On the web, some articles boast solid yet somewhat unrealistic workouts in an attempt to promote fat loss and developing the posterior chain. The problem is that if you’re not able to move well, you’re already losing half the benefits right off the mark. You’re also risking injury.

As a former university level sprinter and long jumper, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about sprinting technique, especially when recommending it to a population that’s comprised of non-track athletes. Instead of diving into exercises that help make you more explosive, lets stick with the theme — technique with sprinting workout cues. 

For starters, do yourself a favor and avoid what’s probably the biggest sprinting mistake in the game.

Stop Running Balls-to-the-Wall

It’s a refined gauge to familiarize yourself with, but once you gain experience practicing sprints, you’ll be able to feel how fast you’re going, relative to your max effort. Treat sprinting like weight lifting. Although you know you have a tangible one-rep max, intuition and common sense will let you know if you could have squeezed out an extra rep with 80 or 90 percent of your max. Your body will tell you when there’s ‘juice left in the tank,’ and what feels comfortable and what doesn’t. If you need an idea of what percentages of your max speed should feel like, look no further.

Your Speed and Feeling Guide

60 Percent of Max Speed

  • I refer to this as a sprint-jog. This speed should bring on a relaxed, but brisk jog.

70 Percent of Max Speed

  • Faster than a sprint jog, this is a slow sprint. It should be evident to anyone watching that you’re no longer running for distance. Think of the run you’d break into to catch a bus leaving the station on your way to work.

80 Percent of Max Speed

  • This is where your technique and speed starts to become a major factor. You should really be moving at this point, but without any tension. You should notice yourself slightly exhausted at the end of a 100 meter dash with 80 percent speed.

85 Percent of Max Speed

  • Your strides should open up at this speed, and you should have a considerable knee lift. This will appear to anyone watching to be a full-on, relaxed sprint. Your time for any distance shouldn’t be much slower than your max efforts. For example, my 100 meter best time was 10.9 seconds – an 85 percent effort would clock me an 11.5 seconds.

90 Percent of Max Speed

  • You should be putting plenty of effort into your start at this intensity, and transitioning into a smooth, relaxed sprint that requires no effort whatsoever. Your legs in your full stride phase should feel like a wheel rolling smoothly along.

95 Percent of Max Speed

  • This is what I liked to call the “practice max effort.” Nine times out of 10, we wouldn’t run faster than this in any given training workout. Exert full force, but remember to stay relaxed, and avoid tension. Run knowing that you still have one more gear to shift into — your balls-to-the-wall max. For those reading this, I would recommend making this your max also.

Now that you’ve got that gauge in mind, it’s time to refine your technique. For simplicity’s sake, let’s break it into two major phases.

Drive Phase Sprinting

This is the first portion of your sprint distance where you rapidly build velocity from your start. A helpful example of this phase is having it last around 15 strides — in a distance shorter than 100 meters, this phase would be brief of a few strides. In the drive phase sprinting, it’s important to keep your eyes focused on the track, barely in front of your feet. The better you become at this, the closer to the ground you’ll be able to stay — facilitating acceleration. Make sure to maintain a forward lean while pumping your arms hard. To leave the ground in a full extension, really push off your legs. Take a look at the video for an example.

Maintenance Phase Sprinting

The maintenance phase emphasizes exactly what it sounds like — maintaining or holding on to the max speed that you just generated from the drive phase. This is where you turn off the “jets” and coast. Your arms should be in a full, natural swing, with your knees coming up nice and high. The movement should feel effortless. Try not to place tension in any parts of your body, and keep your hands open. Your body should now be up tall, with your spine held erect. Keep your eyes focused on the destination, and let the velocity you’ve built up take care of itself. Below is an example.

Sprint Form Checklist

To recap, sprinting fast is something you need to practice in order to refine technique. Remember this checklist the next time you hit the track and start running fast:

  • Stay relaxed at all times. You should have no tension in the face and have a “jelly jaw” when you sprint.
  • Use a high knee lift. Especially in the case of athletes who have never been trained to sprint, exaggerating this knee lift will be a beneficial way to learn a ”normal” knee lift when sprinting.
  • Use a full arm swing. Keep loose hands, and think about having an arm swing that makes your hands go from cheek-to-cheek when you’re running fast. That means your upswing should make it as high as your cheeks, and your back swing should make your hands pass your glutes.
  • Run Tall. Don’t sit down while running, or rely on short, choppy strides. Get your spine tall and open up your stride — it’s more efficient and safer on your muscles.
  • Keep straight. Avoid weaving your way down the track, and more importantly, don’t twist the body – keep a firm, rigid trunk to make your movement more efficient.

To instill these cues, practice these two exercises at a low tempo over 10-15 metre stretches before you run:

A Skips

In both cases, use a high knee lift, a full arm swing, and tall body. Dorsiflex the toes so that you land with a straight leg down, with the weight on the ball of your foot. Think of the track being too hot to be on, so that your contact time stays short and light. 

Running A