Whether you watch the greatest sprinters of all-time like Usain Bolt and Carl Lewis, or high school sprinters: the start is a key factor for a great race and it all begins out of the blocks.
Starting blocks are used in the sprinting events up to 400 meters and both hurdle races in track and field. The block start is broken down into three phases for the track and field runner: alignment, set position and start.
Front pedal is set two steps away from the start line of the race.
The back pedal should be three steps way from the starting line.
The sprinter will back into the pedals and firmly place the feet into the block pads; the top of the spike shoe should be on the track with the front foot.
After firmly placing the feet into the blocks, the sprinter will kneel down on the rear leg and place the hands just behind the starting line slightly wider than shoulder width apart. The fingers are held together, with the thumbs in, like a bridge. The hands should be placed with the thumbs under the shoulders ready to support the runner’s bodyweight.
The sprinter should look down, with the back of the head and spine in a straight line.
On the “set” command from the starter, the runner slowly rises up. The hips will rise slightly higher than the shoulders, the bodyweight is shifted forward over the shoulders. The arms are straightened with the hands supporting the runner’s weight. The feet maintain pressure on the blocks with the tip of the shoe still on the track.
If you look at knee angles, the front knee is bent between 90 and 100 degrees. The rear knee has a bend of 120-135 degrees. The angle can be depend on the strength level of the athlete, often younger athletes with a limited training base will have the hips raise up more during the set command.
The back leg is driven forward at the sound of the gun as the front leg extends, pushing off the block pedal. The arms are aggressively extended, forward and back. If the rear leg is the right leg, the left arm is driven forward as the right arm is driven back. The head stays neutral on the start, looking down the track slightly.
The body is thrusted forward and slightly upward at the start of the race.
Once the runner is out of the blocks the drive phase begins.
Block Start Tips
- Keep the body in proper alignment.
- The block start is smooth and forceful.
- Drive the body forward, at the start.
- Snap the feet down quickly after the start.
200 Meter Start
The 200 meter runner should turn the back part of the blocks out slightly, then the sprinter can drive straight out of the blocks and move down the track a few steps before curve running begins.
100/110-Meter Hurdle Start
Generally, eight steps are taken to the first hurdle. In a short sprint race, a typical drive phase might last 30 meters. In the short hurdle race, the drive phase can last until the third hurdle but the hurdler must get tall sooner to clear the hurdles.
The hurdler has to drive up more to be in position to attack the first hurdle in the race. The runner will increase stride frequency to get the body in better position to clear the first hurdle.
Hurdle Start Tips
- Maintain proper mechanics and alignment.
- Slowly rise up to meet the first hurdle.
- Focus on stride frequency to the first hurdle.
Basic Teaching Progression (Block Starts)
- Standing start without blocks (hands in opposite direction of feet)
- 3 point stance without blocks
- Standing start with blocks (hands on the knees)
- 3 point stance with blocks
- Block Start
Block Start Review
- Properly position the body with the blocks
- Focus on proper body alignment and angles in the set position.
- Drive forward out of the blocks.
- Maintain body position into the drive phase.
The proper block start is important part of track and field training and will set up the drive phase of the sprinting and hurdle events.
From beginners to Olympic level runners, the block start is critical for a successful race.