40 Yard Tips
In Part I the focus was entirely on the start. Getting in best
position possible to start will set up your entire 40 yard run.
Now, let's get you that blazing speed you have looking for during
the actual run of the 40.
Tip 1 – Drive Phase - Don’t force yourself to ‘stay
The drive phase happens right after you react to the starting gun.
Your initial 8 -10 steps is considered your drive phase. The
biggest problem seen with athletes in the drive phase is that
they know that staying low will create better exit angles set-up
the ideal acceleration phase. The problem is that athletes are
'trying' to stay low.
When athletes try and stay low they normally hold themselves down
by breaking at the hips. This will limit the amount of force you
can apply to the ground and leads to poor acceleration. Let your
upper body unfold naturally. You want to keep a straight line from
your back ankle all the way to your head. ‘Staying low’ will
occur naturally if you are already strong enough.
Drive out so the body is at a 45 degree angle to the ground.
Keep the heel recovery low during the first 6-8 strides.
Step over the opposite knee and drive the foot down into the ground
to create maximal force.
Tip 2 – Acceleration Phase
Since the acceleration phase (0-30 yards) is associated with a
higher stride frequency then at maximum speed, athletes are concerning
themselves too much trying to be quick with their legs. So, instead
of trying to drive out and be powerful, athletes are 'spinning
Make sure when you are running the 40 that you getting triple
extension (ankle, knee, hip) and that you 'feel your feet behind
you'. If you are getting the sensation of your feet driving well
behind your center of mass, then you know you are finishing off
your leg drive to be as powerful as possible. If you try to be
to quick with your legs, you will not be using your full strength
to drive out and although you might feel a little faster because
your legs are moving quicker, you will actually have a slower time
and not set yourself up to be in the best possible position.
Tip 3 – Relaxation
One of the hardest things about running is trying to stay relaxed
while you run. Most athletes first think that in order to run
fast that they have to run hard. They associate running hard
with trying to create as much tension as possible. You can tell
easily if an athlete is too tense, just by looking at their facial
If you see an athlete with a tight face, their eyes will be squinting,
teeth are mashed, and you know that they are trying too hard and
are forcing themselves to be slow down. If you see an athlete with
their cheeks flopping up and down as they run, you know that they
have mastered the relaxation technique and are getting the most
out their sprinting.
I remember sprint coach guru Charlie Francis saying that you must
'let the speed come'. You have to let your muscles work for you
and not against to maximize your speed potential. This is a tough
concept to learn and MUST be practiced if you want get the most
out of our speed.
Other things to look for if you are running tight are clenched
fists, elevated shoulders and a shortened stride.
Tip 4 – Arm Action
Arms should remain at approximately 90 degrees from the elbow.
The angle will close at the top and open at the back (60-140
degrees) but the average is about 90 degrees. Make sure that
you are not locking your arms 90 degrees, this will cause tightness
and decrease your range of motion.
• Palms and fingers are relaxed and facing in
Drive the elbows down and back to generate elastic response
Range of motion - hip to ear
Also, make sure that the arms are not crossing the midline of
your body. The arms are counteracting the force created by the
legs. So, if you arms are going side to side you know that your
hips will be turning because your legs are driving side to side.
You want to be traveling in a linear direction with as little deviation
Tip 5 – Hands: Open vs. Closed
Cueing the hands can be a touchy subject. Some coaches believe
that having your hands open is the best way while others like
a closed hand for their athletes to use while running.
First, I would look at the athlete. If they look as if their shoulders/arms
are staying relaxed and aren’t crossing the midline then
you shouldn't cue this athlete too much with hand technique. There
are so many other cues and techniques to work on then to worry
about their hands if they don’t seem to be causing a problem.
If your athlete is not staying relaxed in their arms and shoulders
then I would address then hands. Usually if the hands are wide
open with the fingers and palms are straight, the forearm tends
to be flexed. This causes tension of the arm and the upper arm
and shoulders, and as you know, this can affect the elasticity
of your muscles causing you to fight yourself as you move. The
same thing can happen when you make a fist and try to run. Holding
your hands clenched causes your forearms to be tight and you will
run into the same problem as the 'open' hand.
I teach in between both of these. You want your hands to stay
relaxed. I'm sure you have heard this saying before to ' pretend
you are holding a potato chip in your hand and you don't want to
break it'. You can actually feel your fingers almost bouncing up
and down as your run. This is the type of relaxation that should
carry to the rest of your arm up to your shoulder. Keep the hands
loose, but not open.
Another thing to note is that looking at the top receivers and
defensive backs, they never run with closed hands because they
want their hands to be as soft as possible to catch a ball. If
their hands are closed, their arms will be tight and it will take
more time to open them and create the soft hands that they are
Tip 6 - Stride Length
We touched a little on stride frequency, now let's get into stride
length. Your optimal stride length should be about 2.5-2.7 times
your leg length (measured from the crest of your greater trochanter
to the floor).
While optimal stride length is important, I would stay away form
certain exercises to try to increase it. Excessive downhill and
over speed running can actually cause problems with your running
technique. If the slope going downhill is too much and if you are
being pulled fast during over speed work, your legs starts to create
a braking action. This is where your foot plantar flexes (toes
pointed down) in front of your center of mass to try and stop that
speed. So, you are fighting yourself and stopping any speed you
are trying to create. This can not only cause damage to your hamstrings
but can also create neuromuscular integration problems.
Flexibility (dynamic ranges of motion and static stretching) and
strength & power training (which also helps joint stabilization)
are the best ways to reach your optimal stride length level.
Tip 7 – Other Important Sprinting Tips and Cues