One runner strikes the ground forcefully with the ball of their foot nearly directly under their body before rapidly reacting powerfully into the next stride. It's beautiful to watch.
Good news: it didn't take very long to get the basics down. Much of our crew was probably like yourself, a casual, but increasingly interested distance runner. They'd run some races and wanted to know how to drop their times. Then they simply showed up. Again and again.
Want a faster 'easy run' pace? Marathon pace? 5K pace? Science and practical experience tells us that by increasing your maximal sprint speed ALL other speeds become faster, too. Due to your ability to recruit more muscle fibers and generate more stiffness at impact, running starts to cost less energy, so you become more efficient.
[Sidebar] Have you ever met a sprinter who had a pancake-y butt? No, no you have not. Distance running alone doesn't really cut it when it comes to building that look-what-I-got silhouette, however by incorporating sprinting and strength training you'll earn some awesome athleticism and aesthetics. :-)
Time To Incorporate Some Sprint Work?
Yes, but not so fast. Depending on where you're coming from, I'd recommend starting by doing skips and strides before getting your Bolt on at the local track. I wrote about that progression here in a four-part series on how to prepare your body for sprinting. Sprinting requires lots of mobility and is very high force. Is your body ready for that? For many people, the answer is “not yet”.
That said, if you've been doing some speedwork and feel ready to level up, here are three great sprinting cues you can use today:
#1 “Up On The Toes”
Prior to instruction, many folks just run hard. They simply use their regular running form and do it more vigorously.
Sprinting requires a different technique, however, and one of the main differences is that you need to be 'up on the toes'. Now that may seem super obvious to you as you read this, but if you 'stood where I stood', you'd see it clearly doesn't happen!
If you want to go as fast as possible, you simply don't have time to reach out with your lower leg, land on your heel while your foot is in front of your body, and wait for your body to pass over the foot. Instead, you need to land on the ball of the foot and put that foot down immediately.
#2 “Step Over and Down”
You can visualize this, right? When many people run, they tend to shuffle. Well, we sprintin' now! You need to direct FORCE into the ground (so that it can push back on you, ya physics major). Will you produce massive amounts of force if you use a shuffling stride? Heck no. By stepping over and down, you'll put yourself in a better position to produce force.
#3 “Spread Your Fingers"
Next time you're out there sprinting, like really sprinting (not just 'running fast'), try this trick. First, do a sprint with tightly bunched fists. Next, sprint with floppy hands. Finally, sprint with your hands and fingers spread wide open. Now I ask you, which one felt the best and was fastest?
The upper body plays a huge role in in terms of how much power you can generate and little details like finger position can give you that extra boost. The faster you can swing the arms, the faster the legs will go (they can't operate at different rhythms!) so learning how to swing the arms correctly will go a long way.
Here's a great drill to practice the upper body component to sprinting. The abdominal obliques have to do an incredible job of controlling the rotational forces produced by a powerful arm drive and will get taxed pretty hard. Wait until you feel how sore your abs are the next day... Enjoy!
Join Philly Surge Running every Tuesday at 6:30pm if you'd like some coaching on how to sprint properly. It will make an enormous difference in your running!