T Nation

Sprinting Problem

Hi,

I play football and one of the main tests we use is the 40yd dash. Mine is a bit weird though. Despite adequate strength levels,e.g. I deep squat 335lbs for 2 reps at 6’1 and 190lbs, my start is really poor especially compared to my finish,e.g. I normally run the 1st 20 in around 2.9-3.1 and the second 20 in about 1.9-2. I think the problem could partly be down to a tendency to veer awkwardly out of my starts, often going out of my lane in the first 3-4 steps after which I’m usually okay. I actually never feel stable at the start, moreso if I try to lead with my weaker leg which is why I don’t bother to do so. If it helps, my left leg is definitely stronger than the right and I am slightly bow-legged. Any help would be appreciated especially from someone who has experience of this problem.

Drop the squats for 12 weeks and do a posterior chain specialization program. If you need help with this let me know.

The problem probably has some to do with your technique and some with your rate of force development. The start of the sprint is more glute/hamstring dominated so focus more on those areas in your strength development. Rate of force development can be addressed with many exercises but some simple methods are with olympic lifts, jump squats and plyometrics. What are your snatch, clean, and vertical jump measurements in relationship to your squat poundage? Also don’t neglect flexibility.

what you are doing is termed as “skating” out of the blocks. Very common, amongst many athletes and not terribly difficult correct at all. Have you been taught a correct “set-up” for the 40 and what is your general ROM (hips/hams tight?). In faith, Coach Davies

I definitely agree with the recommendation to do posterior chain exercises. Read Ian King’s lower body hip-dominant protocol and kingsports.net. Especially good are the one-legged “king deadlifts” since you mentioned an imbalance between the two legs. However, as you are trying to improve your 40 time, remember to keep practicing your 10, 20, and 40 yard sprints so you get practice using your new strength in a very specific way…

Thanks for replying fellas. About posterior chain work, I do currently perform and have been doing for a few weeks several sets of hamstring work a week on top of squats. I do no extra quad work. Ham work consists of manual leg curls (performing the second half of a GHGR), hyperextensions, and some leg curls and light reverse hypers. I don’t have access to proper GHGR or reverse hyper machine. I don’t snatch or perform the clean due to past poor technique and currently a broken wrist. I do have a tendency when performing heavy squats and deads to use my back more than my legs. If it helps I deep squat 360lb and deadlift around 475lb - over 500lb with a dangerously rounded back. I consider myself quite flexible as evidenced by the deep squats, ability to deliver head high kicks, reach 7in beyond my toes, etc. I don’t really have any unusual issues except the ones mentioned. I should add that I had knee surgery 4 yrs ago and only an aggressive rehab protocol I went through last yr for my left leg got me back playing. I never really have a balance problem once I get going and because I play LB the first step isn’t that difficult. In fact I can probably tackle alot of guys with faster 40’s. Still to get to the next level I realise this is a serious problem I need to address. Thanks.

I agree that you need to work the posterior chain. I would include RDL’s, lunges, and single-legged bodyweight squats into the equation. However, the drive phase of the 40 yard dash is dominated by the quads, not the hamstrings. This is backed by EMG studies. Following this drive phase, the posterior chain dominates. Use single legged exercises to correct your bilateral strength deficit. Do your glutes get sore when you do deep squats? If not make sure you are stretching your hip flexors frequently. Tight hip flexors will often times prevent the glutes from firing and you’ll develop some abnormal recruitment patterns. What does your sprinting program consist of?

Reggie, since you seem to already be doing alot of lower body weights, I’m starting to think lack of strength is not your problem and that rate of force development is. Sounds like your legs are strong but need more bounce. That means it’s time for plyometrics. I recommend “jumping into plyometrics” book and/or video by Don Chu, or you can do a web search for plyometrics and probably find some with FAQs and exercises.

You say that your posterior chain work consists of “manual leg curls (performing the second half of a GHGR), hyperextensions, and some leg curls and light reverse hypers.” You also said that “I don’t have access to proper GHGR or reverse hyper machine.”
The reverse hyper is great, but if you can’t add a lot of weight to it then you won’t see much transfer to your sprint. You need to focus on heavy deads and good mornings as well as some explosive work for your posterior chain. Since you have issues with your wrist you can do a modified version of the clean, which is basically a high pull off the floor. In addition you need to work on balance and flexibility. Describing how to do stretches will take too long, so you’re going to have to find that on your own. Focus on hips, glutes, and lower back. For balance I would recommend stability ball work. Hope this helps.

Well your posterior chain doesn’t sound weak from what you describe. I’d continue hitting the g/ham raises hard and focus more of your attention on increasing your speed through sprinting and plyometrics. How’s your vertical jump by the way? This will give you some indication on your current levels of power and R.F.D. By the way…For a young guy a 500 lb deadlift at 190 would win a lot of trophies in powerlifting!

re:rate of force development. Zatsiorsky in “Science and Practice of Strength Training” talks about how improving strength will improve power to a point. He uses the example of how improving squat strength will improve vertical jump to a point but then stall out unless plyometrics (depth jumps) are used. Additionally, if two athletes both have the same vertical, say 30 inches, and one squats 150 while the other squats 400, the one who squats 150 will improve his vertical by improving the squat, while the one who squats 400 needs to improve rate of force development thru depth jumps and other plyometric exercises which work the stretch reflex…

Sorry for the delay in replying since I’ve lost home web access recently.

To Coach Davies:

As mentioned in a previous reply I have good flexibility. Stability is an issue though as even my starting stance, for both football and sprints, feels unstable. Furthermore, my technique on lunges, even unweighted is poor, often losing balance. This has been the case since I had major knee surgery in '97. As I said though, at high speeds this balance problem goes away which is odd. I have read correct starting procedures for the sprints however. If it is of any use my 3 point start is worse than my 2 point despite much practice.

To Ron:

That is interesting about the EMG studies. Can you provide a link to that info? My glutes do seem to take quite a bit of the strain in squats. My ass is definitely bigger than my hams or quads. I’m guessing a hurdler stretch would stretch the hip flexors out well and I am pretty adept at them. My sprint programs are a little disorganised compared to my weighttraining ones. I don’t really have a set way of integrating the two, e.g. when to do longer distance sprints vs when to do shorter work. In fact I’ve heard that Charlie Francis and John Smith (Maurice Greene’s coach) use different protocols, the former employing shorter distances at first, and the latter progressing from speed endurance work to speed work.

To Pnfdog??:

I’ve always felt my legs were strong for their size but remember that at heavy weights my back takes over as evidenced by me losing my back arch on the squat and deads. Plyometrics is something I haven’t used much due to ankle/shin problems and was something I plan to slowly incorporate in a few months time. have you used them yourself? What results did you get? I’ve read they are only really for elite athletes and most people would be better off training RFD with Olympic lifts. What do you think?

To Tony:

Great advice about the high pull, I’ll definitely give that a go. Because of my wrist any movements which force the wrist into extension are out which is why my lower body work is so basic. I’ve never really done heavy good mornings since my back is usually tired after squats and deads, but also because it is such a strong point already I feel I’d be better off doing extra ham work. What do you think about my rationale? I’m not sure stability balls will address my problem since they require keeping still on a moving object whereas my problem is poor stability on a stationary object,i.e. the ground. I did use one as part of my rehab and all I really notice was an improvement in my ability to stay on one. I still had a problem with lunges.

P.S. Before my knee injury in '97 (I tore my acl,lcl,bicep femoris tendon and ilio-tibial tract), I had no problem with lunges.

To Kelly:

Hey man thanks for the info. My vertical jump is nothing special at all, only 25 inches if i was being honest (although when I was tested by an NFL europe team I made sure to stand away from the wall when asked to reach my highest point which led to a couple more inches on my jump:)). I’m no young guy though. I’m 25. My max dead was at age 20 and I hit 508lbs but with a ridiculously rounded back. I could probably do more now with similarly piss-poor technique but since I’m not a competitive powerlifter why risk it. Using good form I can deadlift about 475lb now and hit about 5 reps with good form at 410lbs with a reverse grip and no straps.

I would just practice running the 40. Do it as fast as you can in perfect form over and over.

Hey Reggie
From what I gather now yuor best 40 yd dash time is 4.8? and v.j. around 25 inches. With your strength levels I definitely think you’ll benefit from plyometric type training. I think in your case you can probably use your vertical jump as a barometer for your improvements. Given your ankle problems I would start utilizing GPP type exercises as well as rope skipping to further stabilize your ankles. Once you feel stable you can start doing light plyometric drills such as hopping on both feet and 1-foot and progressing into more advanced plyometrics such as hurdle jumps and depth jumps.

Reggie, olympic lifting and plyometrics complement each other well. However, I’ve found that weighted plyos are the best exercise bar none for increasing vertical. After using them for a time, it seemed the basketball hoop was 9 feet instead of 10. There are so many exercises you can do, but they all will help your first step, which, as a football player, you need more than max speed anyways. Sprinting (no more than 40 yards needed), too, is plyometric, and I highly recommend getting a weighted belt, vest, or weight pants which you can find online. Don’t mess with ankle weights as they will screw up your stride. Heavier is not necessarily better. You want to start with about 10lbs. When you can sprint reasonably well with 10lbs., you can add more weight, but I don’t think there’s any reason to go over 30lbs. as very few people can wear more weight than that and still be explosive. When it comes to plyo exercises, start with two-legged exercises before progressing to the more difficult one-legged exercises. A guide for keeping things simple with the exercises is that you are training for quickness. Therefore, if you are doing hurdle jumps, for instance, you want the hurdle height to be low enough that you are still getting off the ground quickly, with no pause between hurdles. But you don’t even need access to equipment like hurdles; there are plenty of vertical and horizontal jump variations you can do without equipment. Finally, never do plyos two days in a row as they fatigue your nervous system and even if you’re young you still need at least a day to recover. Also, this is explosive exercise and in order to maximise your explosiveness you need to be fresh so don’t start your next set until you’re breathing normally. No way should a plyo workout be longer than 30-45 minutes, and I recommend doing them on grass or a track as other surfaces (asphalt, hardwood) are too hard or too soft (sand slows reflexes). Hope this helps.

True 40 yd. dash training is rather unique. There are distinct differences in the start than a typical 3 point stance start such that you should only be able to remain in said stance for a brief moment in time with out face planting. This is followed by a two foot push off (which must be learned) followed by a continuation of the push off/drive phase through the front leg. This is a very quad dominant start with very large steps. It should feel very awkward if you do it right. Properly executed deadlifts will help with start strength and OL’s as well. Posterior chain strength is more important later on (after the first 10) when posture is upright. As stated previously, you must practice the 40 because of its unique characteristics and to modify your technique. Also don’t forget to increase your max chin-up weight. The backward arm drive propels you forward. Hope this helps.

Hey Reggie, can ya e-mail me? I haven’t played football in quite a while, but I love the game, and I’ve been trying to keep in great shape for it. In about 12 weeks, after this gaining cycle I’m on… I’m going to do some of Coach Davie’s renegade training. Right now I do some sprint, and rope work, with a 40 time of about 5.0

I just got to 220, and I’m aiming for 230 before I really hit the renegade training. Since this is my first time over 210, I’m pretty excited. Anyways, it’d be interesting to share stories, experiences and talk about football with someone who’s kind of close to my physical stature. I’m also interested in learning how you get try outs, with teams and such. E-mail me at [NOT ALLOWED ON FORUM- MOD]

We could also possibly act as a motivational tool to get each other trying harder to get faster, and stronger.

I want to thank everyone who responded. I also don’t know why that last post of mine wasn’t broken up as it was when written.

Kelly:

My best 40 is 4.83secs but I think my start costs me around 0.2 compared to other players whose stats I have to compare with from football trials.

Pnfdog:

I was going to get some weighted sprints thrown in my program but I’ll go with a parachute as recommended by Mel Siff and others. I wish I’d tried plyos in the past on a soft floor BTW instead of concrete. :slight_smile:

Bill:

I’ve read about the 2 footed pushoff. The long strides is new to me. Can you offer more detailed info on that? What are your foot splits? Foot position? Hand position? etc Hope you can help.

Jake:

Jake since you can’t leave your email you could try to contact me by leaving a message at gridironuk.com. Just open up a new subject with my name in their forum. How old are you Jake? I’d be happy to share football stories but people might start nodding off mate :slight_smile: For the record I only took up the sport at age 18. At 21 I blew my knee out missing 4 yrs out injured where basically every physio I saw said I was screwed. Last yr I got one who sorted me out. As I am english I never played in the states although I have played against plenty of US players, including NCAA and NFL training camp players. We even had an NFL star here a few yrs back. To cut to the chase I was offered trials by the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe based on my performance in a semi-final domestic match where I registered about 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. That was my only real good game all season and luckily NFLE scouts were watching :slight_smile:

P.S. At the tryouts I tested as the best LB overall, in all these different tests they ran (including some downright bizarre ones) but they were looking for the top five players in the UK and there were some studs including one 215lb RB who ran a 4.47 40, and benched 232lbs for 15reps. He was the best there.

Help with your ‘40’…

From working with collegiate football players i have noticed that most of their problems is in the actual start. most people will try and generate most of their power from their lead leg. answer me this: which can provide more power, one leg or two? exactly! so you ought to be practically jumping out of your start. One of the quickest start ever in sprinting came from Ben Johnson, regardless if he did take steroids and it was the 100meters, the guy literally exploded out of the blocks using both legs.

Next comes your strides…try not to get too tall too quick. have you ever watched runningbacks run with the ball, their center of gravity is pretty low and this is how you need to be out of the start. Correct me if i am wrong but Charlie Francis, without a doubt one of the best sprint coaches ever, recommends force production is also going to be equated with the amount of time you are on the ground with each step. so therefore your steps have to be quick. of course you probably say, but a lot of people forget this and another thing that is important as well is the amount of dead time you are spending in the air. people who tend to run ‘tall’ are not as quick as those who run short. seeings how the ‘40’ is a quick event this makes much more sense to stay short, limit your time in the air and also have as many revolutions as possible. don’t try to alter your strength because this will cause you to ‘stride out’ which means more time in the air.

last but not least, strengthening the posterior chain with Glute Ham Raises and Lowers if you are not strong enough to pull yourself back up. Honestly I have performed Glute ham raises on the specially made glute ham apparatuses and they are so much easier than what i am about to recommend to you. some gyms have a straight bench usually in the ab area with a foot anchor on one end of it. fit your ankles underneath with the tops of your feet on the bench. try to keep as straight as possible when it comes to any bend in the hips at all. place hands in front of your chest and resist gravity. lower down and if unable to pull yourself back up then give yourself a quick push with your hands and accelerate back to the starting position. if you don't have this type of bench in your gym then you can always use the lat pull down machine. kneel down on the seat and anchor your ankles under the knee supports. make sure you have a bench in front of you to catch yourself or push off of. a good tempo for this is 30X or 3020 and if we follow what old Charles P. says about the hamstrings, fast twitch and react to lower reps, don't do anything over 8.

one more thing, don’t forget to work on 10 yd sprints, 20 yd sprints as well. strength coaches around the way will admit that a good forty is made within the first 10-15 yards.

but also, remember a message from John Davies the reneade himself, basically: a guy could run a 40 in 4.0 but if doesn’t have the skills and can’t apply them on the field what is the point? besides, as a LB the only reason you would be running more than 40 yards is if you are trying to catch a RB who got past the secondary. good luck man

B. Sims

Thanks for the info. To be honest I’ve tried to apply that type of advice before. In the past I’ve found myself way quicker in a 2 point because I get into my running quicker. From now on I’ll stick with 3 points til I get it right and forget the short term. Your last comment is true. Luckily for me my strongest asset is attitude and I’ve beat plenty of more athletic guys on the field. thanks.