Improve Your Acceleration Sprinting & Skill Execution In Competition

Posted by Cody Bidlow on

Here we go over an acceleration sprinting workout, as well as discuss the concept of increasing the stimulus of your training sessions over time in an effort to stabilize movement skills under increasing amounts of stress.

Sprint Straight To Sprint Fast

One issue that I commonly see in my own sprinting and that of other athletes is that, as an athlete begins their sprint, they may have a tendency to deviate from a straight path of sprinting. If we leave the blocks and go to the right or to the left instead of sprinting directly toward the finish line, we end up running a longer distance than we need to and run slower times as a result.

Since we do not want to think about too many things when we sprint, one thing we can do is add an environmental constraint to our acceleration that forces us to sprint in a more linear fashion and train the ability to not deviate from the shortest path from start to finish.

acceleration sprinting drill

In this workout, I performed 10 meter and 20 meter sprints from a crouched start, with cones placed one foot in from the lane lines up to 5 meters. This gave my brain an environmental constraint so that I had to find a way to sprint in a straight line without having to think about it directly.

By making the lane 2 feet more narrow than it normally is, I could still sprint with proper form, while ensuring that I did not gravitate toward one side of the lane or the other. Not only does this allow for a better sprinting path and running the shortest distance possible, this also helps avoid issues such as an adductor strain that  can result from side stepping too much during acceleration.

Optimal Flight Times, Contact Times, Postural Rise

Another common issue that happens in acceleration is spending too much time in the air, not enough time on the ground, and an inefficient progression of posture from low to high.

Early in a sprint, athletes should exhibit longer ground contact times, shorter flight times, and their center of mass should rise gradually similar to how a commercial jet takes off.

As we accelerate, we want to use force to our advantage to generate momentum, and we do this by spending more time on the ground and projecting our center of mass horizontally throughout acceleration.

If an athlete appears to be cycling in mid-air without much horizontal displacement, the chances are high that they are directing forces too vertically and not accelerating efficiently.

flight time ground contact time acceleration sprinting

Eventually, somewhere between 10 meters and 20 meters, flight times will begin to be longer than ground contact times, and this trend continues throughout the sprint. Problems arise if this transition to longer flight times happens too early in the sprint, as this does not allow for a proper build up of momentum during acceleration and an athlete will have trouble reaching the highest velocities they are capable of later in the race.

Make sure that you are projecting out during acceleration and rising through 20 meters, rather than bouncing up and down during the early phases of the sprint and hindering the horizontal displacement of your center of mass.

Progressing The Stimulus Over Time

Typically, athletes will be able to execute good quality movement skills in low stress environments before they are able to replicate this skill execution in a higher stress environment.

Many athletes will find that they have trouble sprinting as well as they do in practice in competition, leading to frustration and second guessing of one's own abilities and potential.

We already progress the training load over time in the form of intensity, volume, etc., but not everybody takes this same approach with modifying the mental and emotional stress levels experienced in practice.

To stabilize our movement skills into something that can be exhibited in high level competitions, we need to progressively challenge athletes with mental and emotional stimuli so that they can stabilize their movement skills in competition-like environments.

training methods mental emotional stimulus

Progressing The Stimulus

  1. First, perform sprints alone and optimize technique.
  2. Second, perform sprints alone with a start gun or clap start.
  3. Third, perform sprints against teammates in practice.
  4. Fourth, compete at low level meets.
  5. Fifth, compete in high level meets.

In this way, we can increase the demands on the athlete to perform under higher stress levels, and if progressed properly this can help athletes exhibit proper skill execution in important competitions.

If instead we spent all year sprinting alone, we might find that the athlete has stabilized their movement skills in a low stress environment but cannot replicate this in higher stress environments, such as important track meets.

Just like we prepare the body physically for more demanding training and the demands of competition over time, we must also prepare the mind of the athlete to compete, and this should be done in a manner which progresses over time from low stress to high stress.

If the athlete can progress to stabilizing their skills while competing against others in practice, they will be better prepared for competition. As they compete in lower level competition, they can further stabilize skills under increasing stress loads, setting them up for success when the most important meets arrive.


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