Complete Track and Field

Floating

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.

200mFloating 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:

 

400mFloating 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.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @MarcMangiacotti.  I try to post workouts daily.

 


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About Marc Mangiacotti

Marc MangiacottiCoached eight NCAA National Champions, 53 All-Americans and 31 school record performances while at DIII Wheaton College 2008 USTFCCCA Division III National and Regional Women’s Assistant Coach of the Year USATF Level II Certified Coach in Sprints, Hurdles, Relays, Jumps and Combined Events Spent three seasons as Assistant Cross Country and Track & Field Coach at the University of Houston under head coach Leroy Burrell, former world record holder in the 100 meter dash
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  • RYAN SMALLS

    Hello Coach Mangiacotti and Coach Thomas , after they get past the first set do the do the straight legs bounds or is it now just accelerate float ?

    • Latif Thomas

      Speaking for myself only, both, depending on the day, the athlete, etc. But when I first introduce the drill, we stay with the straight leg bound version for a few sessions so that they can stabilize and then actualize the drill.

  • Pingback: Share the Knowledge – 400m Training | Complete Track and Field

  • Peter Evans

    Latif: Do you recommend the same drive..float… drive phase distances for the 200 meter indoors, where there are two bends to contend with.

  • Lee Harris

    Thank you very much. I am learning a lot on how to teach my son how to run.
    Thanks to you as well as my son’s track club coach , coach Boatright

  • Lee Harris

    Would like to know to teach my 15 year old to run the 200. Best tim 22.60

  • Marc Mangiacotti

    Hi Jake,

    I definitely think this concept relates to PV. After driving out of the back and accelerating the athlete has to continue to to run ‘fast, but relaxed’ before the plant takes place. Most of the beginners in the PV slow down or tense up as they get closer to the takeoff box.

    Marc Mang

  • jake cox

    would you please apply this concept, training to pole vaulting

  • Ralph Bekintis

    I enjoyed the article about floating and will try this with my runners.

  • coach Johnson

    Hello I have a quick question how can i adopt in and outs for my use here in chicago wherewe are already forced to be inside on our wonderful(lol) hallways which is about 50 meters but on days when I can get my school to let us use the whole hallway we can get up to 125 meters. I have returns that have learned the art of “floating” the hard way in races I would really like to spare my young athletes and be able to teach it in practces

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @coach Johnson:

      I’m stuck in the hallways all winter as well. With the whole group we can only go about 30m but if I’m working with kids going one at a time I can almost get 40m. So when we do ins/outs we just do them over a shorter distance. So we’ll go 1. 10m (hold breath) 2. 10-15m (breathe out) 3. 10m (in/hold breath) and then take the foot off the gas. We always end on an ‘in’. I’m sure Marc has some good ways to address this as well.

      • Marc Mangiacotti

        @Latif Thomas:

        Hi Coach Johnson,

        I agree with Latif about options for the short hallway. I am happy to hear you have up to 125m when you get into the long hallway. That is more than I have access to in the winter. The longest stretch I have access to on our indoor track is 70m of straight away. During the indoor season you seem to have plenty of space for the basic of teaching floating. Once the spring starts you can lengthen the distances once you have access to the indoor track. My longest runs where we utilize floating are usually 150m. If you can get your athletes to understand floating over a 125m distance during the winter then moving up to 150-200m during the spring should be a pretty smooth transition.

        Marc Mang

  • http://www.xeroshoes.com Steven Sashen

    Every time I hear someone talk about not straining the neck and face, I think, “Don’t tell that to Tyson Gay.”

  • Kenneth

    I’m overjoyed to see this article posted. I’ve been shouted down and called every name in the book by other coaches and even parents of athletes I train when explaining the need to float in the 100 and 200. Most people see the need in the 400, but think it is counter productive in the 100 and 200, that is until my 22.3 guy ran 21.7 after spending 5 weeks effectively learning how to float in the 200 and use the curve to “sling shot” him into the straight as he accelerates out of his float. Thanks Latif and Marc for championing the application of logic and science to effectively coach speed.

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Kenneth:

      It’s like you said, ‘logic and science’. None of us are trying to reinvent the wheel over here! Congrats on your success, that’s a big drop in time!

  • Tony Santiago

    How can this concept of “floating” be applied in short burst sports like tennis? Contrast Nadal versus Roger Federer? Has Federer somehow learned to apply this to Tennis?

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Tony Santiago:

      From the standpoint of relaxation I think you could loosely draw a correlation. But from an energy system and technical standpoint I would not say they are the same. But, Marc may have a different perspective.

      • Marc Mangiacotti

        @Latif Thomas:

        Hi Tony,

        The only other sport I have taught the feeling of floating to an athlete is football. For instance, in football a kickoff returner may catch the football and accelerate up until they get to a good speed, but need to float (run fast, but relaxed) until their hole/alley opens up from their blockers. The kickoff returner wants to be at a high speed to attack, but they do not want to reach their opening before it exists. I am sure floating may exist and help athletes in various sports, however I am just a lowly track coach. ;) In track, we do not have to worry about a ball that dictates direction. Track athletes just run forward.

        Marc Mang

  • Marc Mangiacotti

    The straight leg bound replicates acceleration. The foot spends a little more time on the ground as the athlete overcomes inertia. As the athlete moves along they will spend less time on the ground as it should happen in a race. The SL Bound is to build momentum and to reinforce the feeling of acceleration.
    Marc

  • Suzan

    What’s the purpose of starting out with the straight leg bounds on the in and out?

  • Rich

    What percent of 100 meter PR do you like to see athletes go out in first 100m of a 200m race in?

    • http://www.completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      @Rich:

      Roughly 95%

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