Evaluating The 40 Yard Dash - Part I

With summer here a lot of football players are making an effort to improve their 40 times so I though I'd share a simple assessment you can hopefully use to assess your strength as weaknesses as they relate to the 40 and where you might focus your training.

The first thing I look at are relative strength levels. Regardless of what the rest of the assessments in this article tell you, if you don't have decent relative strength levels you should ignore the results and focus on those while also doing enough speed work to maintain and develop optimal sprinting proficiency. If you're not sure where you're at along those lines check out the strength standards for young men and women from BFS:

Strength Standards for Young Men

Strength Standards for Young Women

The standards are for high school athletes but if you use a little discretion and creativity they can be applicable to most anyone. I'd seek to at least get your squat and deadlift in the "good" category.

With the relative strength assessment out of the way, I move on to the next assessment and topic of this article: The following assessment works best for the guy who has somewhere around a 4.9 or less 40 and 1.69 or less 10 yard dash, numbers that are achievable for the average bro with a decent level of consistent hard training.

The Importance of the 10

Your 10 yard dash and how it relates to your 40 can tell you more about where your focus should be than just about anything else. Once I've assessed relative strength levels this is the main assessment I use. The hand-timed 10 yard dash, (with the clock started on first movement), tells a lot about your strengths as an athlete. Not only does it translate well to the field, but the 10 tends to reflect your relative strength levels and central nervous system explosiveness. It ISN'T really dependent on your proficiency as a sprinter, nor does is always relate much to your top speed. In other words, you don't necessarily have to sprint regularly to have a good 10. nor do you have to be able to achieve proper running technique or posture, nor do you have to have all that great a top speed.

The Assessment

1. What you want to do is start off by taking a 10 yard dash time. Use a hand time starting the clock on your first movement. Don't go off a gun or command just go when you're ready. Use whatever stance and starting position is most comfortable and fastest for you.

2. Once you have your 10 yard dash time you're going to add anywhere from 3 to 3.25 seconds to it and get an optimal "projected" 40. Look at the following table to see how much to add:

10 yard dash

1.6-1.7: tack on 3.1 to 3.25 seconds

1.5-1.6: tack on 3.0 to 3.1 seconds

1.5 or less: tack on 3.0 seconds

So, if your 10 yd dash was 1.7 seconds your 40 should optimally be somewhere between 4.8 and 4.95 (1.70 + 3.1/3.25)

If your 10 yd dash was 1.55 your 40 should optimally be somewhere between 4.55 and 4.65 seconds (1.55 + 3.0/3.1 seconds)

If your 10 was 1.5 or less your 40 should optimally be 4.5 or less (1.5 + 3.0 seconds)

What if your 40 isn't faster than 1.7 seconds? That's why I put a qualifer in for the relative strength assessment: Passing the relative strength assessment tends to automatically lower your 10 yd dash time down low enough to meet the minimum standard. So, if you can't run at least a 1.69 ten chances are good you'll get those times down just by gaining strength and/or dropping weight and running regularly, then you can take a deeper look.

3. Next, you're going to run an actual 40 and see how your optimal projected 40 matches up to your real 40. Run the 40 the same way you did the 10 - Handtimed starting on your first movement. Go when you're ready.

Interpreting The Results

Once you have your 10, your 40, and your forecasted 40 there are 3 scenarios that can occur:

1. Your actual 40 meets your forecasted 40

If this is you there really aren't any glaring weaknesses in your 10 to 40 yd ratios. You will likely improve with a balanced protocol incorporating speed, strength, and mobility work.

2. Your actual 40 is slower than your forecasted 40

If this is you, you're likely stronger then you are fast. You likely have a greater propensity towards strength than you do speed and quickness and there's a good chance your strength levels are quite high. You've likely spent a significant amount of time in the weight room and there's also a good chance you are quad dominant.

3. Your actual 40 is faster than your forecasted 40

If this is you congratulations. It means you likely have good genetics for speed and all you have to do to get faster is continually get stronger. As you get stronger your 10 and the rest of the race will inherently improve. You are also the type that can likely get a faster 40 without a whole lot in the way of specific speed training, providing you maintain your mobility, muscle balance, and movement efficiency.

The Difference

what is the difference between the groups? Good question!

Their are 2 different types of athletes I see regularly, each extreme represented by #2 and #3 above:

A: Those who blow off the line like a bat out of hell and fizzle out like a turtle towards the end.

B: Those who accelerate like a churning steam engine and cross the finish line like greased lightning

Those whose 40 didn't meet their forecasted 40 will be in group A. Those whose actual 40 exceeded their projected 40 will be in group B.

In a nutshell, group B has better top speed than group A. This can be due to a variety of reasons: Better nervous system proficiency, better body structure for speed, more optimized muscle balance ratios, and a background leading to higher quality speed development. Regardless of the reason it can be further verified by assessing the flying 20.

The Flying 20

The flying 20 is a sprint drill where you place 2 cones or times 20 yards apart. You stand a distance back from the 1st cone and gradually accelerate to or close to top speed and pass thru the first cone entering the 20 yard "fly zone" to the next cone where you try to maintain top speed thru the zone. It's designed to boost top speed and teach relaxation at high speed. For the purpose of the 40, the flying 20 does a good job assessing the latter part of the 40 yd dash and evaluating top speed.

Basically the 40 is just two 20 yard dashes put together. The 2nd half of the race you're "flying", so for all practical purposes the flying 20 and the 2nd half of a 40 are nearly identical, even though athletes won't be quite at top speed entering the 2nd half of the 40.

Athletes who run a 4.5 forty or better almost always run the 2nd half of the race in 2.0 seconds or less. Those who blister in the 4.3s or faster often are around 1.8 seconds for the flying 20. Take a look at the combine split times from NFL Draft Scout for a further look.

In the mature athlete top speed is the hardest quality to develop and is most highly succeptible to genetics. In my experience, at the higher levels it's also the factor that separates the men from the boys in the 40. Let me qualify that statement: Anyone can initially improve the 40 significantly by working on their strength levels and honing their 10. Heck, Mike Boyle doesn't have his combine athletes run anything further than 10 yards. He has them hit the weights hard and work on their start. The rest of the 40 simply comes along for the ride. That is an approach that works and serves as a foundation and will get the quickest results for most people. In fact, for most athletes I wouldn't even worry about much else until the 10 is down in the 1.5s or low 1.6s. Obviously size plays some role. If you're 300 lbs a 1.65 ten is blistering. If you're 160 lbs.a 1.55 isn't that impressive. Yet once those speed improvements that come via increased relative strength have been exhausted the difference between the guy who gets noticed by colleges, scouts, pro teams, and ESPN is the guy with the great flying 20, and guys with the better flying 20's are inherently going to have better top speed.

It's not terribly uncommon for 2 athletes to have the same 10 yd times but 40 yd times that vary by as much as .3 seconds. One guy run a 1.55 second 10, 2.2 second flying 20 and has a 4.70 fourty. Another guy runs a 1.55 second 10, 1.9 second flying 20 and has a 4.4 forty. Which one do you think's gonna get noticed?

To give you an idea, at the NFL combine in 2008 Darren McFadden was by far the most hyped player as he put up a blistering 4.3 forty yard dash and answered any and all questions about his measurables. Taking a closer look at his numbers though, his 10 yd dash was only 1.5. That's good, but not anything out of this world for his position. That same year there were 7 tailbacks who ran a faster 10 than he did. In fact, in that same year there were 6 inside linebackers that ran as fast as he did in the 10. Obviously none of them got the same accolades and attention even though their burst was arguably just as good.

Points To Consider

There are 4 main points to take home:

1. The 10 yd dash responds best to strength work and tends to mirror your relative strength levels.

2. It's a lot easier and takes less time to improve the 10 and get the gains that go along with that than it is to improve the top speed (flying 20).

3. If your projected 40 doesn't match up to your forecasted 40 the answer resides in improving the 2nd half of the race, which means you must improve your top speed, which is mirrored by your flying 20.

4. S&C coaches normally focus on the 10 and earlier stages of the race (and for good reason), but if you want a fast FAST 40 eventually the 2nd half of the race needs to be great too.

So, what if you're the guy who's trained his butt off for years, is stronger than an ox, has a great 10 yd. dash, but a 40 that doesn't set the world on fire?

You need to improve your flying 20. How do we do that? That will be addressed in part II of this article series so stay tuned! In the meantime, check out my No Bull Speed Development Manual for specific routines for the 40 as well as a ton more about assessing the athlete and developing speed.