The 40-yard dash is the ultimate measurement of speed in football. Prospective NFL players are given bigger contracts or passed over entirely based on how they run the 40. College prospects are given an extra look if their 40 time warrants it.
Want to improve your 40-yard dash time? Patrick Beith of Athletes' Acceleration offers seven tips to a faster 40--and they're all before you even take off.
The start of your 40 is extremely important since 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 your "quick" leg and your "power/strong" leg. An easy way 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.
Your quick leg is going to be in the back position when starting in a three-point stance and your power leg will be in front. The front leg is going to be the leg that is 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 to 60 percent of your leg length. The distance between feet should be shin length, which is about 42 to 45 percent of total leg length. A simpler and equally effective spacing is to start by placing 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, existing strength levels, etc.
Shoulder Position at the Start
The position of the shoulders while starting is a subject for 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. First off, at some football combines, this movement is illegal so check with an official at your combine if you prefer to use this technique.
I have found that leaning forward at the line often makes athletes fall forward at the start. So, their first step is catching and trying to control their body instead of exploding out. They are actually trying to keep their feet underneath them to avoid falling forward and 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.
Leg Angles (Starting Position / Three-Point Stance)
The front knee angle should be between 90 and 110 degrees, while the rear leg angle should be between 120 and 135 degrees. Existing strength levels will be the primary factor determining whether your knee angles are closer to 90 and 120 degrees, versus 110 and 135 degrees. This means that weaker athletes will have the hips higher in the air (closer to 120 and 135).
Evidence suggests that angles in 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 is important that you know your limitations. Even advanced male athletes, at the high school level, usually do not have the strength and power capabilities to successfully use lower knee angles when in the set position. A tell tale sign of poor acceleration mechanics and/or body angles is seen when an athlete becomes completely upright within the first few steps of a race. Rapidly decreasing shin angles are the most obvious evidence of limited strength and power output.