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Starting Out

An efficient start allows an athlete to accelerate to reach maximum speed as soon as possible. This allows the athlete firstly to move the arms fast into the sprint action, and secondly, to get maximum impulse (force x time). The technical skills of starting and 1st step quickness should be learned at slower speeds before progressing to maximum speed. Starting is an integral part of speed, and a separate skill.

With a correct start an athlete can, developing the greatest possible forward lean (42-45 degrees) and maximum pure acceleration of the body’s center of gravity requires a compromise between the horizontal and vertical force components. The horizontal component must be greater to overcome the body’s inertia and to resist the vertical component, e.g. the tendency to stand up. Lean is proportional to the strength and acceleration ability of the athlete. Acceleration is greatest when the forward lean is the greatest. Holding the breath for the first 10-12m triggers the Val Salva Manoeuvre which provides a firmer foundation in the “pillar of strength” for the action of the prime mover muscles of the limbs.

There are several factors common to starting. Only by full extension of the lower leg complex (hip, knee, ankle joints) against the ground can inertia be overcome and maximum impulse be achieved. This summation of forces (when correctly applied from large body parts to small ones), allows for many other technical components of the start to correctly fall into place and occur naturally. The key at this point is for the athlete to “push, push, push” for the first three strides, both mentally and physically.

Fighting for speed only creates unwanted tension. It is only by rehearsing starting skills that neuromuscular responses, coordination and the correct learning process be implanted in the body’s neuromuscular memory system. It must be accepted that basic components of a good start can be learned while others are limited by an athlete’s physiological make-up.

Basic drills concentrate on, respectively, the fundamental “fall and recover” pattern of a start, the power needed to overcome initial inertia and the quick rhythm of the initial strides. Starting drills are used to assist forward lean, full leg extension and range of motion, maximum impulse and basic skills of an efficient start. The drills are extended one step further by using the basic skills of starting: active foot placement, long, vigorous arm swing and forward lean.

  • Falling start
  • Resistance start (hill, sled, tire, sand, weighted vest, partner, cables, etc.)
  • Assisted start (cord, falling, etc.)
  • Punch start
  • Prone start (on stomach, on back)
  • Medicine ball start (standing throw, squat throw, underhand toss)

Three Point Start

For more information on speed and similar articles, “The Sciences of SAC” by Brent McFarlane

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