Proper Vs. Improper Running Mechanics and How Rotary Running Can Help Improve a Runners 40-Yard Dash Time
By Brandon Howard
With the NFL Combine roughly two weeks away, I felt as though this would be a great opportunity to delve into proper running mechanics and what goes into running a fast 40 time. Being that I have competed on the collegiate level in track and field in addition to football, I am uniquely qualified to speak upon running mechanics, as well as how to approach the 40 yard dash.
While I enjoyed success as a sprinter in high school, my college coaches sought to immediately overhaul my mechanics upon my arrival on campus. Thankfully at this time I was introduced to “rotary running”. Once I was able to execute the mechanics of rotary running, I improved my 60m-dash time by six tenths of a second, as well as my 100m-dash time by four tenths of a second in my freshman year.
Before we jump into the specifics of rotary running, I will illustrate two very common mechanical flaws in running technique. The first flaw I would like to address is “overstriding”.
I know many of you did not expect to see a picture of Reggie Bush regarding what NOT to do as a sprinter, but from a technical standpoint, Bush is flawed. It’s scary to think he could be faster if he only learned to adjust the placement of where his foot recovers or strikes the ground. Bush would be able to apply more force to the ground if he allowed his foot to recover directly underneath his center of gravity as opposed to outside his frame. Overstriding is far from efficient as it creates a pulling motion, which negatively impacts stride frequency as well as increases susceptibility to hamstring injuries. Fortunately for Reggie Bush, he is blessed with enough leg turn over that he is still faster than most despite the fact that he does overstride.
More so than the photograph, the youtube clip of Percy Harvin below the photograph illustrates what it means to “trail” or “run from behind”. While my flaws were even more severe than Harvin’s, this was the issue I had with my running mechanics coming from high school to college as well. Trailing consist of limited leg drive in which the knees are blocked; in other words, the knees don’t come through a runners center of gravity.
Once a runner blocks the knees from coming through his center of gravity, it significantly reduces stride length as the runner will likely recover/strike the ground behind his center of gravity. Athletes that employ a trailing technique while running will often have an exaggerated forward lean. While trailing or running from behind, additional stress is placed on the quads and groin area. While stride frequency may increase, utilizing this technique decreases stride length significantly causing a trailer to work nearly twice as hard as someone who has mastered rotary running.
Ted Ginn is a perfect example of rotary running. While he’s being interfered with in the second picture, his technique is still a thing of beauty. Ted Ginn Junior hails from Cleveland Glenville where his father Ted Ginn Senior has taught this technique for many years.
In my conversion from trailing to rotary running I learned that rotary running begins with the feet. In order to begin a rotary running motion, the runner’s feet must be locked in a dorsiflexion position; in other words the foot must be pointed up. While the foot is pointed up, the runner will begin a heel to hamstring running motion in which the knee will drive through the runner’s center of gravity.
The runner will recover/ strike the ground directly under his core with the ball of his foot and repeat the cycle. Being that it is easier to push an object rather than to pull it, rotary running creates a scenario in which the runner is pushing as opposed to overstriding which causes a pulling motion. Rotary running is far superior to the aforementioned running techniques as it places equal tension on hamstrings and quadriceps.
Rotary running increases stride length and allows runners to apply greater force to the ground as they are able to recover/ strike the ground directly under their center of gravity. A runner that has very good leg turnover and is able to execute rotary running mechanics is destined to run an outstanding 40 time.
Maximizing a runner’s talent within the confines of a 40-yard dash requires, a great start and proper running mechanics. At the beginning of the 40-yard dash, the runner’s dominant foot should be placed closest to the starting line. If my right foot is my dominant foot, then my right arm will be in the air directly behind me. My left hand would be on the ground. The idea of the start is to explode out as opposed to standing straight up which is a mistake many make while running the 40-yard dash. Once the runner explodes out of his stance, he’ll begin what is called the drive/loading phase. The runner should stay in his drive phase for nearly 25 yards into the sprint. In the drive phase the ideal body positioning is roughly a 45-degree angle. During this portion of the sprint, the head is down and the knees are driving through the runner’s center of gravity. Once the drive phase is completed, the runner gradually begins to lift his torso to run more upright and continues his rotary running motion through the finish line. Once the runner puts it all together this is what a technically sound 40-yard dash looks like.
My only gripe is that I wish he would have transitioned to running upright at 25 yards as opposed to 35. Had he transitioned sooner, it might have resulted in a better time for him.
I hope you all have enjoyed reading this article and have gained a little bit of insight regarding what to look for as far as running mechanics are concerned. My hope is that through this article, readers might find the NFL Combine slightly more enjoyable. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to send them my way via Twitter @DashDiallo1.