Power out of the blocks- don’t step


[This is a guest blog by John Evans. John is an Exercise Science student at Slippery Rock University and participated in the summer internship program at Athletic Lab]

As a head coach at a local high school, I see talent across the board. Being that I am partly responsible for their performance, I like to film various events to gain insight into why they are performing a particular way. This past week I began to look at block clearance and acceleration mechanics.

It is extremely common to see athletes try to be “quick” out of the start by putting the foot down. This turns into a glorified step, instead of an aggressive push. In addition, athletes know they must stay low, which may result in leaning forward at the hips instead of the ankles.

Most coaches has seen it; the athlete drops the shoulders and projects the center of gravity low and forward, forcing the athlete to put the foot down quickly.

Fixing the step may be related to a miscommunication between coach and athlete. There is a fine line between urgency and aggression. Most athletes struggle to channel this aggression into a smooth push, and quickly cast the foot in front of the body, flopping it down like a fish out of water. In addition, athletes know that they need to stay low, but forget that this lean occurs at the ankles, not the hips. Coaches preach, “stay low”, but should preach pushing up, down, or back.

Feedback should be specific to allow the athlete to recognize where they are going wrong. One of my favorite things to do for high school athletes is show them what was wrong, and then show them what should have happened (I believe John Wooden used this approach.) Instead of emphasizing aggression, it may be necessary to use the following cues:

  • Jiggle the jaw
  • Push with both feet
  • Push the shoulders up
  • Push down
  • Let the shoulders and head rise
  • Push the body up

I would discourage shooting everything that moves, and encourage choosing a cue that is likely to fix the root of the problem. By fixing stepping and bending at the hips during block clearance, most athletes will be able to optimize force production, resulting in smooth acceleration.

John Evans

John Evans

John has a BS in Exercise Science from Slippery Rock University, and is currently pursuing his MS in Sport Science from Northern Michigan University. He is an assistant combined events/jumps coach for NMU women's track and field team, and USATF/USAW level 1 certified. Previously, John interned at Athletic Lab for two summers under owner/director, Mike Young.

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