This is the time of the season when I’m sure you’re asked the same question over and over—how do I run a faster 40? Here are the top seven tips to increase your 40-yard time dramatically without having to run a step.

Tip 1: Foot placement

The start of your 40 yard is extremely important because it sets up your entire run. You want to put yourself in the best position possible to be able to explode off of the line.

You must first determine which leg is your “quick” leg and which is your “power/strong” leg. To determine your “quick” side versus your “power” side, fold your arms in front of you. The hand that is tucked under your bicep/armpit is your quick side arm. If your left hand is tucked under, your right leg is your “quick” leg.

When starting in a three-point stance, your quick leg is going to be in the back position and your power leg will be in the front. The front leg is the one that’s really starting the initial drive out so you want your strongest and most powerful leg in front.

Technically, the distance between the front foot (power leg) and the starting line should be approximately 55–60 percent of your leg length. The distance between your feet should be shin length, which is about 42–45 percent of your total leg length. A simpler and equally effective spacing method is to start by placing the front foot (power leg) two foot lengths from the starting line and the rear foot (quick leg) another foot length between the front and rear feet. Spacing can be adjusted from there based on comfort and existing strength levels.

Tip 2: Shoulder position at the start

The position of the shoulders while in the starting stance is a subject of debate. Some coaches instruct their athletes to bring their shoulders out slightly past their hands, thus bringing the center of mass closer to the starting line. At some football combines, this movement is illegal so check with an official at your combine if you prefer to use this technique.

I’ve found that leaning forward at the line often causes athletes to fall forward at the start. Their first step is catching and trying to control their body instead of exploding out. They’re actually trying to keep their feet underneath them to avoid falling forward, not creating horizontal velocity during the drive phase.

Your thumbs should be directly under your shoulders. This maximizes the distance of the shoulders from the ground. The shoulders should be directly over or slightly behind the hands. This will keep the hips from moving forward and upward on the set command. The quick side (rear) knee should be in contact with the ground.

Tip 3: Leg angles (starting position/three-point stance)

The front knee angle should be about 90–110 degrees while the rear leg angle should be about 120–135 degrees. Existing strength levels will be the primary factor for determining whether your knee angles are closer to 90–120 degrees versus 110–135 degrees. This means that weaker athletes will have their hips higher in the air (closer to 120–135 degrees).

Evidence suggests that angles within this range allow for the greatest stretch reflex in the hamstrings as well as the greatest amount of velocity when exiting the starting line. It’s important that you know your limitations. Even advanced male athletes at the high school level usually don’t have the strength and power capabilities to successfully use lower knee angles when in the set position. Signs of poor acceleration mechanics and/or body angles are evident when an athlete becomes completely upright within the first few steps of a race. Evidence of limited strength and power output can be seen in rapidly decreasing shin angles.

Tip 4: Head alignment

You’ve probably seen and heard many different ways to align your head while in the three-point stance. Some coaches want you to keep your head down looking back at your legs in the start position. Other coaches believe that you should have your head up so that your eyes are looking forward. This may work on the football field because you need to see the ball snapped and know what’s happening on the field, but here we’re looking for the best “exit” position possible.

Your head position should be properly aligned with your spine (so that it’s straight). Looking down and back normally causes the athlete to break at the hips while driving out and trying to maintain that position. Also, another problem that I’ve seen with trying to keep the head down is that it can cause the athlete to lean too far forward while in the starting position. This causes a breaking of the hips in the drive phase.

Tip 5: Hip height

The hips should be above the shoulders. Knee and hip angles will be affected by how high they are above the shoulders, which will in turn affect force application and acceleration. The higher your hips, the more weight you can shift to the hands.

Make sure that your hips aren’t too high or you won’t be able to support all of the weight. Your first step off of the starting line will be short because you’ll be “catching” your body from falling. If your hips are too low, you could have too much weight back where your body can’t explode as ideally as you would like to overcome inertia. Also, you’re most likely to “pop” straight up on your first step, negating your acceleration phase.

Tip 6: Hand placement

To start, the hands should be placed about shoulder width apart. The hands should also be arched so that only the fingertips are actually touching the ground. Doing this ensures that you won’t place too much weight on your arms, which forces your legs to move the majority of your body’s mass. The thumb and index finger are going to take on the majority of the weight. They’ll also run parallel with the starting line.

Your quick side hand will be the hand that’s left on the ground supporting you during the set position. Your power side hand will be raised off of the ground. Keep the power side arm at 90 degrees with that hand by your hip. Keeping your power side arm at 90 degrees at the starting position will enable you to come through with that arm quickly when driving out. This is especially important if you’re being timed with a stopwatch, not electronically.

If someone is manually timing your 40-yard run with a stopwatch, they’re going by your first movement. If your power side arm is up at 120 degrees or so, it’s easier to see that arm move first. It won’t be as noticeable if it’s kept at 90 degrees. While this might only be a slight time saver, as you know, every little bit helps.

Tip 7: Focus

Most football combines time their 40-yard runs electronically using fully automated timing (FAT). One of the easiest ways to do this is to connect the electronic timing device to a gun. The timing starts when the gun fires. So, if you’re getting your 40-yard run timed by your reaction to the gun, here’s a tip.

You can focus on two things—the motor set or the sensory set. Focusing on the motor set means that you focus on your first movement, not the gun. Focusing on the sensory set means that you focus your attention on the starter’s gun. However, it isn’t necessary to focus on the gun because you’re going to hear it and react to it whether you’re focusing on it or not.

By focusing on a sensory set as opposed to a motor set, you’re likely to get a slower reaction time to the gun. By waiting to react to the gun, you have to wait to hear the gun. Then your brain has to acknowledge the sound of the gun and send a signal to your muscles to react to the gun. This might only take 0.10 of a second, but it’s time that you can’t afford to waste. Instead, you should focus on driving the power side arm (if your right leg is forward, then drive your right arm) up as soon as the gun goes off. This will help bring your quick side leg through and help you drive through with your power side leg.

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