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Three drills to improve 40-yard dash times

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Here at the Fischer Institute, we are preparing our top college football players for the biggest job interview that is publicly known, the NFL Scouting Combine. One of the "questions" my players will be asked in the process is always about their speed. So I have hired world-renowned speed and technique coach Will Sullivan from Sullivan Proformance to ensure they will answer correctly and entirely!

The 40-yard dash is the marquee event at the combine in Indianapolis. If an athlete performs well enough to turn heads, then he'll possibly have run the last two 40-yard dashes of his career. At the Fischer Institute's NFL Combine Camp, we typically get six to eight weeks with our athletes to get them in shape to perform at their very best when it counts. Our success is embedded in our ability to assess the athletes daily and implement the correct drill progressions as the weeks get closer to the combine.

As a speed coach during the combine preparation process, you have to be able to create a progressive program built on sound mechanics, power production and overall high-speed development. Everyone can run, but sprinting is an acquired skill in my opinion. The following drills are staples in my speed program. The focus of the program is to reinforce the teaching points that our athletes learn throughout their time training with us. This allows them to see optimal results at the combine and beyond. Our speed training system has produced some of the fastest athletes year after year at the combine in Indianapolis.

Bounding Single-Leg Start (Figure 1)

(Figure 1)
(Figure 1)

Bounding is an excellent drill to increase power production. However, bounding from a single-leg starting position allows athletes to better understand simple loading principles when they get into their three-point stance. The front "power" leg should be the leg you balance on when performing this drill.

Start on one leg with your weight over your toes and begin to sit your hips back and lower your center of mass to attain close to a 90 degree bend on your front leg. Keep your back flat, with your head in a neutral position. Your back leg should be off the ground and slightly bent. The "down" arm will be parallel with the forehead, and the back arm will rest past the hip pocket. Bound out three steps then jog. After each bound step, make sure to keep the maintain the form and posture you had when you started to maximize power production. For skill position players, the goal is always to achieve eight yards within the three bounds without reaching out with your legs. Perform four to six repetitions of this drill.

Stance and Start with Resistance Band (Figure 2)

(Figure 2)
(Figure 2)

The first three steps of a 40-yard dash can make or break you. Effective "down force" application is essential to get athletes to master the ability to push under their hips in their first three steps. After we have taught our method and philosophy on the three-point stance, we progress to resistance as the athlete initiates his drive phase. Our goal is three 1/2 steps for five yards and six to seven steps for 10 yards. An athlete must possess a positive shin angle as they progress through their first three steps to continue to push underneath their hips. We utilize a large tire to anchor the resistance bands.

To perform this exercise, place a single band across your chest and get into a three-point stance. Push off with your front leg while staying low. Take three slow steps moving forward. Concentrate on pushing off the ground and keeping your weight over your toes while continuing to swing your arms back and forth. When you reach your third step, slowly step backwards and repeat the process four times for a set. This drill is great for athletes who have a tendency to "pop-up" after their first step. It reinforces the technique needed to stay low and build maximum speed.

High-Knee Run Progression (Figure 3)

(Figure 3) The athlete is starting his sprint. Notice his lean as he leaves his starting position.
(Figure 3) The athlete is starting his sprint. Notice his lean as he leaves his starting position.

As athletes transition from the drive phase (coming out of the blocks, building speed) to the fly phase (flat out sprint), maintaining sound mechanics becomes a crucial point of emphasis to finish "through" 40 yards. We teach our athletes to run the 40-yard dash as if they were actually running 50 to 60 yards instead. As an athlete gets stronger, his distance in his drive phase will continue to increase. Some of our track athletes are able to drive through the entire 40! However, most will progress through the drive phase and need to transition from high force to high frequency. This drill reinforces posture, synchronization and foot strike during the transition. This drill is similar to the popular " Tall, Fall and Lean" run.

To perform this drill, start a high-knee "sprint" motion in place at about 80 percent of your max speed (you should be pumping your arms at about 80 percent of your sprint pace as well). Keep good posture, arm swing and leg action before taking off. Have a friend or coach blow a whistle, and when they do increase your upper limb rotation and speed to 100 percent, but stay in place! Begin to lean forward until you achieve close to a 45 degree angle and then sprint out from that position. This will align you in a way where you can sprint forward without negatively affecting the application of your force against the ground. Gradually return to an upright position several yards down the field as you enter the fly phase. Sprint through 20 yards while focusing on sound mechanics and limiting ground contact time. 

Sullivan Proformance's methodology and coaching has helped the Fischer Institute become one of the leaders in the combine training circuit. Stay tuned to NFL Network this February and check out the live coverage of the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine where you will see these fundamentals come to life in the 40-yard dash!

-Brett Fischer is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified dry needling provider. He has worked with the University of Florida, New York Jets, PGA; Senior PGA TOUR and the Chicago Cubs.

Want to see NFL player workouts or more professional fitness tips? Check out NFL Up! for the training secrets of the NFL's best!

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