The Benefits of Blocks (Personal Study)

Let me just say that all data has come from myself or:

So I’d say around a 50/50 split in personal to online findings.

First let me just say this:

Blocks are like what straps are to deadlifters and chalk is to gymnasts.

Sprinters use blocks to achieve an explosive start in competitive events. While there are different types of starting blocks, the equipment typically consists of two foot pads or pedals attached to metal rail. Athletes can adjust the placement of pedals according to their individual needs as well as the type of race. In the early 1930s, wooden blocks came into regular use, providing sprinters with the advantage of momentum. Before then, sprinters used to dig holes in the ground to give them something to push against at the beginning of races.

Sprint Starts

When you begin a race, your first stride is the longest. To achieve the greatest acceleration, you need to apply significant force horizontally to transition from a standstill to moving forward at a high speed. You also need to generate vertical forces to pull your body to an erect running position and give you enough time in the air to switch legs. By using blocks, you can assume a sloping body position, which lifts your center of gravity and helps you to reach maximum velocity in the shortest period of time. The blocks also abbreviate the distance between your start position and a correct and balanced running gait.

Advantages of Accelerating out of the Starting Blocks

Achieving a powerful push-off is the major benefit of using starting blocks. Because you’re already on your feet, you can more easily accelerate from an inert position as well as hit the ground with greater speed. The blocks allow you to shift your weight to your shoulders and hands, rather than your lower body and feet. When the starting gun goes off, your legs don’t have to push up and lift your entire body weight to move forward. The benefit of gaining momentum as quickly as possible can improve performance time in a race.

When a track athlete starts from the starting blocks in a sprint race, they will accelerate by applying large amounts of force to the starting blocks and to the track over a distance of somewhere around 30-60m (elite athletes need 50-60m to accelerate).   During this acceleration, the athlete will drive out in a 45 degree angle from the blocks and should feel like they are performing an explosive version of “pushing” with each step as they accelerate down the track rather than an erratic tap tap tap as fast as you can feeling.  Later there will be a change in mechanics and force application as the athlete goes from the explosive version of “pushing” and later transition to a lighter foot contact and “pulling” feeling as they progress to maximum velocity.

Foot contact time on the ground will be longer (measured in milliseconds) in the beginning of the acceleration phase (pushing) than they would be at maximum velocity.  This is because more muscle fibers will need to be recruited in order to produce greater force because the body has to gain speed through acceleration.

As mentioned earlier, the athlete will drive out of the blocks at a 45 degree angle with the arms driving in forward and backward while applying large amounts of force to the starting blocks and track surface.  The athlete will gradually feel themselves “push” their body angle up to a horizontal position by the time they reach 30-60m.  The athlete should NOT “stand up” or bring the chest up at all.  They should be patient and let the “pushing” action do the work for them by gradually pushing their body angle to an upright position over the course of the 30-60m drive phase.

My Personal Experience and Knowledge “Statistically”

It was my junior year of High School and they made me do sprint trials to determine my “Track Level” as they would call it . This consisted of the 40yd dash, the 100m, and the 300m if need be (usually was). The coaches required us to run it 2 or 3 times (with a 5-15 minute break inbetween for a full recovery). I would always run the first one using a standing start and the rest in the blocks just because I even then in my Junior year wanted to see why the varsity group always complained of not getting to use the blocks.

I cant remember exactly what my 40yd dash times were but i remember that the block start one was still faster by ~0.1 seconds.

Now I remember my 100m times very well as this was the “trial” that my coaches always used to measure improvement in sprinters over the years.

My standing start was ~12.2 seconds.

My block start was ~11.4 seconds.

So 0.8 seconds faster! Which also corresponds to ~6.56% decrease in total time.

My 300m times also showed some change as well.

My standing start was ~39.8 seconds.

My block start was ~38.1 seconds.

Now this is 1.7 seconds faster (~4.27% decrease in total time), however seeing as its a longer race the distance to time ratio allowed for more leway on acceleration.

Personally I’d say the block start is only relevant to the first 60m or less of a race (where you accelerate) as this is the area of the race is where the time can be decreased “significantly” by a block start.

Summary

Block starts are only relevant to the first 60m or so of the race as it allows for a faster acceleration than a standing start. This is the only real place where you can

1) lower your overall race time

2) increase your starting speed the fastest.

In total after running some tests on myself and fellow track friends the block start allows for anywhere from a 5-15% faster first 60m; occasionally its more.
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