As athletes train for speed, the hip and leg are working. Now a closer look at the leg and foot, which also must work in harmony. Starting at the ground coming up, the foot must dorsiflex (toe up).
A very common error is to leave the toe pointing down during the recovery phase of the stride and never pulling the toe up before foot strike. That causes a loss of speed. You can use an easy skip in the warm-up to demonstrate this to the athlete. The toe has to naturally come up prior to foot contact.
Pulling the toe up allows a good front half of the foot strike. I never use the phrase “run on your toes”, even though it does push most people to the front of the foot. I have seen enough, too many, try to get up on their toes. It then looks like they are not dorsiflexing at all.
We then might ask, “does the heel control the height of the knee, or does the knee direct the path of the heel?” Both can be true depending on where the focus is.
Focussing on knee lift to get the heel up is commonly used as the solution, but it can hang below the thigh and lack a recovery path. The best solution is to focus on tearing the foot off the ground.
As the knee is lifted the heel must recover close to the butt, this raises the knee to an optimal height and closes the power triangle. All of this will result in a faster turnover and more speed.
Coaching Que: Use a series of short training runs emphasizing different aspects of the leg cycle. Tell the athletes to run 30 yards at 75% speed using their normal technique (2 times). The next trips, have them think about tearing their foot away from the ground like striking a match.
In the 3rd round, tell them to pull their knee through as quickly as possible, to be ready to strike the ground and pull the other knee through quickly.
On the last series, have them try and extend the hip as quickly as possible to the ground and contact the ground high on the foot with as long a leg as possible. It may help to say to push the knee down quickly.
Finally, go back to the beginning and have them run as they would on their own and use some cues; lift, push, kick, drive, circle as examples.
30 yards at 75%
2x - Normal Technique
2x - Tear foot off the ground (light a match)
2x - Run normal (new normal)