FOOT SPACING GUIDELINES FOR THE 40-YARD DASH
Three slightly different approaches are worthy of testing for team sport athletes to determine which method produces the fastest 40-yard dash time or fastest 5-20 yard time for interior linemen in football and players in other sports where very short sprints are critical. The key factor is to find the technique that allows you to reach maximum speed as quickly as possible. A 4-point track stance is preferred for each method although a 3-point stance could also be used.
Both starting methods described in 1 and 2 below are classified as Medium start whereas #3 describes the Bunch start.
1. Famed coach, Tom Tellez, NASE Board Member and former University and Olympic Sprint Coach summarizes foot spacing and correct starting technique for the Medium start. From a kneeling position, place the stronger foot forward so that the edges of your toes are approximately 16 to 20 inches behind the starting line. With the knee of your back leg on the ground, position it even with the ball of your front foot. Extend both arms just behind the line and raise your body to a position where the angle of the front leg is about 90 degrees and the angle of the rear leg is close to 135 degrees. Extend both arms on the fingertips with the fingers far apart to provide more stability. Assume a relaxed position with most of the body weight on the legs and a small amount of the weight on the extended arms. The power of the start comes from the legs, not the arms, so avoid leaning too far forward so too much weight is on the arms. If too much weight is on the arms, there will not be enough pressure on your legs to drive and push out properly. If too much pressure is on the arms, you will stumble and catch yourself before regaining balance and lose valuable time. Drive and push out with both legs; do not try to throw your arms out and forward. After the initial thrust off both feet, the rear leg leaves the ground first, followed by the drive off the front leg in a straight line from your foot through the top of your head. Emphasize pushing backward and downward to set the body in motion.
2. Ralph Mann, outstanding researcher and former Olympic athlete provides a key suggestion in his book, The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdling, ©2007 for sprinters that also are sound for team sport athletes in short sprints. Although there are individual preferences, elite sprinters set their blocks in a similar fashion. The front block distance is set to allow the lead knee to be positioned at or slightly behind the starting line. Measuring from the front block, the back block is set back about 2/3 of the front block distance. The above two methods are designed for athletes to reach maximum speed at approximately the 60-meter mark of a 100m dash, although maximum speed can be attained earlier for team sport athletes sprinting shorter distances, perhaps by taking shorter steps in the early drive phase or first 5-6 yards.
3. In the Bunch Start, the main difference lies in the longitudinal distance between the toes of the front foot and the toes of the rear foot when the athlete is in the “On your marks” position. When using the Bunch start, the feet are closer together with the toe of the back foot approximately 11” behind the heel of the front foot. The Bunch start is not commonly used by elite sprinters who strive to reach maximum speed at approximately the 60-meter mark. The high hip elevation and forward lean may allow athletes to clear the ground (first two steps) faster and complete a faster short sprint of 5-10 yards. Early research indicated that the advantage may be lost and slower times may occur if used in longer sprints. It is a method worth testing for team sport athletes who sprint distances of 5-40 yards.
In comparing the Bunch start to the Medium Starts described in #1 and 2, studies have indicated that the use of the 11 inch (28 cm) bunch stance results in clearing the blocks sooner but with less velocity than secured from medium stances, resulting in significantly slower time at 10 and 50 yards. In addition, the highest proportion of best runs and the smallest proportion of poorest runs result from starting with a 16-inch stance (41cm). A 21 inch (53 cm) is nearly as good. Both of these are medium stances.
With all three methods, both legs contribute to block or ground contact force with the greatest amount of force placed on the rear leg although the lead leg is in contact with the block or ground for a longer period and contributes more to block velocity. Once form and technique are mastered, athletes focus on training techniques to maximize force production–increasing the force of the pushing action away from the ground with each step