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Tips On Improving Your 40-Yard Dash!

The 40-yard dash is tested in almost all sports now. Whatever your sport the mechanics remain the same. Here are some key pointers to lower your time.
The sports world has placed high demands on today's athlete. Athletes are measured by height, weight, strength, power and speed. Speed plays an important role in sports, as often the fastest athlete is the one who comes out ahead.

Speed training and development are thrown into a training session without much thought or direction. Coaches often find it takes too much time and effort and fail to "wipe the chalkboard clean" and start from scratch to teach the athlete proper running mechanics. By teaching an athlete the most efficient means in which to move their body, athletic performance will greatly improve as the athlete will be able to react more quickly and play with greater speed and acceleration.

The use of a sprint test is a common test for speed and ultimately athletic potential in all sports. In football, every coach or scout judges talent based on a prospect's 40 time. In baseball the 60-yard sprint is used as a speedometer. In volleyball the 20-yard sprint is measured. Whatever your sport the mechanics remain the same. Here are some key pointers to lowering your time.

The Start

An efficient start allows the athlete to accelerate out of their stance and reach top-end speed as soon as possible. The positioning of the body at the start must be mechanically correct. The start is the most important factor to clocking a fast time.

First pointer is to maximize the placement of the hand. With your thumb and index finger use as much of that painted line as possible (Fig. 1). The idea is that we don't want to give any time to the timer. We want to start eating away at the 40 yards right off the first movement, so we want to gain as much legal ground as possible.

Fig. 1

Next place your opposite foot 4 inches back from the line; this will be your plant leg. The farther this leg is back the more time is lost. The test then becomes 41 or 42-yard sprint and the time is slower.

Fig. 2

For the positioning of your drive leg, place the edge of your drive leg knee at the toe of your plant leg. This will provide the proper spacing between feet for the most optimal start. Notice the stance is staggered. This is the most optimum position for explosiveness.

Fig. 3

The opposite arm should be bent at an angle slightly more than 45 degrees. Often athletes will keep this drive arm straight, not allowing optimal explosion and mechanics. Also when drive arm is straight, the first movement occurs and the arm snaps back then forward losing valuable time from the timers starting on first movement.

Fig. 4

Putting it all together, the stance may not be most comfortable but assured it is mechanically correct. Make sure the feet and arm placement is no wider than shoulder width apart.

Fig. 5

To begin the sprint the down-hand fires off the ground (think of ripping the root of grass explosively out of the ground) pulling the elbow back while the drive arm fires forward in front of the face to propel the body forward. At that point the drive leg an arm rocket the body into acceleration. Power exerted from the start will transmit the athlete's body to its highest state of acceleration. An explosive push from both legs is vital for the start. During the start, the rear leg may seem to have more power and explosion but it is the plant leg that is the axis that is exerting force on the ground for a longer period of time.

First Step

The length of the first step out of the start is critical to the stride length for the duration of the run. The proper length of the first stride can be determined by lying on the ground with your back even with the start line. When sitting with a flat back and legs straight, mark off the line of the patella (knee cap). It is this line that should be the length of the first stride out of the start position.

First Ten Yards

The first ten yards should be explosive. Good forward body lean should be visible, with the eyes looking down.

Acceleration Phase

From the 10-yard mark through 30 yards, your body should have a slight forward body lean. The plant leg extends powerfully when landing propelling athlete forward. Once top speed is achieved stay relaxed and power through the last ten yards to the finish.


Breathing should be organized and controlled. Research from the Soviets suggest that if an athlete holds their breath from the start through acceleration phases (0-20 yards), the athlete will witness increased blood pressure, which through their research has shown to increase motor unit recruitment. By holding your breath, greater force is applied by the increased intra-abdominal pressure. For the best breathing pattern, hold your breath for the first 10 yards, exhale for the next 10 yards, inhale deeply for the next 10 yards, then exhale through the finish.

Other Keys

The arm action is just as important as the leg action. With a nice 90-degree angle at the elbow joint, move arms toward finish line and keep the elbows in. Arm swing is a source of power and is useful in correcting unwanted rotation caused by the lower body.

Hands should stay relaxed and open. Making a fist tightens the arms and shoulders reducing range of motion. Leg action should be circular. Think of "making a home run," moving the leg in a single plane of motion through a full range of movement.

By following some of these keys, you should be able to shave time off your 40 time. Practice and repetition are the keys to success in speed training. Look for other upcoming articles on training for the 40-yard dash, specific drills and strength programs designed to maximize your speed.

About The Author

Mike Gough BSc, CSCS, CFC is president of Mike is currently training top NCAA football players for the NFL draft combines. He has previously held the position of Strength and Conditioning Coach with the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Indians. He can be reached for consultation by e-mail at

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'Speed & Power Training For The 40!'