The 40-Yard Dash is the ultimate measure of explosive speed—which is why many football coaches put such a high value on it when scouting players. But you could be one of the fastest players on the field and still have a mediocre 40.
Yes, the 40-Yard Dash is a sprint, but it's much more complex. It's typically broken down into four distinct phases, each with a different set of instructions, optimized to help you complete it as quickly as possible. Ignoring even one step could slow down your entire sprint, adding time to your 40 and failing to catch a coach's attention.
To help lower your 40-Yard Dash time, legendary four-time Olympic gold medal sprinter Michael Johnson provides a detailed demonstration (shown in the videos above) for each phase of the 40-Yard Dash.
The starting stance may be the least exciting—and most overlooked—part of the 40. But according to Johnson, it is the most important part of the sprint. Getting into a proper starting stance allows you to put max force back into the ground to shoot your body forward into the drive phase. Failing to adhere to Johnson's recommended technique will slow you down in the subsequent phases of the 40.
- Get into your stance quickly with minimal energy expenditure.
- Form a deep forward angle with your front shin.
- Shift your weight forward onto your front arm, which should be perpendicular to the ground.
- Cock your opposite arm back until your hand is at your hip, not up in the air.
- Explode forward and drive your arms and legs. Don't start running.
The drive phase comprises your initial acceleration over the first 10 yards. "We call it the drive because you're not actually running at this point," Johnson explains. "You're driving yourself out of the start position." You want to maintain a forward body lean and drive your legs back into the ground like pistons, which maximizes your acceleration before you move into a full sprint.
- Keep your left foot engaged with the turf to set up a powerful first step.
- Drive your legs back into the ground. Don't start running.
- Maintain a forward body angle and keep your body in a straight line.
- Use an exaggerated arm drive to generate momentum.
Transition and Max-Velocity Phases
Beginning at 10 to 15 yards, the transition phase, as its name implies, involves transitioning from the forward body angle of the drive phase to an upright, max-velocity sprint. Johnson says many athletes skip this phase, sacrificing critical speed. "One of the biggest mistakes athletes make is, they come out of the drive phase and immediately jerk their head up and get up into their running. It's basically like putting on a parachute 20 meters into the 40."
- Begin the transition from the drive phase to the maximum velocity phase at 10 to 15 yards.
- To move into your upright position, gradually raise your eye level until you're looking straight ahead. Don't jerk your head up.
- Run through the finish line.
For more ways to improve your 40-Yard Dash, check out the speed drills and exercises featured in the Michael Johnson Performance Series.