How To Sprint Like a Pro, + Tips From a Collegiate S&C Coach

You might think sprinting is synonymous with “running fast,” but you’d be wrong. The fastest men and women in the world have spent years refining their sprinting form. If you want to be able to tear up the track in a similar fashion, you need to know how to sprint like a pro.

There’s a lot more to sprinting than you might think. Professional track athletes work with qualified coaches to help them unlock their potential — so we recruited one to help you do the same.

Meet Our Expert

Alex Penner is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of North Carolina. Penner boasts a number of certifications; he’s a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Track and Field Level 1 Coach, and a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coach, among others. Penner works closely with UNC track athletes to enhance their sprinting capabilities. 

What Is Proper Sprinting Form?

Like any athletic action, your sprinting form will never look exactly the same as someone else’s. Studies on career sprinters have indicated that even the smallest details in form or intent can massively impact a sprinter’s top speed. (1)

That said, there are a handful of technical elements that define a proper sprint for all athletes:

Take long strides, but make contact with the ground underneath your center of mass.

Make ground contact on the balls of your feet, instead of your toes or heels.

Keep your arms bent at a right angle and move them forward and backward only, not across your torso.

Run “tall”; don’t lean forward or backward.

How To Sprint, Properly

When you’re sprinting, things move too quickly — literally — for you to monitor and adjust your technique in real time, especially as a beginner. To improve your sprinting technique, you need to be aware of the hallmarks of a proper stride and commit to applying them before you get moving. 

Phase 1, Starting — If you’re sprinting off blocks or from a static position, you begin in a crouched posture with your feet staggered and your fingers in contact with the ground. 

Phase 2, Acceleration — Longer stride lengths, more ground contact time, and more arm movement are needed to produce enough power to reach top speed.

Phase 3, Top Speed — Limit ground contact as much as possible, make ground contact with foot directly under center of mass, don’t over-extend stride.

Phase 4, Braking — Decelerate gradually, avoid making contact with ground in front of the body, braking with heel contact, or locking knees. 

How Often Should You Train Sprints?

All high-intensity exercise creates some level of fatigue. This is true for a max-effort sprint workout and a 1-rep-max deadlift attempt. According to Alex Penner, collegiate strength & conditioning coach at the University of North Carolina, “Sprinting is inherently a high-intensity stressor on the neuromuscular system as well as your body’s energy systems.” 

[Read More: Expert Tested: The 8 Best Treadmills for Running (2024)]

Furthermore, the amount of sprinting you can tolerate varies by your experience level. 

Beginner: Take it easy if you’ve never sprinted before. Aim for just a few 5 to 10-second bouts with a minute’s rest and only one or two sessions per week, and keep it under 1,000 meters per week.

Intermediate: Regular sprinters can typically tolerate between 1,000 and 2,000 meters’ worth of sprints on a weekly basis, divided across two to three sessions. 

Advanced: If you’re a competitive sprinter or an athlete with multiple years of track experience, you should rely on the guidance of your coach to help you manage your sprinting volume and intensity

How Does Strength Training Affect Sprinting?

Mixed-modality training is all the rage right now, thanks in part to hybrid athletes like Fergus Crawley. But adding some weight room work into your sprinting protocol, or vice-versa, is easier said than done.

Strength training is a valuable supplement to sprinting. However, it’s a mistake to simply tack on a strength training program to a sprinting routine and expect the athlete to recover just as well,” Penner says. 

In plain English: You can’t double your overall workload and expect to perform optimally. To limit interference between weight training and sprint performance, you need to be tactical about how and when you hit the weights as a sprinter. Here are the main themes to keep in mind: 

Power Training Produces Power…

Studies on elite athletes display a correlational relationship between maximal horizontal power output (think of a long jump) and sprint performance. The shorter your sprint distance, the more your muscular power matters. (2

Therefore, your lifting routine should be centered around enhancing your power output as much as possible, which means moving quickly with weights in-hand. This is where tech like bar velocity tracking can come in handy — you should strive to move weights powerfully in the gym, not grind slowly through painful repetitions

…But Too Much Lifting Can Slow You Down

However, there’s definitely too much of a good thing when it comes to bolstering your sprint performance with resistance training. Some studies have shown that sprinters can experience short-term reductions in speed after beginning an intense strength training plan. (3)

When scheduling speed and strength sessions on the same day, it’s best to sprint prior to strength training. Whatever training comes later will always be impacted by what came earlier, but strength levels are much more stable under fatigue than speed,” Penner says. So, you can sprint in the morning and hit the weights later on that day if you must, or, give yourself an entire dedicated rest day in-between the two.

Try These Exercises for Powerful Sprints

If you want to improve your sprinting form, you need to do more than just sprint. Track athletes use robust training plans full of accessory exercises designed to up their speeds on game day. Here are some of Penner’s favorite exercises for improving sprint performance: 

Sled Sprint

[Read More: What Is Fartlek Training? Get Faster and Fitter With This Method of Cardio Training]

Why Do It: Sled sprints are similar to tying a parachute to your torso or doing sprints up a low hill; it adds a form of external resistance and an element of progressive overload that you can adjust over time.

Equipment Needed: Weight speed sled, harness or vest, turf or track

Fix yourself to the sled by slipping into a vest or harness. You may opt to load the sled with a small amount of extra weight.

Get into your starting stance with a small amount of slack in the tether connecting you to the sled.

Break into a sprint. The tether should pull taut as you reach peak acceleration.

Broad Jump

[Read More: I Know You Can Jump, But Can You Land?]

Why Do It: Long jumping distance correlates strongly with sprinting performance. Practicing your jumps teaches you to rapidly engage the same lower-body muscles that help you achieve top speed during a sprint. 

Equipment Needed: None

Stand with your feet under your hips.

Sink into a partial squat position while sweeping your arms behind your torso.

In one swift motion, push into the ground hard to extend your ankles, knees, and hips, while sweeping your arms forward to leave the ground and leap as far as you can.

Hang Power Snatch

[Read More: Why Olympic Weightlifting Will Make You a Better Sprinter]

Why Do It: Athletes in almost every sport utilize the Olympic lifts in some capacity. Exercises like the hang power snatch help athletes learn to coordinate muscle activation and produce power through their hips and legs.

Equipment Needed: barbell, bumper plates, lifting straps (optional)

Stand tall with your feet under your hips and hold the bar with a very wide snatch grip. The bar should rest against the crease of your hips.

Sink down and tip over until the bar lowers to around mid-thigh. Your knees should be bent and your shoulders should be tilted over the barbell.

With relaxed arms; push into the ground hard and drive the bar up into your hips. 

Extend your lower body all at once, rapidly squeezing your glutes and snapping your quads to send the bar flying upward.

As the bar moves straight up, drop down under it and catch it overhead with the same wide grip and in a high partial squat position.

How To Warm Up for Sprints

Warming up for a sprint workout follows the same general structure as any other form of exercise. Get warm, get activated, get practicing. Here’s how that looks: 

Step 1 — Increase Core Temperature

The first step in any warm-up protocol is to raise your core temperature. Doing so will increase blood circulation and prepare your body for the demands of intense exercise.

Step 2 — Dynamic Activation

Some soft tissue prep is in order ahead of a sprint workout. One study from 2012 looked at track athletes’ dynamic warm-up for running. They found that those who performed dynamic stretches such as high knees, leg kicks, or toe bounces performed better in drills like the 20-meter dash. (4

Step 3 — Light Practice 

Don’t dive right into a max-effort sprint. Just as you accelerate off the blocks, your workout should gradually ramp in difficulty. Jog a light lap around the track or do some brief, low-effort dashes before going for your first all-out bout. 

Sprinting on a Treadmill vs. Outside

Are all sprinting surfaces created equal? Not exactly, especially when it comes to sprinting technique and performance. “Sprinting on the ground is always going to be the preferred option over a treadmill,” Penner says. “However, curved treadmills that allow you to self-regulate your speed are a decent option if you’re limited by inclement weather or open space.”

[Read More: The Top Tips for Running on a Treadmill, According to Running Coaches]

Penner speaks highly of the Assault Treadmill, but they aren’t the most intuitive piece of equipment for beginners and also aren’t commonly found in most big box gyms. Here’s a hierarchy of different common sprinting surfaces: 

Dedicated track 

Assault or manual treadmill

Standard treadmill

Running tracks are specifically designed to help you achieve your max speed during a sprint while reducing wear and tear on your joints. Try to stay away from sprinting on concrete or pavement if you can help it — doing so incurs a lot of high-impact force on your joints, but one or two workouts periodically won’t hurt. 

Our tester runs on a Horizon 7.0 AT Treadmill

Here are some other general differences between running outdoors vs. on a treadmill that you should be aware of: 

Stride Length

Effective sprinting involves maximizing your stride length while still ensuring that your foot contacts the ground underneath your center of mass. However, on a treadmill, you may subconsciously find yourself cutting your strides short, since the tread itself is only so long. 

[Read More: How to Run a Faster Mile, According to a Running Coach]

Unless you have extremely long legs, over-striding and having your leg miss the belt of the treadmill isn’t likely to happen, but it is something to be aware of and may dampen your performance as a result. 


There’s no interfacing required with a running track. No dials to tweak, no knobs to turn. While treadmill tech has come a long way in recent years, you still need to manually configure the speed of the belt.

[Read More: Jogging Vs. Running — What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?]

Modern treadmills usually allow you to configure your desired interval speeds ahead of time. You can also rest on the sides of the belt and hold onto the safety bars while you “find your stride.” But there’s no getting around the fact that sprints on a treadmill take more busy work than simply lacing up your running shoes and hitting the track. 


On the other hand, treadmills win out in the arena of convenience and practicality. Full-size running tracks that allow for 100-meter sprints aren’t especially common. You may have to hop in the car and drive to one, and tracks are also off-limits if the weather is poor.

By contrast, treadmills are probably the single most ubiquitous piece of gym equipment out there. If you live in an apartment complex, there’s probably a small fitness center with at least one treadmill, and almost all commercial gyms contain many of them.

Our BarBend tester moving the Sunny Health & Fitness SF-T4400.

[Read More: Try This Dynamic Warm-Up for Running]

While a proper running track is the gold standard sprinting surface, treadmills can come in clutch if you’re strapped for time or prefer not to work on your sprinting form on a windy or rainy day. 

Joint Stress

The surface you jog, run, or sprint on will affect your biomechanics. Softer surfaces reduce wear and tear on your joints, but going “softer” only works up to a point — ever tried to run really fast in damp sand at the beach?

On the other end of the spectrum, pavement and concrete return a lot of the force you apply back into your own body. The phrase “pounding the pavement” rings true in more ways than one. Multiple hard sprinting sessions on concrete will take their toll.

Modern running tracks are created by placing a layer of compressed rubber and polyurethane over asphalt. It’s firm enough to not drag down your stride, but has just enough give to not send shockwaves back up your legs with every footfall.


How do I get faster at sprints? 

The short answer is simply to sprint more often and with better technique. While genetics play a large role in any athlete’s maximum potential, you can certainly improve your sprinting speed with dedicated practice, especially under the guidance of a personal trainer.

How should sprinters train in their off-season? 

The off-season for a track athlete isn’t all that different from any other sport. This period is for general physical preparation and attacking weaknesses. Track athletes in the off season spend more time working on other dimensions of their athleticism such as muscle strength, hypertrophy, and flexibility, while still performing a moderate amount of sport-specific training to ensure they stay “in shape”. 

What are the key techniques to improve sprinting speed?

A good sprinter takes long strides, focusing on making ground contact under their center of mass and with the balls of their feet rather than toes or heels. You should also focus on maintaining a tall torso, keeping your elbows bent at 90 degrees, and not crossing your arms in front of you. 


Haugen T, Seiler S, Sandbakk Ø, Tønnessen E. The Training and Development of Elite Sprint Performance: an Integration of Scientific and Best Practice Literature. Sports Med Open. 2019 Nov 21;5(1):44. doi: 10.1186/s40798-019-0221-0. PMID: 31754845; PMCID: PMC6872694.

Haugen, T. A., Breitschädel, F., & Seiler, S. (2019). Sprint mechanical variables in elite athletes: Are force-velocity profiles sport specific or individual?. PloS one, 14(7), e0215551. 

Comyns, T. M., Harrison, A. J., & Hennessy, L. K. (2010). Effect of squatting on sprinting performance and repeated exposure to complex training in male rugby players. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 24(3), 610–618. 

Turki, Olfa; Chaouachi, Anis; Behm, David G; Chtara, Hichem; Chtara, Moktar; Bishop, David; Chamari, Karim; Amri, Mohamed. The Effect of Warm-Ups Incorporating Different Volumes of Dynamic Stretching on 10- and 20-m Sprint Performance in Highly Trained Male Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26(1):p 63-72, January 2012. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31821ef846 

Featured Image: oneinchpunch / Shutterstock

The post How To Sprint Like a Pro, + Tips From a Collegiate S&C Coach appeared first on BarBend.


您的电子邮箱地址不会被公开。 必填项已用 * 标注