How Do Sprinters Run on the Balls of Their Feet?
Depending on whom you ask, you might get different answers for which part of your foot shoot strike the ground during a run. Typically, sprinters push off with the balls of their feet to reach maximum speed over short distances. Running on the balls of your feet can reduce injury rates compared with landing on your heels, according to a 2011 report by the University of Delaware. To learn to sprint on the balls of your feet, study the movement patterns of high-level track athletes.
Ball, Heel or Toes
When it comes to sprinting, landing on the balls of your feet is ideal for speed, efficiency and injury prevention. Leaning too far forward and pushing off with your toes will compromise your technique and won't give you enough power to drive you forward at top speed. Conversely, landing on your heels first will slow you down and cause unnecessary impact to your joints, according to running coach Rick Morris. Sprinting on the balls of your feet allows you to drive forward with speed and get maximum power from your calves and quads.
Aside from concentrating on landing on the balls of their feet, elite sprinters must also be aware of their arm action and must separate their technique into phases, including the start phase, acceleration phase and maximum speed phase. A strong forward lean and push-off characterizes the start phase, while your forward lean decreases during the acceleration phase until the balls of your feet land directly under your center of gravity.
Drills and Tips
Brian Mac, a U.K. track-and-field performance coach, recommends several drills for improving sprinting technique. Planting your arms against a wall at chest level and performing leg drives simulates sprinting in place, while butt kicks, side stride crossovers and speed hops develop speed, correct leg sprint action and reaction time, respectively. You should also focus your eyes straight ahead, keep your head in line with your spine and keep your shoulders down, your back straight and your abs braced throughout your sprint.
Sprinting on the balls of your feet may be ideal, but that doesn't mean it's easy, which is why repetition and drilling are so important. A 2004 study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" focusing on elite distance runners found that less than 1 percent of them landed on the balls of their feet. Shorter sprints will make it easier to maintain this style of running because of shorter contact time with the ground and higher speeds.
- Current Sports Medicine Reports: Barefoot Running -- Biomechanics and Implications for Running Injuries
- RunningPlanet.com: Toe, Ball or Heel -- Where Should Your Foot Strike?
- Sport-Fitness-Advisor.com: How to Improve Your Sprinting Technique
- BrianMac.co.uk: Sprint Technique Drills
- SportsScientists.com: Heel vs. Midfoot vs. Forefoot -- How Do Elite Runners Land?
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.