Proper Sprinting Technique - Easy To Understand, Difficult To Implement
There is a saying that applies to sprinting technique, which applies to most athletic events in general. "If you take time to think about what you're doing, you're going to do it too late." In learning athletic techniques we learn from repetition and from starting slow, doing things right, and then increasing the speed, until the desired actions become second nature.
As a young sprinter many years ago, before video and the DVD was available as an aid, I relied on a few tips here and there, but was not given much in the way of real instruction. Even though my college track coach had been a sprinter himself, the instructions he did give me were generally without any explanation behind them. We spent a good deal of time practicing our starts, which was very helpful, and working on running form, which was of questionable help as everyone had their own particular style. Some sprinters ran with a gliding motion, seemingly effortless, like a gazelle. Others ran "hard", putting full power into every step through the race. These were the "bulls". At the end of the day, the gazelles and the bulls ran the 100 meters or 200 meters in about the same time. What we did learn, we learned largely through experience. It wasn't that the coach was of no help, it was more a case of having to find out a few things about yourself on your own, things no one could really effectively teach you.
Right Leg Forward (Or Maybe The Left) - When running the 100 meters, you have virtually no time for strategy, and precious little time to think about sprinting technique. But there are some things you can work on to improve your times and maybe give you that razor thin competitive edge you need in an event that takes in the neighborhood of 10 seconds to complete. The starting technique is of course of utmost importance. It is easier to gain a meter or two at the start, than to play catch-up during the last 20 meters. You need to get off the blocks quickly. One piece of advice is to place your strongest leg in the forward block. That is the leg you are going to initially drive from. Maybe you don't know which of your legs is strongest. For most people it's the right leg, so that's a safe bet. The alternative is to start from the position you feel most comfortable in.
Practice A Little Stealth - A second technique is to learn to move your body very slowly in the blocks, almost imperceptibly. You are supposed to be dead still when the gun goes off. Try moving your hips very slowly backwards at the "get set". A body in motion, even if going the opposite way, can get off to a start more quickly than can one from a dead stop. You have to do this without any wiggling or jerking though or you may be called for a false start, or as a minimum, get the starter upset with you.
Don't Forget To Breathe, At Least A few Times - When the gun goes off, your hips will be higher than your shoulders, at least they should be, and you are going to drive forward, leaning forward, not from the waist, but from your shins. As you pick up speed, your body will gradually straighten up and after a few strides your body should be erect and your head level. You're going to be exploding off the blocks, exhaling sharply as you begin your forward motion. In the 100 meters it's easy to hyperventilate, which will directly affect your performance during the latter stage of the race. Practice getting into a rhythmic breathing pattern by the time you're 30 or so meters out.
Coasting, Floating Or 7/8th speed, Take Your Pick - There is some argument as to whether or not a person can run at top speed over 100 meters. Some say yes, others say no. What is definitely true is that you cannot continue to accelerate throughout the race. You are going to reach top speed and then need to maintain it. Some call this "coasting" but that is a bit of a misnomer, and psychologically a bit hard for a sprinter to accept. Others call it running at 7/8th speed, but you don't want to be trying to calculate how fast that is. I prefer calling it floating, where you are expending enough energy to maintain your top speed, and have a little in reserve at the end. This is particularly important in the 200 meters where you often do have to ease up during the mid part of the race to hold something in reserve. If there is any coasting to be done, it would be in the 400 meters, which any true sprinter will tell you is a marathon, or at least not the most fun race to run.
Don't Get Too Hung Up On How You Look - Your sprinting technique may be picture perfect as far as your stride is concerned, or you may look as if body parts will start falling off at any moment. If your stride is too awkward, your coach should give you advice on what to work on. The goal here isn't to look beautiful, nice if you can manage that, but rather to eliminate movements or faults in your posture which have a detrimental impact on your speed. It might be something as simple (and common with beginning sprinters) or tightening up your fists or arms as the race progresses. This will generally slow you down, and for longer races, even the 200 meters, will tire you out.
The best sprinting technique in the world isn't going to do a lot for you if your body is built to run the 100 meters in 30 seconds rather than 10 seconds. But if you are blessed with natural speed, learning a good sprinting technique can help you win races against others who are also so blessed.