A Common Sprinting Mistake

January 21, 2009

About a week ago, (yes, I’m a lil’ behind with the news…) Rickey Henderson got voted into the baseball Hall of Fame. At the top of his list of skills was his basestealing ability. Watching the highlights, Rickey does something important: he stays LOW!!

Watch this video to see some examples:

He doesn’t pop up after a couple strides! This is a common mistake among young athletes learning proper sprinting technique. Athletes eager to get up to top speed quickly erect their bodies after only a couple strides…unfortunately this actually impairs their acceleration (read: makes them slower). To go forward quickly energy must be used for driving the body forward, not to straighten up the body.

Standing up is great once top speed is achieved, however during acceleration not so much. This becomes an issue with team sport athletes since the vast majority of sprinting in these sports is too short to reach top speed. Think of the percentage of hits that are singles versus triples or the percentage of catches by the receiver in football that result in long touchdowns vs. those that cover the distance of a first down.

This is one thing I’ll pay attention to during a 10 yard dash during an athlete’s initial assessment since 10 yards is way too short a distance for an athlete to have reached top speed.

Feel free to add any comments or suggestions below.
Happy Wednesday!! (Power’s out at school, so day off :) )

CB

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10 Responses to “A Common Sprinting Mistake”


  1. So is that how I can get a day off? Shut down the electricity at the college… I’ll give it a try. I’ve had people ask how to increase their distance running speed. I say by sprinting. When I get back to running when this snow melts, I’ll check what my form is when I sprint. I don’t even know what I do. If I’m standing straight up, I’ll add in this technique. Course, this is about 12 weeks from now when this snow melts- or at least I can hope that soon it’ll melt.

  2. Chris Brown Says:

    You could try….I dont know how your school would feel about crime/that :P

    How will you be able to check your form?? Would you have someone shoot a video?? This has been something I’ve been thinking about since I am a pretty visual learner…and then I could use it for the blog too since I could show what I’m talking about. Sometimes pictures arent enough…


  3. I could probably do a 10 sec video on my digital camera, but I was just going to pay attention :). I am pretty posturally aware and feel I have good kinesthesia so I was just going to run and pay attention.

    Is a ten second video long enough? I could probably have my daughter start after five seconds, then that would give sec 5- 15. Again, it won’t be till there is no snow. And I could purposely do it wrong first being more vertical. That’d give you two ten second vids ;).

  4. Chris Brown Says:

    You make a good point…thats usually what I think too when I wanna do some speed training. Playing devil’s advocate for a moment: What if something else is wrong?? I think thats where the video can be useful, since you can only focus on one thing at a time (eg. staying low during accel).

    You could def do 2 vids to compare. Just if your trying to look at acceleration and staying low, you’ll want her to capture the start so 0-10 secs for example. Once your at top speed for the drill, you wont want to be staying low anymore.

  5. PT Says:

    Hey Chris nice blog you got going here.

    Interms of staying low, this isn’t just about technique. It is also largely dependent on strength.

    If you’re not able to stay low then you need to work on strength. And if you purposely force yourself to stay low you’ll slow yourself down.

    No matter how posture aware you are, if you’re moving at full speed you wont be able to tell becuase if you’re thinking about it too much you’ll slow yourslef down. Sprinting is a hind brain activity.

  6. Chris Brown Says:

    Thanks Paul, its def good to hear from ya!

    Your right about strength being a big factor. So my question back to you is are you suggesting that we not worry about cueing athletes on this when we’re teaching them sprinting/acceleration technique??

    If strength is the only factor, then we wouldnt need to worry about teaching a strong athlete how to run/accelerate properly. I’m not saying they wouldnt have the tools (potential/capacity) to do that, just that I think they can still have inefficient biomechanics if they’ve never been taught that before.

    I couldnt agree more with your last paragraph there, but if I need to teach technique then I’m gonna start with a slow drill and then incorporate more advanced drills/actual acceleration work as form is mastered. So basically I wouldnt be asking them to consciously pay attention to something at a time when I would want automaticity.

    Glad you brought these things up man!!

  7. PT Says:

    Of course I’m not saying NOT to cue. I never said, it was just about strength, here’s the quote “this isn’t just about technique” so yes of course technique IS needed.

    But there are ways to teach it so that it becomes natural, and that less thought is needed.

    I never liked the way SST taught acceleration drills. It required too much thinking, how many times did you see athletes trying to think their way through the drills? It made them look robotic and stiff.

    Now back to the strength thing, generally a stronger athlete will be able to keep her center of gravity out in front longer, giving her steeper angles at the start.

    A weaker athelete’s starting angles wont be as steep and there for they are already closer to standing straight up.

    The shorter the distance the more strength comes into play. Which is distance runners are weaker than sprinters. And which is why shot putters/ olympic weight lifters can beat 100m runners over the first 20-30m.

  8. Chris Brown Says:

    My mistake for taking you comment out of context.

    So what your basically saying is we can cue it/let them know what good accel technique is, but let the strength training really drive the improvement in this aspect of the technique?

    Its interesting that you brought up the too much thinking thing. I agree that watching the athletes learn to sprint, it looked that way. But is that a necessary evil of the early stages of learning sprint technique? Sprinting is a complicated skill where we want to see a whole laundry list of things done a certain way to deem the technique “correct”. I think if the athlete thinks while learning than they will learn to be their own coach as they progress. Maybe its an issue of having the athlete focus on too much at a given time, and thats where it becomes detrimental.

    Of course with a 6 or 8 week camp though, long term development isn’t going to be a real focus (which I dont agree with)…its more of a shotgun approach for the kids.

  9. pathfitness Says:

    Hey CB, sorry for the delayed reply. I took a look at the link you left on my blog (ya totally off topic! LOL)

    Anyways, thats a good drill to have an athlete feel what having that lean should be like and what triple extension should be. But if it transfers into a proper start I’m not sure, I’d have to experiment. I know you wouldn’t want use that with a true sprinter.

  10. Chris Brown Says:

    No problem…I agree…I think the purpose is just to reinforce that accel position in a general way that also provides a strength benefit.


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