Many of you aren't reaching your potential sprinting speed, and it's all because of an all too common form mistake that's actually taught by many coaches.
"Some of the most common issues that athletes have come from the way they grew up and the way they were taught," explains Loren Seagrave, renowned speed coach at IMG Academy who has worked with dozens of Olympic sprinters and other professional athletes.
The mistake? Running on your toes.
You might be wondering how it's possible to run without your toes touching the ground. And you're right. It's not. However, this common tip causes you to plantarflex, or extend your ankle as when pointing your toes, which essentially turns your feet into shock absorbers.
"If the foot muscles don't do their job and lift the foot up like they should, then there is really just dead weight at the foot, and the slack has to be picked up elsewhere," says Travis Hansen, director of the Reno Speed School and author of The Speed Encyclopedia.
Even though it seems like a minor mistake in the grand scheme of your stride, it can totally sap your stride power and increase ground contact time—the exact opposite of what you want with an efficient and powerful running stride.
Also, running on your toes is likely to cause an injury elsewhere in your body. Hansen explains that the majority of athletes who suffered from quad or hip flexor issues prior to working with him exhibited this form mistake.
Put simply, running on your toes is a deal breaker when it comes to sprinting form.
To correct this problem, you need to imagine that your feet are springs. They need to effectively transmit all of the power you generate from your hips and legs into the ground without wasting energy.
"If you want to run fast, you want to curl your toes toward your shin, cock your ankle or dorsiflex your ankle so that your foot and your ankle joint become a springboard," says Seagrave. "When it hits the ground, it loads, and then you can explode your body forward."
If you're not familiar with dorsiflexion, try to pull your toes to your shins. Notice the tension in your foot and ankle? That's what you want to emulate when you sprint.
"Not only is this going to reduce work output by the runner, but this will also reduce the stress that is imparted onto the various quadricep muscles and hip flexor muscles residing further up the body," adds Hansen. "Additionally, it will allow you to push off the ground by plantarflexing your ankle faster and with more power."
Your toes will most definitely contact the ground when you're running with a focus on dorsiflexion. However, your primary point of contact should be somewhere between your midfoot and forefoot.
"Fast athletes distribute their weight or body mass towards the middle to front of the foot," adds Hansen. "there is going to be some wiggle room with this technique as some athletes may be slightly more midfoot or forefoot dominant."
Learning the Technique
Knowing the technique is one thing, but you need to teach your body to perform the proper dorsiflexed technique over and over again on every stride.
Here are a few exercises and drills recommended by Hansen that will teach and reinforce the technique to improve your speed.
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