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Alphabetize Your Sprint Mechanics


Mike Gittleson was the Director of Strength & Conditioning at the University of Michigan for 30 years and was a part of 15 Football Championships in that time. He explains, if you want to get faster, you need to know a-z.


To run faster you must move forward. Seems simple but the rotary body wants you to rotate left, right, wants you to go upwards, drop, spin, tilt and seemingly travel anywhere but the direction you want to go.

Running mechanics allow you to successively summate levers to maximize your hard earned strength and conditioning, and propel you in the direction you have chosen as quickly as possible.

The  complex psychomotor skill of running is much like the complex psychomotor skill of  typing. When we type our fingers must react to our thoughts and spell them out in the same way as words flow from a pen.

When we sprint our skeletal and muscular system must  work precisely to maximize the energy delivery of each movement  to propel us forward.

Sprinting as fast as possible and consciously thinking about your mechanics can not coexist; it is not dissimilar to the skill of trying to type as fast as possible and having to hunt for the letters on  the keyboard, you just haven’t the time to hunt and peck.

Understandably, the most fluent performances are achieved by the athlete who is able to leave the execution of the skill to the unconscious self, “Don’t think too much”, the coach will say.

The conscious self attends solely to the higher order activities associated with the skill being performed.


1. The first rule in teaching mechanics to athletes is …..they must know the rules.

•Teach your rules over and over
•Have a presentation several times per year
•Have “mechanics rules a-z” and a written quiz several times per year

Like learning the keys on a computer keyboard, the athlete should learn each running skill, a-z. Develop coaching drills that teach one aspect of mechanics before you begin each conditioning session year-round.  An example of this would be,

“Today Team we will learn the Head Position a-d. We will run four specific drills. Throughout the year we will do drills from a-z. When you learn all 26 letters of Running Mechanics and do not consciously think about any of the skills and perform them all well, you will be faster,”

2. Head Position
a. Relax muscles of the face and jaw
b. Breath through mouth and nose
c. Head stationary eyes focus straight ahead
d. Head and chin should be level

3. Shoulder Position
e. Relax your neck and shoulders do not shrug
f. Keep shoulders square

4. Arm Position
g. Keep a 90 degree angle at the elbow
h. Keep arm position while swinging your arms at the shoulder

5. The Hand
i. Natural relaxed hands

6. Arm Action
j. Do not cross the centerline of your body
k. Lead hand should stop above your chin and below eye level
l. Trail hand should end behind your hip
m. Drive trail elbow as far as you can without twisting your body
n. Swing arm from the shoulder joint

7. Rear Action of the Arms
o. Thumb brushes thigh and clears buttocks
p. Right angle during stroke
q. Allow to open only slightly
r. Avoid excess swinging of the lower arm

8. Torso
s. Run Tall
t. Vertical or slightly forward
u. Do not allow torso rotation
v. Do not crunch or bend backwards

9. Knee Lift
w. Knee is raised until the thigh is nearly parallel to the ground

Foot Placement
x. Toe is up
y. The foot should land under the hip
z. Force is applied into the ground in a down and backwards direction

Alphabetize Your Sprint Mechanics & Get Strong


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