Why do sprinters drag their toes?
DO SPRINTERS NEED TO WEAR OUT THE TOES OF THEIR SPIKES?
IF YOU’RE a sprint coach you’ll know what we’re referring to here. There’s a tendency – which is a reflection on the way the sprint start can be coached nowadays – to toedrag on the block clearance. Specifically, the toes of the rear leg catch the track as they pull through into the first step.
The toe-drag is a consequence of the sprinter keeping their foot low to the track surface in order to get it to move more quickly from A-B or specifically from rear block to track contact on reaction to the gun. If the heel is picked up the foot will “loop” to the front – there will be more air time and it’ll slow the start.
The toe-drag method has also been seen to place the sprinter’s displacement in a superior position – or more specifically, angle where force can be better applied. After that initial step of acceleration, heel recovery is usually also kept low too – again to minimise air time and to potentially allow the athlete to impart more force onto the track surface and produce greater accelerative speed – of which more later.
Many elite athletes have been using the toe-drag lowheel recovery technique for years – such as Asafa Powell, Marvin Bracey, Trayvon Bromell and Usain Bolt.
We did some research on one of the world’s largest sports science research databases and could not find a specific reference to “toe-drag, low heel recovery and sprint acceleration/sprint start” (or similar), however, we did find some research that seems to vindicate the low heel recovery and toe-drag start method.
Researchers in Sports Biomechanics “modelled” sprint acceleration variations from the sprints performed by a 10.28 sprinter, it was discovered that increasing the range of foot plantar-flexion (toe-down) increased power production. (This may be at odds with some thoughts on foot position but it is beyond the scope of this article to go into specific detail).
Ralph Mann – one of the world’s foremost track & field biomechanics experts – has indicated that shorter steps during initial sprint start acceleration are better than longer more forceful “held/ pushing” ones. The research previously quoted can be used to back this up in that when the foot was moved further back under the sprinter’s centre of mass acceleration was improved (and as indicated the toe-drag can help that especially on the first step from the blocks).
Note, this is to a point – as the researchers indicated: “When the foot was placed further back, power production initially increased (a peak increase of 0.7% occurred at 0.02m further back) but decreased as the foot continued to touchdown further back.”
Many sprinters and coaches will have learnt to drive away from the start and may question the validity of shorter steps (albeit slightly shorter), however, the fastest accelerators tend to be the ones who can move their legs the fastest and impart the most force at the same time while travelling an optimum distance per step.
What may well be the hidden ingredient – everything else being equal – is the rate of force production on those quick, low heel recovery accelerative strides.
As power is a product of velocity and time, if the foot strikes the ground more quickly and potentially in a superior position (through greater dorsiflexion and toe-drag on the first step) to generate that force then the athlete will move quicker. And it seems then that spikes may be worn out at the toe in the process.
The above is intended to illustrate thoughts on sprinting and should not be seen as being definitive.
A fast start will likely lead to a fast finish
Dragging the toe on block clearance may promote faster starts for a sprinter