Falling Starts Drill: Using a Sprint Drill For Better Running Form

We are finally in the last week of March and finally closer to more spring like temperatures. But, it sure doesn’t feel that way here in Connecticut. It’s been cold and there were still some last vestiges of winter on the local high school track this weekend.  However, I decided one way or another I was going to get some quality sprint work in.

Since my driveway was clear of snow and ice I decided to use the Falling Start drill. I really like using falling starts a lot. You see them mostly used in sprint training. If you saw my blog post from a couple weeks ago adding some direct sprint training can be helpful to distance runners. I would suggest going to back and reading it.

A runner being able to maintain proper posture when running is very important to run efficiently and can help reduce the ground impact forces. Without a good forward lean you can have a harder time propelling yourself forward. This can result in loss of running efficiency, slower speeds, and more impact on the joints. So, whether running for distance, sprinting, or doing intervals posture plays a big role.

Falling Starts are typically used in sprint training. There are a  variety of reasons I have used this drill with clients, Speed Agility and Quickness classes I have taught, coaching soccer, and within my own training. Below are some reasons why I like this drill.

  • Falling Starts make it easier to land with your feet under your body and on your forefoot. This makes it easier to avoid certain negatives aspects of running such as heel striking.
  • It allows your strides to stay shorter especially at the start. No matter the type of running you do this will help you. You cannot accelerate while your feet are in the air. The more ground contact you have the more acceleration you have.
  • As with the above I like this for distance running since it helps to remind me to keep my feet moving resulting in a higher cadence or steps per minute.
  • By having a forward leaning posture you maintain a more optimal shin angle. The angle of the shin helps to determine the force application. A slightly different example of a positive force angle is a lateral lunge. If you step out far enough your knee stays inside of your ankles and allows your body to push yourself back to the starting position optimally. Distance runners will not likely have as steep an angle as a sprinter.
  • Many distance runners, and those doing intervals do not usually make sprints a part of their training. I like the falling starts since there is a little momentum ahead of the actual sprint. Sprinting is a ballistic movement and if the body is not prepared for it there can be pulled muscle or worse even a tear. Falling starts can help to reduce the intensity of the start phase or drive phase of the sprint.
  • This drill can help with triple extension of the ankle, knee and hip.
  • Falling Starts may be a good way to transition an athlete whose recovering from injury to higher intensity running.

Here are some quick coaching cues before you get started.

  • Be sure you allow yourself plenty of time to be sure you are thoroughly warmed up.
  • Aim to land with your feet directly under your center of mass or hips, possibly even slightly behind.
  • The body can be out in front at a 45 degree angle slightly less so if distance running.
  • Engage and brace your core. This means keeping it tight but not sucked in.
  • Drive those arms! Do not let them drop below waist height.
  • Keep driving those arms. Think cheek to cheek. As one arm drives back your hand goes back and toward your glutes. At the same time your other hand should come up toward your facial cheek. The arms are roughly kept at 90 degrees.
  • Aim to complete 6-12 total Falling Starts. Allow yourself up to 60-90 seconds recovery in between each repetition. Even if you do not feel you need it your body needs the recovery time to allow the chemical processes that make up contractions to replenish themselves. Slowly build your way up to the 12 reps.
  • Finish running your falling start up to 30 yards.

It is important to remember that sprints, falling starts included, are not the same as striders that many runners add at the end of easier runs. These are very hard intense runs at close if not maximum speeds. These can be a nice addition to your training.

Happy training!

Sprint Training For Distance Runners

Saturday was a killer training day. I had two workouts planned, so I hit the track early for sprints in the morning despite the 24 degree temperatures and the 20+mph wind. You may find this workout is not what you would expect from someone who primarily runs middle distance.  But I hope that it may challenge the way you think about and approach your training.

Workout One: Dedicated Speed Session on the track

It is important to note that this workout took advantage of the high winds. While not the best conditions for distance training, for purposes of this workout the high winds on Saturday worked right into my plan. I did a reverse wave load. I started with heavy resisted sprint starts. Gradually, I worked my way down to lower resistance bands. Finally, I ran into the direction the winds were blowing. This was finished off with a couple final runs wind aided or wind at my back.

Workout Breakdown:

  • One easy mile warmup followed by dynamic warmup drills.
  • Band Resisted Sprints. 2×6 sprint starts with different resistance bands.
  • 30 meters sprints (0.0186 miles, 32.8 yards) x 4. Two into wind followed by two wind aided.
  • 40 meters sprints (0.0249 miles, 43.7 yards) x4 Two into the wind followed by two wind aided.
  • 60 meters sprints (0.0373, 65.6 yards) x4 Two into the wind followed by two wind aided.
  • One easy mile cool down.




The distance runners reading this are probably wondering why I spent so much time doing a dedicated sprint session. I realize I am getting older and as we get older we can slow down. It happens to all of us at some point, sooner for others while later for others. I am always reading about exercise, exercise science, etc. So when I see studies that discuss the very topic of getting older and losing speed I want to know why. I want to know what my enemy is so I can do all I can to attack it.

So now you maybe want to know exactly what makes us run slower as we age? If you look at Master’s sprinters they have less of a falloff in performance than do their Master’s distance counterparts. I have read numerous books and articles by one of favorite strength and condition coaches Mike Boyle. He states and to paraphrase, we do not lose strength as we age so much as we lose power. That is especially true of distance runners.

We can begin to lose fast twitch muscle fibers due to aging. This can start while we are still in our 20’s. These are our quick response fibers that are involved in sprinting, jumping, or doing other explosive movements. You might now be thinking why would losing fast twitch muscle fibers affect endurance runners so much?

I read a quote from author Tim Nokes,MD in his book the Lore of Running He goes on to state “I suspect that the best runners at any longer distance are those who are fastest over distances from 100-800 meters and whose brains and muscles are also highly fatigue resistant.”

I have suspected this might be the case and unknowingly applied this to my own training over the last couple years. In 2015 I ran in the CT Master’s Games. I had no idea what I expect so I signed up for the 50, 100, 200 and 400 meters. I would eventually take a DNS for the 400 meter. I think discretion was the better part of valor since I still had to run the 3000 meters. Yikes! What I was thinking?!

Well I did ok in the 50 and in the 100 actually earning a silver and bronze. I eve ran a fast enough 100 to get listed on Mastersrankings.com at 98th in the US in my age group (cough* 40-44). The 200 I was also not awful placing 88th in the U.S. in my age group (*cough 40-44) but I could see the writing on the wall. I was not a sprinter at this point as much of my training had moved away from the type training that would enhance sprinting. The races were over.  I would be back in 2016 for just the 100 meter dash as my single sprint event as my true focus would be to run a faster 3000 meters even though I would be a full calendar year older.

Over the rest of 2015 and into my 2016 training for the CT Master’s Games, I began to add more sprinting into my training. Sometimes on the beach, other times at the local high school track. If that as being used I would take my sprinting to the steepest hill in my neighborhood. Oh Sasqua how I hate thee!

Fast forward to May 2016. I was ready to take on the 100 again. I really wanted to beat my previous time and go under 14 sec. Sad to say I did not succeed in that regard. However! I did lower my time from 14.50 to now 14:16 that is good for 88th at the time of this writing. That is a jump of ten spots!

The 100 was behind me. Now up was my 3000 meter race. I am sure you are thinking this was a strange double. This was what I truly trained for. As the race began I knew I would start off fast then settle into a different pace. As I would hit the final straightway of each lap I would see the clock on the infield. I was running way ahead of where I thought I might be. I would go on to finish with a much faster time than last year. In 2015 I ran the 3000 in 12:33:15, in 2016 I ran it in 12:01:82! That puts me at 9th this year in the US in my age group at this time.  I do not put those times in to toot my own horn. I do however want to use the Master’sRankings.com results to further make my point.

I fully suspect my 100 meter time could have been higher. I had false started after the sprinter to my left false started and did not want to get disqualified so I stayed in my sprinters crouch just a tad longer to be safe. That is not really relevant. What is relevant though is the fact that my results seem to be a real life summary of the Time Nokes quote above. The extra sprint training paid off.

It sure feels as though the sprinting helped. The results from my races seem to bear that out. I continue to use various sprint type workouts in my own training. I do believe it has helped.  It will never replace tempo runs, threshold runs, long runs, etc. It does though have it’s place in my arsenal. Whether you are a runner or not I think based on what I wrote above and what is contained in the studies linked I hope you see the need to incorporate sprinting, plyometrics, and other explosive type training into your training. I will keep training like a sprinter for the long roads ahead.

Additional Reading, References, Note and Links to Studies:

*I suggest starting off with the shorter distances on the sprints. Especially if you are unaccustomed to sprinting. Sprinting is not the same as the striders many distance runners add to the end of workouts. This may reduce the risk of injury when training like this.