40-Yard Education

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Sure, your dad's or your high school coach's stopwatch clocked your 40-yard dash at under 4.5 seconds;  but most college recruiters will ignore that time or laugh it off as inaccurate or biased. If you're seriously trying to prove to recruiters that your 40 speed is legit, read on.

"Running a 40, I thought it was just getting up and taking off, but [I learned] there's a drive phase, a transition phase, and a finishing phase," says Oakland Raiders 2008 NFL Draft first-round selection Darren McFadden. Unbeknownst to most athletes, like McFadden at one time, it is possible to learn and practice 40-yard technique to achieve crowd-silencing times.

"Before I started training, I was probably a high 4.3—4.37, 4.38, 4.39—but learning the technique of the 40 helped me a whole lot," says McFadden, the 2006 and 2007 Heisman runner-up. For his final test in front of NFL scouts, McFadden transferred his teachings to the turf by running a sizzling official time of 4.33 at the 2008 Indy Combine.

Below, STACK presents 40-yard wisdom and guidance from Tim Robertson, founder of Speed Strength Systems, and Tom Shaw, owner of Tom Shaw Performance Enhancement. Robertson's clients have included San Diego Chargers TE and four-time Pro Bowler Antonio Gates and 2006 Heisman winner and Baltimore Ravens QB Troy Smith. Shaw has trained QBs Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Jay Cutler of the Denver Broncos and RB Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans.

Starting on the "right" foot
Foot placement is crucial when getting into position at the start line. Hug the starting line as close as possible so your right hand and left foot are on the line. Feel free to move your foot back two or three inches if it's more comfortable, but remember that the further back you move, the more ground you have to cover.

Weight watcher
In start position, shift the majority of your body weight over your left foot and right hand. If your weight is shifted back, it creates an unnecessary negative stimulus that your body has to overcome.

Spine in line
When getting into start position, align your spine parallel with the ground. If your back is rounded at an incline or decline, your body will automatically adjust your running gait in an unnatural fashion.

First five
The first five yards of the 40 will most likely determine success or failure. When emerging from the start stance, drive your legs, keep your head down, and focus on perfect power angles. Too much bend in hips and knees will work against you. Think of yourself as a loaded cannon exploding up and out.

Stride length
An average high school kid should run the 40 in 22 steps or less. Detroit Lions superstar Calvin Johnson typically runs his 40 in 18 steps, as did legendary burner Deion Sanders. Obviously, stride length varies among athletes, but strive for longer, faster strides so every step covers ground. The 40 is all about explosive movements, and successful runners avoid short choppy steps.

Fast and relaxed
The ultimate goal is to run as hard as you possibly can under control. A few minor keys for major improvement: avoid straining, extraneous head movement, gritting teeth and swinging elbows across the body.

Simple arithmetic
Don't worry, this theory isn't as hard as what you'll encounter in trig class, and it's probably more beneficial in the long run (no pun intended). If an athlete takes 20 strides to cover 40 yards, he should aim to gain an extra two inches with each stride. If he can achieve this goal—two inches multiplied by 20 strides equals 40 inches—he'll cut two-tenths of a second off his time. So, for example, your 4.8 gets reduced to a 4.6. In the world of college scouts, 4.6 is greater than 4.8.  

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