Who Invented the Starting Block?

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    You might think the starting blocks used today were created by a great scientist, or coach, or perhaps an athlete. Wrong! The first starting blocks were produced by a groundskeeper! In the days before the introduction of synthetic track surfaces, competition was contested on cinder or clay tracks. In order to produce the best start, athletes would dig two small holes in the track to accommodate the push-off necessary to overcome inertia. This technique worked well. It did however prove to be quite inconvenient for the man who was responsible for grooming the track surface. Imagine having to fill those holes after each race only to have the performers in the next round dig it up again.
    The first starting blocks were not created to produce a better start. They were constructed to preserve the running surface. The starting blocks utilized today are not much different from the first models introduced decades ago. The science of optimizing the use of the blocks, however, has progressed .tremendously. Next, we will explore the best means to maximize starting ability from both the crouched and standing start positions.

Where to begin
    Though the "start" begins a race, we should not begin our training focusing on this racing segment. Starting skills require great amount of strength and power and neuro-muscular coordination. Once the athlete has begun to develop some of these capacities, then work in and around starting blocks is appropriate.
    Before starting skills can be taught, we must first determine the power-side and the smart-side of the athlete. As infants, our neurological development takes on a distinct pattern. One side of the body becomes the primary mover, while the other works in support. As a baby eats, one hands brings food to the lips while the other holds the plate steady. We write with the smart hand and hold the paper steady with the power-side hand. We kick with our smart-side leg, while the power leg supports all of the body weight.
Gymboss Timers

Generally, the hand you write with and the foot you kick with represent the smart-side of the body. The smart-side foot is placed behind the athlete in the starting position. The power-side will generate most of the force from the front position.

The Learning Progression
    Starting skills should be introduced with the upright position first, and evolve towards the crouched start. Repeated studies show that athletes who lack the strength, power, or technical skill needed for the crouched start will actually produce slower sprint times with starting blocks than without one! In competition, athletes should be allowed to use only those starting skills which have been mastered. This may require starting blocks not being used initially.

CATEGORY ONE: Falling Starts
    The common thread running through this category of drills is the body position assumed prior to the first movement. The athlete will allow gravity to pull them forward until the torso is at about. 55-degrees with respect to the running surface. As this position is achieved, the athlete explosively begins to sprint and continues through a distance of at least 20-meters.

The Upright Falling Start .
    The power-side foot is positioned just behind the starting line, body weight on his shoe's spike plate, shin pointing forward so that the knee is directly over the foot. The smart-side shoe grips the surface with the spike plate and is positioned behind the body. For balance, the arms are in sync with the legs with the right hand & left foot and left hand & right foot working in tandem.
    With pressure being applied through both the power-side and smart-side spike plates, the athlete should feel his hamstrings and gluteus muscles begin to fire as he allow his body to drift forward. Just before balance is lost, the athlete applies maximum forces off both feet and explosively accelerates forward. The skills learned in acceleration training are implemented here. The breath is held for the first few strides of this starting action. The desired application of forces is largely horizontal so hip extension on the power-side is critical.
Upright Falling Start cues: "pressure on the spike plates", "push from the hip".

The Squat Falling Start
Assuming the same position as in the last drill with the feet set and arms synchronized, the hips lower into a squat position. The power-side leg (front leg) should be bent at the knee in a 90- degree angle, and the forward fall executed as before. As the desired body position is reached, the athlete should explode into an acceleration pattern. If the athlete finds it difficult to explode forward from this "squat" position, they are clearly unprepared to execute a start from staring blocks in a crouched stance until additional gains in strength and power are made.
Squat Falling Start cues: "lower the hips", "fully extend the power side".

The 3-Point Start
    Here the ready position requires the power-side foot to be 4-6 inches from the starting line. In the squat stance, the smart-side or forward hand is lowered to the starting line. A bridge position is created by the hand with its thumb inside and four fingers held closely together outside. The other hand is placed on the power-side hip. The athlete begins to fall forward and quickly executes the start sequence with the smart-side hand thrown back, and the other hand moving up and forward. The power-side leg must push hard and the smart-side leg must press off the ground quickly.
Three Point Start cues: "push, press", "elbow back"

The 4-Point Start
    Using the same ready position same as the previous drill, both hands should rest on the power side knee, the shoulders dipped to knee-level. The hips remain high and the athlete should feel the stretch in his power-side hamstring. '
    At the "set" command, both hands should drop to the starting line. The hands assume the bridge position and the distance between the hands should be the same as the grip distance in the bench press exercise. As force is applied against the ground through both feet, the shoulders and hands will counteract the forces applied by the legs, hips and gluteus. Holding his breath, the athlete explodes out with double-leg drive. The sensation is like that of a tightly wound spring that is freed.
Four Point Start cues: "double leg drive" , "chest up"

CATEGORY TWO: Standing Starts
    Using a "standing start" position from the starting blocks was pioneered early in the twentieth century and this technique has been used randomly by the generations of sprinters that followed. The latest resurgence of this method began in 1988. Charles Moye developed a starting block specifically designed for a standing start. It has been used extensively in training and competition on the high school level. Though the implement is legal on all levels of competition, it has rarely been used in elite level competition.

Rationale for Using the Standing Start
    The Standing Start technique allows most athletes to assume a set position where the maximum amount of force can be applied in the least amount of time. Athletes who can move more weight in less time from a quarter squat position than a half or full squat in the weight room should use the standing start. Those who can lift twice their body weight from a half squat are well-suited for the crouched start.
    Standard starting blocks with adjustable pedals can be set to accommodate the Standing Start. However, stability and ease of use is an advantage of the Moye Block which was designed only for this technique.

"Ready" Command Position
    The front pedal of a standard set of staring blocks should be set four to six inches from the starting line. The feet should load (curl) the toes elastically and be positioned so the shoe is in touch with both the track surface and the block pedal. The rear foot shoes should be placed the same way on to the rear block pedal. Both hands rest on the front knee which should not be bent, but merely unlocked. The shoulders should be lowered to knee-level and the hips remain in a tall position.

"Set" Command Position
    IAAF rules require both hands to be in touch with the ground prior to the start for all races up to and including 400-meters. National High School Federation rules, however, have no such requirement. Therefore the high school sprinter can use a 3-point "set" stance while the college- level athlete must use a 4-point starting position. The benefits of the 3-point stance include one hand being free to hold a baton comfortably, and less flexibility being required. The 4-point stance allows more force to be applied prior to the start which is required to reduce block clearance time.
    At the set command, in the 3-point start the smart-side hand is placed on the track surface, and the other hand on the hip. In the 4-point start, both hands are in touch with the track in a bridge position, bench press grip distance apart. Force should be applied through both feet, keeping the hips high and holding that last breath until the fourth step in the acceleration pattern.

CATEGORY THREE: The Crouched Start
    The pedals on the starting blocks should be positioned so that the power-side pedal is in front, and the smart-side pedal is back. Each athlete should begin with the front pedal placed two heel- to-toe foot lengths from the starting line, and the rear pedal positioned one and one-half foot lengths from the front block. This simple guideline is very accurate because of the relationship between an athlete's leg length and shoe size whose ratio is remarkably consistent in all humans.
    Facing the finish line, the athlete should squat down and back into the blocks as if loading a spring. The spike plate of both shoes should share contact with the track surface and the block pedal so the resulting "curling" of the toes creates an elastic response. The hand are once again placed in a bridge position, bench press grip apart. The head should not bow, but rather should remain in alignment with the back.

Set Command
    The athlete should Inhale as he applies big forces to the block pedals, then lift the hips up and lock in that position by countering the force of the legs, hips and glutes with the shoulders, arms and hands. The strongest athletes will show a 90-degree angle at the knee on the power-side leg. Developing performers should allow for a more open angle stance.

Block Clearance
    At the gun, many actions must occur simultaneously and the sprinter should continue to hold his breath so that maximum forces can be applied to press off of the back block pedal and quickly recover the smart leg. The back foot should stay low and close to the track. The power-side leg executes complete hip extension which thrusts the body forward. The angle of the power-side leg should is about forty five degrees when fully extended. Full hip extension is critical.
    While the power-side foot is pushing off, the smart-side arm is thrown back, palm up and extended at the elbow. The other arm should come up and forward with the chest as it rises upward. The power-side arm will take a position just above the head as if shading the eyes from the sun.
    When fully recovered, the smart-side foot is driven back into the track surface. It should land approximately five foot lengths forward from the rear pedal of the blocks with the hips positioned directly above the foot. Extension of the smart-side hip then begins while the power- side leg is recovered. In the strides that follow, the skills learned in the Acceleration LadderTM training will be implemented.

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