Acceleration work has undeniable value to both field sport and track coaches. If sports can be chaotic and unpredictable, then movement variability should move beyond just drills and movements. Always running the same acceleration variations would seem to put a limit on solutions and scenarios to pull from in a game setting—sometimes, in the chaos of a game, athletes don’t have time to draw or rearrange their bodies into the perfect position. They just have to GO.
Sport coaches looking to transfer their speed training to the field will reap the benefits of toying with new starts. If an athlete is going to learn to accelerate effectively, then coaches must employ a vast array of starting variations that contribute to the athlete’s long-term development. Some are going to make coaches feel good because they have an air of specificity about them, while others are just plain fun.If an athlete is going to learn to accelerate effectively, then coaches must employ a vast array of starting variations that contribute to the athlete’s long-term development, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
I must lend credit to coaches like Carl Valle and Latif Thomas and the ALTIS program for opening my eyes to many of these variations.
Various Position Starts (Disadvantageous Positions)
I have always said coaches don’t have to feel like they need to be the entertainment committee—games and activities can be fun, but athletes still want purpose, and a coach’s value is in the teaching.
Sometimes, early in the season during lower-intensity training weeks or before main sessions, we utilize disadvantageous start positions, such as the ones listed below. I classify these as such because the starting positions make it challenging to overcome inertia. These variations are a hit with all training groups, but the younger crowd and field sport athletes really seem to like them—they add just enough spice without being ridiculous or pandering.
I will admit to the field sport athletes that some of the skills and acceleration techniques that we address through track and field rarely occur in a perfect setting on the turf or court; however, we are always trying to optimize lines of attack within some acceptable bandwith. These variations shift the focus away from some perfect technical model to one that emphasizes power, separation, and balance. A coach can still use whatever cues they typically use with their athletes with these positions. The best an athlete can usually do is move with intent and achieve some fraction of proficiency.
1. Up and Go from Stomach: The athlete lies on their stomach, and their eyes should look down at the turf. The foot should be dorsiflexed so that the big toe joint has an easier time helping to separate from the ground. This is a very difficult position to accelerate from, but athletes should try to optimize getting their hips and chest out together.
2. Up and Go from Back: This is similar to the stomach variation, but it adds a layer of difficulty, as the athlete has to rotate their body while beginning to drive forward.
3. Push-Up Position: This one begins in the “up” position of a push-up and requires the athlete to fight the fall forward once their hands are removed.
4. Quadruped Roll: The athlete should start in a table-top position, with their hands under their shoulders and knees under their hips. The coach can signal the athlete to just raise their knees up and then roll in the direction of choice. The bottom of the toes should again stay down into the turf.
5. Cross-Legged Reading a Book: The legs are all pretzeled up in this variation, which adds even more difficulty to the already deadweight static position.
6. Front Roll: Athletes should first be exposed to some basic rolling. I usually have them pretend they just got pushed from behind and need to chase the action in front of them.
Coaches can explore and experiment with these as they captivate the athletes and allow for some competition. I always do these on turf since athletes occasionally fall as they are learning.
These starts are all completely static positions, from a seated or lying arrangement. For me, the common language I use with my athletes is to be powerful and not quick (push or punch, don’t spin), get the hips and chest out together (balance with projection), create pressure with the feet, keep a low shin angle the first few steps, and think about gaining ground. These variations are also indicators of who possesses a decent level of strength.
A common early session I do with athletes is run a set of five different variations for 10 yards each (60-90 seconds of rest). Run each variation one time or run a couple variations more than once.
After this set and an intermediate rest period (3-4 minutes), I have them run five variations from those listed later that are either along the lines of “the real thing” or at least more advantageous. This setup almost overloads the sprint on the first five variations before allowing them to apply it in a more traditional manner on the second set.
Video 1. Various position, disadvantageous starts are fun and challenge the athlete to overcome difficult positions. Coaches can turn them into competitions as well, so I encourage you to not hold back with creative ideas.
Various Position Starts (Advantageous Positions)
These variations are a step down on the crazy scale, but still are very fun. I classify these as advantageous positions since there is something about the movements that make the start easier to get out of. This could be forward momentum or some loading via the stretch-shortening cycle.
7. RDL Start: The RDL start allows for a big range of motion and explosion from the hip, and the athlete nearly throws themselves into a violent acceleration.
8. Parallel Start: The parallel start allows for a natural reposition step behind the body. When the foot resets, the Achilles and calf allow that stored energy to drive aggressively forward.
9. Jump Back: The jump back start builds on the same concept as the parallel start but allows for an even more dynamic loading of the lower leg since the athlete pops back into their two-point setup. Be sure that they actively POP back rather than slide back.
10. Kick-Up: The kick-up start is done out of a four-point position. The kick-up is advantageous, since when the feet contact the ground, the chest has already begun unfolding and driving forward. The hips just have to match.
11. Kneeling Start and
12. Lateral Kneeling: On both kneeling variations, I usually cue athletes to create pressure with their big toe joint and bend the shin to match the torso. If the shin is too vertical, they pop up—although some athletes prefer to roll their body and shin down from an upright position even in these variations.
13. Hip Flip: The hip flip is a great way to teach acceleration out of an athletic position. I instruct the athlete to think about separating their upper and lower body at the beltline and pulling themselves into a nice acceleration position.
I always have athletes do these on turf, and I use these variations much like I use the first group. With younger athletes, sometimes these serve as a main course; with older athletes, these could just be the last piece of the warm-up before the spiked session.
Video 2. These are a little less crazy than the disadvantageous starts but require the athlete to have a decent understanding of how to accelerate. They are closer to the real thing, but the prior movements allow for an easier time in hitting the ground running.
On the field or court, athletes commonly accelerate out of athletic movements. A basketball player on defense may be skipping backward during transition when, suddenly, the opportunity for a loose ball presents itself, and they must drive forward.
A running back might side shuffle into a blocking position before wheeling out and catching a pass in the flat. These starts allow them to perform these movements as fast as possible with a lot of intent, which doesn’t happen in a game setting.These starts allow them to accelerate out of athletic movements as fast as possible with a lot of intent, which doesn’t happen in a game setting, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
I always want my athletes to be as prepared as possible for anticipating sprint opportunities in game, but also be able to optimize their acceleration ability.
An added benefit of the movement in these variations is that, by not utilizing a static start, the athlete can reduce strain and extend these reps to 20 yards or so. These also start the process of blending drills to sprints, but I keep the “entry zone” really short, usually to 5 yards. These are not true blends or bleeds since the posture changes as the athlete accelerates.
14. Side Shuffle-In: The athlete doesn’t need more than a few steps of the side shuffle. At the coach’s cue, the athlete can rotate their body while repositioning their front foot under their hip, drop-step style.
15. Straight Leg Shuffle-In: The shuffle is about frequency and not power, so I usually ask the athletes to keep a high rate of switching at the hips. At the coach’s cue, athletes should accelerate out without much delay.
16. Gallop-In: The gallop-in is similar to the straight leg shuffle, but the added vertical displacement of the gallop allows the athlete to draw into a bit of a deeper position before projecting forward. They should aim to hit the ground running.
17. Walk-In: The walk-in reduces the need to overcome inertia. Athletes should walk and then let their shin and torso drop as they begin their acceleration.
18. Skip-In: The skip-in feels similar to the walk-in, with a tad more velocity upon entry. The transition should again be seamless, as the athletes roll themselves forward into a more advantageous position to push from.
19. Backward Skip: Athletes should commit to the backward separation by pushing through the big toe joint. At the coaches cue, the athletes will hit the brakes. This draws them into a nice, deep setup. I usually cue them to keep their eyes on the turf as they begin to project forward.
20. Drop-In: The drop-in features a walk followed by a subtle hop that raises the center of mass just enough to set up a two-point start that uses the stretch reflexes and momentum from the prior movements. I enjoy using drop-ins to accumulate acceleration volume early in the season. They are especially effective when done at the bottom of a hill.
21. Drop-Down: I use two variations. One utilizes a step off the bench or bleacher. The athlete should lean as they fall, so their foot slots a little behind their body. The second one involves them dropping down into a split two-point stance. The aim is to hit the ground running in both variations.
Video 3. These variations will still draw from previous acceleration teaching, and athletes should be encouraged to execute each variation with power and purpose.
I often include a clap cue for an athlete to respond to on the gallop, skip, and shuffle variations, but I am fine with a preset 5-yard entry distance as well.Variety in your accelerations will give your athletes more solutions and more confidence to motor around at high velocities as they enter the fray, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
The one variation that I spend the most time teaching (beyond just plain skipping and galloping skills) is the drop-in. I prefer my athletes start with a walk, then raise their center of mass with a subtle hop, and from there drop to their usual two-point stance. This added drop makes this an extremely safe longer acceleration option, and this one works especially well on hills.
Throwing a medball is generally without much risk, but it is still a skill. As a result, I am fairly picky with how circusy I get here. With all medball throws, the athlete is throwing with the hips and legs, while the arms generally stay relaxed, securing the ball or at best following through.
These four are pretty much the only ones I utilize:
22. Parallel Squat Throw Accel: The squat throw is really more of a squat/hinge hybrid.
23. Split-Stance Throw Accel: On both this and the squat throw, I have the athletes start with the ball straight out, and they draw it in for dramatic loading effect. I usually like to see the elbows in rather than flared, and this helps put the shoulders in a more stable position. Both of these variations allow the athletes to roll their shins and torso forward until they explode out like they were in a cannon. They are essentially throwing themselves into a sprint.
24. Underhand Forward Scoop Throw Accel: With this, I like the ball to be set up between the feet, more toward the toe. If the ball is placed too far in the back of the toes (under the body) the athlete has to almost reach through their legs, which causes them to drop their chest, lose the core, and put the lumbar in a precarious position. They should meet the ball on the way down.
25. Underhand Forward Throw Accel.
These throws often don’t yield great-looking positions—especially with the first few encounters—but the power created through the hips is enough for me to warrant their occasional inclusion. I will reserve these for athletes who know how to hinge, squat, and throw a medball with some proficiency.
Video 4. Medball starts are a great way to just encourage more OOMPH. Throw with intent and connect the chaos to the acceleration.
Hills and resisted starts should be absolute staples of any program. Obviously, hill and sled accelerations are well known and can be tied into many of the prior variations, but the ones below are some variations that coaches can begin to think about including in their programming.
26. Heavy Sled: Heavy sleds are great for short accelerations runs—I usually go 10 yards here. I wish I could say I sit and calculate specific loads, but I don’t. I use the Gill Low Drag Speed sleds, which feature a single, small knob for plate loading. The sled weighs 7 pounds and adding a 25- or 35-pound plate usually does the trick with my male athletes without destroying their weight room session. This allows for a decently high speed without double support steps, and the ankle gets much more information about working with the earth/turf to separate. I often pair these with an unloaded rep later in the season.
27. Light Sled: Light sleds are great for extended acceleration reps of 20 yards or more, and with some athletes I even do extended runs to 50 yards. Light sleds (as little as 5%) allow for just enough resistance to help arm action, relaxation, and posture.
28. Drop-In Sled: I use drop-in sled reps if an athlete has great early acceleration that then levels off late during acceleration. The entry angles will not be as deep, and the rep can end as soon as they are upright so that it stops short of a maximum velocity style item.
29. Continuous Sled and
30. Continuous Hill: On both continuous variations (sled and hill), the athlete gets a chance to work initial acceleration in small doses close to one another. This kind of feels like using EMOM-style reps to groove a movement, like a clean or front squat. I have run three sets of 3 x 3-5 pushes this summer for both. The second and third pushes within the set almost always look better as the athlete self-organizes.
There is also opportunity here for coaches to run a cluster of multiple variations within each set.
- Five-step two-point rollover start with sled/hill
- Five-step two-point start with sled/hill
- Five-step three-point start with sled/hill
Video 5. Hills and sleds are excellent acceleration tools in the first place, so coaches can’t go wrong playing around with workouts and variations within this framework.
The Real Thing
I put these last in the article, but the reality is that these are the start variations that allow you to teach and refer to when exploring the other possibilities. If you are a track coach, then your block progressions probably start here as well.
31. Two-Point: The two-point position is important for field athletes like wide receivers, and I often use it at track meets with my middle school/freshman athletes who aren’t ready for blocks. This actually shifts their hips closer to the finish line as well.
I like to see a nose-to-knee type crouch setup. Many new athletes will use a hinge-like setup. Athletes should bend the shin and bend the torso to match. There should be about 12 inches or a little more space between the feet. If the feet are too close, then the athlete will take a reposition step anyway. If there is too much space, then the first step is long and loopy, often with a vertical shin cast out from the body.
The two-point start is one you want to work a lot since it is used often on flies and during jumps approaches. The shallow depth allows for an easier time overcoming the static position compared to a three-point or block start.
32. Two-Point Rollover: The athlete starts upright and rolls down into their usual two-point setup. Many jumpers use this in their approach to pattern a deliberate and consistent early step rhythm. The rollover allows the athlete to have a little momentum and a more dynamic push.
33. Three-Point Start: When coaching the three-point start, I have sprinters drop down from a two-point start. They should position their hand under the shoulders and bend the shins to an angle where they feel balanced. When they move their opposite hand back, I usually like to see a wiggle of the fingers in the free arm to get them ready to have a quick hand as the ground hand is removed.
34. Standing Block Start: The standing/rollover block start is a great first encounter with a set of blocks and how to load the whole foot with the heels down before springing forward. In video 6, I use a partner variation, but the athlete can also simply just back into the blocks while standing and perform a rollover start.
35. Opposite Leg Start: The last way to add variability to your starts is to occasionally have the athletes switch their feet so that their weak leg gets a chance to be the star. Getting better at starting with both legs can benefit the entire acceleration run. Girls often use a nine-step approach to hurdle one when they are first learning the event, which requires them to switch legs. Men who move away from the eight-step will also utilize the opposite leg to hit the odd number step pattern of seven. I run five-step start variations with advanced hurdlers to really challenge them to continue their drive through and off the hurdle and clear the next hurdle off a shortened approach.
These variations add just enough variety to keep athletes on their toes and use one position to solidify another.
Video 6. Especially for track athletes, these are your bread-and-butter starting positions. Specificity still has a range that should be explored, and a good two-point start can improve a block start.
Exploration Yields Learning
As mentioned previously, coaches are only limited by their imagination. I have many starting variations I use that didn’t make the cut in this article, and I look forward to hearing the variations that other programs use. Variety in your accelerations will give your athletes more solutions and more confidence to motor around at high velocities as they enter the fray.The various position starts are fun and create buy-in; they also give coaches a glimpse into the general power, strength, and coordination that an athlete possesses, says @grahamsprints. Click To Tweet
Hunting for sport specificity when sports are chaotic and unplanned is a fool’s errand. Athletes and coaches should work together to optimize as many movements as possible. The various position starts are fun and create buy-in; they also give coaches a glimpse into the general power, strength, and coordination that an athlete possesses.
- Medball starts are a great way to place the emphasis on power and projection.
- Movement starts are another great way to blend sport and speed, while also slightly reducing strain compared to static starting positions.
- Hill and sled starts should be a program staple, but there can be more creativity and variety than meets the eye.
Not all of these accelerations are rooted in perfect technical execution, but all contribute to the overall development of the athlete. Of course, you should push athletes to the edge of their ability and address technical issues as well. There is a time and place for each of these variations, and some of them will take some thought to work through.
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