Top Tips for Improving Your 40-Yard Dash Time
“The reason for this is due to the short distance involved in the sprint; even a minor mistake can cost you 0.1 (one tenth) of a second which may spell the difference between a first or a third-round pick.” He explains.
A natural sprinter his whole life, Johnston, while in High School, worked with and was mentored by a well-respected combine prep and Olympic coach, Rich Lansky, who developed many techniques which Johnston uses to this day with his own clients.
“My sprinting times were made possible through both my natural God-given foot speed along with the methods I will be diving into here.” He says.
So, let’s break it down and get moving. Here, Johnston simplifies and focuses on the four primary stages of the 40-yard dash: Start, acceleration, transition, and sustain (or finish).
Hint: You don’t have to be in the NFL to successfully run the 40-yard dash!
Time to crank up the speed!
And while this may be true, Johnston explains the ability to sprint is a skill that must be practiced and does not come naturally to a large segment of the population.
“There is a strong distinction between sprinting, running or jogging, and that distinction lies in the acceleration phase and the ultimate energy output required to reach top speed for the individual,” he says.
To simplify: Think of sprinting in terms of weight training; A sprint is akin to a max effort squat which will test your ability to produce the most force physically possible for a brief period. Contrast that with a bodyweight squat or a bout of 30-minutes on the stair climber.
Those exercises require far less nervous system activity and only cause fatigue after a sustained, lower level of effort and strength output. Ultimately becoming a more powerful and “explosive” athlete demands the use of sprinting alongside your program to increase that force production threshold.
First, Breathe: Proper breathing techniques can either make or break your sprinting experience.
Johnston’s rule of thumb for breathing is taking one lungful of air every 4-6 strides. “That means you will leave the line with a full breath, before taking your second breath around the 10-yard mark and taking only 3-5 more deliberate breaths over the entire 40-yard distance.” He says, and explains this takes practice so don’t stress it on day one – you’ll get it.
First is the start. We will assume a three-point stance at the starting line in order to have a low center of gravity. To set up your starting position, you have to determine your lead (dominant/power) leg.
Kneel at the starting line with your lead leg – Now that we know your lead leg, you will kneel at the starting line with that leg forward.
Hand positioning – The last part of this setup involves the hands.
Time to start – Now that both hands, both feet, and both knees will be contacting the ground, it’s time to start.
Acceleration – This phase begins up until 10-yards and continues through the 20-yard mark.
Lengthen your stride – You’re now halfway through the 40. You’re almost done with the initial acceleration and are now beginning to lengthen strides again as inertia drives your forward toward the finish line.
Back to the sprint – From 20-30 yards in, you’ve stood fully upright now. Strides are lengthened to the max, and arms are pumping like pistons with each step.
The finish (Sustain Phase) – You’ve done all the work now you need to complete the job.
Congrats, you’ve now run a successful 40-yard dash!
The short answer, according to Johnston? No. “Like snowflakes, no two people are exactly alike and the same can be said when it comes to your sprinting form,” he explains. However, there are a few things that will always be consistent to be the fastest runner you can be.
TIP: Sometimes, jumping rope is an effective way to train yourself to spring off your toes when running and jumping. It will also develop the connective tissues of the foot and ankles to reduce injury risk.
TIP: A useful drill for effective arm action is to sit down with your feet out in front and pump your arms as if you were sprinting, all while practicing that vital breathing part we discussed earlier. One breath every four to six arm pumps.
Want to get faster? Johnston stresses placing your focus on those first 10-20 yards and repeating the steps to an optimal acceleration phase. “Additionally, performing high box jumps, standing broad jumps, and regular jumping rope will all contribute well to improving the necessary skills and strength needed to be the fastest you can possibly be.” He says, and like anything else in fitness, practice, repetition, proper rest and recovery will get you closer to any goal you have.
Here, Johnstons’ pro-tips will have you sprinting the 100-yard dash with ease!
Now that you’ve mastered the complex 40-yard dash, you may want to try your hand at the next most notable short sprint: 100 meters. Fortunately, Johnston explains there are many similarities between the two races, despite the 50-yard difference in distance.
“The biggest change is in the duration of those four phases mentioned for the 40.” He says.” Start, acceleration, transition, sustain.
Start: Your start will remain virtually unchanged, however in some cases you may have access to a set of starting blocks that act as a device to push off enabling an even more powerful first stride.
Acceleration: Rather than a 10-yard, head-down long striding posture, you will extend this out to 15 or even 20 yards (meters) to accumulate as much kinetic energy as possible.
Transition: Next, the transition to an upright sprint will continue from 20 to 50 or even the 60-meter mark. All the while gaining stride length and utilizing your forward momentum.
Sustain: The final 40 meters now become the new sustain phase which is better described as a maintenance phase at this distance. Maintain a relaxed body, powerful arm-pumping action, and long strides with as much rapid turnover as you can manage.
TIP: When you feel yourself losing speed, simply relax and revert to those fundamentals. Toes, arms, controlled breathing. Put that together and you will find success.