Avoid These Common 40-Yard Dash Start Mistakes

March 18, 2012

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Are you sabotaging your 40 time by starting wrong? The following are three common 40-Yard Dash start mistakes athletes make, together with quick fixes you can implement during your next speed drill session.

1. Base Too Wide
The most common flaw I see is athletes starting with their feet outside of their hips. When I see this, I immediately cut their base down to hip width. A narrower base puts the ankle under the hip joint, allowing the athlete to propel from the center of his mass.

2.  Incorrect Start Angle
Many athletes start the 40 from too much of an upright angle. To find the right angle, first point your shin down the track, not toward the sky. To maintain this stance, pull your lead foot four to six inches back from the line. In a half-kneeling position, your back knee should be in line with the instep of your front leg.

Next, walk your hands in front to create a forward body lean. Make sure your stance support arm is directly under your shoulder with no bend at the elbow. Your off hand should be bent at a 90-degree angle and placed on your hip. Finally, tuck your chin, raise your hips slightly above your shoulder and take a deep breath. You’re in the 40-Yard Dash base setup. Rehearse this daily during your speed drills.

3. Poor Timing
Even when you line up correctly, you can still make three common mistakes in the first split second of the 40, any of which will throw off your timing:

  • Failure to get an effective push from the lead leg to eject the body from the stance
  • Overstriding with the back foot and landing completely flatfooted
  • Lifting vertically with the stance arm

To get the right push off the line, immediately rip your arm backward to allow your lead leg to go through its full extension and drive your body forward. To help athletes picture this motion, I tell them that it’s like kicking the leg of a tripod backward and allowing the front to fall forward.

Once the critical arm ripping motion occurs, explosively extend your lead leg to move forward. Your back leg will then flex forward and chop back down with the ball of the foot. After the first two steps, continue to drive and accelerate with a good forward lean. Your arms should dynamically hammer down toward the ground, and your legs should fully extend to propel your center of mass down the track.

A solid start provides a great foundation you can build on through the acceleration phase. Check out more tips on the 40-Yard Dash Start, and stay tuned for advice on the acceleration phase.

Bryan McCall, CSCS, is the performance director with Michael Johnson Performance Training Center, located at the SPIRE institute (Geneva, Ohio). He has worked in the performance enhancement field for more than a decade and was most recently the performance director at Champions Training Academy. McCall has also done sport-specific training for the Baseball Factory, the leading scouting organization for elite baseball players; the Dallas Texans, a top-ranked Nike-sponsored soccer club; and Nike high school football training camps. He has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Bryan McCall
- Bryan McCall, CSCS, is the performance director for the Michael Johnson Performance Training Center at SPIRE Institute (Geneva, Ohio). He has worked in the performance...
Bryan McCall
- Bryan McCall, CSCS, is the performance director for the Michael Johnson Performance Training Center at SPIRE Institute (Geneva, Ohio). He has worked in the performance...

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