What’s your 40? This is a wildly popular question among young athletes. Speed is made up of two components: stride frequency and stride length. To run faster and shave time off your 40-Yard Dash, you must improve your stride length, or the amount of ground you cover with each stride.
In 2012, Usain Bolt won his second 100-Meter Dash gold medal by taking 41 steps to complete the race. The rest of the field took between 44 and 46 steps. This illustrates the key to speed—taking fewer steps than your opponent to go from point A to point B.
To lengthen their stride length, many athletes make the mistake of trying to reach with their forward leg. This actually slows them down. Instead, you need to develop a powerful stride that propels you forward through the air.
Coaching high school track in the state of Florida for the past 12 years, I have rarely seen a freshman boy dominate the sprints. Only after he matures and is exposed to a proper strength and power program does he begin to realize his potential. Typically this happens in later years—why we often see older guys dominate the sprints. Considering all of this, if you want to get faster, it’s best to spend your time training in the weight room.
There are several techniques that I’ve found to be effective.
To improve stride length you must get stronger and learn to apply more force into the ground. Traditionally, coaches focus on The Big 3—Squats, Deadlifts and the Bench Press. These exercises are great and they do wonders for building strength. However, I’ve found that incorporating sled work into a speed program can also be extremely effective.
Two exercises that develop strength and simultaneously teach proper acceleration mechanics are the Prowler Push and heavy Sled Drags. Both exercises force you to position your body in a forward lean and apply force into the ground at the same time. The forward lean puts you in proper position to accelerate at the start of the 40-Yard Dash. Both exercises help you get stronger and learn how to apply force into the ground to run a faster 40.
You don’t need an fancy, expensive sled to realize the benefits of these great exercises. We attached a rope to a sandbag, which can be loaded with as much as 300 pounds. Sandbags are extremely versatile and provide an excellent training stimulus for sprinters. Another is the use of kettlebells. Simply loop a heavy rope through the kettlebells and pull away!
An often overlooked component of speed is flexibility. Athletes often lack enough flexibility to extend from the ankles, knees and hips, limiting the amount of force they can apply into the ground. Think about it—if you can’t fully extend at the hip, knee and ankle joint, how can you apply maximal force into the ground?
Optimizing your 40-Yard Dash time requires a blend of work. As your strength and flexibility improve, so will your 40 time. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get faster. You can. Work hard and watch your time drop!
Below is a sample training program you can use to improve your strength and flexibility, which will improve your speed.
40-Yard Dash Speed Workout
- Goblet Squat – 4×8; hold the bottom of each rep for 3 seconds
- Push-Ups – 4×8-12; hold each repetition at the top for 5 seconds
- Glute Bridge – 4×8-12; squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement
- Rear-Foot-Eleveated Split Squat – 4×8 each leg; lower over four counts
- Prowler Marches – 4×25 yards
- Sandbag Sled Drag – 4×25