by: Shane Ecker
Every athlete knows that speed is crucial in almost every sport. Whether you’re sprinting for first base, running down a receiver or trailing the fast break; there’s a constant need for speed. Some would argue that you’re either born with it or not. We’re not here to argue nature vs. nurture but we are here to tell you that no matter how fast or slow you may be there are a few universal things you can do to improve your 40-yard dash time. The 40-yard dash is the standard for measuring speed in most sports and that’s why it’s used in the NFL. These five tips for improving your 40-yard dash time are based on our experience and research:
- Starting Position
The start can make or break your 40-yard dash time and it is important to find the stance that works for you. You will need to determine which leg is your strong leg. You can do this by taking a few steps and then jumping. The leg you jump off of is your strong leg. Place your strong leg in front of your other leg a few inches behind the starting line and lean forward placing your weak hand just behind the starting line. Your weak hand is going to be on the opposite side of your strong leg side. Your weak hand should be touching or as close to the ground as possible. You should be in a semi crouched position leaning slightly forward. Being in this semi crouched position is intended to help you explode more forcefully at the start and reach your maximum speed in fewer steps. A three-point stance is usually best for the 40 but taller runners may not want to get into as deep a position. If you’re running on a track obviously a four-point stance with starting blocks is best. Again, you need to determine the exact starting position that works for you based on your weight and height as well as what gets the best results.
- Improve Leg Strength
While it’s obvious that your leg strength is vital to a good sprint it is important to understand that not all types of running are going to help improve your speed. Too much distance running uses a completely different set of muscles and may reduce your sprint time. Some simple exercises you can do to build strength specifically for sprinting are squats, leg lifts, calf raises and hill sprints. Hill sprints will help you gain strength quickly and there’s less risk of injury since no weights are involved. Find a hill that will take you 10 to 15 seconds to sprint up. After warming up sprint up the hill as fast as you can and either walk or jog slowly back down. At the bottom don’t give yourself any more than 15 seconds of rest before sprinting back up the hill. If you can repeat this process and sprint up that hill 10 times you’ve accomplished something worthwhile. A workout like this will strengthen your heart and legs giving you the explosive power you need in order to improve your 40-yard dash time.
- Warm It Up
You wouldn’t believe how many athletes don’t warm up properly or at all. Your body is like an engine block on a cold day. You must warm it up before you take it out on the road. Everyone has their own warm up routine but all of them should involve stretching. Pulling a hamstring is one of the most common injuries when running the 40-yard dash. You’ll want at least a solid 15 minutes of warm-up before taking on an all-out sprint. The areas you want to stretch are your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and lower back. The goal is to increase your heart rate slightly so that more blood is flowing to your muscles before the start of your 40.
- Start with The Legs
Proper running form will maximize your efficiency and can really help to reduce your 40-yard dash time. The fewer strides you take the faster your time will be. If you can increase the length of your stride comfortably you might be able to shave some time off your 40. Have someone count your steps when you run the 40 and see if you can reduce the number slightly. The fewer times you touch the ground the faster you’ll be. Another important part of your sprinting technique is your arm swing. Again, the more efficiently you can do this the faster you’ll be. Although everyone has a different style your arms should not be swinging side to side when you sprint. Your hands should also not go much further back than your hips or much higher than your chin when you are in a full sprint.
- Get Your Gear Right
Yes, shoes make a difference. Make sure you know what type of surface your 40 will be run on. If you’re getting timed for football it will most likely be on grass or turf. If you’re running track it will be on compacted cinder or a synthetic surface. Cleats will give you better traction on grass, but you might want turf shoes or racing flats depending on which surface you end up running your 40-yard dash on. Gear includes more than shoes. Your shorts, socks and shirt can make a difference as well. Some athletes like to wear calf compression sleeves which can increase blood flow slightly. Wearing heavy cotton sweats may be good for staying warm but have some lightweight gear ready for the 40. You’d be surprised by how much a few extra ounces and wind drag can slow you down.
A lot of coaches like to say that you can’t teach speed. To some degree it’s true but you can teach work ethic and if you put some effort into it you can improve your 40-yard dash time. Baseball, basketball, football, soccer and track athletes can all benefit from improving their short distance speed. These five tips are only a few of the things you can do to increase your explosiveness on the field or the court.
References for “Five Ways to Improve Your 40 Yard Dash Time: Speed Kills”:
Jonathan Chng Devin Phaly
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