Sprinting is a major component of athletic prowess. Many people look at jumping high and sprinting fast as the two essential traits an athlete must have to succeed in team sports. Since sprinting is so important to an athlete, one must learn the two phases of the sprint.
Sprinting can be broken down to two major components.
Acceleration is the starting phase of the sprint. It is really important to learn how to accelerate, because it helps the athlete quickly transition from a dead stop to a full-on sprint. Just imagine all of the sudden changes in direction in football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, Ultimate Frisbee, etc. This initial phase incorporates a lot of relative, starting, and explosive strength that can be worked on in the gym. Just imagine the strength needed to start moving your body from a dead position. If you were to increase that strength, then you would be able to accelerate your body faster. In this phase, the athlete should be leaned forward with a positive shin angle. This shin angle is best achieved with the knees in front of the toes. In this phase, the athlete should take long, powerful strides to explode out of a stopped position. The athlete should emphasize applying force into the ground so that he/she can accelerate faster.
2) Max Velocity or Top Speed
The second half of the sprint is associated with max velocity or top speed. This sprint has more of an elastic component. A good upright posture and a “relaxed” state are ideal for this phase. The athlete should have their feet strike directly underneath their center of gravity. This is the phase that also stresses the importance of the “cyclic” action of the lower extremities. Lastly, the athlete should fire their elbows back so that the stretch reflex in the pecs and shoulders shoot the arms forward faster. This is why this phase is more “elastic” compared to the acceleration phase.
As a coach, I realized that the acceleration phase of the sprint is very important for team sport athletes. A team sport athlete spends more time accelerating from a dead position than running max velocity down the field. For example in football, the football player makes more short 10-yard sprints or cuts than sprinting 40+ yards in a game. Max velocity is still very important and can distinguish an athlete from another and should be stressed in an athletes’ program.