Coach John Shepherd breaks down this vital part of your race with some valuable tips and advice
The start makes or breaks your race. The reaction but, more importantly, the first few steps clearing the blocks and the subsequent acceleration pattern used will determine the winner. So, what can you do to get a start in the style of Christian Coleman or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce?
In the blocks
If you are not correctly set up then you will fail to create the required forces, angles and positions to accelerate.
What to do: As a guide, the front knee’s angle should be 90 degrees and the rear 120. Top starters have their weight well over the start line.
Tip: Push the front knee forward over the line when rising into set position. Feel almost as if toppling forward – but keep pressure on block faces. Feel like a coiled spring in the set position.
On your marks (Mark Shearman)
Angles, angles, angles. It’s all about the right clearance angles after the gun goes and a great deal of strength and power.
The body catapults out of the blocks and should be aligned (not folded at the hips – a common fault). Often the lead arm is long and high – this enables greater extension from the front block.
The rear leg also pushes and then shoots forward to the front low and fast to clear the start-line. The rear foot is angled down and kept well behind the body’s centre of mass so it can facilitate a dynamic push on the first track contact. This is why many sprinters toe drag.
Shin angles are negative (angled back towards the blocks). The shallower the angle, the greater the propulsive force.
You need to be really strong to achieve a very low shin angle and angled body position from the blocks – otherwise you will literally stumble and fall.
This is what 200m world champion Noah Lyles has been working on and explains in part why he has improved significantly recently over 60m and 100m.
Tip: Practice the start push by exerting as much force as possible to “jump” out of the block and then “catch” the landing to sprint one to three further steps
Noah Lyles (Getty)
After block clearance, it’s all about exerting power without rising into upright max velocity sprint posture too soon.
The later the sprinter hits top speed, the greater likelihood they will win. The very best male sprinters reach 30m in around 3.80 and top speed around 50-60m.
Post block clearance the emphasis is on pushing and rear side mechanics – but not exclusively.
Contemporary sprint coaching practice talks about “taking the feet away forwards” and “scissoring acceleration”.
If the sprinter drives one leg back as powerfully as possible into the track while simultaneously pulling the other forward then there will be more power.
The arms are also crucial – they must work harmoniously with the legs to create a synchronised action.
For the very fastest of male sprinters the first 10m split will be near to 2.00, the second just above 1.00, the third around or just below 0.90 and thereafter significantly below 0.90 for the rest of the race.
What you put into the track is what you get back. The harder the strike, the faster you will propel yourself forwards, provided your technique is up to it. Increasing rate of force production will therefore improve the sprint start, the ability to stabilise and to use those angles as referenced previously.
Tip: Weight train, do plyometrics, sled pulling and pushing, resisted harness run and accelerated harness runs. All will help to improve the sprint start.
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