Starting blocks are used in all track disciplines up to 400m and are key to accelerating from the start line. But how do you buy the right blocks and use them the best way?
Athletics Starting Block FAQs
We have been selling starting blocks for decades and even have Alan Neuff's personal hand-made set of blocks in our office that he used the 1950-60s!
We have been asked many many questions over the years. Here we have compiled the most frequently asked questions to help you out.
What are Starting Blocks, Sprint Blocks and Running Blocks?
There is no difference between starting blocks, sprint blocks and running blocks! These are simply different names used by different athletes. To find the best deals, it's probably worth searching both terms.
Starting blocks are designed to provide a stable platform to push against at the start of a sprint race to enable the fastest and most powerful acceleration.
Starting blocks have:
- a central bar with notches along it and a flat plate at the front and back with spikes to keep the blocks steady on the ground. It sometimes also has a carrying handle in the centre. The bar is usually made of aluminium or steel.
- 2 metal footplates which slot onto either side of the central bar. The footplates can be placed anywhere along the length of the bar for the optimal position.
- The angle of these footplates can be adjusted by a spring-loaded mechanism at the back, so they are at the right angle for the sprinter's position.
- Each footplate has a rubber footpad on the front, to provide grip and protect the athlete's spikes from wearing.
What do Starting Blocks do?
Starting blocks provide support for sprinters' feet at the start of the race so they can push off for a better race start and acceleration phase. They are used by sprinters in track and field athletics for the 60m (indoor), 100m, 110m hurdles, 200m, 400m and the first leg of the 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relays.
At the start of a race, the sprinter places their feet on the blocks and their hands on the track immediately behind the start line. When the starter gun is fired, the sprinter pushes off the foot pads to start their acceleration with optimum force. This helps the sprinter
- get the correct body position for acceleration. See below for more information.
- Apply force through the blocks to accelerate. Acceleration is achieved in the first few steps of a sprint race by applying as much force as possible to the ground in as fast a time as possible to get to top speed (optimum velocity). It is possible to apply far more force through blocks than through the ground, due to the angle of the blocks.
Athletes using starting blocks hold their weight on their hands and shoulders rather than on their lower body and feet, with their body at an angle of around 45%. This means that the body is already positioned to move forward, so the legs can push all their power into moving the body and gaining momentum, rather than having to lift upwards to start.
New athletes will need to practice using blocks to gain full benefit, as it is a very different technique from standing starts.
What distances use starting blocks?
UKA and World Athletics allow starting blocks to be used in all distances up to and including 400m, including the first leg of 4x100m and 4x400m relays. This includes events such as hurdles and indoor sprints such as 60m.
Starting blocks are only compulsory if a false start warning system is being used, in which case the competition organiser will provide suitable blocks.
Is a block start necessary for the 400m?
All elite athletes use starting blocks for the 400m, but it is not compulsory. If you are not technically trained to use starting blocks, they will actually slow you down. This is because starting blocks help optimise power for acceleration when you push forward out of the blocks. However, if you lack the strength to power forwards and rise gradually to upright, you will have to lift your body upwards at the start, wasting valuable time and power.
It is perfectly acceptable to use either a standing start or a crouch start without blocks for the 400m.
Do I have to use Starting Blocks in a sprint race?
Under UKA rules, starting blocks are not compulsory, except for races where false start detection is used. If you don't want to use starting blocks, you can use either a standing start or crouching start.
However, when starting blocks are used correctly they do make a significant difference to sprint times, so we recommend borrowing or buying a pair to use. You should practice doing block starts before your competition, as using the correct technique makes all the difference!
What age should you start using blocks?
When you are technically good enough to benefit from them!
It is crucial that athletes should have good acceleration skills and can perform a strong standing start before they start using a crouch start. Indeed, crouch starts can slow athletes down substantially if they don't have the skill to do them properly - it can even make them fall over, which isn't the fastest start to a race!
Once the athlete is accomplished at standing starts, they can practice crouch starts then introduce starting blocks after that. It is unusual for young athletes to be ready for starting blocks until they are around 13-15, in many cases it is later.
ESAA (English Schools Athletics Association) national competition has never allowed starting blocks up to the point of writing, so it is important that young athletes who hope to compete as this national schools competition are well practiced in standing or crouch starts.
There is no UKA rule about using starting blocks at a particular age, indeed starting blocks are not compulsory under UKA rules at any age (unless the competition organiser is using false-start detection or insists upon it).
How to teach a crouching sprint start
For young people ready to learn a crouching start, this is a simple coaching method:
- At the 'On your marks' command:
- kneel at the start line with
- hands behind the line
- shoulder-width apart, supported on your hands with thumbs turned inward and fingers outward
- Place your starting foot forward, just behind the hips, with the knee bent
- Place the other foot so the knee is on the ground below the hips and the foot supported by the toes.
- On the 'Set' command:
- Raise the hips to just above shoulder height. The front knee should be bent to approximately 90° to 110° degrees and the back leg should be bent at 120° to 135° degrees. Stronger athletes will be able to achieve 90° and 120°, but weaker athletes will have wider angles.
- Hold this shape
- On 'Go':
- Bring the rear foot forward to run forward.
- Pushing hard with the hard with the starting foot, keeping contact with the ground until the body is in a straight line from ankle-knee-hip-shoulder. Keep this leaning position for the first few steps to optimise the acceleration phase.
See this video from John Shepherd on Acceleration skills for really good information on training for acceleration.
For more step-by-step training sessions for beginner athletes, see our guide:
What leg do you push off on in blocks?
Stand straight with your feet together. Allow yourself to tilt slightly so that you start to fall gently forwards. You will put out one foot to steady yourself. This is your lead foot. The lead foot goes in the rear footplate on the starting blocks. This will be the leg that takes the first step in the sprint start.
The foot on the front footplate is the one which provides all the power for that first step, as you drive through the foot, leg, hips, back and shoulders in a straight line to propel your body forwards.
It is worth trying out standing and crouching starts a few times with each leg to check that it is indeed the most comfortable.
How do you set up Starting Blocks?
All athletics starting blocks are fairly similar in design, so this guide should work for most blocks.
Orientate the centre bar as it would be for the athlete. ie. when the athlete stands on the blocks, they can read the numbers on the centre bar.
Take the smaller stabilising plate and fix it to the front of the centre bar using the bolts and allen key. Put both bolts in loosely first, then tighten them with the allen key. The front spike holes will be protruding from the front of the centre bar. Note: The large hole in the middle is for a large pin to anchor the blocks on grass surfaces. The pin is not usually provided.
Position the larger stabilising plate across the back of the centre bar, insert both bolts loosely, then tighten with the allen key.
Turn the centre bar over and insert the spikes in the pre-drilled holes in the stabilising plates. There should be four spikes on each side of the rear plate and four in the front.
Fix the footplates. Each footplate has a fixture on the side with a couple of bolts under a plate. The plate fits over the side of the centre bar, whilst the bolts slot into the grooves on the centre bar.
Adjust your footplates. The footplates can each be moved forwards and backwards so they sit in the correct position for your stance. Each footplate has a simple bar/slot adjustment at the back to adjust the angle. Try a few versions in training if you are not sure.
What angle should starting blocks be?
The front block should be as close to the ground as possible with the heel firmly on the footplate. Most starting blocks have a minimum angle of 45°, so this is mostly used, but elite athletes will aim for 30° if their blocks allow it.
The reason for this angle is to achieve optimal power efficiency with the 'stretch reflex' of the calf and hamstring. This achieves the most power, without staying in the blocks too long.
It is important that the foot is flat on both footplates, with the heels pressed well back. If you cannot get both heels back on the footplate, increase the angles until you can. Otherwise you will waste the first moment after the starting gun pushing back into the blocks before propelling yourself forward.
The rear footplate is usually at a slightly higher angle - 45° for strong athletes, but up to around 60° for less strong athletes. Again, ensure you can get your heel flat on the plate.
For more information on acceleration training and optimal body positioning, see this video from John Shepherd on Acceleration skills.
For more details of how to set up starting blocks with precise measurements that fit your body, see this article by Brian Mac Sports Coach.
Which is the best brand of starting blocks?
How do you choose starting blocks?
Most athletics starting blocks are fairly similar in style, but there are important differences in size and weight, as well as the materials used, so different sprint blocks will suit different uses. e.g.
- A young athlete should choose a light weight block such as the Pro-Olympic or Classic, which they will easily be able to carry and set into position at the start line.
- A stadium or club might choose heavy weight blocks (e.g. the Galaxy) which will withstand heavy use and be stable when used by heavier athletes.
See our YouTube video for more information on choosing starting blocks.
Can you mend Athletics Starting Blocks?
Yes! Neuff starting blocks are robust and will last for many years - even decades. But parts do occasionally wear out and that is no reason to throw your blocks away and buy new ones. We sell a wide range of replacement parts and spares for starting blocks.
Check out our range of starting block spares here, or contact us if you need more help.
We sell high quality Neuff starting block bags which are custom made and have been developed over many of experience.
The main features of the Neuff starting block carry bag include:
- solid base board to hold the blocks in place
- Foam supports at each end for the spike plates. This stops the spikes from tearing the bag, and also protects the spikes
- Velcro strap to hold the blocks in place
- Full-length zip closure to make it easy to get the blocks in and out without damaging the fabric
- Carry handles and a shoulder strap for comfort
- A wide range of bright colours to suit your kit and style
Neuff Starting Blocks for Sale
We stock the full range of Neuff Athletics starting blocks for sale in the UK, and also ship to Europe and Worldwide. See our collection here:
Athletics Starting Blocks Information
We hope you found this useful. If you have more questions, please do get in touch.
Enjoy your sprinting!