As I often reflect on my days at the University of Houston, I can recall a number of valuable coaching lessons I learned while under the tutelage of Mike Takaha and Tom Tellez. The cue “fast relax” or floating, is a term I became all too familiar with as Takaha and Tellez shouted the phrase at the runners during each workout on a daily basis. Initially, I did not quite understand the cue, but after Mike explained the meaning, I quickly adapted the words into my own coaching vocabulary.
Floating is an important part of running the 100m, 200m, 400m, and the 400m hurdles. The process of floating takes place at different stages in a race, but it is equally as important for each distance.
The term floating or the cue “fast relax” pertains to the ability to run at high velocities without straining. Too many athletes press while trying to sprint. We have all seen this action of pressing. Typically the sprinter wants to go faster so they strain. This is evident when they tense up their arms, the tendons in their neck look like they are going to explode, and they wince their face into a gruesome expression. It doesn’t look pretty and does little to improve results. Athletes that can float properly simply look smooth and oftentimes produce better times.
When athletes tense or press they are unable to go through a proper range of motion to continue to run fast. I usually explain to athletes that tensing muscles shorten the muscles, making it nearly impossible to go execute a full range of motion. Tensing usually initiates what I call antagonistic muscles. These muscles are not necessary to run fast and the use of these antagonistic muscles limit the use of the important muscle groups. This is seen when an athlete tenses up their arms and start to flex their biceps and forearms while running. This action does not allow the athlete to stroke their hands past the hip on the downward stroke of the arm, limiting the range of motion.
Being able to float is extremely important. Floating allows the athlete to run fast without initiating “antagonistic muscles” and limits breaking mechanics.
When do you want athletes to float or run fast, but relaxed?
100m – During the deceleration phase. The ability to stay relaxed is crucial to maintaining high velocities. Straining will lead to decelerating more and more with each stride.
200m – Floating the 2nd 50m of the race will increase the chances that the athlete will be able to run off the turn and finish strong. Sprinters cannot run the first 100m of the 200m like they run the open 100m then just hold on for the last 100m. In the 100m, most sprinters decelerate for the last 30m or so. If an athlete runs the first 100m of the 200m the same way the athlete would decelerate for 130m or so. Floating the 2nd 50m will allow the athlete to maintain the high velocity generated by the first 50m and give them the ability to finish the race. Great video on running the 200m below:
400m – Floating the backstretch is extremely important in the 400m. I have seen way too many athletes crush the first 100m and continue to put the petal to the metal in the 2nd 100m and then get swallowed up in the last 100m of the race. Being able to run fast and relaxed on the backstretch will likely keep the athlete in the race and increase the likelihood that the athlete is not wasting energy early due to poor mechanics. If the athlete is not wasting energy then they will have more energy to use during the final stretch of the race.
400H – Running fast, but relaxed between the hurdles will make it easier to keep the 400H rhythm for the athlete. Keeping the rhythm will decrease the chances of stuttering before each hurdle and increase the chances that energy is not wasted early in the race.
One drill that I find very useful to help the athletes understand floating is “In & Outs”. There are various types of this workout, but the description below is how I use it for teaching floating and fast relax.
In & Outs:
On the 100m straight away I put a cone every 10m. If possible, I will put a large cone for the areas where I want the athletes to go faster and a small cone for the area where I want the athlete to maintain speed. I explain to the athletes that they will do a straight leg bound to the first cone, then accelerate (running) to the 2nd cone and maintain speed to the third cone. The athlete will try to increase speed at each large cone and maintain speed at each small cone. Newcomers to this drill will typically use breaking mechanics at each small cone. I constantly reinforce floating and fast relax cues during these phases of the run. I often tell the athletes that if the athletic director walked into practice he should not see you slowing down during this exercise. He should only see you getting faster and faster during each run. The rhythm is simply build, maintain, build, maintain, build, maintain, etc… I don’t care if the athlete goes from 70% in one segment to 71% in the next as long as the athlete gets faster and continues good mechanics in both the build & maintain phases.
The cool part about In & Outs is that you can do these at lower velocities, as well as higher velocities. This drill can be part of the warm up, a drill, or even a workout. The athletes can do these in flats or in spikes. In & Outs can be used in a lot of different ways. In & Outs can also be lengthened over time and velocities can be increased once floating has been mastered. You can also lengthen the segments that the athletes are running from 10m apart to 15m, 20m, 25, etc… You can have your athletes do 150m’s or even 200m’s In & Out style. You can get as creative as you want with In & Outs while also reinforcing floating and running fast, but relaxed.
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Marc Mangiacotti is an assistant track coach at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA.