Fall Your Way to Faster Sprint Times: The Falling Start

Who doesn't want to sprint faster? Whether you're a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior, or simply someone who wants to win the next random "tough guy" challenge at a BBQ, the ability to sprint quickly certainly can't be a negative addition to your toolbox.

It's tough to find a better means of true plyometric training than sprinting, and, on top of that, there are few human movements that simply feel more "freeing" than sprinting. There's no denying that it's just plain fun.

However, most of us find ourselves in a devilish conundrum here: Sprinting faster - and safely - isn't just about going out and sprinting. Why, you ask?

  1. Most people simply lack the strength to efficiently decelerate (and subsequently accelerate) during each stride. The remedy to this lies in ensuring your involvement in a sound strength training regimen. I discussed the "why" behind the importance of strength for increased speed in the Improving My Son's 60-Yard Dash Q & A I wrote last year (see the third point), so I'm not going to bore you here.
  2. The majority of us move like crap. As such, heading out to the track for 100yd repeats for our first "sprint" session is a recipe for pulled adductors, hamstrings, and hip flexors (admittedly, this happened to me in college so I'm allowed to make fun of those that currently do it). Given that most people sit the majority of the day, possess glaring flexibility deficits, and haven't sprinted in a while, going balls-to-the-wall right off the bat is about as intelligent as thinking you can win a cage match against Wolverine.**

This being said, I prefer to ease people into sprinting, utilizing short bouts of 80% intensity to begin with. These will typically be completed at 20-yards OR LESS. This way, the person won't be able to reach full acceleration and reduce the risk of incurring an "ouchie." Not to mention, nearly everyone's sprint times can be lower by working on the first ten yards alone, due to the fact that the start of the sprint is where you lose most of your time.

Here's a drill I like to use to ease into sprinting, on top of helping teach someone how to produce large amounts of force into the ground:

Falling Start

Some of the key points:

  • Fall. Seriously, fall forward as far as possible. You want to lean so far that you would literally fall on your face if your feet don't catch up to you. This is critical to creating the momentum we're looking for in acceleration, as well as nearly (but not completely) approximating the body angle required for acceleration one would experience out of the blocks. This is where Matthew (the one demonstrating) is better at this drill than the majority of people I've seen do it, as most tend to think they've leaned further forward than they actually have.
  • As you lean forward onto the balls of your feet, be sure to keep the hips forward (i.e. body should be stiff as board, like you're a falling plank...no bending at the waist).
  • As you drive out of the fall, maintain that forward lean and be vigorous with your arm action. Drive those elbows "front to back" and keep the palms open/relaxed (again, Matthew does a pretty good job with this).
  • Try your best to keep the chin tucked throughout the acceleration, too. The only main critique I have for Matthew's demo is that he looked up - hyperextending his neck - as he drove out of the start.
  • Keep your sprint distance to 10-20 yards, especially in the early stages of training. In the video, Matthew only accelerates through the eight yard mark before slowing down.

There you have it. While there are countless drills you can use to "improve that first step," I really like this one for people just starting out with their sprint work, as well as mixing in the programs of those toward the "advanced" side of the spectrum, too.

**unless your name is Magneto.