The 40-Yard Dash is all about technique. Yes, you heard right. It's about more than pure speed. And by taking the time to learn and practice the proper techniques, an athlete can drastically improve his 40 time.
Step one for success: correct sprint mechanics. Efficient sprint mechanics enable an athlete to fire the proper muscles in the correct sequence, which maximizes speed. By refining his sprinting form for the better, the athlete will improve his stride length and frequency—the defining attributes for running faster. (Learn how your head, knees and toes—and everything in between—should be positioned and aligned in order to make the most of your speed potential.)
Correct sprinting form gives an athlete the power to increase frequency, which is the number of strides over time and distance. By increasing stride frequency, the athlete decreases time between steps, ultimately becoming faster. To increase stride frequency, the athlete must reduce the amount of time his feet are in contact with the ground.
Working together with frequency is stride length. Finding the ideal length is important for achieving top-end speed. To post a solid 40 time, an athlete must be explosive, so avoid short, choppy steps and strive for longer, faster strides. This will ensure that each step taken covers maximum distance.
For superstar running back Chris Johnson, longer strides and perfect technique result in blazing speed. To improve his stride length, CJ performs band-resisted speed work. (Check out this article to learn more about the dynamic speed drills he performs in the off-season.)
Once proper sprint form has been learned and implemented, the athlete must apply those fundamentals to the 40-Yard Dash. First, the athlete must create a game plan, beginning with the start.
Much like sprint mechanics, there is a technique to the start, and it will make or break an athlete's time. Rule #1: don't rise up from the start. Instead, explode or drive forward from the stance.
Get coached up on the start and view the following video featuring Ryan Mathews, a top-five 40-Yard Dash performer among running backs (he owns a 4.45 time), as he practices his start in advance of the 2010 NFL Combine.
A solid start sets up the rest of the 40-Yard Dash to the athlete's advantage. While shifting into the drive phase, the athlete should be in a good, strong, forward lean position with his head down. Maintaining a solid forward lean throughout the first 15 to 20 yards enables the athlete to drive his legs into the ground for even faster acceleration.
Once the athlete has cleared the first 20 yards, he transitions from the forward lean to a more upright posture. To reach top-end speed, the athlete must then apply an efficient sprint technique in addition to optimal stride frequency and stride length. The athlete is working for rapid leg turnover, minimal ground contact and long strides.
Many different philosophies and training methods aim to improve an athlete's 40-Yard Dash time. To learn more about everything relating to the 40-Yard Dash, including strength training methods and exercises, click on the links below. They feature articles highlighting methods used by top performance coaches with their future NFL prospects.
On-Track Speed Work and 40-Yard Dash Advice From the King of Speed, Tom Shaw
40-Yard Training Featuring Speed Guru Tom Shaw and Danny Arnold of Plex [Stafford, Tex.]
Additional 40-Yard Drills From Danny Arnold
Linear Speed Training Program From the Experts at the Michael Johnson Performance Center
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock