In this blog I’m going to be talking a little bit about sprinting/running form and common mistakes I see when training athletes. Most of the time when I see athletes begin to run, or are coming from a place where they may not sprint often there is a lot of tightness in their upper body. When they run they are putting out so much effort that they end up tightening up and slowing themselves down. You always want to emphasize a “relaxed” sprint. It will take a while for young athletes to get this because 90% of the time when they relax their effort level of output will decrease along with the relaxation. When an athlete relaxes you want them to keep their legs and arms moving at the same pace just without as many tense muscles.
You also want to watch their foot strike and this is something you may be able to catch in their movement screen. Some athletes are fast but their foot strike is HEEL_TO TOE . This is not what you want to see at all, especially when sprinting. You want to have athletes striking midfoot/ball of foot. The heel should never touch. Some athletes also REACH in front of themselves when they run. Reaching/Over striding is when an athlete foot extends past the knee when the right or left leg is in front during their stride. When the foot is in front the shin angle should be perpendicular to the ground, or the thigh and shin should be roughly 90 degrees. This prevents the athlete from putting extra strain on their hamstring. When the athlete “Reaches”, or the foot extends too far past the knee and the athlete brings the foot back to strike the ground in a pulling motion moving into the next stride, it will most likely strike the ground in front of their body/hips causing them BLOCK, meaning the foot lands in front of their hips SLOWING them down, and causing them to have to use their hamstring to pull the foot all the way from the front side to the back side. That’s a lot of work and also how many athletes injure hamstrings because of this. You want foot strike to be as close to directly under the hips as possible when in a full sprint.
One way to fix this would be WICKETS aka. MINI HURDLES. Having an athlete run over mini hurdles prevents them from reaching out because of the need to get the feet down between the hurdles. They must limit the time they are in the air and turn over to get their feet down. You can film them running over to see how you need to adjust the hurdles to fit their strides but you could start with 5 feet between each hurdle or have them start at 1 foot between, and adding ½ a foot each hurdle (1-1.5-2-2.5 etc). Have athletes get a running start into them and focus on running at a decent speed and getting their feet off of the ground quickly.
ANKLE RUN/DRIBBLE RUN
Another way to change this would be something I know as ankle runs but others may know as dribble runs. Ankle runs can be done 3 ways small medium and large. An ankle run is a run where the foot only cycles as high as a certain part of the leg. Small goes to the Ankle, Medium, goes to the calf and Large to the knee.
The purpose of these drills is to perfect the mechanics of the run so that there is not too much front side or backside in an athletes run.
Another thing to watch is the athlete’s arm. Are they coming across the body? Or are they moving in a linear path at their sides. We want all motion moving the athlete forward so any movement across the body should be eliminated. Simple arm drills in a mirror or drills holding a light weight can help an athlete be conscious of their arms and make sure that they are relaxed and moving linearly. Always emphasize relaxation. Any unneeded tightness always slows the athlete down.
Below I have provided a link to wicket runs. It also comes along with a brief explanation of how and why coaches can do them.
Wicket runs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl-Q-WUUBzQ
Dribble Runs by ALTIS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHv8Q-55TRY
Here you will notice he is landing flat foot. If an athlete is having trouble keeping dorsi flexion (toe up/flat) when sprinting you could have them do it this way. Otherwise I suggest landing the same way you would run, on the ball of the foot.
About the Author
Clayton Parros, USA Track
Clayton Parros was born in Los Angeles California, and raised in New Jersey. As a part of The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Track and field Program he was named ACC Champion 5 times, All-ACC 11 times, and was also an all American. Post Collegiately he achieved World Champion status as a part of the team USA 4x400m relay, Penn relays Champion, IAAF World Relay Champion, NACAC 4x400m Champion and USA Indoor 300m Runner up. Clayton is USATF Coaching Certified and has studied and trained under world-class coaches namely Derrick White (coach of Joanna Atkins and Quinera Hayes), Lance Brauman (coach of Tyson Gay, Marvin Bracy, Tori Bowie, Shaunae Miller and many others). He also studied strength and conditioning under Andre Woodert (former strength and conditioning coach of Allyson Felix). Currently he is in his first year of coaching at East Carolina University and is involved with the Sprints and Hurdles.