I used the first two installments of this series on running a faster forty yard dash to look at appropriate stance and starting position. While these positions are very important to establish what happens later in the test, they aren’t nearly as exciting as what happens on the first movement. So with that, let’s look at what you should do when you actually start your sprint.
Before getting in to this post I want to clarify that when I say ‘front’ foot or leg I’m referring to the foot or leg that is in the front position in the starting position (before any movement). Likewise, the ‘rear’ foot or leg refers to the foot or leg that is in the rear position in the starting position.
Contrary to common thought and practice, the first action should not be to lift the down hand and push back with the legs. The first action should actually be to throw the swing arm on the rear foot side forward and upward aggressively. This will help to position the athlete’s center of mass well ahead of their base of support (where there feet are in contact with the ground) which will in turn allow a more efficient push back and maximal horizontal force production. Only when the feet are behind the body are we able to drive forward efficiently. Also, focusing on the lead arm will reduce the likelihood that the athlete will lift their down hand prematurely…something that will trigger a touchpad on the automatic timing systems that are becoming increasingly prevalent at higher levels of sport. Focusing on the arm will trigger a faster and more explosive extension of the opposite front side leg. When moving the arm forward, the athlete should attempt to ‘shade the sun’ with a high arm position. Externally rotating the arm (palm down, elbow high, open the arm pit) will allow you to move the arm to a high position.
Beyond an initial focus on the lead arm, the athlete’s focus should be on the actions of the lower extremity. The front leg should extend completely creating a straight ‘power line’ from the ankle joint through to the top of the head. If observed from the side, we should see what is often referred to as ‘triple extension’ that sees the hip, then the knee, and then the ankle all reaching full extension.
While the front leg is the dominant source of power for the initial push, the mechanics of the rear leg are no less important. The rear leg should provide an initial hard punch back into the ground. Although this initial punch is very active and short in duration it can really enhance the propulsive forces of the dominant front leg effort. After this initial rear leg push, the rear leg should be actively brought in to hip flexion with a heel recovery that is very low to the ground. The athlete should attempt to ‘step over the support side ankle’ or even ‘drag the toe’ of the rear leg. Dragging the toe won’t actually happen but the lower heel recovery that this cue is likely to generate will make it easier for the athlete to reposition their leg in to the ideal position for the first step.