If you want to sprint your fastest in competition, you need to work on your block starts. Improve your block starts with these three tips!
#1 - Ensure You Feel Pressure In The Rear Block Pedal
When we are in the starting blocks, we need to make sure we are in a stable position that allows for high levels of force production. To do this, we need both feel to be well seated into the blocks, especially the back foot.
It is easy to feel pressure between your foot and the block pedal in the front leg, due to the more bunched up position that leg is in. More challenging is to find a position that allows your rear leg to have pressure between the foot and the block pedal.
To do this, get into the blocks by putting your rear foot in the pedals first. Ensure that you are pressing that foot fully into the block pedal. Then you can place your front foot on the front block pedal.
When you go into the set position, see if you feel your rear foot pressed into the block pedal. If so, great! If not, shift your hips back by approximately one inch while at the top of the set position, and you should feel more pressure between the foot and the pedal.
Practice this a number of times and make it a habit to get in the blocks with the back foot first, as well as always feeling pressure in the block pedal.
This will make it much easier to apply force using both legs, and make for a more rapid hip flexion of the rear leg when it comes time to exit the blocks. You should be able to push through both block pedals without having to think about it, and the more we can perform sprinting movements without thinking about things, the faster we will be able to run.
#2 - Work On Reaction Time In Training
Reaction time is a trainable skill, meaning that the more you work on it, the better at it you will be.
If we think about the demands of competition, we will always be competing in a situation where we must react to the sound of the gun to initiate our sprint. Unfortunately, many athletes do not train their reaction time when performing block starts, making it hard for them to see their block start skills they exhibit in practice transfer over into competition.
To work on reaction time, I am using the Freelap e-Starter. This tool is great as it allows you to develop reaction time while performing block starts, as well as including reaction time in your sprint times that are measured by the Freelap Timing System.
To use the e-Starter, you place the cone next to the athlete in the blocks. Once turned on, you simply press the button on the top, wait 10 seconds, and then a "set" command will sound followed by a gun shot sound that goes off at a random time interval.
By using the Freelap e-Starter, you will hone your ability to react to the gun while also exhibiting good sprinting technique. I have found that if athletes do not have experience performing block starts in practice in reaction to a gun or a clap, they struggle to replicate their starting abilities in competition. You may start well in practice, but if you haven't built that ability to start when reacting to the gun, you will not see your skills transfer as well to competition.
If the Freelap e-Starter is not in your budget, you can use phone apps such as the Start Gun app, or you can have a training partner or coach call out "set", followed by a loud clap to simulate the starting gun.
#3 - Get Your Foot Down Quickly
One of the common errors seen in block starts is athletes who focus only on projection, and do not rapidly fire their leg back down to the track. Essentially, they get stuck pushing with the back leg and flexing the front hip, and are slow to attack back at the track on the first step.
It is great to have the ability to project your body far out of the blocks, but if we do not get the foot down soon after leaving the blocks, we are wasting time flying through the air when we could otherwise be applying more force to the track in the next step.
To work on this, place some tape between 20 and 50 cm from the starting line. Aim to strike back at the track right after you launch out of the blocks, aiming for this taped area as a target. How far you contact on the first step will vary depending on your height, leg length, and how explosive you are, but the tape can help give you an external cue to attack back as well as a measure to gauge where on the ground you contact.
We want to ensure that early phases of the race show lower flight times compared to later stages of the race, and one way we do that is by getting our first foot down sooner. This will also make it easier to attack back and generate propulsive forces in the start, instead of reaching forward and having to deal with high braking forces.
If you are able to apply these tips, you should see improvements in your block start abilities. Ensure that you have pressure in the rear pedal, you work on reaction time, and that you get your first step down quickly. If practiced over time, you should see these abilities transfer well into competition, so you can sprint fast and run new personal bests!