June 30, 2020 10 min read

When it comes to speed, it’s all in the form. The way you hold your body, how your feet hit the ground, and the way you propel yourself forward all affect the success of your speed. Even if your sprint training is not preparing for a race or competition, getting faster should be on your radar. 

Sprinting is an excellent form of cardio, and the faster you run, the more fat your burn, which is essential for weight loss. Many athletes and bodybuilders include sprints as a part of their weekly workout routine. Having the lung strength that comes from cardio workouts is a valuable addition to becoming fit and toned. 

While any cardio is a good way to exercise, sprinting is actually one of the best ways, and there’s a reason for that. Those who spend hours doing cardio exercises like jogging, cycling, or swimming, end up extremely hungry. If you’re trying to lose weight, it can be very difficult to do so through these simple cardio workouts because you have to eat so many carbs (and anything else you can get your hands on). If you’re already trim, eating wouldn’t be a problem but for those who are looking to significantly change their body mass, eating all the time isn’t an efficient way to get there. 

So sprinting is the best because you really only need a solid 20 to 30 minutes to get great results. You’ll be exhausted, but you’ll just need to follow the regular cool-down procedures once you’re finished. Instead of eating a giant meal, you can have a protein shake or smoothie (make sure to include yogurt) and plenty of water. Your results will be even better by following the best sprinting mechanics to get you where you want to go. 

Why Is Sprinting Form So Important?

We’ve already mentioned that it’s good for speed but your sprint technique is also important for injury prevention. There are so many cases of running injuries. Here are just a few of the issues you have to worry about if there’s no proper form in your running:

  • Shin splints
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Achilles tendonitis 

A man sprinting on a track.

Shin Splints

The most common causes of shin splints are lack of shoe support, running without a warmup and cool-down stretches, and weak ankles or core muscles. But what are shin splints? Well, if you’ve ever finished running and felt a sharp throbbing in your shins, you probably had shin splints. If you’re experiencing this now, this article should help you with common diagnoses to treat the problem. In many people, shin splints are just a result of lacking proper form and training in your running. But in some, it is a medical issue and needs to be treated by a doctor. 

Some of the best ways to treat shin splints are simple and easy to do. You may not want to hear this, but you’ll definitely have to rest. This condition is frequently brought on by overdoing it. Most people who get into running absolutely love it. After all, running is addicting! There’s nothing like that endorphin high. However, you’ll thank yourself later for listening to your body and taking a break until you’re healed. 

You can speed up that healing process by icing your shins and keeping them above your head to reduce inflammation and swelling. You can also take some anti-inflammatory pain killers like Ibuprofen and Advil to help that along. Then, be sure to check your shoes. Specialists at running stores are trained to help you examine your shoes and feet to make sure you’ve got a pair that’s good for your feet, not making the situation worse. 

If there’s no problem with your running shoes, it’s time to think about your daily shoes. If you’re going around in skating, shoes, flats, or heels, that could be seriously contributing to your shin splints. Buy yourself a pair of shoes that are healthy for your arch support. If you need a pair appropriate for work at the office, you can buy Danskos or Clarks, which both come in multiple stylish varieties. Now, it’s in style to wear sneakers in your everyday life, so a nice pair of quality white sneakers would also do the trick. 

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a pain that starts in your heel and rips its way through to the toes. If you get it, you’ll likely feel a sharp pain in the bottom of your foot and heel. It’s most commonly felt in the morning when people first wake up. The damage involved is in the heel and in the arch of the foot. 

The most common causes are flat feet and an irregular gate. Some people naturally have flat feet but there are other causes that can bring it on faster. Walking barefoot on a regular basis is a big culprit. Another cause is improper footwear. If you’ve spent most of your life in flat shoes, flip-flops, or some other type of sandal, you’ll certainly feel those effects. 

Plantar fascitis is common in older people, and a big part of that is the lack of proper arch support. So the way to best avoid injuries in your feet is to make sure you’re always wearing good shoes. 

Achilles Tendonitis

You’ve probably heard of the achilles tendon, located in the back of your foot, right above your heel. It connects your leg with your heel and is a crucial part of the walking and running process. 

The reason it’s called ‘Achille’s is based on ancient Greek mythology. Achilles was a famous Greek warrior at the time, who was unbeatable. He always won his battles because he’d been given a gift by the gods. It was said that Zeus, the god of war, dipped Achilles into a basin of liqid that fortified anything it touched. However, when Zeus dipped Achilles into the basin, he held onto his heel with his hand. So the heel was the only part of his body that was left unprotected. 

In the end, one of Achilles’ enemies found out about this and delt a low blow, striking his ankle with a sword and killing him. Now, our rear foot tendon is called the Achilles heel because of the importance of such a small part of the body plays to our overall health. The moral of the story is not to overlook this important little tendon, but to treat it well by properly stretching your calves and cross-training. When you cross-train, you strengthen other muscles (especially the hamstrings), and evenly distribute the weight across the whole body, alleviating tension in the tendons. 

What Is The Proper Sprinting Form?

A good sprinting form takes into account a few different areas of the stride length and running process. We’ll outline them here and then go over specific instructions. 

  • Your foot to ground contact
  • Upper body posture
  • How you hold your arms
  • Breathing

Your Foot to Ground Contact

Different people have different natural tendencies for stride and footstrike when it comes to running. Some people land on their heels and then roll their weight on their toes. Others hit the balls of their feet first and end up on the heels. Another option is to land on your mid-foot or forefeet instead of being a heel striker. 

So what is best for the proper running form? Unfortunately, there is no straight-forward answer. Many studies have been done, evaluating what is best for optimum health and injury prevention. Many of those studies are in favor of the mid-foot or forefoot method, saying that landing on your heal causes your weight to land unevenly and cause unpleasant stress on the knees. On the other hand, landing on your toes can sometimes cause a bouncing motion, which is also not a big plus when you’re training to reach the finish line at maximum speed. 

Since you’re ultimately trying to move faster, it’s best not to land with your toes. When your toes hit the ground first, your heel hits later and collapses to the ground. Even though the motion happens in a split second, that can make all the difference when it comes to running. Your heel will have to get up off the ground and stunt your movement. 

In that case, how should the bouncing motion be avoided? The solution here is to imitate Olympic sprinters and to hold your toes in a dorsiflexed position. Dorsiflexion happens when your toes are flexed up toward your shin. If you land with dorsiflexed toes, you’ll be hitting the ground more with the front foot than your toes and that will decrease the time your foot is on the ground. 

When it comes to speed, just think logically. The less time your foot spends on the ground, the faster it is moving. So practice your landing positions and footstrike. Experiment with different ground contact times at different points and take note of the difference in speed. 

Upper Body Posture

As with many things in life, good posture is everything. The tilt of your head, the position of your back, and the level of your shoulders all contribute to your running speed. 

One of the best ways to consider your posture is by thinking of a marching position. If you start marching, you’ll find that many of the key motions are necessary in running. 

As for your head, hold it up to level, looking straight forward. Don’t tilt it back toward the sky or down facing the ground. 

Keep your shoulders back and down. Don’t scrunch them up toward your neck or hover them forward, stretched out past your body. 

Hold your back up straight. You can lean just slightly forward, but any more than that will mess with the aerodynamics involved with speed. Good posture is always the first step in increasing your vertical strength

Avoid high knees. This will decrease the resistance and cause extra air to get in, lowering your stride frequency. The best sprinting technique is to keep moving your legs forward as fast as you can. 

How to Hold Your Arms

When you’re thinking about speed, the position of your arms is important too. 

Your arms have a funny role in running since you don’t use them to directly propel your body, the way you use your legs. Not only that, but they’re hanging off your body to the sides; it’s not easy to think about where to tuck, fold, or drop them. 

But contrary to some opinions, the arms are not useless for running. In fact, when held effectively, arm movement can help you gain serious speed and force production in your sprints. When you’re considering how to hold your arms, think about keeping your body balanced, steadying your body’s rhythm, and even propelling forward motion. 

The best way to do this is by keeping your arms at your sides, in a vertical position. Don’t let them twist outward past your body. Keep your elbows directly parallel to your body, not shoving them out or in. 

To propel your body forward, your arms need to have a limit. Don’t them flail about, thinking the sheer movement will come to your aid. So when using your arms, try to move them in sync with your legs. When you’re left leg steps forward, your right arm swings back, and vice verses. 

Also, don’t swing your arm up too far. You’ll lose momentum that way, and trap the air around you instead of cutting it. So stop it when it hits your shoulder and push it aggressively back again. That makes all the difference between a jog and sprint and gives you maximum power. 

Breathing

Your breathing is another crucial part of a fast sprint. When you’re running fast, it’s hard work and that’s no joke. It’s easy to forget about your breathing when every other part of your body is working at the maximum level. But it’s an important thing to be conscious of. It can not only increase your speed but also help you keep running longer, instead of having to stop short. 

The best way to breathe is to keep it even the whole time. The counting method works for most people. Inhaling while you count to three, then exhaling while you count to three. The longer you can inhale and exhale, the better it is for your lungs. But when you’re going at such a fast speed, it’s often not possible to make it to three seconds! In that case, you can definitely lower the amount, as long it stays even for both the inhale and exhales. 

The most common breathing mistake is to breathe in heavily and then just do a quick, short exhale. This really puts a constraint on your lungs and doesn’t allow you to get the proper oxygen you need to keep your body performing under stress. So as long as you’re sure to keep your inhaling and exhaling even, your breathing will work for you rather than against you. 

A man sprinting on a track.

How to Break Old Running Patterns and Start Newer, Healthier Ones

Many people don’t realize they have to be so conscious of their running form to get the results they’re looking for. After all, you start running as a child and the only purpose is to get from A to B or tag the person who is ‘it.’ But when you’re starting to run at a professional level, or you’re serious about burning fat and building stamina, you have to start taking your sprinting form into consideration. 

Since the running mechanics all happen at top speed, it can be hard to imagine improving all these areas to fix the overall movement. But the best way to do it is to take each part one step at a time. Choose one aspect of proper running form and tackle that first.

For example, let’s say you start with your foot landing. You can practice your foot position barefoot, giving you more sensitivity to feel what’s hitting your feet when. First, just try to run naturally and see how you’re running in the first place. Then, practice different foot movements and landing positions to get a feel for the way you should land. Do this for all the sprint-faster methods and your running technique will improve at top speed. 

Final Important Aspects of Your Training Program

If you really want to reach the highest sprinting speeds, keep an eye on your acceleration phase. It's actually best to start out slower and then increase to a higher speed. With sprinting, the amount of time is not the most important but whether you're pushing yourself to the maximum. Remember not to stop until your face is pulsing oxygen and your body is ready to collapse. In the case of sprinting, the harder you work the better results you’ll get. And these changes can happen fast.