THE 5 COMMON SPRINTING MISTAKES FOR ATHLETES
Here are common mistakes we see while evaluating athletes acceleration mechanics. Addressing these will help your sprint performance tremendously.
Mistake # 1: Anterior pelvic tilting.
Many of the athletes we begin to evaluate show withing seconds an anterior pelvic tilt while they accelerate. This simply means that their pelvic bone (at the top) is slightly tilted forward. When this happens, the athletes rear will appear to push backward causing a slight arch in the lower back. This arch will effect the ability of the athlete to both produce and absorb force while running. After too long this tilt will begin to have a residual effect on muscle length and ultimately muscle activation. So it is absolutely critical that athletes address this issue before performing sprint mechanic work.
Common ways to address the anterior pelvic tilt are:
Static stretching the psoas, TFL and the illacus. Also, you should practice glute bridging and hip thrusting with weights. This will help balance out the hip and neutralize the pelvic bone. Lastly, planking and other static abdominal variants such as abdominal fall-outs will help.
Mistake # 2: Plantar Flexion
Plantar flexing is a major cause for concern for athletes that show this issue. Plantar flexion happens basically when one points their toes forward our outward as a dancer would. While there is nothing wrong with this, it happens to be a horrible idea for trying to improve sprint speed. The reason is because when you sprint your body should exhibit a forward lean somewhere around 45 degrees. This makes the sprint (as we define it) a quad dominant exercise. Because of this, amortization is high and force production of the legs is critical. If your objective is to produce maximum force to build speed, plantar flexing works against you.
Dorsi-flexion or pointing the toes upward towards the knees is the remedy. This is what we teach at Key 2 as this will allow athletes to create pre-tensed lower legs, thus facilitating a rebound effect when the ankle strikes the ground.
To facilitate dorsi-flexion athletes should stretch the calf/achilles complex. Also work on stretching the hamstrings while practicing striking the ground with the ball of their foot. Perform drills that promote 90 degree angles of the knees and ankles.
Wall drills are a great way to drill good angles and practice striking the ground with the ball of the foot without point the toes forward.
Mistake #3: Tension in the upper extremities
A tense muscle is a tight muscle. When you tense up your muscles in your neck, shoulders and arms, you actually cause your legs to cover less ground. You also fatigue much quicker. Speed of contraction is the name of the game. When your asking your body to build as much power as it can to perform, it needs ever ounce of mobility possible to do so. When you’re tense, you’re body’s ability to contract muscles in the most efficient & powerful way is hindered. It also can cause slower sprint times & injury.
Work on relaxing the neck & shoulders by keep a neutral body position. Open your hands and practice spreading your fingers if you find yourself clinching your fists. Lastly, you should begin performing arm swing drills at a medium intensity. This will allow you to build up properly without reverting back to your old habits.
Your mind’s eye will lie at first. Meaning, it wont feel like you are running correctly because you have gotten comfortable performing the exercise incorrectly. However with proper coaching and practice, you’ll run much cleaner and faster in the end. So make sure you video yourself running and have your coach make the proper adjustments.
Mistake #4: Improper hip flexion/extension
The angle of your legs should go from 90 degrees to 180 degrees in a perfect world. Athletes who have muscle imbalances will compensate when they run. Some plantar flex as we mentioned earlier. Others will pull and almost exhibit a butt kick motion when they run. Excessive hamstring dominance will cause stress on the hamstring and compromise it’s integrity. Remember acceleration is quad dominant. So most of the motion should be forward. When athletes “pull” they use their hamstrings and actually work against the speed they are trying to build.
Sled towing and Prowler pushing are great ways to practice forward hip flexion and prevent pulling with the ball of the foot.
Mistake #5: Coming up too fast
This mistake is more a matter of combining the previous 4 issues with discipline. When you are weak and have unsound running habits, you will over compensate by raising your torso too quickly. When this happens most individuals cannot develop more speed. Staying in the 45 degree body position is the key & until its performed correctly, acceleration will not be efficient. So you mus discipline yourself to do it correctly as its very easy to revert back to bad habits during sprint training.
Work on the previous 4 areas 1st. Additional things you can do are:
Get stronger. Relative body strength and maximum strength are always good for developing better acceleration habits.
Film study. Watching yourself run is like watching yourself dance, you think you look good until you actually see what everyone else sees. Watching film will give you a more well rounded perspective on sprinting and allow you to make changes you wouldnt otherwise be aware of.
Run Hills. Running hills naturally keeps your torso in front of your knees and ankles. This can help retrain your body and help you get in the best shape of your life as well!
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