Good starting block technique is vitally important in sprint races. The following discussion of starting block technique is adapted from a presentation by Dan Fichter of Wannagetfast Power/Speed Training at the 2009 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association seminar.
The importance of a good start on the rest of the race:
The start affects the smooth execution of the whole race. The faster you accelerate at the start, the more potential you have for top-end speed and the easier it is to get to your top-end speed.
On the keys to becoming a good starter:
What makes a great starter is, number one, how you react. Number two, how explosive you are. And then position and all that comes into play later.
On preparing to enter the starting blocks:
Before you even get into the blocks, you need to have a vision in your head of what it’s going to be like. Observe some races and listen to the gun. Know the starter. Know what they’re trying to do. Know how long they’re holding people. Stand behind the first group that’s going, close your eyes, listen to it, feel yourself react to it. Don’t go in there and say, “Oh, that guy held me forever there.” Well, he was holding everybody. So you’ve got to be able to understand what’s going on in the race.”
On the importance of practicing the set position:
Depending on how an athlete sets up, he/she should spend a lot of time getting into the blocks, going into the set position, coming down, going back into the set position. So it becomes something that’s very, very familiar. What that does is, it limits the situation where a kid goes upin the set position and looks like a fish out of water. Because, if you think about it, in practice, if they’re doing block 30s or something, they spend about a second up in the set position and then they’re gone. So they don’t really practice being in that position. What does it feel like, do I want to be here, do I want to be there?
Practice getting into and holding a consistent start position for numerous reps, without any departure. Drill that you need to be semi–comfortable. Some coaches say, “You need to get out there faster, you can’t be comfortable.” Other coaches say, “Get in there and get nice and comfortable.” Be semi-comfortable. Be able to apply the force where you need to. Because when you get up to that position, if you’re only thinking about the gun and that lead hand, your feet better be in position to apply forces to the blocks.
Foot position on the starting blocks:
The heel will be off the back block, but with lots of pressure going through that back foot. Three spikes of the front foot on the track, the rest of it on the block. You have to play with that little bit, see where the forces are coming from. Each athlete’s a little different. The closer the blocks are (to each other), the more powerful the runner needs to be. If they’re a little bit wider apart, it allows for longer lever athletes to get some push.
On the set position:
In the set, hips should be slightly higher than the shoulders. The back must be straight. Don’t be all hunched over in the set. You can’t create power lines from that. You have to have a flat back. The head should be in line with the back to make the transition during the acceleration phase easier. If the head is down, it forces your hips to drop. So your head needs to be in line, not down and tucked, but in line with your spine.
On the runner’s position at the starting line:
Most people say that if the body is at a 45-degree angle with the ground you’re in great shape. Depending on how high your hips are when you start, the angle could be even lower. But that’s going to depend on strength. Instead of telling the athlete what the ideal angle is, a coach should watch the runner start – because they’ll get out to where they think they should be – and then try to get the runner stronger so he/she can decrease the angle. As they get stronger the angle will naturally go down, because the more force the runners put out against the block, the better shot for an angle they’re going to have.
The lead arm’s position at the start:
If you look really, really closely at high-speed video of the start, people’s reaction time, you want to just look at the lead arm – not muscling it out, but flicking it out. If you can react as fast as you can with your lead arm, to the gun, everything else will take care of itself, because we’ve done all the preparation work beforehand. It’s like you’re catching a butterfly out of the air. You want to flick the arm out. And when you do that you’re sending impulses back through to your lower body, getting everything started.
Read more about common starting block mistakes.