Do you need a faster 40?

This article originally appeared in Stack.com in January 2013. These drills are still 3 of my favorites (especially with high school and youth athletes) for achieving a faster 40 time and with football off season still underway, I feel it warrants a comeback!

Note there are no drills for the start position in this article. I feel it is important to work on sprint form drills before focusing on the start. Adding too much at once confuses the brain. It is partially why 2 out of 3 drills takes away components. Work arm mechanics, leg mechanics, then put them together and be faster.

Do you need a faster 40-Yard Dash and game-day speed?

The following drills will help you reach your true speed potential. Try them after your dynamic warm-up, before your conditioning sessions. At first, these drills might feel awkward, but that’s normal. All the more reason why you need them! Just keep at it.

Link to original article

It’s one thing to do speed drills for football and another to apply the drills to straight-ahead running. Applying the technique to your running form is what will make you faster in the 40. Consistency is more important than doing a ton of reps one day and then going a week before repeating them. Let your speed come to you. Forcing the drills, and your speed, will tense you up and slow you down.

1. Kneeling Arm Drill

AFI - Do you need a faster 40

Purpose: The arms are your body’s gas pedals. The kneeling arm drill emphasizes proper arm biomechanics, which helps propel your legs into proper biomechanics, thereby increasing your speed.

Sets/Reps: These depend upon your training phase, skill level, and how you feel. Form quality trumps quantity. Start with 2-4×10 (5 per arm) of each drill.

How to perform:

  • Get in a kneeling position
  • Place your left foot in front and right knee down with your head down
  • Your left ankle, knee, and hip should all be bent at 90-degree angles; the toes of your right foot should be touching the ground

The Kneeling Arm is a sequence of four drills, each one flowing into the next. Repeat each drill with the opposite leg forward.

Sequence 1: Pendulum

  • Start long with relatively straight arms
  • Either open hands or fists are okay, as long as the palms are facing in (towards your body)
  • Keeping arms straight, swing arms forward and back in alternating fashion
  • Stay long and relaxed

Sequence 2: Jog

  • Allow your elbows to bend and, applying alternating arm motion, perform a rhythmic jog
  • Your front hand should come up to cheek height with your elbow flexed at a 90-degree angle
  • Your back hand should pass the hip with your elbow flexed at a 120-degree angle
  • Make sure you swing from the shoulders, not the elbows

Sequence 3: Run

Use the same action as in the jog, but increase the cadence.

Sequence 4: Sprint

Same action, but this time as fast as possible. Notice that your body really bounces, using your arms alone.

Common mistake to avoid:

Excessive bending at the elbow with a chopping motion. You want to swing from the elbows, not perform bicep curls.

*Tip: I often use this drill in a standing position, with sequence 4: Sprint, being a 10y sprint. Purpose is to use the arm drill and apply it!

2. Wall Drill

AFI - Do you need a faster 40.2

Purpose: This will help you achieve ideal body position at the onset of acceleration, especially out of a 3-point or 4-point stance, using sprinting biomechanics with legs only, glutes and core activation.

Sets/Reps: Again they depend on your training phase, skill level, and how you feel. Form quality trumps quantity. Start with 2-3 sets of:

  • 10-20 reps x 1 switch
  • 4-6 reps x 3 switches
  • 4-6 reps x 5 switches

How to perform it:

  • Push your hands against a wall and lean forward at a 45-degree angle; stand on the balls of your feet with your feet under your hips
  • Set and maintain a good plank position
  • From this position, perform an explosive marching action
  • When driving the lead leg up, bring your ankle beneath your hip and keep your ankle flexed (push your toes to the top of your sneaker)
  • With alternating legs, start with one march before pausing; every time you switch legs, think of punching your lead knee forward while driving your other leg through the ground
  • After a set of one march, take a break, reset, then try three marches with a pause, and then five marches with a pause
  • You should feel pressure being put into the wall
  • Punch your knees forward and drive through

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Striking foot migration. When you march, make sure to place each foot strike in the original starting position.
  • If you find it migrating backward, think of firing the glutes and being “tight.”
  • Breaking at the hips. A stable core is needed to avoid breaking at the hips. If you find yourself breaking at the hips, think “brace” or “set.”

3. A-Run Series

AFI - Do you need a faster 40.3

Purpose: A range of motion drill for top speed mechanics. The A-Run basically combines the classic High Knees and Butt Kick drills into one. It’s preferable because it reinforces proper sprinting biomechanics rather than reinforcing excessive front and backside mechanics of the classic A and B skipping drills.

Watch this Video to get a better idea of how to perform the A-Run Drill.

Sets/Reps: Again these depend on your training phase, skill level, and how you feel. Form quality trumps quantity. Try for 3-5x 20 strides (10 strides per leg).

How to perform it:

  • In a stationary position, pick up one leg—step over the knee of the support leg—and immediately drive the lead foot down into the ground underneath your hips near your opposite ankle; quickly bring the heel of the lead foot under the hips and butt
  • Immediately perform this action with the opposite leg and continue the run in a smooth fashion
  • You should have aggressive arm action as in the run version. Be explosive and fast.
  • Start by practicing the drill as a march and/or skip before the run. Once you get the feel for the stationary A
  • Run, try doing it as a moving run. Jog 5-10 yards into A-Run for 10-20 yards.

Common mistakes to avoid:

The A-Run is highly skilled drill and requires a lot of coordination. Common mistakes include:

  • Improper arm action
  • Reaching the legs out too far in front of the body
  • Failing to flex the foot as it passes over the support leg. Remember to push the toes to the top of your sneaker following the recovery portion.

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek small improvements one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens—and when it happens, it lasts.”

—John Wooden

Tammy Kovaluk
Tammy Kovaluk, MSc, CSCS, is the owner of RISE Sport Performance Training (Tucson, Arizona). Originally from Canada, she has over 15 years of experience working with athletes in a wide range of sports. She specializes in high school and collegiate athletes, with team experience in football, baseball, and swimming. Kovaluk was the strength and conditioning coach for Belmont High School and the Victoria Rebels Junior Football teams, and she still consults with them. She was a competitive amateur boxer, cross country runner and triathlete; and she's currently an obstacle course racer.
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