5 Tips to Improve Your 40 Yard Dash

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

September 20, 2019

Jeremy Campbell, MS, PES, CPT

With High School Football Combine season in full swing, we decided to give you guys a few tips to help you stand out from the rest of the competition.

Today’s focus: The 40 yard dash

In addition to game film, the 40 yard dash is arguably the most important measurable event when it comes to the evaluation of football players. It’s a true measurement of explosiveness, speed and acceleration. Running a good time can be the difference between obtaining a full scholarship offer or being invited to a team as a preferred walk-on.

The 40 yard dash can be broken down into 5 parts: 1. The Stance 2. 1st Step 3. Drive Phase/Acceleration (0-10 yards) 4. Transition/Max Velocity (10-25 yards) 5. Max Velocity/Top End (25-40 yards)


The stance is the most overlooked part of the 40 yard dash. Having an efficient stance sets us up for success throughout the various stages of the sprint.

We start the 40-Yard Dash in a three-point stance, which means your body has three contact points with the ground - right foot, left foot and one hand. Contrary to popular belief, when setting up for the 40 yard dash, we do not want to crowd the line. Crowding the line often bunches us up and puts our body into a non advantageous position. Even though crowding the line shortens the distance of the sprint, it also alters the direction in which you can efficiently apply force.

You should set your drive leg up approximately 1 foot from the starting line. This distance may be more or less depending on a variety of factors including your limb length, mobility, flexibility and comfort. The trail leg should be approximately 18” behind the front of the lead foot and much like the drive leg, the distance will be influenced by the same factors. Your base should be no wider than your hips. By keeping your ankle under your hip joint, you are allowing yourself to push your center mass explosively off the line when you start.

Once your feet are set, you can drop into the half kneeling position with the knee of your trail leg down. Next, walk your hands to the line to create a forward body lean. Your stance support arm will be the arm on the side of the trail leg. Make sure it is directly under your shoulder with no bend at the elbow. Your swing arm should be bent at a 90-degree angle and placed on your hip. Finally, tuck your chin (eyes should be focused on the starting line below you), raise your hips slightly above your shoulders. You should feel the weight on your support hand and the weight distribution should be about 65/35 in favor of your lead leg. As for angles, we are looking for a 45 degree angle on the drive leg and approximately 45 degrees on the trail leg. You are now in the 40-Yard Dash setup. Take 2 deep breaths and get ready to go.... FAST!

1st Step

The first step out of your stance sets you up for the drive phase. We want this step to be explosive. Instead of thinking about stepping out, think about pushing your body away from the line as far as you can. You will be driving through the lead leg while simultaneously “punching” the swing arm forward. The support arm will be swinging back as the trail leg drives through forcing the hip on the drive leg side into extension. Once the trail leg is through and the opposite hip is extended, the goal is to get that trail leg/foot back to the ground as quickly and violently as possible. Attack the ground behind you.

Drive Phase/Acceleration

The drive phase begins immediately after you explode out of your starting stance and lasts anywhere from 10-12 yards. In this phase you want to be as aggressive and deliberate as possible with all of your movements. Think power, power, power... everything about this phase screams power! Leg drive is piston-like and the application of force is down and behind the body. Arm drive in this phase starts long and powerful and gradually shortens. We want to keep our chin down but our chest slightly up. One of the common misconceptions is that we want to stay “down”. Athletes will think that means to keep the waist bent and the torso parallel to the ground. If we did this, not only will our knee drive be impeded, but we will eventually fall flat on our face due to gravity. Let the torso gradually work its way up to 45 degrees as we progress through the 10-12yd landmark.

Transition/Max Velocity

After accelerating through the first 10 - 12 yards, you will begin the transition into max velocity/top end speed. Our torso will begin to ascend to a more vertical position while our arm swing will start to become more cyclical with a rapid frequency. Leg drive begins to shift from the piston-like movement to a more cyclical motion as the transition to top end speed begins.

Max Velocity/Top End Speed

The final phase of your sprint is know as Max Velocity/Top End Speed. This usually occurs between 22 - 25 yards. The primary objective for this final phase is to maintain the velocity that we have built up and minimize the opportunities for a breaking force to slow us down. During this phase, we are in an upright position and our arm action and leg action is cyclical instead of piston like. Your foot strike at top speed is very important. Think about clawing and ripping the ground in front of you, like you’re trying to get gum off of the top of your shoe. All ground contact should come from the balls of your feet and never strike with your heel. Overstriding is a breaking force and it happens when our heels hit the ground first because the feet are striking too far in front of the hip.

As you can see, In addition to being strong and powerful, running a fast 40 yard dash has a huge technical component to it. Mastery of the various components takes time and repetition. Stay tuned for more blog posts and videos on the specific components of the 40yd dash... and if you really want to run a fast time, sign up for our Football Combine Prep Class, specidically designed to prepare you for your upcoming combine/camp!

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