Glen Mills on Usain Bolt and Good Sprinting Technique
By Jimson Lee
January 27, 2010
One of the reasons why we train our athletes short to long is we like to master the technique first.
If you can’t run the first 30 meters properly, what do you expect for 100m or even 400m?
There’s a lot of truth behind Usain Bolt’s early days. Just go to Youtube and look for his sub 20 sec 200m as a Youth runner! He is clearly not the same runner as he was in Beijing or Berlin from a technical standpoint. And I don’t need Dartfish to see that.
You can look at any sprinter and all you see are big bulging muscles in the legs, but the real secret is the power generation in the hips.
Usain Bolt ran on vary fast legs as a Youth and Junior athlete, but the big difference now is the power from the hips. Plus great technique.
Glen Mills mentions pressure as a reason for reversing to your old habits. Fatigue is also a culprit in form deterioration. My biggest problem was leaning back slightly with an (excessive?) arched back during the latter part of the 400 meters. This, or course, caused the hips to drop along with over striding and longer ground contacts times to compensate for the drop in speed.
Today’s use of HD Camcorders make it relatively easy to film your own athletes, and even discuss the technical issues “on the spot” before the next run.
The IAAF New Studies in Athletics (NSA) is one of the top 2 coaching resources out there (TrackCoach from USATF is the other one).
Last year, there was a great interview from Glen Mills, better known as Usain Bolt’s coach
He nails it on the head with his comment on “Here we believe that the development of the hip flexor to coincide with the strong upper body, or core, plays a great part”. I won’t argue with that.
NSA: In Usain Bolt you are training the most successful sprinter for years. How have you evaluated his technique?
MILLS: Usain is an extremely gifted athlete. When I started working with him, one of the things that stood out like a sore thumb was his poor mechanics. He was running behind the centre of balance. This resulted in a negative force against his forward drive and it was affecting other areas.
For example, his body position put pressure on his lower back and there was a continual shift of his hip girdle and a pull on his hamstring. He was continually having hamstring problems and my assessment was that one of the things that contributed to it was his poor mechanics. Our first task was to get him to run with his upper body core in line with his centre of mass or a forward lean of somewhere around 5-10°. We set about doing drills then we took videos of his workouts and broke them down on the screen in slow motion to show him exactly what he was doing. I would draw diagrams and show him the position that we are working to achieve.
Part of his poor mechanics was because he was not able hold the sprint position during maximum velocity running, so we had to do an intense programme to develop his core strength. In Beijing he showed a mastery of the technique that we had been working on, but the transformation took two years. Athletes tend to reverse to their old habits when put under pressure or when running at maximum velocity. Like helping an actor learning a part, coaches have to continuously react and replay and redo the drills, getting the athlete to run over and over in order to break habits, both psychologically and physically, and get into the right running technique.
NSA: Can you briefly describe the most important elements of a good sprinting technique? We know that body position, ground contact phases, recovery mechanics and arm action all have to work together, so do you have a specific model in your mind?
MILLS: All the points I just mentioned are the foundation of developing sprint technique, but the key is how you get that athlete to execute all of them accurately. He or she could be doing all, or most, or just some, but without perfect co-ordination or timing in the execution. One key is to establish a good body position in sprinting so that the athlete is able to maintain the stride length and keep ground contact or ground time short after having achieved maximum velocity.
Here we believe that the development of the hip flexor to coincide with the strong upper body, or core, plays a great part. Once the athlete’s stride length reduces, everything is going to be negative or impact negatively in the ground contact and recovery mechanics. A collapse in technique and poor execution will then lead to a rapid deceleration process and a disappointing overall performance.