Improving your sprint is not just done through sprinting and lifting weights. Optimizing two reflexes is essential to take your sprint up to elite levels. This type of training is often overlooked and is the key to the next level in your performance. Always when I teach the reflex patterns and incorporate them into sprinting, people improve speed times and agility.
What is a Reflex
A reflex is an immediate quick involuntary reaction or response based on a stimulus. For example, when you touch a hot pot on the stove, not knowing it is hot, you jerk your hand away without thinking about it. There is no delay when the reflex happens; it happens as fast as possible. Reflexes are actions that do not require thinking. They just occur as survival and protection mechanisms.
However, reflexes are trainable for strength, speed, and explosiveness. Here are two essential reflexes that are used in sprinting. So, let’s break down the actions of sprinting so you can understand where they take place and how to activate and train them.
When you perform any of these examples, make sure you do them at high speed because that is how reflexes function.
The Stumble Reflex
The stumble reflex occurs when the body shifts too far forward, where the legs are behind the hip’s center of gravity. The stumble reflex, for example, is when you are walking and trip on an uneven sidewalk. When you trip, your instant reaction without thinking is the opposite foot kicks out in front of you quickly to save and prevent you from falling over. Also, your hands automatically lift out to break your fall.
Another way is if you lean on a wall and take your hands away from the wall, your stumble reflex will activate. Furthermore, you can also start walking; while walking, begin to lean your body forward. As you lean forward, you will feel your feet reacting quicker with each step.
The Stumble Reflex and Sprinting
The stumble reflex is something that occurs at the beginning of your sprint. It is when the planted leg is behind the hips where the stumble reflex brings and drives the opposite leg forward at a very high reflexive speed. You can see this when sprinters drive out of the blocks for the first 10 meters.
The Cross-Extensor Reflex (CER)
The cross-extensor reflex is a natural withdrawal reflex. The CER is when a person steps on a tack or a nail and instantly withdrawals their foot from the floor due to pain. As the foot is withdrawn quickly and immediately from the floor, it sends a reflex signal for the opposite leg to stiffen into extension quickly, so you don’t fall. The stiffness enhances the stability of the standing leg when the foot is jerked up from the floor. Also, it causes the knee to lift and highly contract reflexively.
CER and Sprinting
Cross extensor reflex is very similar to sprinting at top-end speed during acceleration. As the body becomes more erect, the CER powers the drive phase of your sprint.
Try this as an experiment to understand the cross-extensor reflex. You must do this example with speed and some force to stimulate it.
Standing in place, lift one knee. Now, put your foot down on the floor as fast as possible. The speed and force of putting your foot onto the floor will stiffen the leg into extension. And when your foot hits the floor and stiffens the leg, it causes the opposite knee to lift unconsciously and automatically.
Secondly, if you lift your knee as fast as you can and hold it in that position, the standing leg will create a high amount of stiffness. Simultaneously, the standing leg stiffens when the knee is lifted quickly to stabilize you.
So, when you sprint, don’t wait to drive the knee up and down. Most people miss out on one part of the reflex. That is why Carlin Isles, the fastest man in rugby with a 4.20-second 40-yard dash, says, “Drive the knee up and stomp the ground, don’t wait for it. The effect is enhanced when you apply speed and force to the reflexes.
The more stiffness the extended leg contacting the ground can create and has, the greater ground reaction force will be returned to the reflex.
Sprint-based training needs to be based on reflexive strength. There are many exercises to mimic sprint dynamics.
To learn more about speed, sprinting, and power, check out my book, Instant Strength. And my YouTube channel for more methods and techniques, Balanced Body.