No matter what your goals are for sprinting workouts, whether you're just trying to get in shape or you're competing, one of the most important things to consider is your sprinting technique. The running community debates which part of the foot should strike first -- heel, toes or ball of the foot. You need to listen to your own body to find what works for you; each type of stride has advantages and disadvantages.
Many track coaches say the toes-first method of sprinting is ideal because it encourages maximum use of your strong calf muscles. Because of this, the toes-first method allows you to use a lot of power and run faster, but there are a few negatives. For sprinters, this type of stride is effective, but it places a lot of strain on your calf muscles and forces you to spend a lot of energy running on your toes since you need to push off harder than you would on the heel or balls of your feet.
Heel-first running might be considered the easiest type of stride, especially for beginners. The heel-first method comes naturally to many people, and your foot naturally rolls through the motion, from heel to toes, conserving energy and lessening the strain on your calf muscles. One of the negatives with heel-first sprinting is that you're slowing yourself slightly every time you strike with the heel first, essentially putting the brakes on with each stride. Striking with your heels first can also cause nasty shin splints and puts a lot of impact on your ankles, knees and hips.
Ball or Neutral Strike
Like most things regarding working out, a happy medium between the two extremes might be your best option to avoid injury, but it's not going to allow you to set any personal bests in sprinting. Landing nearly flat-footed or on the balls of your feet conserves energy and doesn't slow your momentum down as much as the heel-first method does. You also won't be putting as much strain on your calf muscles as toes-first running, since the point of contact with the ground is longer and more controlled, but neutral-strike sprinting may be better suited to longer sprints such as 200 meters or more. For a short, full-tilt sprint, toes-first may be the method of choice.
Deciding which stride is right for you is an important part of your running routine, but it's also important to consider other running techniques. With sprinting, it's important to know how to be running at different points in the race or sprint. Starting in a balanced crouch position, getting a proper push-off and learning the best way to swing your arms in relation to your legs will all make big differences in your sprinting speed and endurance.
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.