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The Components of Sprinting


Usain Bolt smiling

Speed: we are all fascinated by it. Whether it is swimming, flying, or even talking, humans have always admired the concept of “fast”. Humanity comes in all shapes and sizes. The ability to run fast has long been a desired and celebrated trait. Running is one of our most primal tasks. We run for joy. We run for safety. We run to hunt. Sprinting is defined as “running over a short distance in a limited period of time”. The ancient Greeks included sprinting in their Olympic games. In fact, according to history, a 200-yard sprint in which the competitors ran nude may very well have been the first ever Olympic event as part of a pentathlon. In modern times, winning sprint gold medals at Olympics and World Championships is still considered one of the highest achievements of humankind. Athletes train year-round to hone their running skills and further increase their speed, pushing the physical body to its limits. Every phase and component of sprinting is important and requires work. But what are these phases? Listed below are the three components of sprinting:

Acceleration

1) Acceleration

The acceleration phase, or drive phase, is a sprinter’s ability to change from zero to maximal velocity. Acceleration can be defined as a “positive change in speed over time”. To be blunt, acceleration is how fast you gain speed. How fast can you get to your top speed? Can you reach top speed in ten steps? Maybe you require 25 steps? Acceleration simply measures the time it takes a person to reach their maximum speed, and is crucial for sprint competitions.

Some tips for acceleration development:

-Short sprints of 40 meters or shorter isolate acceleration abilities and mechanics.

-Resisted runs are sprints performed with some type of resistance such as pulling a sled, running with a parachute, or sprinting uphill. Resisted runs naturally place the body in acceleration-type positions, and require the running mechanics used in acceleration.

-Harness resistance runs are performed with a harness from a rollover start position. The harness is placed around the waist, and another person provides the resistance for you to pull against (they may also have a harness with a bungee cord connecting you two; usually they will stand behind you). Drive the harness for 8-10 feet allowing the cord to fully extend, before releasing the harness (resistance) and accelerating another 10 meters.

Woman wearing a hijab sprinting

2) Maximal Velocity

Maximal velocity sprinting begins at the point at which no more acceleration can be achieved. For most high-level athletes, maximal velocity is achieved between 50 and 60 meters. During maximal velocity, the sprinter is upright and tall, with the head in line with the spine. Stride frequency increases through the acceleration process and stabilizes at maximal velocity. Simply put: max velocity is the point at which you run your fastest.

Some tips for maximal velocity development:

-Sprints of 40 to 60 meters that bring the athlete to maximal velocity for a short period of time at the end of the run.

-Variable speed runs; for instance, a runner will comfortably run for 20 meters, and then run at maximal velocity for 20 meters, before returning to a comfortable run for another 20 meters.

-Assisted speed drills enable athletes to use external forces to help them run faster than normal, such as running downhill, or sprinting with a strong wind at your back.

3) Deceleration

Deceleration is defined as the time at which maximal velocity is no longer possible to sustain. Deceleration is a byproduct of fatigue. Most people can only run at full speed for 6 – 8 seconds. Have you ever watched a 200m race? The winner seems to speed up at the end. This is an illusion. The winner is not speeding up, but rather decelerating at a lesser rate than their competitors; the winner is slowing down the least. There are no specific tips for preventing fatigue, however, having a strong foundation of fitness and endurance, maintaining a powerful core, and maintaining proper running mechanics and posture can slow the rate of deceleration. In most races, maintaining the onset of fatigue and reducing the effects of deceleration are pivotal to a runner’s success.

All the components of sprinting occur naturally anytime we run. However, the quality of sprinting and its components depend largely on mechanics, strength, posture, and flexibility amongst other things. The good news is that the majority of people have not scratched the surface of their running potential. Most people can run much faster than they ever believed possible. As we sit at desks and drive our cars everywhere, some of that ancient running efficiency has waned, yet it is still within us waiting to come out. So put in some training and get faster! But if you prefer to run nude like the Greeks… don’t. Or do. Whatever...

*sprint training should only be performed if a strong fitness base has been achieved