| | Get Stubborn Athletes Sprinting With Style

Author / John

3 - 5 minute read

Hey Coach,

I know you used to play lacrosse. Some of my lax athletes asked me about what to do with their arms when they sprint. They feel like teaching arm action isn’t realistic to their sport. I’m currently going through the Power Athlete Methodology’s speed section and I wanted to pick your brain on this.

Would you change anything when teaching fundamental speed drills to stick athletes?


There is so much to unpack from this email. I have a lot of respect for your athletes asking for purpose behind drills you’re providing. To me, this shows the depth of purpose behind your program and thought you’re putting into movement selection. Solid group of athletes thinking about how their training program carries over to the field and you’re not giving them the, “because I said so.” Beautiful, now on to the question.

Your athletes are looking for a 1:1 transfer of their sprint training drills to their sport, lacrosse. This is the way athletes think. Ideally, every skill, drill, and walkthrough in sport preparation has a direct transfer to a scenario or situation they would face in live competition. Sport coaches are groomed to lean on fundamentals and dedicate practice time to “mastering the mundane”. I’ll even bet during their practice, specific game highlights of fundamentals executed well (or fubar’d) are yelled out in an effort to add weight to this necessary, but boring, portion of practice. Rather than look for a 1:1 transfer of each drill, use the systematic approach to skill development they’re accustomed to your advantage.

This article will introduce best practices for teaching speed, finding your sprinting style, and mastering the fundamentals of the fundamentals.

Teaching Speed

In Level One of the Power Athlete Methodology course we introduce speed as neural quality, a skill of activating and deactivating tissue that can be developed. Coaches are encouraged to not accept athletes as either fast or slow, and introduced to three phases of teaching speed:


Speed is a product of posture. Posture refers to an athlete’s ability to maintain midline stability, the kinetic linkage through the torso. There are a lot of forces being transferred from the upper to the lower body and vice versa. Torso seemingly doesn’t get much action in a sprint, but a stable midline allows limbs to work together. No better tool than a Contralateral Dead Bug to assess and correct in a teachable moment.


Simply put, position refers to the alignment of start and end points of the arms, knees and feet during a sprint. Drills that focus on teaching proper arm, foot, and knee position allow you to coach in a window during a very isolated, teachable moment. My favorite example is setting an athlete up in a Wall Drill and focusing on dorsiflexion and the proper knee height for sprinting without even moving.


Position is the start and end points of the limbs, while patterning is the path the limbs take between those two positions. Drills can isolate arms or legs to teach, assess or correct alignment and action. Examples would be a Seated Arm Swing for the upper and Wall Drill execution for the lower. Patterning drills can also target movements to connect the upper and lower body like High Skips. Full body patterning drills are necessary to optimize teaching sprinting.

The arm action is a counter balance for the high forces of the legs driving into the ground on a sprint. The pelvis is responsible for the transfer of force from the arm action to the legs and from the left to right side of the body. Your athletes need to focus on getting strong in the upper body to increase the amount of force to send down to the legs. Arm swing drills practice the optimal pattern for which to send force down. Skips and full body patterning coordinates the most efficient way to activate and deactivate tissue of the full body working together. 

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To accelerate the development of speed, we separate the upper body from the lower body, then bring them back together… only to separate them again when they pick up their stick, ball, gun, or gear.

Technique VS Style

Raiko, your athletes are caught on the patterning piece because they have a stick. Patterns of the arms and upper body will change once we get specific to a sport or military/door-kicker scenario. I want you to reserve the term patterning for teaching your sprinting and mastering technique and use a new term to explain where a stick (or ball, gun, gear, whatever) comes into play. That new term? Style. As lacrosse players, style comes naturally to them 😊, but now you can separate your explanations and provide them with the purpose they’re looking for.

Teaching speed focuses on finding the optimal set up and execution for each athlete. Coaching speed is providing cues, directions, and corrections directing the athlete’s technique towards the expectation of execution. Not to mention coach up to deliver a sense of urgency with each sprint to fight for speed and not survival. The Level One course teaches you the fundamentals of sprint work and programming putting you in a great position to teach and coach technique. But, it is up to you, the coach, to blend technique with an athlete’s personal style of movement, especially in an athletically creative sport like lacrosse.

Make the distinction between patterns of movement that are specific to, or affected by, sport (which a strength coach does not need to correct) and faults to fundamentals you can coach up.

Empower Your Performance: Fundamentals of the Fundamentals

Raiko, checks and balances for a strength coach must always take place. You know in your heart of hearts your athletes need sprint technique drills, BUT they’re not seeing the value and may be just going through the motions. It is important to understand the value you’re bringing to your athlete’s performance without them realizing. Sport coaches are right to value and drill the hell out of skill fundamentals. When it comes to movement selection for your program, take on the mindset that you’re training the “fundamentals of the fundamentals.” 

Then, you can feel free to set your athletes free to find their style in sport. Arm action will change in sport, but hold them to a high standard for leg action. Sprint arm and leg action, squats, lunges, step ups. These are all movements they’ll need to execute every component they’ll face in the sporting arena. By mastering fundamentals of their movement their skill acquisition will accelerate, and without them knowing, all that dorsiflexion and drive cueing will unfold to empower their performance.


EDU: Power Athlete Methodology – Level One Online Course
BLOG: Battle The Bullshit – Conditioning Tests by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: Speed 101 – Patterning by Carl Case
BLOG: Battle The Bullshit – Speed Resistance Training by Tex McQuilkin
PODCAST: Power Athlete Radio 344 – Ivy League Coaching with Tom Newman

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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


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