There is a small body of research which concentrates on the advantages or disadvantages of sprint biomechanics, particularly as it pertains to the first step forward or first step backward in sprinting (which generally focuses on field or court based sports). When athletes go from being motionless to movement initiation, some athletes instinctively take their first step forward, whilst others initiate their movement with a “false” backward step. There seems to be little consensus on whether stepping forward or backwards to sprint is the way to go. Logically, it seems that taking a step forward is better than taking a step backward, and a recent study on sprint biomechanics by Ladune et al. (2012) endorses this position.
In the study, 10 college level football players performed two standing sprint tests with either a) forward step or b) false (backward) step. The subjects were filmed for a subsequent three steps after sprint initiation where velocity, displacement and acceleration were measured.
The results show that both velocity and displacement were significantly greater in the forward step than the false step for each of three steps, and there was no significant difference found in acceleration between the forward or false step. However, the disadvantage of the false step is that it negatively affects forward displacement, which in turn cancels out any gained acceleration, and as such it is of no benefit to moving forward. So if two athletes matched for speed are put side by side and each performs a forward and false step respectively, the results here indicate that the athlete stepping forward will have a significant advantage in terms of displacement and velocity.
Tip for professional fitness coaches: coach your athletes to move forward and not backwards.