Secrets To Improving Speed: Knee Drive

knee drive facts speed Mar 24, 2023
Secrets To Improving Speed: Knee Drive

Why Coaching Knee Drive Does Not Work

Knee drive is a critical part of running but the overall thought process behind teaching knee drive is incorrect. Most people focus too much on “learning” knee drive rather than concentrating on the correct thought process to improve sprinting.

In this piece, I’ll explain why coaching knee drive is a myth and how to get faster.

I was able to improve my top speed consistently by following the method I’m going to elaborate on here.

Overall, it is important to get your knees to a certain height when sprinting but the actual methodology I follow is not to focus on that part exclusively.

Let’s take a deeper look at my thought process when I sprint and coach sprinting to understand what I mean.

Before diving deep into the phenomenon of why coaching knee drive is a myth, let’s first understand what is knee drive and why is it important.

Notice the difference in knee height

What is Knee Drive in Sprinting and Why is it Important?

When you are sprinting your body follows a set of motions. The most important being when the foot contacts the ground because that is how the body generates the most force/momentum forward.

Red lines are following limbs and circle is the foot for Usain Bolt. (Knee gets to hip height)

This is why having higher knee lift or knee height is important. The thought being if the knee lift is higher then the amount of force into the ground is more. However, this is not always the case..

Incorporating the Knee Drive Naturally

  • The focus when sprinting should not be to drive the knees up into a more vertical position but instead ability to pull the foot back underneath.

  • What ends up being more important than the height of the knees is the position of where the foot hits. (Foot lands underneath the hips)

  • The height of the rear foot will directly correlate to higher knee lift. (The goal is to maximize horizontal force over downward force)

  • The timing of the right knee and left knee is critical for max turnover speed. (Ex. When right leg touches down the left knee should be even or in front of right knee)

  • In order to improve timing and body position during foot contact the athlete should be aware of hip height, chest position and extension of the leg. When the leg is directly underneath the hips and shoulders with a limited amount of bend in the leg at landing then knee height is optimal.

  • The swing leg or foot off the ground should have a simultaneous forward knee drive and vertical knee bend (brings foot up towards the hip). This will allow time for the feet to come forward and knee to extend before striking the ground.

Knee Drive Coaching

How Most Coaches Get the Knee Drive Wrong?

The biggest issue with coaching knee drive without properly queuing foot position or hip height is it leads to longer foot contact times and improper force production.

Overall I believe most coaches are correct in identifying an issue with knee lift, however the why/how it is being taught is usually where coaches get it wrong.

The reason is most coaches will say improving knee height will improve the length of the stride (most likely correct). However, if stride length improves while force production and foot contact time decrease then it did not help the movement as a whole.

Essentially the athlete got more distance per step and sacrificed too much time. This is why your best bet is to optimize feet contact position in relation to the hips as well as maximizing leg extension of the lead leg.

Knee Drive From Starting Position

The next topic to briefly mention is how knee drive starts and stride length during the start. The start is very unique and honestly there are many blog post coming when it comes to start mechanics. With that said, in order to build speed from the start the actions of the knees are critical.

A very simple explanation of the knees during the start

Knee is below the hip during the start

Two Common Issues When Struggling With Knee Drive


Most people when struggling with knee drive tend to become very stiff in their hamstring (one or both) or in their lower-backs. This ruins the quality of their knee dive and affects their overall performance negatively.

The Force into the Ground

Many people are not able to generate enough force into the ground simply because their “coach” told them to generate that force when lifting their feet off the ground. This opposite motion destroys a knee drive rather than improving it.

Foot landing underneath the hip

As someone who has first-hand experience at this, I know the body mechanics at work in this process and I assure you that the force should go into the ground for a knee drive and not the other way round.

How to Improve Your Knee Drive (How to Get Faster?)

To improve your knee drive you don’t want to go for any strengthening exercises (as commonly suggested). The only thing I’ll recommend is to get your foot up and through as you are driving that foot underneath you.

The thing you would want to avoid is focusing on trying to get your knee up in the motion. This causes a negative cycle overall in your sprint.

I hope I was able to convey the process to you. If you want to see this entire process, watch this video to get a clearer picture.

Final Thoughts

I hope you found this information to be a valuable addition to your knowledge about sprinting. Now you know why coaching knee drive is a myth. If you have any questions or something important to say, please leave a comment below.

You can also watch the full video here: 


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