it is inevitable that injuries are going to happen during a long term athletic career – whether they be chronic, acute, catastrophic, or just minor niggles. Whilst it is true that the risk of sustaining injury can be minimized through proper loading and mechanics, perfection in either of those categories is likely unattainable all of the time. So, the well-meaning elite athlete – who can generate massive amounts of force – needs to only make one mistake at an inopportune moment, and BANG … something blows up. We have all seen this happen many times in our careers, and if you haven’t … just keep doing what you’re doing.
One of the questions most frequently posed during our Apprentice Coaching Programs and Performance Therapy Programs goes along the lines of: ‘How do you go about bringing back athletes from injury in a responsible manner – whilst avoiding re-injury, and minimizing missed Plan A training time?’
Below, I will give oversight on the pieces of the puzzle we look at when faced with an injury scenario to provide athletes with the best possible guidance and inputs as they return to play. Please note that although I list points in sequence, there are overlaps and several layers within this process. Rehabilitation is not linear in nature, and should not be thought of as a one size fits all ‘check the box’ process.
Part One – Gather Information
Firstly it is imperative to learn about the history of the injury. Ask pointed questions that provide insight into what happened:
– How were sleep patterns leading up to the injury?
– How were nutrition and hydration leading up to the injury?
– What other life stressors were in play leading up to the injury?
– Was there travel prior to the injury?
– Did it occur at practice, competition, in the weight room, or simply by stepping in a hole in the side walk?
– Are there previous injuries at this location?
– Are there compensatory injuries that may have led to this injury?
Be specific and detail oriented – we have to learn as much about what actually happened as possible. In some cases, a detailed movement and gait analysis of the athlete may be performed as soon as possible, by an experienced therapist or coach to provide answers to such questions as:
– Where did the damage occur?
– What is the extent of the damage?
– Is radiology needed to provide greater detail?
– How are the structures around the injury reacting?
– What compensatory patterns has the athlete already begun to exhibit that we should be aware of?
This list is not exhaustive but should give you an idea of the types of questions you need to ask. Many of these questions lead to other questions, which in turn provide greater detail and understanding. Rarely is an injury an “out of the blue” phenomena – there are often multiple factors conspiring together which can be tracked down to pinpoint the likely cause.
Part Two – Have the entire Performance Staff on the same page
Once information is gathered it should be shared openly and transparently with the entire staff. This includes therapists, coaches, doctors, and anyone else who may have an influence on the situation – most importantly THE ATHLETE (although in some cases athlete sharing is done strategically). This performance team then needs to have a nominated gatekeeper who makes sure that all parties are on the same page, and monitors progress with unified direction and a clear voice.
Simple lack of communication between involved parties can oftentimes be the culprit when it comes to delaying return to play for athletes: So if you work or operate in an environment that has a void in communications … start knocking down the walls and bring the involved groups together! Don’t let your ego, or lack of open-mindedness derail the recovery process for an athlete that is counting on you to make the right choices.
Now to more of the nuts and bolts of the process…
Part 3 – Keep the training gaps small!
At ALTIS we abhor training gaps! One of our main priorities post-injury is to find a way to get the athlete training as soon as possible. Minimizing training gaps is critical for a variety of reasons: First of all, it keeps the athlete engaged and plugged in at the track (not removed to a rehab facility and separated from the team). Secondly, it prevents a dump of blood chemistry and hormone levels; this is really the biggest danger, as when this system goes offline it takes a long time to bring it back online (not to mention that it can actually slow the healing process by reducing the number of blood markers available to aid in proper remodeling of tissue).
What does this mean in real terms?
It depends on the injury, the pain level, and the range of motion allowed. As soon as possible post-trauma, our athletes are walking through as many of our warm up menu items as they can. Our warm-up also serves as a movement screen; so we get detailed information on how the athlete is doing in specific movements on a daily basis. Once they can easily walk the warm-up then we have them jog it, and we gradually add velocities as key movement landmarks allow (see next topic). We also use an array of bike workouts to replicate training themes for each day (acceleration, speed, speed endurance, endurance). These are specific routines with detailed sets, reps, intensities, and rest intervals.
We bang the same drum in the weight room: Keep the training gap small! If an athlete has a lower leg issue on one side then we are free to train upper body as normal, and we will do single leg exercises for lower body or Olympic lifts. The same could be said for single arm exercises for a shoulder/elbow/wrist injury (some studies have shown a 10-30% cross education factor). Another strategy is to use a mirror to trick the brain into keeping the “Plan A” movement patterns firing. An example would be an athlete coming off of an Achilles injury placing a mirror between their lower legs, and doing seated calf raises and toe raises while watching the “injured side” in the mirror. For various tendon injuries research is showing that earlier appropriate loading of these structures facilitates healthier remodeling of the tissue. Rest is not the answer. These are just some examples, but you should get the idea that we are trying to do activities that are as close to Plan A as possible, and we are trying to do those activities as early as we can. We are progressive and aggressive.
Part 4 – Use Landmarks not Timelines
Part of the reason that we can be progressive and aggressive is because we follow a Landmark-Based advancement protocol instead of Timelines. If an athlete can perform a movement that we determine is quality in nature with minimal compensation, then they are ready for the next step in the process … no matter if it’s been 2 days, 10 days, 30 days, or 60 days post injury or post-surgery. We use the warm up as a movement screen. These movements are often progressed on a force/velocity continuum. The warm-up is begun walking, then probably a hybrid walking/jogging, then maybe all jogging, then velocities increase, etc.
Once the warm-up can be done at a normal level we add on accelerations at the end of the warm-up. Once the athlete is able to do accelerations and run successfully with minimal compensation or pain we institute a 10x50m protocol (this will be outlined below).
Part 5 – Quality Therapy Inputs
The final topic covered in the scope of this blog-post pertains to Quality Therapy Inputs. I have not mentioned therapy very much thus far because it is over-arching, and is part of the process from Day 1 of injury. It permeates every single other part of this process, and must be monitored by the aforementioned gatekeeper. At ALTS we use the term ‘Performance Therapy’. Performance Therapy is many things, but at its core is the Athlete-Coach-Therapist Triad. This triangle of communication must flow in all directions all the time, but is especially important in a return-to-play situation. Therapists need to see the athlete move, discuss with the coach which movement patterns are being seen, which compensation patterns are being seen, and above all … which aspects should or should not be addressed on the therapy table, and at what bandwidth should they be addressed.
The human body is magnificently designed, and it is designed to be intelligently redundant. When one system goes offline, it will immediately and automatically re-route movement patterns to find a way for the body to move while the injured system is being repaired. It is the job of the Performance Therapy Team (including the Athlete) to understand that therapy inputs guided by movement landmarks, quality reporting, and minimizing training gaps can dramatically improve the repair time of injured systems. This team working together can then restore the re-routed redundant system to the original “Plan A” movement pattern. This is often referred to as ‘brain mapping’ or ‘motor re-education’, and can be particularly challenging in the chronically injured athlete whose own intelligently redundant system has turned the “Plan B” route into the new “Plan A.”
We are always looking for quality technologies that can aid us in all aspects of training, but especially in the High Performance and Return to Play realms. In the second half of this case study, I will outline a case study for an athlete involved in our return to play procedures, and how we utilized a Freelap timing system to monitor Training Gaps and to track Landmarks. It’s a difficult undertaking to present an accurate and detailed case-study that covers all of the moving pieces, but I will attempt to do so in a way that is organized and provides real-world examples of how the above five principles were put into action. In each realm, we are dealing with people and emotions, and everyone is striving for the well-being of the athlete. Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry, and adjustments are made on the fly. This is the true art of coaching in my opinion. Whenever the human element is involved, there is a delicate balance that needs to be upheld. Teaching moments are critical, and often ‘Return to Play’ (RTP) situations provide the opportunity for some “Come to Jesus” meetings that can get to the heart of underlying issues.
Case Background (Gathering Information)
Before we can get to the heart and soul of this case study, it’s important that the reader has some context about how we reached a point in the RTP process where we could utilize the Freelap system. The athlete is a female jumper that we will call Athlete Q. Athlete Q (henceforth known as AQ) suffered from a difficult-to-treat chronic injury puzzle. The athlete had radicular pain, a functionally short leg, severely reduced power output, and a myriad of compensation schemes that changed depending on the presentation of the day. While debriefing AQ, it was discovered that the initial injury occurred close to the end of the previous season (before joining ALTIS), received little to no therapy inputs, and competed a number of times with big training gaps between competitions. These competitions were unsuccessful, and stress levels were exceedingly high as emotional batteries were drained. Upon conclusion of that season, AQ took complete rest. Initial training the following season started off very well, but once intensity was increased, the same pain loops returned. The therapy team began providing inputs in a what else, where else fashion to try and track down the culprit, or collusion of culprits, that prevented proper healing. Through the excellent work of talented therapists, a management strategy was developed which provided relief and improved training quality. This enabled AQ to compete and train in moderation.
However, power output was still reduced from optimum, and most of the competitive season was lost. After communication within AQ’s performance staff, the decision was made to investigate a PRP injection at the hands of a skilled practitioner through the ALTIS network. Ultrasound images showed that PRP was indeed a viable option, and a procedure was completed immediately upon completion of the season. The procedure went smoothly, and the next phase of the return to play process began.
Post Procedure Strategy
The days immediately following a procedure can have a huge impact on the outcome. Below, I will lay out in detail the process that was followed as AQ moved from a period of complete rest to high-intensity sprinting. Please note that the information below is given in chronological order because that is the simplest way to share it. However the principle of Landmarks over Timelines was used, and when possible, the Movement Landmark that was achieved will be described. The performance team coordinated effectively with all doctors and therapists involved. A post-procedure strategy was developed with inputs from each party. Coach Dan Pfaff served as the gatekeeper, and guided AQ forward based off our RTP principles.
Please see the detailed execution of strategy below with notes as taken through the process.
Complete Rest – PRP incubation period as prescribed by a physician and agreed with by performance staff.
During this period, AQ trained every other day. The training emphasis was on slow and controlled movements in efficient movement patterns to begin motor re-education and create appropriate brain maps. This is necessary due to the numerous compensation patterns that elite athletes can develop when in chronic injury situations. All activity was low intensity, light jogging was allowed, and bike workouts were permissible as long as no local tenderness was felt.
Training days consisted of:
Walking Warm Up – emphasis on motor re-education – mindfulness!
No accelerations at end of warm up
Single Leg Multiple Jumps on Healthy Leg
Controlled Movement General Strength Circuits
Day 16 – 20
Upon the completion of Day 15, it was observed that AQ was able to complete the regular warmup in a walking fashion with efficient movement patterns and no pain (landmark). No pain was reported by AQ in any other area of training. Therapy inputs consisted of general flush massages, but no direct work was done on the site of the procedure. Based off this information, the decision was made to advance to the next series of landmarks in our RTP process. AQ gradually increased intensity to 60-70% while controlling knee extension on all drills and running. Fatigue and soreness were monitored strictly through daily athlete debriefs (pre-session, peri-session, post session). Weight-room activities resumed with heavy single-leg snatch. Light to moderate double-leg deadlift – slow and controlled in both contractions – was also added. The rest of the weight-lifting was done normally for that period of the year. A steady-state run building up to 20 minutes was added, and all were governed by posture, form, pain, etc. At the first sign of a breakdown in any of these areas, the activity was stopped.
Training Days consisted of:
Warm up A at low intensity
Accelerations at end of warm up at 40-50%
Dribbles over the ankle 3 x 30, 40, 50
Multiple Jumps – 5 x 3 x 5 small hurdles w/pause
Emphasize flat landings and congruent amortization angles
Jog Cool Down
Warm B at low intensity
Accelerations at end of warm up at 40-50%
Approach Development x 6-8
Over the ankle dribbles into low-intensity straight leg bounds
Speed Development – 6 x 80m ankle/calf dribbles with emphasis on “bounce”
Multiple Jumps – Rudiment 2 x 20m – done with low amplitude effort
General Strength and Med Ball Circuits x 1 each
Jog Cool Down
Warm Up A at low intensity
Accelerations at end of warm up at 40-50%
Bike Workout – fartlek fashion – set seat for proper pelvic posture
Jog Cool Down
AQ was able to run for 11’ before losing posture and form, felt dull ache at IT (Iliotibial)
Warm Up A – moderate intensity – Accelerations at end of warm up at 50%
Dribble Accelerations – 4 x 30, 40, 50m
Multiple Jumps – 5 x 3 x 5 small hurdles w/pause
Emphasize flat landings and congruent amortization angles
Jog Cool Down
At the completion of Day 20, it was observed that AQ handled the increase of intensity with no loss of motor control or increase in pain. Movement patterns began to stabilize, but still required a high level of mindfulness. The addition of strength training created normal tension but did not limit movement capacities at the injury site. Therapy inputs reduced tension, and tissue quality was monitored at and around injury location. AQ handled each of these areas well from a mindset perspective; however, there was a feeling of disappointment that the season had come to a close on a low point. Thus, motivation and esteem began to waiver during the redundant portions of the RTP process. This was noted by the staff, and through discussions with the athlete, we decided this was an opportune time to implement the next phase of our RTP strategy.
This phase was highlighted by a 10x50m routine. Starting twice a week – and eventually moving to 3 times a week – AQ would run 10 x 50m. AQ was asked to report the Rate of Perceived Intensity (RPI) for each run. During each session, the RPI was to increase as pain, posture, form allowed. Each session, the goal was to increase the RPI from the session before. A ‘walk-in’ start was used early on to relieve stress on the injury site during the acceleration phase. This gradually progressed to a roll-over start, and eventually to a static start with various depths. Runs were initially done in flats, and eventually, spikes were used.
An integral part of this process was the use of the Freelap timing system. The timing system was set up to record the last 30m of each run. In addition, a coach manually timed the entire 50m of each run. Both times were recorded along with AQ’s RPI for each run. Specifically, AQ was not told either time until the RPI had been reported. At the conclusion of each session, the average was recorded for each metric and given to AQ.
The use of Freelap provided many teaching moments that would not have existed otherwise. First of all, AQ was able to get immediate feedback on the accuracy of the RPI for each run. This led to increasingly accurate abilities of AQ to ‘feel’ the quality or lack of quality for each run. It allowed the coaches to point out errors in the first 20m of the run that may have ‘felt’ fast to the athlete, but created a lack of momentum and thus a slower fly 30m. Overall, the ease of use of the system created a simple and accurate way to track and quantify actual improvements in the maximum velocities handled by AQ over the course of the RTP process.
The value of having an objective way to give feedback on Key Performance Indicators is something that should not be taken lightly, and all coaches would be wise to utilize this type of technology. The feedback from the Freelap system held AQ to a higher level of accountability, fostered more excitement and competitiveness in each session, which led to greater rates of improvement in our opinion. AQ felt that the use of the system allowed her to associate the execution of a KPI (Key Performance Indicator), that otherwise felt foreign and wrong, with a positive outcome; therefore, building increased trust and confidence in the performance team and the RTP process.
The weekly setup during this period is as follows below:
– Warm Up A – Normal Intensities
– 4 x 30, 40, 50m – Dribble ankle, calf, knee
– Later replaced with 10x50m series once AQ ran 8m/s landmark
– Multiple Jumps – progressing intensities
– Strength Training
– Cool Down
– Warm Up B
– 10x50m – Freelap
– MJ – Rudiment
– GS/MB Circuits
– Optional Ancillary Lifting
– Cool down
– Warm Up A
– Bike Workout Special End – eventually becoming Special End Up/Backs on the track
– Strength Training
– Cool down
– Steady State Run – eventually becoming Fartleks
– Optional Ancillary Lifting
– Warm Up B
– 10x50m – Freelap
– Multiple Throws
– Strength Training
– Cool Down
– Warm Up B
– Special Endurance Runs – progressively increasing intensity and rest between runs
– Hurdle Mobility
– Optional Ancillary Lifting
– Cool Down
– Rest, Epsom Salt Bath, Flush Massage
The chart below tracks AQ’s progress from Day 21-70. During the 4th week of the 10x50m process, the decision was made to add an additional session on Monday. This coincided with the normal increase of training volume in our ‘2 on 1 off’ training scheme. The staff was comfortable with this decision because the Freelap Fly 30 averages had stabilized in a cluster with no negative reports from AQ in regards to injury site or from therapy staff involved in the process. This week also saw a move away from Wednesday Bike workouts to on-the-rack special endurance runs in the form of up-backs (60m acceleration in one direction, deceleration, turn around, 60m back the other direction). These runs were initially completed at low intensity and were purposefully not timed to control arousal level and safeguard intensity following the Monday-Tuesday Sessions.
Several interesting trends emerged over time from the Freelap Data. Often the Friday session was the fastest session of the week. At the beginning of the process, the fastest runs occurred early in the session (Run 3-4), but over time shifted to the latter runs (Run 8-9). It also appears the performance team may have added in the Monday 10×50 session a bit too soon, and in future RTP scenarios will take a hard look at the value of having the session at all versus just dribbling or doing untimed accelerations.
Interestingly, following the completion of the RTP process for AQ, the staff decided to do some baseline testing to see where AQ was leading into the transition time for the next season. AQ ran season bests in Freelap FLY 30, and 45-second run; jumped season bests in Standing Long Jump (also Personal Best), Standing Triple Jump, and threw SBs in Overhead Back and Underhand Forward.
Needless to say, with the success of these results, AQ concluded the RTP process on a high note and felt accomplished going into a much-needed mental and physical rest period prior to beginning training for the following season. The combination of an athlete-centered ‘Return to Play’ process combined with Freelap’s top of the line technology proved to be a highly effective pairing.
Extended learning and guest insights
To provide extended contextual-based learning as our final section of this module, below we will now share a range of videos relating to the topics discussed. We hope these videos bring the topic to life, and deepen your understanding of the content.
Video Stop: Dan Pfaff – Sports Injuries, Trends and Current Patterns
Video stop: Common faults and causes of injury
Coach Pfaff shares a presentation on the most common causes of injury in sprinting.
Video stop: Problem solving in the sprints
Video stop: Energy Leaks and Disturbances
There are consistent failures in programming from both coach and medical staffs that lead to injury occurrences – both acute and chronic.
A lack of appreciation for sport postures and demands exhibited during various phases of the sporting movement are under appreciated and even more so, not being held to high accountability indices.
The ‘train longer and harder’ paradigm has destroyed more careers than it has enhanced.
The force/size bias is still evident in many sprint camps.
Energy system bias is epidemic in many programs – as evidenced by the terms of ‘building a base’ and improving fitness. Our question is a base of what, and just what do you define as fit?
Lastly, there are inherent biases by both coach and athlete to what we call training menu bias.