Block-Start Considerations for Non-Track Athletes
Hunter Charneski, MS
What if I told you that non-track athletes can benefit immensely from block-starts? Would it surprise you? Force you to pause? Be skeptical? Jaded, even? What if I told you I felt the same way when friend, coach, and mentor, Derek M. Hansen instructed me to do so? Well, I did, but then I tried it: the results were profound, then I tried it with my athletes. Going once, going twice, sold! If you give me the time it takes to read this article, I will give you the means to become THE acceleration expert in your area.
What do 99.9% of the athletes that come through your doors want? I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say, speed! More specifically, the burst and surge needed to “get there first.” What better way to help them achieve said goal than putting them into the most advantageous position to accelerate? Enter block-starts: they are simple, effective, and fun for the athlete(s).
An athlete’s ability to be the fastest on the field or court is a game-changer.
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“But Coach, why would team sport/ non-track athletes train block-starts?” I retort, why not? Follow and trust. There are a myriad of rewards from training with blocks, including (but not limited to):
- Increase starting strength.
- Builds general strength, as strength plays the biggest role in the acceleration phase.
- The deeper angle allows for more effective and efficient mechanics during the acceleration phase, (horizontal force production) setting the table for higher speeds to be obtained at max velocity.
- Requires some technical proficiency: if your non-track athletes are able to attain correct posture and optimal limb mechanics out of block-starts, you can rest assured they will be able to do so in their sport in much less demanding situations.
- Who doesn’t want to feel like a sprinter?! That’s why I do it!
If the list of “pros” for block starts for non-track athletes hasn’t sold you yet, then it’s implementation will. In order to reap the benefits above, follow this three-step process:
- First: Athletes perform three-point start(s).
- Second: Athletes perform block-starts.
- Third: Athletes perform three-point start(s) and watch the difference.
Athletes Perform Three-Point Start(s)
Keep it simple. Let me repeat, keep it simple. The setup for the three-point should be – in my opinion – no more cumbersome than:
- Front foot is one-foot’s length away from the line.
- Back foot is two-foot’s length away from the line.
- Both hands take all of the line.
- Raise your hips.
- “Cock” the hand opposite the back leg to your hip and 1…2…go!
Now, I don’t know about you, but I have approximately zero track athletes in my building. The kids will be excited, they have never done it before, and they are eager to earn the praise of their coach. With that in mind, the setups may be a tad off, leading to the starts to be, well, less than optimal.
Hopefully you see where I’m going with this, right? Make no mistake, Madison is one of the best athletes I have ever had the pleasure of working with. In fact, if I close my eyes and wait a couple years, she will be picking her school to continue her soccer career. That being said, she could use some help with her starting strength, efficiency, and mechanics, wouldn’t you agree? As her coach, it is my job to help her: time for the starting blocks.
Athletes Perform Block Starts
When you introduce a new variable, it would be prudent to keep the process – you guessed it – simple. Remember, the starting blocks are here to help your athletes, not induce paralysis through analysis. The block setup is as follows:
- Front block is two-foot’s lengths away from the line.
- Back block is three-foot’s lengths away from the line.
- Front block is one notch lower than back block (adjust them till athlete is at comfort and ease).
- Both hands take the line.
- Tuck her chin, lift her hips and 1…2…go!
Sprinting is a hind brain activity. We want as little thinking as possible when training speed. But, we also want our athletes “pushing” to achieve peak horizontal force production. How do we accomplish said goals? Put them in a position where both happen without the athlete knowing. That is coaching!
Madison is not a track athlete. However, being put in a position that is easy to obtain and comfortable, she was able to “push” and attain great posture and limb mechanics. That is the beauty of the blocks: minimal coaching, maximal results. The athletes feel competent, and you feel like a craftsman. Win/win.
Athletes Perform Three-Point Starts
One thing I noticed immediately, (rather than the start itself) was the setup improved drastically. Full disclosure: Madison gave up an hour on her Sunday to assist me with the video, so it’s not like we had all day to coach, film and perform. That’s what makes her results impressive. Being in the blocks actually helped her cement the setup without me coaching her to do so. Other than that, the video speaks for itself.
The difference between the two three-point starts is staggering: confident execution, improved limb mechanics, long powerful levers, natural and “flowing” movements. Her father, Damon, looked at me and exclaimed, “She looks like she’s still in the blocks!” I rest my case.
Perception is a powerful coaching tool, yet it is rarely used. We become so mired with our “ability” to cue our athletes to death, that progress may stagnate. Leave the conversations for the rest periods. When coaching, my suggestion is to let the drills and tools do the talking while the athletes do the walking.
Block-starts for non-track athletes is something more coaches in the industry need to not only consider, but implement. Speed is the most universal sport of all, trust me when I tell you block-starts will work with your non-track athletes. I know, because I have done it both as an athlete and coach. And if you have been following me for any length of time, then you understand I am a fan of brevity. The checklist outlined in this article is a simple system you can put into action tomorrow and start helping your athletes “get there first.”
About the Author
Hunter Charneski is a nationally recognized expert in the realm of Physical Preparation. He has impacted thousands of athletes and coaches in the industry through podcasts, writing, and consulting. Known for helping coaches and athletes “bridge the gap” between good and great, Hunter has risen to become the training resource in his area. Hunter is the President of Charneski Power and Owner and Founder of Freak Faktory Barbell & Sports Performance in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Freak Faktory Barbell & Sports Performance produces elite high school, college, and professional athletes in West Michigan. Hunter received his Masters Degree from California University of Pennsylvania. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA), Certified Advanced Physical Preparation Specialist (CPPS), Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), Certified Speed Specialist (NASE), and Specialist in Fitness Nutrition (ISSA).
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