The 40yd Dash Race Model: Drive, Rise, Run

The 40yd Dash Race Model: Drive, Rise, Run

We’re getting into the time of year when high school football players begin prepping for college camps, showcases and combines. All of these events typically include athletes testing their physical outputs. To date, regardless of position, when it comes to tests in American Football, the 40 yd Dash is the hallmark! There are many factors that go into running your best 40yd Dash and arguably maybe one of the most important is the race model.

Every race has an optimal race model that if executed properly will give athletes the best opportunity to run their fastest! In this article we will define meaningful terms, dissect the various parts of the 40 yd Dash race model, then see it in action.

Defining Terms

Before diving into the segments of the 40yd Dash race model we must first define a few meaningful terms.

Race Model: The specific organization and strategy applied to various races that allows athletes the best opportunity to maximize their physiology and biomechanics for enhanced race performance. For example, a successful 100 m race model has athletes extending their acceleration phase out to 40 - 60 m, or a 1500 m race model having athletes “kick” on the home stretch.

Acceleration: The rapid change in speed with respect to time that proceeds max velocity (<95% of max sprint speed). Acceleration is primarily horizontal force vector dominate with a piston-like leg action. The distance of acceleration is associated with the specific race model.

Max Velocity: Follows acceleration and is associated with speeds >95% of an athletes max speed. Max Velocity is primarily vertical force vector dominate with a cyclical leg action.

Run posture

Cognitive Inhibition: A hyper-fixation on cues leading to decreased outputs (even if technique is efficient). Sprinting is a hindbrain activity, meaning that the actions never reach the conscious mind. Knowing that, thinking too much can lead to decreased outputs. Common examples would be having an athlete hyper-focus of their arm action and elbows being bent at 90 deg or over-cueing ankle dorsiflexion. Oftentimes this is a by-product of coaches over-cueing.

Dissecting The 40yd Dash Race Model

Prior to diving into the actual race model, it is important to understand where the race model was derived from. Thanks to the work by Dr. Ken Clark and Colleagues assessing the velocity profiles of NFL Combine 40yd Dash performances, we can begin to appreciate what is optimal.

One of the biggest takeaways from this research paper that sets the anchor for our race model is Dr. Clark’s finding on when athletes achieve max velocity. As illustrated in the graphic below, regardless of an athlete's 40yd Dash time (4.28, 4.55, 4,81, etc.) all athletes are at 90%+ of their max sprint speed by 20yd.

Velocity profiles chart

This means that the initial 20yd segment is spent in acceleration building into max velocity. More specifically, the first 10yd segment is focused purely on accelerating, with the 10-20yd segment focused on continued acceleration while simultaneously transitioning into more upright max velocity mechanics. Here lies our EForce Performance 40yd Dash Race Model; DRIVE, RISE, RUN!


For us, when we say DRIVE we’re referring to the 0-10yd segment. The goal of the DRIVE phase is to maximize horizontal projection with a piston-like leg action, which facilitates the greatest velocity increases in the 40yd Dash (roughly 65-70% in the first 10yds) as seen from research.


The RISE phase refers to the 10-20yd segment. During the RISE phase the goal is for the athlete to continue focusing on accelerating, while gradually repositioning to max velocity postures with every step. An image we like athletes to think of is the smooth rise of an airplane taking off. This segment is vitally important, as staying low too long or popping straight up will negatively affect both an athlete's acceleration and subsequent max velocity.


The RUN phase refers to the 20-40yd segment. During the RUN phase an athlete will be executing max velocity as demonstrated by their mechanics (vertical force vector dominate with a cyclical leg action) and sprint speed (typically 95%+). The ability of an athlete to express their highest speeds during this segment is dictated by their efficiency in executing the DRIVE and RISE phases.

Running man with muscles

Factors Within The Race Model:

There are three other important characteristics for those looking to run really fast!

  1. You need to get your steps right. Those who ran some of the fastest 40yd Dashes take between 19.5-20.5 steps.
  2. You need to minimize your ground contact times. The fastest athletes have an average ground contact time between .097 - .107 sec per step across 40 yd (based on Olympic 100 m data).
  3. You must think less to run fast. The EForce 40yd Dash Race Model is simple for a reason… to limit cognitive inhibition. Over cueing and over complicating things can quickly lead to decreased performance.

**Reminder that stride length should be a by-product of force production into the ground, and NOT over striding, reaching or casting during your front-side mechanics.**

Biggest error in running technique

Seeing It In Action

Every athlete in the video below went sub 4.4 at the NFL Combine. You will notice that they all, executed the DRIVE, RISE, RUN Race Model, took 19.5-20.5 steps to complete their 40yd Dash, and limited cognitive inhibition.

Watch The 40yd Dash Race Models

EForce 40yd Dash Improvements

We’ve been fortunate over the last 5yrs to help athletes prep for High School Combines, CFL Try-outs and the NFL Combine & Pro Days. This includes an average improvement of -.28sec over the course of a 8-12wk training process with our fastest athlete to date running a 4.40!

40 yard dash

To summarize, the EForce 40yd Dash Race Model includes three distinct parts:


  • Roughly 45deg projection angle with eyes/head down.
  • Violent/powerful steps landing slightly behind your center of mass, with a piston like leg action.
  • Covering 10yd between 6-7steps (as a byproduct of pushing hard into the ground NOT reaching out or casting with your lead leg).


  • A gradual increase in torso angle with each step working toward vertical.
  • Greater stride frequency as one continues to accelerate approaching max velocity.
  • Transitioning from a piston to cyclical leg action with every step.


  • A vertical/upright posture with cyclical leg action.
  • Every ground contact should be crisp and bouncy (imagine running over hot lava).
  • The athlete should be relaxed through the face, shoulders and hands (think smooth is fast).

If you’re an athlete looking to seriously improve your 40yd Dash this combine season...  look no further than EForce Performance!!

Erik Jernstrom

Director of Sports Performance @ EForce

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