The study examined 22 Australian netball players during a preseason training camp. (In case netball is unfamiliar, think of it as basketball without a backboard.) Players were asked to perform 2.5-meter sprints in two ways. First, they lined up with toes on the starting line, facing the finish line, and performed a normal sprint. Next, they lined up with heels on the starting line and their backs to the finish line. This required them to quickly spin 180 degrees and sprint to the finish. Technique was paramount on such a short sprint, because athletes had very little distance to overcome poor technique with strength and speed.
What differentiated the faster sprinters from the slower ones?
- First, more steps led to faster sprints. And a tiny difference went a long way. Just an extra quarter step over the 2.5-meters differentiated the fastest sprinters. I’m reminded of a coach who once told me, “You can’t move forward with your feet in the air.”
- Next, shorter step length led to faster sprints. This makes sense when paired with the first tip - more steps. For any given distance, adding more steps means each step will be shorter.
- Torso angle was the next predictor of sprint success. Leaning forward just two degrees extra made the difference between the slowest and fastest sprints.
- Finally, the actual first step of the sprint was critical. Athletes who showed less knee lift in the first step turned in faster sprints. Less knee lift means a faster step, which means more steps.
Ahh, this is all starting to make sense. Lean forward and use many fast steps - especially starting from the first step. Several of these strategies sound like the POSE running technique described in Brian Mackenzie’s book Power Speed Endurance. Mackenzie preaches the importance of learning proper running technique before battering your body with high volumes of running with poor technique.