Complete Sprinting Technique: Charlie Francis, John Smith, Tom Tellez, S.M Phelps, Dan Pfaff, Bob Kersee

>> March 06, 2011

Proper technique is fundamental for athletes to success in any sports. Good sprinting technique allows athletes to move quicker and more efficient. Conversely, poor sprinting technique results in poor running mechanics, increases braking action that subsequently limit the performance potential. Maurice Green once said perfecting sprinting technique would help a sprinter running faster with less energy.



Ben Johnson's former coach, Charlie Francis (1948-2010) defined "sprint position" (technique) in his book, "Training for Speed" as below:
  • Head is held high and is the beginning of running tall.
  • The torso is erect and in a position of design posture.
  • The hand of driving arm comes up to the level of the face.
  • The shoulders are relaxed.
  • The hips are high enough above the ground to allow the driving leg to extend fully to the ground.
  • The ankle of recovery leg clears (i.e. travels above) the knee of driving leg.
  • The ankle fully extends at the end of the leg drive.


Speed expert, Scott M. Phelps recommends the following linear movement techniques in his book "explosive track and field" :

Upper body technique  

1) Head
  • Head must be tall and relaxed.
  • The spine will be better aligned to hold the body straight, but it all starts at the head.
  • Relax all the face muscles.
  • Keep the head perfectly still. Don't let it move side to side.
2) Shoulder
  • Relaxed and normal, running just like walking, don't hunch up and tighten shoulders.
  • All arm motion comes from the shoulder joint so it must be loose and free to move.
  • Let the arm swing like pendulums at the shoulder joint.
3) Arms
  • Keep the arms as close as 90 degree angle as possible.
  • Arm swing shouldn't cross the body.
Lower body technique  

1) Hips
  • Keep the hips tall. Run as tall as you walk.
  • Keep the hips forward and maintain good posture.
  • Focus on moving the hips as you run.
2) Legs (Acceleration mechanics)
  • Legs should pump up and down like pistons.
  • Knee drive forward.
  • Emphasize knee-up, toe-up (not heel).
3) Legs (Velocity Mechanics)
  • Legs should cycle like a riding a bike.
  • Knee recovers up in front of the body.
  • The heel comes up under the hamstring.
  • Emphasize knee-up, heel-up, toe-up.
4) Foot
  • Plantarflexion (swimming-foot's style) should only occur at push off of the ground.
  • All other times the foot should dorsiflexion (toe up).
  • Use the foot like a spring board.
  • Use the heel only to stop and stand - NOT RUN!
Click here to read how to set and move out of the blocks.


A coach of champions at "all levels of track competition", i.e., college-level champions to World and Olympic champions (e.g., Carl Lewis, Michael Marsh, and Leroy Burrell). According to Tellez, sprinting is a natural thing where an athlete must allow his or her body to work naturally. Tellez mentioned the following sprinting tips and techniques:
  • "No pawing, no reaching, no pulling, just picking the feet up and putting the feet down."
  • "The sprint cycle requires only driving the hip and foot into the ground and this sets up the natural recovery, the tighter the heel on recovery the faster the turnover." 
  • "It is vital that a sprinter plant the full foot and not land on the toe – the heel can hit as well, but the contact is full and allows for the stretch reflex in the foot and ankle and Achilles."
Below is a Tellez's presentation video about the block starts and acceleration mechanics, brought by HPC Sports:



A special review from a speed and conditioning consultant, Adrian Faccioni on the sprinters trained under renowned track and field Gurus, John Smith (coach of Greene, Boldon etc.), Dan Pfaff (coach of Donavon Bailey etc) and Bob Kersee (coach of Florence Griffith etc.)
1) Starting Technique
  • Very active arm action (first 5 to 8 strides)
  • Drive knee to chest
  • Head stays down for as long as possible
  • Piston action with legs (Dan Pfaff)
  • Cycle action with legs (John Smith)
2) Upper body
  • Elbows in front of body.
  • If not in front, limits full knee lift position, increases rear side mechanics.
  • Slight forward body lean.
  • Chin down.
3) Lower leg mechanics "cues"
  • "Riding the bike"
  • "Running over mini hurdles"
  • "Stepping over the long grass"
4) Other techniques
  • Powerful vertical force production into track - only after kenn lift motor pattern has been established.
  • Maximal Dorsi-Flexion at ground contact.
  • Do not try to fully extend thigh with each ground contact.
  • Thigh passes only 20 degree past alignment with upper body.

Arm Swing
Arm swing plays important roles in sprinting. Proper arm swing is necessary to counterbalance the rotary movement of the legs, or otherwise, stride frequency etc. would deviate from ideal. 
  • The arms should swing from the chin level, moving up and down in a more synchronized manner with the front and back swings. 
  • Elbow angle: approximately 90 degrees of flexion (not exactly 90 degree) at elbow and about 2-3 inches outwards of the mid line (not shoulder width), and should be symmetrical or balanced.  Keep the elbows locked and arms short is a good idea to encourage a faster arm swing.

Stride Length

Stride length, or more correctly called "step length" (measured from toes-to-toes of the same leg) must be proportional to the leg's length of a sprinter (not that the bigger is better). Logically, taller sprinters would have longer stride length, but not always the case - depend on his/her "strategy." 
  • It is not a good idea recommending male sprinters to run the 100m in 45 strides, just because you have heard world sprinters complete the 100m in 45 strides.
  • The best example was Tim Montgomery who has a personal record of 9.78s, taking 48 strides to run the 100m. Other examples are: Walter Dix (9.92s / 48 strides), Kim Collin (9.98s / 48 strides), Michael Frater (9.97s / 48 strides), Trindon Holliday (relatively short sprinter, 5'4", 10.00s / 50 strides) and many more. 
  • Usain Bolt took 41 strides in Berlin (9.58s) but he is 6'5" and has longer legs.
Watch: Trindon Holliday & Walter Dix won the 2007 World Championship slots with 50-51 and 49-50 total strides respectively:

Also watch: Trindon Holliday 10.00s / 50.5 strides (2009 NCAA Championship - Gold) here

The topic of stride length vs frequency has always been a subject of debate. Research have shown that optimal stride length for maximal speed in sprinting is between 2.3 – 2.5 times of the athlete’s leg length. Given a leg length of 1.0-m,  one should consider a stride length (at maximal speed) not longer than 2.50-m. Would you automatically lose to taller sprinters? (like Usain Bole, whose stride length is 2.80m) not really, stride frequency comes into consideration! 

Stride Frequency

Stride frequency or more correctly "step frequency" is the number of steps taken per second. Therefore, the unit for step frequency is in Hz. Stride frequency depends on leg length. If an athlete attempt to take longer stride, reduced turnover (leg speed) should be expected (maybe not good). 
  • Over-striding will create a decelerative force and slows the movement. Attempt to change stride length and frequency must occur by considering adjustments in overall mechanics and force production (such as running technique and relaxation).
  • Stride frequency may be increased (by reducing stride length) in order to sprint faster. Example, Ben Johnson (height: 1.78m) applied this strategy by adding his total number of strides from 45 in 1987 (World champs) to 46 in 1988 (Olympics), in order to run 9.79s. Not that he torn his hamstring several weeks before the Olympics, and likely affected his training regime. Other athletes such as Tim Montgomery (also 1.78m height) took shorter stride length (48 total strides in 100m) when he ran 9.78s, breaking Maurice Greene's world record of 9.79s in 2002.
What is important to note is that world-class male sprinters (sub 10.10s) took 41 to 50 strides (not necessarily 45) to complete the 100m race, which is basically dependent on a sprinter's leg length and strategy. Importantly, stride length and frequency must be trained in the expense of retaining proper sprinting mechanics.


Here is a good video on teaching how to maximize running efficiency (video by expertvillage):

All in all, athletes must develop proper, efficient and consistent running mechanics in order to maximize sprinting performance. A slight asymmetry of movements may be acceptable. A coach must understand what is defined as good technique - there is no such thing as perfect technique in sprinting. The key is for you to understand what acceptable (ideal) and bad techniques are, so that proper interventions can be done. Incorporating better methods of training, ranging from technical and strength development are necessary.

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