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Proper Sprinting Form: How to Sprint Faster in 5 Steps

proper sprinting technique demonstration
Contents

This is the definitive guide on sprinting technique. You'll learn how to sprint faster and master proper sprinting form in five steps.

We’re going to give you a detailed step by step approach based on the latest scientific research and the fastest athletes on the planet. 

The sprinting technique covered in this guide has been proven to dramatically increase speed across a wide range of sports.

Whether you’re a:

  • Track and field coach or athlete looking to take a second off of a 100 meter time.
  • A football player wanting to improve your 40 yard dash.
  • Someone that wants to incorporate speed work and sprinting into your training routine.

The tactics and information provided here will teach you how to sprint faster.

You’ll get insight and demonstrations from Olympian Jeremy Dodson, elite sprinting coaches Karim Abdel Wahab and Ken Harnden.

So if you want to learn how to develop speed with proper sprinting form, this is the guide.


Chapter 1: The skill of sprinting

Sprinting is a skill which means you can train your body to be significantly faster. 

Like any skill, it takes practice and time to learn and develop the proper sprinting technique.

However… 

Sprinting isn’t just “running faster.” 

Understanding the difference between sprinting and running technique is critical.

Sprinting is about applying the maximum amount of force down to the ground.

Watch this short video comparing distance running form to sprinting:

Despite the different camera angles and frame rates - the contrast in technique is clear. Notice the differences in thigh angle, arm action, body position and stride length.

Concept #1 - You Can Learn Speed

The notion of “You Can't Teach Speed” is simply not true.

Speed is not something you either have or you don’t. If you put in the work and develop the right technique you will learn how to sprint faster.

Of course your genetic make-up is a major factor when it comes to your performance ceiling and ability to compete at an elite level. But even the most gifted athletes have to learn the correct sprinting technique and spend countless hours refining it.

Christian Coleman is currently the USA and World Champion and it’s rare to read an interview where he doesn’t talk about the amount of work he puts in. 

It’s true that the fastest people on the planet all won the “genetic lottery.” That doesn’t mean that speed is unteachable.

You can’t change your DNA (as of this writing) to become a world class sprinter. But you can change your technique and training to maximize your individual potential and sprint faster.

start of the 100m final london 2017
  Usain Bolt is the ultimate example of great sprinting technique. Image by Marco Verch CC

Concept #2 - Sprinting Is A Motor Learning Skill

Motor learning or “motor skill learning” is typically defined as "the process by which movements are executed more quickly and accurately with practice." Think of a pitcher practicing a curve ball or a basketball player working on free throws. It takes a lot of specific practice to become great.

The same idea applies to sprinting. This means we can train the nervous system and muscles to react and move in a way that produces optimal speed.

This philosophy and approach is very different compared to typical sprint training.

Many athletes and coaches believe that the way to get faster and develop speed is to just spend a lot of time sprinting. In theory this makes sense. When it comes to endurance running and fitness, more miles and training typically leads to a better aerobic capacity and faster times (to a point). 

However, sprinting isn’t just “running faster.” After a certain point, speed doesn’t improve with repetitions and time spent on the track. Why? Because the technique and biomechanics of sprinting is very different than running.

Listen to coach Karim's approach to sprint training in the short clip below: 

Optimal sprinting technique and posture doesn’t come naturally and must be developed. 

On the surface, good running and proper sprinting form share some commonalities. Both require a neutral pelvis, head looking forward, tall posture, foot strike to be underneath the center of mass etc. But dig a little deeper and the differences become very apparent.

The role of technique is substantially more important in sprinting vs running. The body angles, ground contact time, arm movement and foot strike are totally different.

Trying to learn how to sprint faster without understanding and practicing correct sprinting technique only serves to reinforce bad habits. 

Concept #3 - Sprinting Is All About Force Production

Sprinting faster is about applying the maximum amount of force down to the ground. The more force you can apply to ground the faster you will go.

The fastest sprinters on the planet produce 5 times more vertical force into the ground compared to slower ones.

Researchers that analyzed Usain Bolt estimated that he is able to produce over 1000 pounds of force down to the ground!

The 3 ways to maximize force application are:

  1. Proper sprinting form/posture 
  2. Proper sprinting mechanics 
  3. Proper sprinting rhythm

This guide is focused on the first point. But keep in mind that all 3 are equally important with regards to learning how to sprint faster. 

In order to generate the highest force possible, your sprinting posture or form has to be absolutely solid. Common errors such as being too low or breaking at the waist will seriously limit how fast you can run.

Posture is the foundation that everything else is built upon. Trying to develop great sprinting mechanics and rhythm without good posture won't work.

Everything we are going to cover in the following sections will help to get your form dialed-in. Solid form leads to solid power.

In the video below Olympian Jeremy Dodson shares some insight on applying force down to the ground:


Chapter 2: Proper Sprinting Form - Step By Step

We’re going to cover the most important aspects of upright sprinting technique from the head down. 

The optimal sprinting position is called the "hard post."

Remember that each athlete is unique. What works for you may differ slightly from some of the recommendations.

Christian Coleman has different form compared to Usain Bolt. The key is that they both put themselves in a position to apply maximum force down to the ground.

demonstration of how to sprint faster using the proper sprinting technique of the hard post

Great example of the "hard post." The back leg forms a straight line through the torso to the head. The upper body is tall and directly over the hips. The shin angle of the lead leg mirrors the rear leg.

Step 1 - Upper-Body Posture

During upright sprinting the posture should be tall with the head, neck and shoulders directly on top of the hips. Anything more than a very slight forward lean will move everything out of position.

The shoulders are relaxed and down.

This allows foot placement and force application to be vertical (think of marching in place).

Being broken at the waist or leaning too far forward will drastically reduce your ability to apply force straight down to the ground. Less vertical force = slower sprinting.

In the video below Olympian Janay DeLoach Soukup demonstrates the marching action and how it converts to sprinting. Her upper-body is tall, head looking forward, everything is aligned on top of the hips. These positions directly translate into proper sprinting form.

Step 2 - Sprinting Arm Action

Arm action plays a critical role in proper sprinting technique.  Correct sprinting arm movement balances the body, promotes rhythm and increases force production.

Should you lock your arms at a fixed angle? It turns out the answer isn't as straight forward as you would think.

Many coaches and articles say things like “keep your arms at 90 degrees” or “lock the elbows.” The theory being that a bent arm moves faster and will decrease the flight phase (when both feet are off the ground) of the sprint.

While other coaches insist that extending the rear arm will provide additional speed. They argue that instead of locking the elbows and arms in a fixed position, the arms should work in harmony with what the legs are doing.

Regardless of which camp they are in, all sprint coaches can agree that the arms move front to back (or on the sagittal plane) with virtually no movement side to side. They should also be relatively free of tension and fluid. Over tightness in the arms will flow to the legs and slow you down.

If you want to experiment with option 2 (arm extension)

The hand should be blocked around shoulder height (meaning it does not extend pass this point).

The action of the arm should be a 1 stroke movement. Once the hand reaches shoulder height, strike down and back with the arm. As soon as ground contact is made with the foot, the hand should swing past the hips with the elbow near complete extension (almost straight).

example of proper arm action during sprinting

Once the arm swings behind the body the elbow will rebound to around 105 degrees so you can see daylight between the rear arm and torso.

By extending the arm in this manner behind the body the spine is able to properly rotate which increases power.

This arm movement will also cause a stretch in the chest and shoulder. This stretch creates “an elastic energy return” of the arm back to the front of the body. This means less effort is required to drive the arm forward to the starting ‘blocking position’ of shoulder height. 

If you want to experiment with option 1 (fixed angle)

The video below provides some great insight and compelling logic as to why you should keep the arms locked (if you have enough power). As with many things in sport, there isn't a definitive answer that will work for every athlete. 

Step 3 - Lower Body Positions

If the upper body and arm movement is dialed in it will be much easier to hit the proper positions with the lower body. Remember, the goal of sprinting is to provide maximum vertical force to the ground.

In order to achieve that force, the pelvis or hips should be neutral (not tilting forward or backwards). This will create a stretch across the hip flexor muscles during the stride. Similar to the stretch of the arms, this will allow for an elastic return of the thigh to the front side of the body.

To sprint fast you need to have the foot land directly underneath the center of mass. Think of stepping over the knee and driving the foot straight down into the track.

Longer strides should be the result of applying more force to the ground which will automatically propel you forward. 

Many athletes make the mistake of trying to cover more ground by lengthening their stride. This is a mistake and should avoided at all costs. Olympic Sprinting coach Ken Harnden spends a ton of time on stride length and ground contact with his athletes. It's also a major area of focus in his sprinting master class Sprinting Smarter, Speed Progression.

Over-striding or “reaching” is a killer when it comes to how to sprint faster. The reason is because when you reach out for a longer stride you are going against your inertia. It's like putting on the brakes every time your foot hits the ground.

Each stride will also be less powerful if it lands in front of the body. You won't be in a position to fully utilize the strength of the quads and gluteus muscles. Reaching also puts unnecessary stress on the hamstrings.

Instead focus on pushing down to the track or ground with a neutral pelvis. Watch where the foot lands in relation to the body in the video below. Both athletes have a great stride length without reaching.

Step 4 - Leg Movement Positions

The lead leg should follow a 2 stroke movement. 

The first movement is up to form the “ hard Z.” (see video below). The foot is behind the knee and the calf is close to the hamstring. This is much faster than an “L” position where the calf is perpendicular to the ground.

The second movement is an active strike directly down to the ground. As soon as you hit the “hard Z” immediately explode down to the ground. Don't wait.

Just changing this single element of your sprinting technique should have a sizable impact on your speed.

Fast sprinters spend less time on the ground with each stride vs slower ones. A big part of that is achieved through an active strike to the ground.  

The video below will give you a good idea what the "hard Z" should look like:

Step 5 - Ground Contact

Don’t run on your toes!

If you try to run on your toes what ends up happening is a collapsing of the ankle once the foot hits the ground. This will increase ground contact time and lead to slower speeds. 

Instead the foot should be “dorsiflexed” which is having the toe close to the shin. This creates another stretch reflex where the stored energy will act like a spring once your foot hits the ground.

The fastest sprinters on the planet have extremely short ground contact times during upright sprinting. The top male sprinters in the world are on and off the ground in less than .09 seconds when sprinting at top end speed. The fastest females take just slightly longer. 

Ground contact is an area that coach Karim spends a considerable amount of time discussing in "Sprinting Smarter, Sprinting Faster." It's a big deal when it comes to learning how to sprint faster.

The actual contact point is on the forefoot (where the spikes are on track shoes). There are several drills that train the body and nervous system for proper ground contact. Different types of A-Skips, B-Skips, various plyometric drills such as box jumps etc.

Performing drills with the proper sprinting form is critical to get the benefit during sprinting. We'll cover sprinting drills that develop ground contact and posture in a future article.

The video below really helps to illustrate ground contact with some great examples: 

Routinely film yourself or your athletes at a high frame rate.

Last but not least - this video provides a great recap of 3 of the most important elements for correct sprinting technique. You'll also get some valuable  tips on what to  look for when analyzing slow motion sprinting.

Whether you're a coach or an athlete, using slow motion video is an incredibly valuable tool to track progress and identify areas to work on. 


Now It's Your Turn

We've covered the main technical elements of developing proper sprinting form and posture.

Of course there is a lot more that goes into maximizing speed. But your posture is the foundation that everything is built upon.

Once you get your posture dialed-in, the quality of your training and sprinting will improve dramatically.

If you're looking for a complete program designed for coaches and athletes to dramatically improve sprinting technique and speed, check out Sprinting Smarter, Sprinting Faster.

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Learn the sprint training and speed development methods used by the fastest athletes on the planet.
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