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.)
- Be Relaxed. If your muscles are tense, you will not be able to explode out of your stance and build speed quickly.
- Keep Your Head Down. You want your body to drive forward. If you keep your head down, your body will be propelled at the proper angle to build speed.
- Don't Stay Down Too Long. After you get into the three-point stance, you should begin sprinting very shortly afterward. Your muscles have an elastic component and if you stay in your stance too long, you will not be able to burst forward as forcefully.
- Keep Your Weight Forward. Most of your weight should be displaced on your front leg. You want to load the glute and hamstring muscles and drive forward off this leg.
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.
- Use Strong Arm Action. The easiest way to increase stride frequency is to increase the force and rate of arm action. The legs work in sync with the arms to maintain proper balance, so the greater arm action will result in higher leg turnover and overall frequency.
- Push Hard Through the Ground. Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This means the harder you push through the ground with each stride, the higher the resulting force generated from the ground will be, which helps drive you forward.
- Keep Looking Forward. Your head should always be in alignment with your torso and keep your eyes focused forward. This will help you maintain good running posture and keep your sprint in a straight line.
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.