The 40-yard dash is the reality television show of athletic training: overrated by most, acclaimed by a few, and endlessly discussed by everyone until the next episode. This guilty pleasure can reward the fastest survivor, but your shot at scholarship love will never air if you can’t keep up with the other dashers. Below, Eric Lichter, football strength coach and speed guru at Ohio State University, offers real world advice to make you the idol of the program.
Lichter says, “When we work linear speed, we break [it] down into three segments: start work, plyometric work, and maximal speed training.” As part of the Buckeyes’ “maximal speed training,” Lichter uses the Flying 20s drill to recruit top-end velocity for the 40. “[We’re] working on your second 20 [yards], or how well you hold maximal speed,” he says.
“Nothing can move at constant motion; you’re always either accelerating or decelerating,” explains Lichter, who trained recent OSU greats Vernon Gholston, Beanie Wells and James Laurinaitis. “Really, when you’re running a 40, the guy who’s pulling away is decelerating the least . . . the guy who’s slowing down the least is the guy who looks like he’s accelerating to the finish.”
To create the illusion of acceleration, record Flying 20s to your training TiVo once or twice per week in the off-season.
Flying 20s Drill
Setup: Place one cone 20 yards from start line and another cone 40 yards from start line
• Begin at start line in three-point stance or standing up
• Build speed gradually for first 19 yards
• Accelerate explosively at 20-yard cone
• Maintain maximal speed while sprinting past 40-yard cone
Adaptation: If available, attach a parachute to waist to offer resistance
Goal Time: Record your time from the 20-yard cone to the finish line, and strive for improvement each set
Point of reference: Future NFLer Beanie Wells runs his final 20 yards in 1.88 seconds [Pop quiz! Figure out his 40 time—cue the theme song from Jeopardy!—yeah, he’s fast]
Coaching Points: Don’t jog for the first 19 yards // Build speed gradually, and then punch it at the 20-yard cone // Avoid running too hard and losing your form // Develop a “narrow hallway,” one inch outside of hips and one inch outside of shoulders // Avoid swinging arms across your body // Don’t allow your feet to swing out to sides // Do not open up your knees outside of “hallway”