The contribution from the glutes and hamstrings during sprinting receives a significant amount of attention from coaches and strength and conditioning professions. Often overlooked and yet just as important is the knee drive phase of the sprint, which is performed by explosive contraction of your hip flexors. The collection of hip flexor muscles is located at the front of your hips and include the iliopsoas, sartorius, rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae and pectineus muscles. If you’re looking to improve your sprinting abilities, ensuring that you’re performing the knee drive with correct technique and developing strength in your hip flexors are important elements in your training regimen.
Knee Drive Technique
Contract your hip flexors and swing your leg up toward your chest as soon as your foot leaves the ground. Bend your knee and drive your hip up until it’s bent to 75 to 90 degrees. Your upper thigh will move beyond parallel to the track during the knee drive phase.
Keep your hips square to the direction you’re running as you lift your leg, not allowing your pelvis to rotate or twist. If there is rotation, your range of motion of your rising knee will be limited.
Dorsi flex your ankle joint and position your foot so that it’s underneath your lead knee. As you’re driving your knee up to your chest, simultaneously dorsi flex your ankle by pull your toes up toward your shin. Your foot should be lifted so that it’s parallel to the floor. This places your foot in a position where it’s ready to strike the ground again. Adequately dorsi flexing your ankle will allow your legs to produce more force and reduces the risk of injury as your strike the ground.
Training your Hip Flexors for Sprinting
Strengthen your hip flexors with workouts two days per week. Perform lying leg raises and knee drives off a step. The lying leg raise involves lying on your back with your legs extended and picking up a straight leg off the floor until it’s pointed to the ceiling. The knee drive off a step involves placing one foot on a step and then maintaining that foot on the step as you pick up and drive the opposite knee up toward your chest.
Develop power in your hip flexors with tuck jumps. Tuck jumps are performed by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, lowering into a quarter squat and then taking off into a maximum-height jump. While you’re in the air, drive your knees up toward your chest so that you pick your feet up off the floor as high as possible.
Warm up your hip flexors properly before your workouts with skipping and high knees. During both exercises, focus on driving your knee up as high as possible. When skipping, jump up as high as you can with each repetition. Perform each activity for two sets of 25 yards.
Incorporate regular sessions of hamstring and glute stretching into your regimen. How high your hip flexors can drive your knee to your chest is partly dependent on the flexibility of your hamstrings and glutes. Tight muscles will adversely affect the knee drive.
The hip flexors are susceptible to injury because of the stress they receive when sprinting. Always warm up your hip flexors before sprinting workouts. If you suffer a strain, ice the area for 20 to 25 minutes at a time and focus on strengthening the muscles once the pain has subsided.