Force has a big influence on technique. A lot of athletes and coaches get caught up in focusing on technique as a way to improve without realizing that producing more force is sometimes the key to better technique and better performance along with it. I’ll be posting a number of examples of this.

Example #1: Acceleration angle.

A steeper angle creates greater acceleration. However, along with accelerating horizontally, you also have to produce vertical force to counteract gravity. Lowering your acceleration angle reduces the vertical component of your force. If the vertical force component is too small, gravity pulls your center of mass closer to the ground as you try to accelerate, which means you either fall or have to stick a foot out in front of you to catch yourself. So your acceleration angle has to be high enough to keep the vertical force component large enough to counteract gravity. If you produce greater force, the angle of that force can be lower while still maintaining a large enough vertical component. Greater force allows a lower acceleration angle.

For those not inclined to physics, think about turning while riding a bicycle. Taking a turn at 20 miles per hour requires much more force and sideways lean than taking the same turn at 5 mph. The force matches the acceleration angle. If you use a hard lean at 5 mph, you fall.

How do you get greater force during acceleration? Obviously explosiveness is in high demand. But the first few steps in acceleration actually have fairly long ground contact times, maybe 0.4 seconds on the first push if starting from a standstill or off a cut, then decreasing each contact from there. Because of this, strength is a huge factor in the first few steps of acceleration.

Also consider that a steeper acceleration angle puts your hips closer to the ground, meaning you have more knee and hip flexion when your foot makes contact. A position of more flexion is weaker and requires more muscular force to push out of, so again there is a greater strength requirement for accelerating at a lower angle.

Sprinters, you should absolutely work on technique coming out of the blocks and pay attention to your acceleration angle. But realize that you cannot come out of the blocks at the same angle as Asafa Powell without using braking force. Your best acceleration will not occur at the same angle as his unless you produce force like he does. Focusing on a steeper angle is not the best way to get faster out of the blocks. Instead simply focus on sprinting fast, increase your strength in the weight room, and watch your acceleration angle (and your times) get lower naturally.