At the 2012 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, more than 300 top prospects participated in a series of tests and drills to showcase their athleticism in front of professional scouts, coaches and general managers. One of these tests often becomes the most scrutinized and heavily-relied upon indicator of performance at the next level: the 40-Yard Dash. This test is seen as the marquee field event that measures an athlete's power output, acceleration ability and absolute speed. A simple reduction of two-tenths of a second in a player's time could result in a contract worth several million dollars more. So, if you are training for a local combine, you need to understand and practice this test to get the best time.
To begin, first know that speed can be broken down into a simple equation:
Speed = Stride Frequency x Stride Length
A stride is simply the distance that a runner travels with each step, but there is a dynamic relationship between stride frequency and length. At the beginning of a 40-Yard Dash, you start in a static, non-moving stance. The stride frequency and initial power requirements are high—you must overcome the earth's gravity placed on your body, also known as inertia. Your body is positioned with a forward lean, and as you accelerate and gain greater speed, you transition into more of an upright stance with the stride lengthening and frequency reducing slightly.
In this series, we will look at the three phases of the 40-Yard Dash: the Start, the Transition and the Absolute Speed. Let's begin with the Start.
The Start is probably the most critical phase. With practice and hard work, you can make a great deal of improvement. The Start shows coaches your ability to build speed very quickly—an important element in all sports. The Start consists of a three-point stance and the initial acceleration distance it takes to build up to top-end speed.
Start the 40-Yard Dash in a three-point stance, which means your body has three contact points with the ground—right foot, left foot and one hand. This position provides the best mechanical posture to explode off the line and build speed.
Generally, right-handers start with their left foot forward and right hand as the contact point with the ground. The opposite arm is raised behind the midline of the body with the palm of the hand near the hip. The opposite leg will be placed approximately 24 inches behind the front foot and bent at a 120-degree angle. (To better understand the three-point stance, please see image below.)
Acceleration in a 40-Yard Dash takes place over the first 15 to 25 yards of the run. This aspect of the start is most heavily influenced by the overall explosive power you possess. You must forcefully drive through the ground with your front leg while snapping the rear arm forward from the three-point stance. During the first few strides, focus on driving the knees with exaggerated lift and powerful arm action, emphasizing a strong backward elbow drive (see photo below). Don't rush this phase and become upright too early in the run. This will result in a lower top-end speed that will be difficult to maintain through the finish.
Speed is a learned skill. While genes are an important factor, getting faster depends more on proper training than your genetic predisposition. Focus on learning technique and understanding your body and you will quickly improve your speed.
For a great instructional video on proper 40-Yard Dash start technique, head over to STACK TV.
Photo: thefootballeducator.com, Scott Wachter, adidas
Brock Christopher, the founder of Accolade Athletic Performance, has worked with youth, high school, collegiate and professional athletes for nearly a decade. He previously worked for Velocity Sports Performance in West Los Angeles as the company’s sports performance director and general manager. Prior to that, he worked for Proactive Sports Performance and the Core Performance Center. Christopher has worked in both regular training and sports physical therapy settings. He graduated from Pepperdine University with a degree in sports medicine and holds several certifications within the field. He is currently an expert contributor for Examiner.com.
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