Before learning how to use starting blocks, you might wonder: who invented them and when? Starting blocks have been around since the 1920s, with some debate about who invented the first (hint: George Bresnahan had the first patent in 1927), but they were considered cheating until 1937. However, as early as 776 B.C., the Greeks had a long strip of metal and wood running the width of the stadion (their word) that every runner would use to push-off, which could be considered a precursor to modern track blocks.
The Mechanics of Track and Field Starting Blocks
It seems perfectly normal, but why do we use track and field starting blocks in the first place? The answer grows out of the history above. Before their general acceptance in 1937, sprinters would dig one of their feet into the ground — when a dirt track was used — or use a two-point crouched stance. The runners would push-off — or out — of this hole. The track starting block changed this to a regulated and ultimately fair technique.
Now made of aluminum with adjustable pedals, we have different types of starting blocks today than the Greeks or the pre-1937 runners. An excellent example of top-quality starting blocks are the kinds Olympians use today. Notice the thin strip of metal running the block's length which will dig into the track when stamped on. Stamp it into the track hard so you'll have a strong launching point.
How to Set Up Starting Blocks
Learning how to set up starting blocks is a simple step-by-step process. Whether you're training for the Olympics or running a high-school track, the process is the same. But you'll need blocks and other track and field equipment to get started.
- Face the opposite way you're running: Stand facing the start line, then put one foot past it with your heel touching the inside of the line.
- Place the starting block at the tip of your toe: Lay the starting block down facing you with the front-end touching the tip of your foot.
- Stamp firmly on both ends of the block: Using your foot, drive both ends of the thin metal strip into the track until firmly in place.
- Place your dominant foot onto the front pedal: Now, facing the way you're running, place your dominant foot (the one you kick with) on the pedal closest to the line. The front foot's tip should graze the track and be flat on the pedal.
- Place your back foot on the second pedal: The second pedal should be about three of your feet lengths behind the starting line. Your second foot should also be flat on the pedal.
- Adjust the pedals: With the pedals' spring action, use your front foot to press down until in the lowest or second-lowest position. Do likewise with your back foot until in the highest or second-highest position.
And that's it; you're ready to rocket out of the blocks and become Usain Bolt.
Track and Field Starting Blocks: Technique
Everyone is different, and this holds true even for running the 100m race. With track starting blocks, technique is important, but it may vary, and there are some basic ways to get you started.
- With your feet set on the pedals, crouch down: Your front knee should just be touching the line.
- With your arms shoulder-width apart, touch down: Your fingertips should touch the ground just behind the line.
- Lock your elbows: This will help you stay still until the pistol fires.
- Lean forward: Shift most of your weight forward onto your hands without bending your back.
- "SET!": When you hear the word "SET," raise your backside — while keeping the weight on your hands — and breathe in sharply.
- Hold steady until the starter pistol fires, signaling "Go!": Exhale while swinging your weakside arm back and your strongside arm forward above your head. This will raise your front knee to your chin, and you're on your way. And that is how to explode out of starting blocks and generate that first stride.
- Be sure to run with long strides: Take long strides and breathe deeply as instructed by your coaches. If you're running track hurdles, you may need to adjust your feet, possibly leading with your weakside foot. Whatever is right for your best run is all that matters.
- Never cheat: Sure, it's tempting to get that tiny head start, but if you practice clean, you'll run clean. And the new official IOC Olympic blocks have sensors that read the pressure your feet apply to the pedals 4,000 times a second. You can't fool them, so learn, practice and perform clean in every way. Maybe one day you'll be accepting that gold medal for the USA!
What About Starting Block Angles?
Why do starting block angles matter? It's all about something called "stretch reflex." What's that? It's the Achilles tendon's position, and the calf muscles, and how much momentum can be generated. Think of it like a rubber band being stretched and released. If it's pulled way back and let go, it'll shoot across the room. If you just let go of it without stretching it, it falls to the floor. When this is applied to athletics, and specifically track and field, the lower the angle, the greater the stretch reflex.
But there's one problem: the human body will not cooperate with that entirely. You can't get your foot on the pedal at the lowest angle. So, a forty-five-degree angle is the best track starting block positioning. This angle helps the runner explode off the blocks. As you start as a track competitor, you'll want to get your track starting blocks and other equipment to find out the best starting block angles for you.
How Not to Use Starting Blocks: Unless You're Usain Bolt
A lesson on the importance of knowing how to use starting blocks: At the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, Usain Bolt finished third even though he was the fastest of the top three runners. Here are the track times:
- Usain Bolt: 9.77
- Justin Gatlin: 9.79
- Christian Coleman: 9.82
So, why didn't Bolt win? His time off the blocks:
- Christian Coleman: .123
- Justin Gatlin: .138
- Usain Bolt: .183
No matter how many legs of the race you dominate, if you don't know how to explode out of the starting blocks, you could be Usain Bolt and not win. So, practice, practice, practice.
Learn How to Use Starting Blocks the Right Way with Trigon Sports
You can learn how to use starting blocks with practice and determination. And the right track and field equipment is critical to a successful sprint. At Trigon Sports, we believe in you and what the human spirit can do. That's why we carry the very best in workout and sports equipment, including track and field starting blocks. With great products and useful tips, you can reach for the finish line no matter what sport you pursue. Feel free to contact us with any questions you might have. We'd love to hear from you and become your one-stop-shop for all your athletic needs.SHOP STARTING BLOCKS