The Importance of the Drive Phase in Sprinting

Female sprinters burst out of the blocks and enter the drive phase.

Female sprinters burst out of the blocks and enter the drive phase.

The drive phase in sprinting occurs as you lean forward just after starting out of the blocks. Just as the name suggests, you propel yourself by the forceful driving of the balls of your feet into the ground. Although your goal should be to become a complete sprinter with good form in all phases of a sprint, the drive phase is your bread and butter.

Phases

You can look at a sprint, be it 100, 200 or 400 meters, as consisting of five phases. These are the reaction to the gun and clearing the blocks; the drive phase; acceleration; maximum speed; and maintenance and finish. During the drive phase, which only lasts for about 10 meters or seven steps, you lean your body sharply forward. Keep your head tucked looking slightly down at the ground, and bring your eyes to the track ahead of your feet while lifting your knees as high as possible on each stride.

A Crucial Phase

U.S. Olympic coach Tom Tellez, a guiding hand behind Carl Lewis and numerous other gold medal sprinters, has ranked the importance of each sprint phase to achieve success. He rated the drive phase, which he terms “speed of efficient acceleration,” as making a 64 percent contribution to success in the 100 meters. The maximum acceleration phase accounted for 18 percent of success in a race, and the maintenance rated 12 percent. Block clearance was 5 percent, and reaction time accounted for only 1 percent. Simply put: The drive phase is the most important phase of sprinting -- by a wide margin.

'The Jet's' Drive Phase

The real-world experiences of the world’s fastest women underline the importance of the drive phase. Carmelita “the Jet” Jeter of the United States, who took silver in the 100 meters at the London Olympics, bronze in the 200 meters and gold in the 400-meter relay, often breaks slowly out of the blocks. She uses her strong drive phase though to even things out with her archrivals among Jamaica’s strong contingent of female sprinters, including Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Improving Your Drive Phase

The exaggerated 45-degree lean at the start of the drive phase, much as if you were pushing a stalled car, can be the focus of drills to polish your efforts as a sprinter. You can march in place with your hands against a wall or against a partner, for example. Walk and bound up stairs, and add hill sprints to your routine. Don a harness and pull a weighted sled or a partner leaning back to deliberately provide resistance to improve the angle of your lean and your power.

 

About the Author

An award-winning writer and editor, Rogue Parrish has worked at the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and at newspapers from England to Alaska. This world adventurer and travel book author, who graduates summa cum laude in journalism from the University of Maryland, specializes in travel and food -- as well as sports and fitness. She's also a property manager and writes on DIY projects.

Photo Credits

  • Stu Forster/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images