When you take away the attributes that vary from athlete to athlete, such as body strength and endurance, and even genetics, you are left with only four things that determine how fast you can sprint—strength, stride length, stride frequency and running economy (or biomechanics).
The Venn Diagram of Sprinting
Strength—the ability to produce a maximum amount of force against an external object (like the ground).
Stride Length—the total amount of ground you cover with each step.
Stride Frequency—the speed at which you turn over your legs within a given distance.
Running Economy—how efficiently you are able to move your body while sprinting.
All four components must work together for you to achieve maximum velocity. If any one part is lacking, another must step up and compensate for it. Your goal should be to equally improve all four aspects.
To build strength, athletes should focus on the muscle groups that are critical to speed: hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and core. No muscle group should be disregarded, but these groups should be prioritized over others.
There's a critical relationship between stride frequency and stride length. Athletes who struggle with stride frequency must compensate by extending their stride length, and vice-versa. One should take care, however, because over-striding can lead to injury. Research suggests there is an optimal relationship between stride length and stride frequency in elite sprinters. Athletes must work to find the right balance between these two factors for themselves. (Review 4 Running Form Fixes for Beginners.)
Running economy emphasizes the ability of an athlete to successfully perform biomechanical movements that facilitate peak performance. You may have a hangup in your gait. If so, get a technical analysis of your sprinting mechanics via video playback. Hands-on coaching can ensure that you place yourself in the most effective body positions to achieve success.
Most athletes are familiar with running and don't need a complete makeover of their technique. However, they may require changes to certain aspects of their technique, much like a sport coach would critique an athlete's jump shot or swing. It's also important to keep in mind that younger and developmental athletes are not "miniature" versions of elite athletes. Their bodies have yet to adapt to the physical demands that older and more mature athletes endure during training and competition.
For more sprinting form fixes see:
- How to Run Faster Without Using Special Equipment
- Drills to Improve Elements of Speed (VIDEO)
- Running Tips for True Beginners
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