Improving these 8 techniques will help you outsprint competitors

Being fast will not always be enough to win races. Young sprinters with great speed should try to improve their running technique, which will allow them to win more races against kids who have the same natural speed. Children who aren’t quite as fast as their peers can become more competitive with the right exercises, training drills and technique improvements. 

Focusing on these eight areas will help any young runner improve:

1. Starting

The way a sprinter gets out of the blocks at the start of the race can be the difference between winning and losing an important race. Practice starting skills using a variety of explosive power drills, as well practicing the specific techniques of starting a track race. Coach Brian Mac provides a list of helpful tips for helping runners practice their starts, including how to place the hands and position the rest of the body.

2. Leg and arm coordination

Sprinters need to coordinate their arm and leg movements, creating a rhythm that maximizes speed and reduces a lack of coordination that can slow runners down. For example, the arms move similar to the way pistons in a car engine work, helping propel runners faster. Talk with your athletes and ask them to notice how their arms and legs work in unison to help move the body forward.

3. Posture

Ask your runners about their posture and how far they should lean forward to maximize speed without losing balance. Sprinters should try to avoid bending at the waist, and keep their torso straight and eyes and head forward.

4. Stride

One key to sprinting success is developing a consistent stride length. Work with your athletes on finding a stride length that isn’t so long it interferes with their center of gravity, but isn’t so short it will require too many steps to run fast. Discuss how high the knees should rise during different parts of a race. Longer sprints will require a turn around a corner and a faster kick at the end as players try to reach the finish line.

5. Breathing

In short sprints, such as a 100-meter dash, top runners might not breathe once they leave the starting block, finishing the race without inhaling. During longer races, sprinters must coordinate their breathing rhythm with their arms and legs.

6. Finishing

Teach your sprinters how to finish races of different lengths, including when to accelerate toward the end of a longer sprint, how to run past the finish line at full speed, and when to lean forward to get an extra edge as they cross the finish line.

7. Building vs. training muscles

Sprinters rely on fast-twitch muscle fibers for speed, but can benefit from building slow-twitch fibers, which provide power. Work on building muscles in the offseason using strength training. This will require lifting heavy weights or using high levels of resistance on machines or with bands. After an offseason of building muscles, sprinters should then train them for speed as the season approaches. Do this using high-intensity interval training and sprinting.

8. Stamina vs. speed

Sprinters need a different type of stamina than cross country runners or other athletes. Stamina refers to how you perform over time, such as during a game. Coaches often use the word “stamina” to refer to cardiorespiratory (heart and lungs) conditioning, and “endurance” to refer to muscle conditioning. Sprint training, explosive drills and reactive power exercises are best for sprinters.

Reactive power comes from coordinating two muscle groups, such as the down-and-up movement used for jumping, or the backward-and-forward motion used for throwing or hitting. Train sprinters with a variety of reactive power exercises (also called plyometrics), including jumping drills, to help improve sprinting skills.

RELATED: Explosive power: what it is and how you train for it

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Steve Milano

Steve Milano has been writing and lecturing on youth sports for more than 25 years. He ... View Full Bio

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