Football offers a long season of wear and tear. Yet in this day and age, there is no off-season, and every day presents a new opportunity to improve. This includes increasing speed year-round, both for the 40-Yard Dash and overall game speed.
Now, the 40-Yard Dash should certainly not be a priority in-season; however, that doesn't mean athletes cannot continue to improve their technique and lower their times throughout the season. Why wouldn't you want to get faster during the season and peak when it matters?
The key is to use low-impact, technique-oriented drills that reinforce correct movement patterns, activate the muscles needed for speed, and ingrain speed into the neuromuscular system while avoiding potential injuries or overtraining.
Low-impact drills do not place high amounts of force into the ground or high levels of reactive forces into a joint or muscle group. Sprints with heavy sleds, resisted bounds, and sprinting an all-out 40-Yard Dash are high-impact examples of how not to train for speed during the season.
Instead, include the speed drills below into your dynamic warm-ups or directly afterward to get some quick, low-impact speed work in during the season and continue to develop breakaway speed. Watch the video above to learn how to improve your 40-Yard Dash drive phase with former Olympic Gold medal sprinter Michael Johnson.
Low-Impact, Technique-Oriented Speed Drills
One of the simplest and most effective methods to improve speed is to implement correct foot placement on the ground. It is alarming how many athletes don't run on the balls of their feet, or do not understand the concept of dorsiflexion to enhance the stretch-shortening cycle. Pogo Jumps can be incorporated into your dynamic warm-ups to reinforce this crucial skill and ingrain correct neuromuscular patterns.
- Curl the toes up and lean slightly forward so that both toes and heels are off the ground, balancing strictly on the balls of the feet.
- Keep the legs completely straight with the body in an upright posture throughout.
- Put both arms in front at 90-degree angles.
- Maintaining the foot and arm position, bounce up and down explosively off the balls of the feet, pumping the shoulders to generate momentum. The key is to maintain dorsiflexion of the feet throughout the exercise.
Sets/Duration: 3x30 seconds should be sufficient to get your calves burning, warm up the ankles for practice and develop explosiveness off the balls of your feet.
Arm Action Drill
Arm Action is one of the simplest and most neglected techniques to improve speed. As a general rule, the more power and speed you generate through your arms, the more power and speed you'll generate through your legs. I encourage athletes to practice arm action for five minutes every day.
- Get into a good athletic stance. Keep both arms locked at 90-degree angles, with hands open and wrists relaxed.
- Bring one arm forward so the hand is at eye level, and drive the other arm back, maintaining a correct 90-degree angle, just past the hip.
- Explosively switch arms, focusing on maintaining form.
- Exhale with each switch, then work up to switching two, three or four times per rep.
Wall Drive Drill
This is a classic drill for improving acceleration, and it can be done with minimal impact or risk of injury if performed correctly and with appropriate volume. The keys are to focus on form, keep the volume low and incorporate it into your workouts after a thorough dynamic warm-up but before any major field or strength work, so that fatigue is not a factor.
- Lean against a wall or fixed surface at a diagonal angle, making sure to extend the hips and maintain a straight body posture from head to heel, with toes up to ensure you remain on the balls of your feet.
- Maintaining the correct posture and hip extension, bring one knee up toward the chest until your shin is parallel with your body.
- Quickly switch positions, driving the forward leg back to full extension and driving the rear leg forward to the shin-parallel position.
- Emphasize correct form throughout and keep ground impact low by focusing on the knee drive forward and full extension back rather than force production into the ground.
Sets/Reps: 3-4x 10-12
The speed of the 40-Yard Dash is primarily determined in the first 10 yards of the sprint. A bad start or poor acceleration are hard to overcome later on, in transition or top speed. Also, most speed-related movements on the field happen in increments of 10 yards or less. Thus, a great start and a 10-Yard Dash are crucial for both a good time in the 40 and great game speed.
A great way to continue to improve speed throughout the season is to practice the first three to five steps of the sprint, either from a 40-Yard Dash stance or your game stance, depending on position. If you have warmed up effectively and have no nagging injuries or especially tight muscles, the 10-Yard Dash is safe and effective.
I recommend using a variety of starting positions while continuing to emphasize the proper drive mechanics developed with Pogo Jumps, Arm Action and Wall Drives. Starts from a push-up position, 40 stance, or position-specific stance are all effective if technique is monitored and you begin decelerating safely after 10 yards or three to five strides.
Putting It All Together: How to Implement Speed Development into Practice
To continue to develop team speed throughout the year, I encourage coaches to work these basic drills into their practice plans. They are simple and effective, but only with attention to detail! The following is a general template to illustrate how they could be worked into practices.
Sample Practice Plan Incorporating Speed Development
1. Self-Myofascial Release
3. Dynamic Stretching
4. Speed Development
- Pogo Jumps: 3x30 seconds
- Arm Action: 4x10 single switches, 4x10 double switches, 1x10-second all out speed
- Wall Drive Drill: 2x10 single switches, 2x10 double switches
- 10-Yard Sprints: Push-Up Stance x2, 40 Stance x2, Position-Specific Stance x3
5. Team Practice
6. Cool down stretching
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