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Speed and Agility Training for Athletes: 7 Key Points to Running a Faster 40-yard Dash

The 40-yard dash is more than just a sprint; it’s a showcase of an athlete’s speed, agility, and explosive power. Often used as a performance metric in various sports, the 40-yard dash can make or break an athlete’s career. But what does it take to improve your 40-yard dash time? The answer lies in a multifaceted approach that considers not only speed but also strength, mechanics, and the underlying physiological components that contribute to explosive movements.

When one of our athletes, Ian, joined OAP Academy as an eighth grader, he ran a 4.70 laser time with one question in mind: how do I run a faster 40-yard dash? After 7 months in our program he is going into his freshman football season and has shaved off over two tenths of a second (.23 seconds to be exact) on his 40-yard dash time, running a 4.47 laser time seen below:

Improving your 40-yard dash time by 0.23 seconds may seem like a marginal gain when looked at in isolation, but in the highly competitive world of sports, such fractions of a second can be game-changing! For example, at the 2017 NFL combine, John Ross broke the 40-yard dash combine record with 4.22 second. If you add 0.23 seconds to that record breaking time (4.45 second), you now have the average skilled player’s time. An improvement of 0.23 seconds is the difference between the absolute best and average. To put it another way, if Ian was in Madden 24, that improvement is like going from 82 Speed to 90 Speed.

How did we improve his 40-yard dash time? Below are seven critical factors that we’ve utilized—and that you can also apply—to improve your speed in the 40-yard dash. Each of these elements is a cog in the well-oiled machine that constitutes a top-notch sprinter. By understanding and training these aspects meticulously, you too can significantly improve your 40-yard dash times:

1. High Relative Strength

How to achieve this? Use heavy or maximal weights as well as isometrics to drive your nervous system to produce high amounts of force. Time is of no constraint here. 

2. Increased Rate of Force Development

How to train this? Use weights (ideally with accommodating resistance) of 75-85% of your 1 RM every week. The nervous system trait we are seeking here is speed strength, which should register a velocity of .75-.99 m/s.

3. Improved Reactive Ability (measured through Reactive Strength Index, or RSI)

How to develop this? Sprinting at high speeds, depth jumps, and various multiple response jumps and bounds. Training this quality allows you to minimize ground contact times. The less time you spend on the ground, the faster your times will be.

4. Explosive Strength

How to train this? Utilize various MB Ballistic throws, weighted jumps (30-40% of 1 RM) and bounds to create a large amount of force in minimal time.

5. Joint Integrity

What is this? The ability for your joints to function as they should. This allows the athlete to properly absorb and exert force through the proper pathways. A powerful athlete with a bad wheel is only going to downgrade their speed and increase injury window. A dysfunction joint leads to a compensation and a compensation leads to an injury and an injury leads to a compensation. It becomes a vicious cycle. To ensure joint integrity for our athletes, FRC (Functional Range Conditioning) is a crucial component of our OAP Academy program.

6. Tendon Stiffness

Why do you need this? Your tendons and connective tissues must be able to absorb and exert a large amount of force. Ideally this process happens very rapidly so the athlete can produce a highly competitive performance effect. If the force or loads going into the tissue exceed what the tissue is capable of withstanding then an injury will occur. 

7. Proper Acceleration Mechanics

How to accomplish this? Review all 10 of our Concepts for Acceleration in our previous post, here.

Even if you thoroughly check all 6 of the other “boxes” to run a faster 40, nothing can take the place of QUALITY coaching. Despite such significant improvement, we’ve still identified ways to improve Ian’s 40-yard dash time even more:

  • More intentional out of the gate – he leans into his first step and likely trips the laser too soon. (The mechanics of his first step are actually rather good, but his second step has multiple inefficiencies and faults.)
  • The second step:
    1. He strikes out in front of his hip: deceleration strike
    2. Smashed the ground through the heel: deceleration foot contact
    3. Not intentional with his pattern: cycling too soon
    4. Not attacking the ground through proper shin angles.

Improving your 40-yard dash is not merely about running every day; it’s about a calculated approach that addresses the diverse elements contributing to speed and power. Understanding and incorporating these elements can provide a roadmap to running a faster, more efficient 40-yard dash. If you’re serious about enhancing your speed and taking your athletic performance to the next level, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for specialized training tailored to your needs.

P.S. Want to see Ian’s reaction to his time? Watch the full video here.

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