40 Yard Dash Training
Here are 7 tips to decrease your 40 yard time dramatically
without having to run a step. The focus of this first article will
be on your starting position.
Tip 1 – Foot Placement
The start of your 40 yard is extremely important since it sets up your
entire run. You want to put yourself in the best position possible
to be able to explode off of the line.
You must first determine your 'quick' leg and your 'power/strong'
leg. An easy way to determine your “quick” side vs.
your “power” side, fold your arms in front of you.
The hand that is tucked under your bicep/armpit is your quick side
arm. If your left hand is tucked under, your right leg is your “quick” leg.
Your quick leg is going to be in the back position when starting
in a 3-point stance and your power leg will be in front. The front
leg is going to be the leg that is really starting the initial
drive out so you want your strongest and most powerful leg in front.
Technically, the distance between the front foot (power leg) and
the starting line should be approximately 55-60% of your leg length.
The distance between feet should be shin length, which is about
42-45% of total leg length. A simpler and equally effective spacing
is to start by placing front foot (power leg) two foot-lengths
from the starting line and the rear foot (quick leg) another foot
length between the front and rear feet. Spacing can be adjusted
from there based on comfort, existing strength levels, etc.
Tip 2 - Shoulder Position at the Start
The position of the shoulders while in the starting is a subject for
debate. Some coaches instruct their athletes to bring their shoulders
out slightly past their hands, thus bringing the center of mass closer
to the starting line. First off, at some football combines, this
movement is illegal so check with an official at your combine if
you prefer to use this technique.
I have found that leaning forward at the line often makes athletes
fall forward at the start. So, their first step is catching and
trying to control their body instead exploding out. They are actually
trying to keep their feet underneath them to avoid falling forward
and not creating horizontal velocity during the drive phase.
Your thumbs should be directly under your shoulders. This maximizes
the distance of the shoulders from the ground. The shoulders should
be directly over or slightly behind the hands. This will keep the
hips from moving forward and upward on the set command. The quick
side, (rear) knee should be in contact with the ground.
Tip 3– Leg Angles (Starting Position / 3-point
The front knee angle should be between 90 and 110 degrees, while the
rear leg angle should be between 120 and 135 degrees. Existing strength
levels will be the primary factor determining whether your knee angles
are closer to 90 and 120 degrees, versus 110 and 135 degrees. This
means that weaker athletes will have the hips higher in the air (closer
to 120 and 135).
Evidence suggests that angles in this range allow for the greatest
stretch reflex in the hamstrings, as well as the greatest amount
of velocity when exiting the starting line. It is important that
you know your limitations. Even advanced male athletes, at the
high school level, usually do not have the strength and power capabilities
to successfully use lower knee angles when in the set position.
A tell tale sign of poor acceleration mechanics and/or body angles
is seen when an athlete becomes completely upright within the first
few steps of a race. Rapidly decreasing shin angles are the most
obvious evidence of limited strength and power output.
Tip 4 – Head Alignment
You have probably seen and heard many different ways to align your
head while in the 3-point stance. Some coaches want you to keep your
head down and looking back at your legs at the start. Other coaches
believe that you should have your head up so that your eyes are looking
forward. This may work on the football field since you need to see
the ball snapped and know what's happening on the field, but we are
looking to your body in the best 'exiting' position possible.
Your head position should be properly aligned with your spine
(so it is straight). Looking down and back normally causes the
athlete to break at the hips while driving out while trying to
maintain that position. Also, another problem that I have seen
with trying to keep the head down is that it can cause the athlete
to lean too far forward while in the starting position and it causes
a breaking of the hips in the drive phase.
Tip 5 – Hip Height
Hips should be above the shoulders. The degree of height above the
shoulder will affect knee and hip angles, thus affecting force application
and acceleration. The higher your hips the more weight you can shift
to the hands.
Make sure that your hips aren't too high or you won't be able
to support all the weight and your first step off of the starting
line will be short almost 'catching' your body from falling. If
your hips are too low, you could have too much weight back where
your body can't explode as ideally as you would like to overcome
inertia. Also, you are most likely to 'pop' straight up on your
first step, negating your acceleration phase.
Tip 6 – Hand Placement
Hands should be placed about shoulder width apart to start. The hands
should also be arched, so that only the fingertips are actually touching
the ground. Doing this ensures that you will not place too much weight
on your arms which forces your legs to move the majority of your
body’s mass. The thumb and index finger are going to take on
the majority of the weight. They will also run parallel with the
Your quick side hand is going to be the hand that is going to
be left on the ground supporting during the set position. Your
power side hand will be raised off of the ground. Keep the power
side arm at 90 degrees with that hand by your hip. Keeping your
power side arm at 90 degrees at the starting position will enable
you to come through with that arm quickly when driving out. The
biggest reason to keep that arm at 90 degrees at the starting position
is if your 40 yard time is being timed by a stop watch and not
If someone is manually timing your 40 yard run with a stop watch,
they are going on your first movement. If your power side arm is
up to 120 degrees or so, it is easier to see that arm move first
and it won't be as noticeable if it is kept at 90 degrees. So,
it might be slight time saver, but as you know, every little bit
Tip 7– Focus
Most football combines time their 40 yard runs electronically or FAT
(fully automated timing). One of the easiest ways for them to time
is to have the electronic timing device connected to a gun, when
the gun fires, the timing starts. So, here is a tip if you are getting
your 40 timed by your reaction to the gun.
There are two things you can focus on. One is to focus on a motor
set, which means to focus on your first movement, not the gun.
Second, would be a sensory set. This means that you would focus
your attention on the starter’s gun. Focusing on the gun
isn’t necessary because you are going to hear it and react
to it whether you are focusing on it or not.
By focusing on a sensory set as opposed to a motor set, you are
likely to get a slower reaction time to the gun. By waiting to
react to the gun, you have to wait to hear the gun, and then your
brain has to acknowledge the sound of the gun, and then send a
signal to your muscles to react to the gun. This might only take
.10, but it is time you cannot afford to waste. Instead, you should
focus on driving the power side arm (if your right leg is forward,
then drive your right arm) up as soon as the gun goes off. This
will help bring your quick side leg through as well as help you
drive through your power side leg.