If you’re an athlete who wants to get faster on the field, don’t start with sprints. Learning to sprint properly is great for building long, flat-line speed, but it’s not applicable for 90 percent of the scenarios athlete encounter on the field. Even short 100m sprints require an acceleration phase of about 30m. That’s no good for a defensive end who needs to make a sack five yards away.
If you want to get faster, it’s imperative to understand the physics of acceleration. Specifically, you have to learn that the key to acceleration is getting behind the center of mass. (Learn more about acceleration.)
Many athletes get this wrong, including sprinters. The whole time you are accelerating, your foot strike must be below your center of mass or behind it. If your foot is in front of you, you aren’t accelerating anywhere. The moment your foot goes in front of your center of mass, you are wasting energy and decelerating. Simply put, you cannot push forward with your foot into the ground if your foot is in front of you.
Most athletes get the first step right, because they explode out of a three-point stance. But things start to go wrong as soon as the second foot moves forward. Most of the time, the second foot lands too far forward, bringing the shin perpendicular to the ground.
So how can you correct this form mistake? To quote Marv Levy, the answer is simple, but it isn’t easy.
The first change you need to make is to shift your center of mass by leaning forward. However, if you aren’t accelerating hard enough, your foot will move forward to prevent your face from hitting the ground. You can develop the acceleration power you need to maintain correct body angle in the weight room. (Start with these speed workouts.)
Once you’ve developed the power you need to accelerate with the proper air time, you need to make sure the shin angle of your leading leg is parallel to the angle of your drive. In other words, if you were to draw a straight line from your planted, driving foot to your head, the shin of your moving leg should be parallel that line.
Practice correct body angle with wall drills. Use a wall to hold yourself at an angle to the ground and practice driving your thighs up and your foot backward. It’s surprising how many people can’t get the technique right even with a wall to lean on.
You can also practice by grabbing a hurdle at the track, holding the legs and pushing it along the ground. Check out the drills in the video below.
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