July 21, 2020 7 min read

Sports are largely about speed. It makes a huge difference in every game and every sport. Half a second is the difference between being safe at first base by 10 feet or being out by a mile. Touchdowns and goals are often scored or stopped by less than one step. This is equal to just 1 or 2 tenths of a second.

Speed is actually a skill: having a quick first step, agile lateral motion, and aggressive acceleration can turn a player or team into a high-octane scoring machine. And there are few sports in which that skill is more pivotal, or is more of an indicator of a player’s value, than in football.

Speed is important on both sides of the ball. On defense, speed is critical when an opponent must be defended. On offense, speed puts pressure on the other team and forces coaches to change their game plans. This can aid an entire team when opposing coaches need to compensate for one disruptive athlete.



Outside of Track and Field’s 100-meter dash (in which 11-time world champion Usain Bolt put down a time of 9.58 seconds in 2009, which may never be beaten again), the NFL (National Football League) hosts the most widely acclaimed version of a “sprint” test: the 40-yard dash. Why 40 yards? Some claim that in the 1950s, coach Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns timed his players in the 40 in training camp as a means of evaluating potential starters. Why Brown picked 40 yards is a secret he took to the grave.

Despite the sketchy origins of the 40-yard dash, it has become one of the most important tests that can add or subtract from a player’s value.









John Ross



9 by Bengals


Rondel Menendez

Eastern Kentucky


247 by Falcons


Chris Johnson

East Carolina


24 by Titans


Jerome Mathis



114 by Texans


Dri Archer

Kent State


97 by Steelers


Stanford Routt



38 by Raiders


Marquise Goodwin



78 by Bills


Champ Bailey



7 by Redskins


Jacoby Ford



108 by Raiders


Jelen Myrick



222 by Jaguars


J. J. Nelson



159 by Cardinals


DeMarcus Van Dyke



81 by Raiders



The 40-yard dash can be divided into three phases that match the traditional time splits used in the industry. These phases are:

  • Start to 10 Yard
  • 10 Yard to 20 Yard
  • 20 Yard to 40 Yard

Each phase of the sprint can be used to quantify a different athletic characteristic. The first 10 yards measures acceleration from a standstill (Start Speed), at 20 yards the measure of acceleration to top-end speed, and 40 yards measures how long top-end speed is maintained (Speed Endurance).



Although the 40-yard dash time is probably the most discussed performance number for athletes, the 10-yard split is probably the most important for all positions. Only a fraction of the plays in most sports require an athlete to run more than 10 yards. An athlete’s explosive power is measured during this phase of the run. Therefore, athletes who suffer from poor starts can work a combination of techniques and power training to make improvements in their time.  Accelerating from a stationary position to a sprint requires more strength and power than any other phase of the run. [Power = Force x Velocity]


PHASE 2: (10-20 Yards) TRANSITION

At the start of this phase of the run, the athlete is starting to reach top speed and, as a result, begins decreasing the horizontal force and increasing vertical force. In the transition phase, the athlete must move from explosive power to speed endurance. By the conclusion of the second phase of the run, the athlete has typically reached their top speed and is trying to maintain it.


PHASE 3: (20-40 Yards) ENDURANCE

During this phase, the athlete’s mechanics have changed completely as they are now in an upright posture fighting through vertical forces. Speed endurance becomes the most important characteristic. The accumulation of blood lactate disturbs the excitation-contraction coupling and cross-bridge formation. In other words, the muscles' mechanical properties are disturbed. The result? A decrease in force production, peak force and velocity.



In order to get the best results for the 3 phases, there are four key training components you should focus on.

  1. The Stance
  2. First 10 to 15 Yards
  3. Second 10 to 15 Yards
  4. The Finish
1. The Stance

The stance is often the most overlooked part of the sprint. Finding your custom stance is key. Generally speaking, without individual analysis when setting up your stance you should “crowd the line”. The only part of your body that has to be behind the line are your hands and feet.

You will also need to find out which foot will be forward and which back in your stance. A good rule of thumb is having the foot you jump off of in front. Many athletes find success with their front foot roughly ½- to 1-foot length back from line. The key here is not just reps, but combining reps with video analysis and automated timers and probably a performance coach.

Now, get your 2nd foot lined up with opposite foot’s heel. You can also set your foot up 1-foot length back from the opposite foot’s heel (or somewhere in between those 2). There are various other techniques that we won’t go into here, such as how to keep both feet the proper width apart and the weight on the correct parts of your feet and much more.

Once your feet are set you will need to set your arms/hands and shin and ankle angles. To do this, you’ll work on placing your hands in front of the line and “walking” yourself back behind the line; you’ll also need to raise your hips and load yourself like a spring.

Make sure to keep aggressive shin and foot angles that don’t adjust as you “walk” yourself back, maintaining the angles of attack until takeoff. While “walking” yourself back, you’ll need to maintain a “forward lean”. You’ll feel like you are almost falling forward and using gravity to assist the horizontal drive (this is important at takeoff as it will ensure you shoot forward instead of popping up).

Once your “3-point” stance is established, you will raise your opposite arm up to your hip while maintaining the proper angle at the elbow. It’s important to stay still for 2-seconds and then explode off the line.


2. The First 10-15 Yards

As you begin to accelerate from a dead stop, your initial push needs to be off of both legs simultaneously. Throw a fierce uppercut with your back arm and drive your back knee forward like you’re crushing through a window-pane. The goal is to cover as much ground as possible with your first step. Your first step should be about a yard beyond the line. Then, use the power in your legs to drive your feet into the ground in a piston-like fashion as fast and strong as humanly possible. A good time typically has 5 to 6 steps through the first 10 yards.

Plyometric training teaches the body to explosively contract muscles (generate force) in the quickest time (velocity) possible. Lower body plyometric motions will aid starting speed due to the explosiveness and elastic responses of the hips, knees and ankles.


3. The Second 10-15 Yards

Training with resistance will recruit more muscle fibers and translate into improved speed performance. To improve times between 10-20 yards, the resistance is kept under 10% of bodyweight so as to avoid altering your sprint mechanics.

Core and conditioning training will be a must to maintain proper sprint mechanics. The core is the muscular connection between the muscles of the upper and lower body. Having a stable mid-section, strong abdominals and obliques, and a strong lower back are key to speed performance and balance.


4. The Finish

As you come to the finish, try to prevent a letdown at the end. Imagine what Usain Bolt’s time could have been if he didn’t let up in his final steps. (See graph below) 

It’s critical to learn techniques to help drive the elbows to keep your speed (the legs follow the arms). You should also work on your mental game to avoid slowing up or losing focus. Practicing running through the finish helps you avoid the most common mistake untrained athletes make. They let up right before the line, which costs them a tenth of a second.


Training can improve the clearance rate of lactate and reduce early lactate formation. Both submaximal aerobic exercise and interval training can improve the body's ability to buffer and tolerate lactate. However, only intense interval training can increase various important components of anaerobic power and capacity. Submaximal aerobic exercise does not and may even decrease anaerobic enzyme activity (not good for speed development!).



Speed matters! It is often-times the game changer. Linear speed is fundamental to sport, with the distance of the run dictating the strength and movement needs of the athlete. Assessing one’s own sprint performance allows for the bucketing of the athlete’s performance improvement based on their start, acceleration, and top-end speed capacities.

Various sprinting splits should be captured by an automated timing system to create an accurate sprint profile.

Research has shown that different sprint zones involve distinct motor abilities with different strength needs.


Relevant Products:
JAWKU Speed System