SPEED-THE WHY AND WHAT OF UPRIGHT SPRINTING

In this post I  go into detail and explain what maximal velocity sprinting is, or as most of us know it as, upright sprintingand delve into what is required during this phase

“Success in the short sprint is determined by the ability of the athlete to generate great amounts of explosive strength at the proper time. Generally the proper mechanical application of this strength results in an elite performance that is characterized by a high stride rate and moderate stride length.”-Ralph Mann

Upright sprinting usually takes place once the athlete has transitioned out of the acceleration phase. Depending on athlete and gender,  this mark will usually take place at around 30-40m. However, this distance required to get up right sprinting may be shorter in team sports.

Usain Bolt upright sprinting mechanics (Front Side)

During this phase the athletes are traveling at their highest velocities and are then being required to maintain their speeds. This is a lot more difficult than most assume, especially by those with little experience in sprinting and the lack of understanding of the physiological (physical), bio-mechanical (efficiency) and psychological (mental) demands of maximal velocity sprinting (Max V.).

Through out up right sprinting, we are looking to produce high amounts vertical force, or simply put, we are trying to strike the ground as hard as we possibly can (hammer the nail) underneath our center of mass (hip), while spending as little time on the ground (ground contact time) as we possibly can. This leads to speed through optimal stride length and stride frequency.

Therefore, it is an extremely important phase that requires the athlete to execute and maintain what we refer to as front side mechanics.

What is front side Bio-mechanics?

When coaches talk about front side mechanics, we are referring to the position of the lower limbs when sprinting and the athlete is being asked to attempt to get as much of the lower limb action to take place up front, ahead of the body, rather than behind the body.

The limb positions we ask for from our athletes in front side mechanics are important because it allows the athlete to hammer down the lower limb into the track from a high thigh position. This means we are producing more force in to the surface, which has been shown to be extremely important in up right sprinting performance. For every action we have an equal and opposite reaction. Simply put, more force down, more force up. It also requires the athlete to quickly re-position the lower limb back to the front side of the body as quickly as possible. This promotes higher force production alongside lower ground contact times and when combined leads to faster sprinting. Although this is a very simplistic overview and we can definitely delve into the topic with a lot more detail or explore the mechanisms underpin this technical model, for the purpose of this article we will decide to keep it as is (Future article perhaps).

Max Velocity-Lower limb action:

  • Take off – We dont want too much hip extension(above image), distance from back foot to hip is minimal
  • Stance – As little ground contact time as possible before re positioning limbs-Look for figure of 4
  • Touchdown- Under center of mass (under or just slightly ahead of hip)

We don’t want to encourage athletes to look for increases in stride length through limb extension ahead of the body or center of mass (over striding). Over Striding will leads to larger breaking forces and longer ground contact times, meaning less force in the direction we want to go and more time wasted getting there.  It is more important that the athlete re-positions the limbs so that they may prepare for the production of force from the point of take off, allowing them to “bounce” themselves down the track.

As the old adage goes, ‘running is done on the ground, top end sprinting is done in the air’.

Here is what NOT to do in Up right sprinting:

  • The head isn’t lined up with hips
  • Leaning backwards when sprinting
  • Trying to restrict arm movement to 90 degrees
  • Striking the ground ahead of your body rather than under the body
  • Hyper extending (arching and pushing) through the lower back
  • Over extending at the knee
  • Heel striking when you sprint
  • Pushing head out in front of the body
  • Spending to long out the back
  • Heel recovery being too high
  • Heel recovery being too low

Drills and Exercises we use to improve Speed:

My favorite books and Resources on Max velocity training:

  • The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdling – Ralph Mann
  • Explosive Running – Michael Yesis
  • Anything from Charlie Francis, Jonas Dodoo, Steve Fudge, Stuart Mc’Millan or Dan Pffaf

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