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Sprinting Mechanics

Viewing these sequence pictures of running drills may improve your running speed, mechanics, form or coaching skills.

Sprint Mechanics
By Tim Werner
Advantage Athletics

Viewing and reading this article about sprint mechanics and studying the photos of running form may improve your running speed, technique or coaching skills.

The following mechanics and form should be kept in mind and/or mimicked when doing all sprint drills and exercises. The sprinter on the left is Matt Bruno who ran 10.48 100 meters, Trabuco Hills High School, 2002 California State Champion. The sprinter on the right is J. J. Johnson with his winning 9.98 form at the Mt. SAC Relays 2002.

The forward moving foot staying high under the hips with the toes pulling forward or dorsiflexing. This keeps the pendulum of the forward moving leg short and moving quickly.  Dorsiflex is flexing the balls of the foot (or toes) up towards the shins. This shortens the lever length between the knee and the toes.  Notice how the toes are pulling forward under the ankle. This is similar to the action of the foot pulling forward under the hips.
The shoulders staying relaxed and down. This increases the range of motion and conserves energy.
The head remaining steady with the eyes focused straight ahead.
The shoulders and hips are perpendicular to the direction of run.
The pelvic girdle is tucked under the torso. (In left picture that would be in a counter-clockwise direction.) This allows the foot to stay high as it passes under the hips. You can develop the action of tucking the pelvic girdle by kneel on your hands and knees (hands under your shoulders - knees under your hips). Relax your lower back so your lower back is arched. Now…Tighten your lower abs and make your lower back lift and straighten. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat.

The forward moving foot staying high as it moves to a position under the lead knee.
The pelvic girdle remains tucked under the torso. (In this picture that would be in a counter-clockwise direction.) This allows the foot to stay high as the knee rises.
VERY IMPORTANT: If the pelvic girdle is rotated in the opposite direction (clockwise in left picture), that would shorten the range of motion of the knee trying to rise.
Take the emphasis off your knees. If you work on NOT kicking so high in the back (which pulls your hips back and puts an arch in your lower back) and pulling your foot forward (and keeping it high off the track) as it passes under your hips, your knees will be up in a powerful position to drive down and back.
J.J. (right) has his foot dorsiflexed more than Matt (left). JJ’s knee to toes length is shorter making it easier and faster to pull forward resulting in faster speeds.

The angle from the toe coming off the ground to the hips should be a 45` angle. This maximizes the distance traveled until the next foot hits the ground. The parabolic curve (that is the flight pattern of an object in flight from takeoff to landing) is the same for all sprinters, and the angle of takeoff should be the same. With this in mind two sprinters traveling at the same speed with the same mechanical movement, no matter what their height is, should have the same stride length.
The shoulders and torso remain balanced above the hips.
The forward foot should be directly under the lead knee.
The lead toe is up but not higher than the heal.
The back arm should be directly under the elbow.
At this point the back hand can stay relaxed and can swing back.
the angle of the forward arm at the elbow is closing.
The forward elbow is in front of the torso.
The forward hand moves to a position above the elbow.
The forward hand remains steady here. The hand balanced above the wrist and elbow.
The shoulders stay down and relaxed.

The lead foot does not pass the knee until the knee starts to move downward.
The forward leg extending forward as the knee drives down and back.
The lead foot toe stays up or dorsiflexed.
The back arm and hand starts to move forward counter acting the lead knee moving backward.
The forward arm starts to rotate at the shoulder with the angle staying closed at this point counter acting the back knee moving forward.
The back leg flexes raising the foot as it drives forward.
VERY IMPORTANT: The back foot never rises higher than the crotch.
Keep the twisting action of the shoulders and hips to a minimum.
NOTICE how high the forward foot is before it starts its down and back action. This maximizes the speed of the foot and leg before it hits the ground.

VERY IMPORTANT: The forward moving back foot never gets as high as or directly behind the but. This will cause the forward moving foot to snap down as it passes the hips.
The back swinging arm is long as it passes the hips to counteract the rotation caused by the foot strike. Swinging the hand and the forearm down opens the angle at the elbow. Yes, the action may be slower. HOWEVER, the arms apply more counter force coming off the ground both in front & back and stop rotation as they swing by the hips when the foot strikes.  Keeping the elbows locked and arms short making the arm swing faster may make the turn-over of the feet faster, HOWEVER the amount of force applied to the ground would be lessoned.  Speed comes from the amount of force applied to the ground by the feet. The arm actions play a major part in the application of that force.
After the forward moving elbow passes the torso, the hand can begin to swing up adding to the drive of the lead knee and foot.
After the backward moving elbow passes the torso, the hand can begin to drive back.
NOTICE that the foot touching the ground is making contact just in front of the body. This tells us that sprinting is a pulling action as much as a pushing or jumping action.
NOTICE the heal of the foot touching the ground is just off the ground. The sprinter is on the balls of his feet NOT on his toes.
Notice how JJ starts to dorsiflex his foot sooner than Matt resulting in faster speeds. This also helps JJ keep his hips under him. This will result in an easier ability to keep his knees up. Many runners have a high kick in the back. No matter how much a coach tells that type of runner to lift his/her knees…it won’t happen until that runner learns to pull his/her foot and toes forward under the hips without kicking the foot higher than the hips in the back.
Having the foot high in front of the body enables the foot to have a lot of down and back action before it strikes the track.
The landing leg is long as it hits the ground then flexes, or shortens, creating a stretch reflex before it extends again . The action is landing, recovery and reaction. If the foot made contact directly under the center of mass, it would be too late to “push” and/or the angel of takeoff would be too low.

Sprinting is actually much of a combination of a pulling AND pushing action… As your lead leg lands on the ground while your ankle is dorsiflexed (cocked), you claw the track beneath you with your spikes and thus, you are pulling yourself forward with force but at the same time, while clawing, you also push on the ground in an angulated direction as you push yourself forward and your physique at that time seems like you are standing on the toes of your leg (the one that landed on the ground. this happens when your landed leg is FULLY extended and it appears as if you are tipping toe on one leg. You should consider the running mechanics your body goes through( focus on your legs as they make a complete cycle from high knee to extension to touching the ground and clawing as well as fully extending and pushing to when u repeat the cycle and your ankle touches under your butt as you go for another high knee).

Sprinting is a series of jumps. Sprinting is not flat or level. The hips raise and lower. Look at the top of Coby Miller’s hips compared to the top of the wall behind him while he is passing over his step.  Now look at his hip height compared to the top of the wall behind him while he is in flight.

To achieve maximum speed and distance during each stride or jump, the angle of take off should be at a 45 degree angle to the track.

You can increase your turnover speed in the off season by getting stronger in the weight room and do sprints up to 80 meters at 80% intensity with full recovery ( 3 to 4 minutes rest) between each sprint.