The secrets of the 40-yard dash, according to an NFL combine trainer

MARTINSVILLE, NJ – One by one, NFL prospects line up and prepare to practice four to five seconds that could change their lives.

They crouch down, pause and explode from a starting line and stop running after about 20 meters under the watchful eye of Ato Boldon, a four-time sprinter with Olympic medalists from Trinidad and Tobago. You are at TEST Football Academy in a small New Jersey town about 20 minutes from Rutgers University preparing for the meat market which is the NFL combine. On this cold January day, they focus on how to start the 40 yard dash.

Some are better than others. Sebastian Joseph, a defense attorney for Rutgers, has earned the nickname “Shrek” for the way he walks with powerful arms swinging out (it’s effective, in fact).

But it is Marquis Haynes who stands out. In what appeared to be a fluid motion from his crouched start, he immediately engages second and third gears at groundbreaking speed. And that’s only about 20 meters and there are about two months of training left before Haynes takes on the real race at the 2018 NFL Combine.

Is he a broad receiver at this speed? A cornerback? Maybe a security? No At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Haynes left Ole Miss as a defensive end. At this size, that means he’ll have to find a new position in the NFL (he’ll likely be a pass-rushing external linebacker), which could be a red flag for some teams.

But if he can show that speed at Lucas Oil Stadium this week, that’s far from a guarantee that an NFL franchise will find a role for him.

* * *

That’s the secret of the 40 yard line. Remember how John Ross’ record run (a combined record of 4.22 seconds) turned the Washington wideout from a potential first-round player into a top 10 pick for the Cincinnati Bengals. Do you remember all the headlines about Chris Johnson’s 4.24 in 2008 and what he looked like in his prime in the open field? What about Tyreek Hills 4.24 on his Pro Day that was more than carried over to the field? Or the mystery of how fast Bo Jackson was before electronic timing was the norm?

You can talk about explosiveness in the shuttle run or athleticism in the long jump or strength in the bench press. But it’s the speed in the 40 yard dash that is becoming the biggest game changer of them all – the difference between selecting Day 1 and Day 3 could be a matter of hundredths of a second.

So what are the secrets that can score 0.1 or 0.2 here and there to turn these NFL prospects into players with the potential to be the next Joe Flacco or Bart Scott, both of whom have their photos about the same Let the lawn hang Do the professionals keep running?

For that answer, I turned to Boldon. This is the ninth design class he has worked with on TEST and has spawned NFL success stories like Flacco, Jerricho Cotchery, Duron Harmon and Vladimir Ducasse.

“Whatever he does, he did his best,” said Kevin Dunn, owner and CEO of TEST Sports. “He brings a world-class Olympic mindset to these players, ‘now or never’. When he goes into this building, he commands a certain respect. “

Before Boldon leaves for Pyeongchang to cover the Winter Olympics for NBC (where, after three bronze medals and one silver medal, he covers all speed data including athletics and NASCAR), he has to pass on some tips to me and this group, with a line from his Post-class talk that stands out.

“Fast,” he says, “is not what you think.”

* * *

Step 1: the start

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It’s as iconic as the combine itself: the Sprinter crouches with one hand in the air and pauses to make sure everything is okay.

Boldon put me in the first three-point posture I’ve ever tried in my life and immediately realizes I’m unbalanced – I should be putting weight on the “lower” hand and back foot, but I shouldn’t be like that feel like me I’m going to fall over. Then he wants to see my ankles almost parallel to the floor. The “upper” hand shouldn’t be too high above my head, but it should be in a position ready to swing in an uppercut when I slide off my start. And my head – which I can’t stop lifting to stare forward at the surprisingly great distance in front of me – needs to stay down (this is important for Step 2).

Charles Curtis – USA TODAY Sports

Showing the group the 40’s by Patrick Peterson – a TEST alum – in 2011, Boldon notes how that swinging punch and bump fights through gravity and even decreases the distance he has to run.

“His 40 is now a ’36’,” says Boldon.

Step 2: speeding up

It’s instinctive to want to stand up straight and get where you’re comfortable running, but Boldon wants to break that habit right away.

“The sooner you stand upright, the less you can apply that compressive force,” he says.

To prove it, he takes a weighted sled and asks what is the best way to move it across the floor. The answer, of course, is to push yourself bent over to use your legs rather than standing straight. Same here, and while it’s not intuitive to what feels comfortable, it makes a sprint more efficient, which I notice when I return to the starting line after a few tries, less agitated.

Boldon also has a video on this point: it shows a clip of Da’Rel Scott, a running back who trained at TEST and was recorded by the New York Giants in the 7th round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Scott never stands completely upright during his 4.34-second shot:

Step 3: top speed

“You’ll get to 20 meters,” explains Boldon, “and all you have to worry about is the last 20.”

What he means is: The technique of the first two steps takes up half of the run. The rest? It’s just about getting to your top speed.

His most notable tip: some people have learned to walk with only their forearms. He wants the fingers of a runner’s hand to reach eye level, and then the entire arm should detach backwards and snap before resurfacing.

It looks something like this:

Boldon mimics the motion you would hammer a nail with. Would you just pound with your wrist and forearm? No, you would be using the entire arm including your shoulder.

Step 4: finish

(AP Photo / Michael Conroy)

It’s very simple: run through a wall. Once you get to your top speed, go through the last few feet and walk right through these sensors.

The finishing is not just about the barrel itself. It takes blinkers and dedication to complete the entire combine process. Boldon ends his talk by talking about what players need to do to do their best in the combine. If it means locking relationships or deleting apps from your phone – as Boldon said he would be using his smartphone in the run-up to the Olympics – so be it. Distractions and weaknesses can affect performance.

That is why the location of TEST is actually part of the process.

“It’s not a vacation destination,” says Dunn. “The people we get here are people who are interested in hard work and zero distractions. In many ways, like Rocky IV, if Stallone goes to Russia and trains in the mountains, these guys have to do just that now. You have to be selfish for these six weeks. Often times, during the most important six weeks of your life, people draw your attention in various areas. “

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At the end of my lesson, Dunn’s staff are kind enough to set up laser timers to give me a taste of the real 40 yard dash experience. Trying to put all of Boldon’s tips together, I forget that I was the slowest runner I know and imagine myself running for a living. While the future conscripts watch, I do it:

The result? A 6.14 that looks like it was driven in slow motion. I can already see problems – I didn’t explode out of my crouch too much, I ended up standing up too straight, and well, I was born slowly. It’s a good place to start when competing with Rich Eisen from the NFL Network.

Also, I’m not motivated by the possibility that one run could change my life forever.

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