Upright Sprint Mechanics in Soccer

Being fast on the ball is an important skill in soccer. Being fast off the ball is even more important. Individual possession of the ball consists of less than 2% of the game.[1] Obviously, that leaves an athlete to play ~98% of the game without the ball.

Sprint skills are becoming more important in soccer [3] and professional players have become faster.[4] Seeing as straight sprinting is the most frequent action prior to goals, both in scoring and assisting, an athlete should be able to effectively accelerate and progress to proper upright sprinting mechanics.[2]

There is much more to maximal velocity sprinting than being presented here, but these ideas are typically the cause of many other minute flaws that athletes and coaches alike, try to fix first.

1. Maintain Posture –

When walking down the street, you can clearly spot the alpha-males – spine is upright, chest out, shoulders back, and head and eyes straight ahead. This should be no different while sprinting… yet it is. You don’t want to see a guy running around like a bobble-head doll, hunched over with their shoulders rounded, hyper-lordodic, or with arms flailing around. You would like to see neutrality from the ankle to the head.

The ability to stabilize your body while in flight or in single-support is extremely important to maintain limb stiffness (which can equate to more force into the ground) and to ultimately preserve speed.

“Ideally, a sprinter’s head, neck, and spine should be neutrally aligned and the athlete should display a slight posterior tilt of the pelvis. This posture ensures freedom of movement and facilitates relaxation, both of which enhance elastic energy return from the core and extremity musculature. An upright posture with a posteriorly rotated pelvis also promotes frontside mechanics and limits backside mechanics.” – M.Young [5]

2. Knees Up –

Knees up can help promote frontside mechanics (any action that occurs in the front of the body). While directly promoting frontside mechanics, you are indirectly limiting backside mechanics (any action that occurs in the back). Limiting backside mechanics can help minimize breaking forces that are detrimental to maintaining speed.

This movement of lifting the knees up, or flexion of the hip, can also aid in producing more force into the ground. Mike explains this concept as a hammer nailing a nail flush into a piece of wood. If you take a short, choppy strike at the nail, the nail won’t be driven far into the wood because there is no room to accelerate the hammer toward the nail. Conversely, if you take a huge swing at the nail you could put the nail into the wood in one or two strikes because there is more room to accelerate the hammer.

This same concept can be applied to knee height in sprinting. If your knee stays low, like a short, choppy hammer strike, there is minimal ground reaction force. A high knee has greater potential to increase ground contact force, thus increasing stride length and vertical propulsion.

3. Dorsiflexion –

Dorsiflexion of the foot (think toes up) places a greater pre-stretch on the achilles, gastroc, soleus, etc. Because this complex is under an active pre-stretch, they are capable of producing a greater concentric contraction due to the stretch shortening cycle – like a rubber-band that is fully cocked.

Loren Seagrave’s credit card rule (or at least I heard it from him first) can be a nice cue to maintain slight dorsiflexion until toe-off. As the the foot touches down directly under the hip, you should be able to slide a credit card under the heel. This can be a great visual representation of where the athlete’s limb and foot should be in relation to the ground. The reason for this is so the athlete does not get in the habit of toe-running and so there is no unwanted breaking forces that comes with heel-ground contact.

References:

1. Carling C. Analysis of physical activity profiles when running with the ball in a professional soccer team. J Sports Sci. 2010 Feb;28(3):319-26.

2. Faude O, Koch T, Meyer T. Straight sprinting is the most frequent action in goal situations in professional football. J Sports Sci. 2012;30(7):625-31.

3. Haugen T, Tønnessen E, Hisdal J, Seiler S. The Role and Development of Sprinting Speed in Soccer. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013 Aug 27.

4. Haugen TA, Tønnessen E, Seiler S. Anaerobic performance testing of professional soccer players 1995-2010.Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013 Mar;8(2):148-56.

5. Young, M. Maximal Velocity Sprint Mechanics. United States Military Academy and Human Performance Consulting. Retrieved from: http://www.scarboroughtrack.com/sprintingmechanics.pdf

 

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John Grace is a coach at Athletic Lab Sports Performance Training Center in Cary, NC - USA. John has his CSCS, USAW Level 1 certification, USATF Level 1 certification and has worked as an assistant fitness coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS.