Speed is the most coveted component of athletic performance. Ultimately, speed is only through the practice or repetition of proper training that any genetic endowment can reach its highest potential. Whether you are a sprinter who competes in 5K’s or a marathoner who’s looking to improve time, the importance of foot speed in running is unquestionable. Traditional thinking dictates that to be fast, choose your parents carefully. In other words, speed is a genetic trait. While this is true to the extent that it is not possible to be a world-class sprinter without genetic endowment, sport science and proper coaching have done much to refute this.
Speed Made SimpleSpeed is created through the ground, not the air. Once the foot touches the ground, it drives rearward, creating a springboard effect that propels the body forward. Although the actual physical components of running speed are rather complex, we’re going to keep things simple. Speed is produced by stride length (distance covered with each stride) and stride frequency (leg turnover time, or how quickly you can get your feet on and off the ground).Of these two components, stride length is the easiest to develop and is also the most misunderstood. Stride length is not created by how far you can reach forward with each step, but rather by the amount of force you apply to the ground (with the foot striking directly under the hip) and driving back. Most people are slower than they should be because they pull out of their stride length too early, not allowing the foot to remain on the ground long enough to drive the leg completely straight behind the body, thereby maximizing the force and distance necessary to propel the body farther forward. Let’s quickly look at some basic mechanical principles that should be considered for proper running form
Keep Your Head SteadyIf your head is moving side-to-side, your body is going to be subject to lateral forces that negate from the objective: moving straight ahead. You should run relaxed; you’ll hear track coaches say – Jaw down, shoulders down. The human head generally weighs between 11 and 14 pounds. Keep this bowling ball in the proper postural alignment: centered between the shoulders. Head position is critical in athletic performance. Your head should be still during sprinting. We use the term focus to mean your eyes should be straight ahead, as if you’re looking at somebody your height in the eyes. Remember, you go where your head goes.
Keep Your Arms Fixed at a 90-degree AngleNever run with tight, clenched fists. This will tighten you up and slow you down. Keep your thumb and forefinger in contact or run with an open palm, whichever you are most comfortable with. Your elbows should be squeezed in to the sides of the body. To use the strong muscles of the shoulder girdle to create optimum force, keep your arms fixed at a 90-degree angle.
Proper Foot and Leg ActionThe most important thing to remember about leg action is that speed is created down and back-by the amount of force applied to the ground, which drives the leg back and propels the body forward. Leg action happens very quickly. Olympic sprinters get their foot on and off the ground in about one-tenth of a second. The foot should land directly under the hip (where all your force is stored) and drive back until the leg is straight behind the body, thus maximizing stride length. As the foot leaves the ground again (this is called the recovery part of speed), your knee should be driving forward and slightly up. We call this a knee punch.