Working across multiple sports, particularly field based sports a question that I invariably get when people find out I am also a sprint coach is how do I get faster for sport. And more specifically how do I accelerate off the mark faster?

Sprinting looks simple, particularly if it is done well, but how do we actually change someones ability to run faster. We know that a large portion of someones capability in sprint performance appears to be genetically determined. Even with the best coaching, facilities and support you or I are not going to run faster than Usain Bolt. So in a sport where your innate physiology plays a role in how fast you can run, what levers can sports coaches and performance professionals pull to improve acceleration and sprinting ability. 

Often in research there is a reverse engineering process that occurs when it comes to understanding seemingly simple tasks, that under the microscope become more and more difficult to understand when you take the components apart. A recent investigation by a team of international researchers wanted to understand better how the best of the best get off the mark so quickly. They used kinematic and spatio-temporal data of the finalists in the world indoor championships as they exited the blocks to understand how they move their body in order to generate very high sprint acceleration speeds. 

They measured joint angles, body lean, ground contact times, velocities and time segments across the sprint to determine which features had the greatest affect. What they discovered was that there were two key visual features common to coaches that were backed up by the data. 

What were they?

The team found that athletes that exited their first step with a greater trunk lean, and with greater separation in their thighs (i.e front leg driven forward large distance as the back leg is still pushing behind) were good correlates of performance. At least in this elite sample. 

What this means for the general punter who wants to get faster is difficult to nail down. The reason being that steep trunk angles are related to the ability to create extremely high power pushing across the ground (horizontal), as is the large thigh separation. For this reason it is clear that some of the foundational features that are observed in these elite groups is related to their inherent high horizontal pushing power. This is clearly a feature that can be improved with training and for this reason may be the first step on the way to getting faster off the mark. 

So what do I say to people who ask how to get faster off the mark?

The observations of the study highlight that if you have the ability to produce high outputs of pushing power then your job is to be aggressive with your pushing and the intention of directing your body forward by creating a steep trunk lean and an aggressive push of the ground away from you. If the person does not have the horizontal pushing power then the aim is to create this. 

The three most common areas that I would encourage people to improve horizontal pushing power and ability is to complete the following types of exercises.

  1. Sled pulls, both heavy (40-100% BM) and light (10-30%) or Hill runs (steep or shallow)
  2. Heavy Pushing tasks (Prowler at or greater than 100% BM)
  3. Horizontal Jump or Plyometrics tasks where you are trying to cover distance with your jump tasks (Alternate leg bounds, Hops etc).

Read the paper here: