In a 24-hour span, we witnessed Ndamukong Suh load close to 500 pounds of iron on his back for a seemingly leisurely set of Squats; rattle 250 pounds for 26 reps on the Bench after a heavy Incline session; and come frighteningly close to matching the times of an incredibly explosive, 175-pound elite running back in a Pro Agility drill. In the course of that day, the 6'4", 305-pound mountain revealed the precise combination of size, speed, strength, quickness and power that has pro scouts stumbling over each other to get their hands on the first overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Ndamukong flexed these amazing feats at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas, where he spent several weeks attacking his NFL Combine and Pro Day prep under the tutelage of the facility’s two resident experts, Lance Walker and MJ himself.
When Ndamukong arrived at MJP—fresh off his award-hogging final season at Nebraska [the Nagurski, Bednarik and Outland are all in his possession]—both performance aficionados were astonished by Big Suh’s multi-faceted prowess. “Yeah, the guy’s big,” Lance stated. “He’s 300 pounds, and he’s strong; but what I really noticed is that the guy can bend, move and change direction as well as some of our skill guys. It’s almost to the point where I’m worried about my carpet out here getting torn up a couple times from the stop-and-go stuff he does.”
Equally impressed, MJ took a shot at theorizing about the roots of Ndamukong’s amazing combo of size and speed. “I’d seen some tape and saw just how athletic Ndamukong is,” he recalled. “But when he got here, I was really surprised with his lateral movement. Obviously, with his soccer background, he’s developed some incredible athleticism that’s helped him be extremely powerful and explosive in not just his upper body, but also his lower body.”
Inquiring further into MJ’s theory, we learned that soccer has always been the sport of choice for the hyper-athletic Suh family. Ndamukong’s father played professionally in Europe, and his older sister Ngum is currently a member of the Cameroon National Team. “I started playing soccer when I was three years old,” Ndamukong recalled. “It was the only thing I knew athletically growing up. I was always kicking the ball around with my father, my sister or by myself if nobody was around.”
Once in middle school, when more physical play was allowed, Ndamukong had to hang up his soccer spikes. He roughed up and literally outgrew the sport, which still causes him to furrow his brow. “Obviously, my hip check is going to be more severe than someone’s who’s 5’6”,” he said. “I was almost 6 feet and 250 pounds. I got annoyed with unnecessary calls in my view, so I went out for football.”
We all know how that turned out.
Besides recognizing the obvious power and agility loaded into every region of Ndamukong’s frame, we noticed two other special qualities, equally important for Big Suh—his unwavering focus and desired isolation. “You can see the difference when he gets a little bit quieter and is kind of off to himself, not with the other athletes,” MJ said. “He’s really thinking about what he’s doing and really getting himself into a state that allows him to train to a level he thinks he needs to be at.”
It is no exaggeration when we estimate that Ndamukong uttered no more than 100 words during the day of our visit to MJP. If we didn’t know better, we might have assumed someone had somehow offended the quiet giant before we arrived. “This is a very serious point in my life,” Ndamukong explained. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m going to make the most of it. That’s why I may look like I’m mad or don’t want to be around anyone; but that’s just something I do to make sure I’m staying on track and achieving all the goals I’ve set forth for myself.”
His intense focus and isolation paid off once Ndamukong took the field in Indianapolis. And although the NFL Combine is all about his numbers—4.98 seconds in the 40, 35.5 inches in the Vertical, 32 reps on the Bench—Suh is first and foremost a football player, one of the most dominant defensive linemen in college football history.
Ndamukong dominated during his entire final year at Nebraska, but his level of athleticism and on-field aggression toward QBs [and any person standing between him and a QB] were at their height on the national stage when he almost single-handedly brought the Huskers a victory in the Big-12 Championship Game. At the end of his relentless onslaught on the Texas O-Line and their helpless quarterback, Ndamukong left the field with 4.5 violent sacks, 2 hurries, 12 tackles and a personal statement to all Heisman Trophy voters who might be reluctant to cast their ballots for a defensive lineman. Late news flash: Texas QB Colt McCoy has finally stopped having nightmarish visions of Ndamukong rising up in front of him.
That single game provided a glimpse of what Ndamukong will bring to the NFL next season … as soon as he gets this whole Draft thing out of the way.
Ndamukong’s NFL Combine Diary
Although he remained faithful to his solitary existence, Ndamukong periodically provided STACK with his thoughts and feelings leading up to and during his epic Combine weekend.
Thursday, February 18, 3:00 PM
[T-Minus 8 Da ys]
Location: McKinney, Texas
I’m definitely feeling like a caged animal. I’m so ready to go. You just need to be able to hold it back and let it unleash at the right time. MJP is putting it together in a great way and getting us ready to showcase what our bodies are able to do. It’s all business—no joking, no nothing. I want to go out there and leave no question marks. And the only way to do that it is to solely focus on that and block every last bit of everything out. It’s in and out of there in three days.
Saturday, February 27, 6:30 AM
[Physical Testing Da y 1]
Location: Combine Hotel
I feel very quick-twitch, and my body is eager to get this show on the road. It can’t get here any quicker. I’m ready to do it. I came here to just do everything to the best of my ability and set some records. When I walk through those doors, it’s game-time. Just like the Texas game, it’s the last opportunity to make something happen.
Monday, March 1, 4:00 PM
[Final Testing Day]
Location: Combine Hotel
My main goal was not to be perceived number one and then come up here and hide in the shadows of all that stuff and be afraid to go through drills. I did that and laid everything on the line.
For my overall performance, I’m somewhat happy, but I don’t think satisfied is a good word for it, because that breeds complacency, and I’m not a complacent person. I definitely feel a little closer to the dream; this was one more step on the ladder I was happy to take.
Upper-Body Combine Power: The Road to 32 Reps
Ndamukong has always loved putting in time in the weight room, and Lance considers himself “an old strength coach at heart,” so it’s no wonder that big results came from the two working together.
Lance: We get a huge activation on the posterior chain with this, and we’re getting some strengthening, too, on the pulling. This sets the stage for the chest and shoulders to be able to work a little better once we move onto the presses.
Band Face Pull
• Kneel facing stable object with light bands attached at eye level
• Hold bands in front with straight arms and tension in bands
• Keeping elbows above hands, retract scaps and pull hands towards face
• Extend arms and repeat in slow, controlled fashion for specified reps
Wide “W” Pulldown
• Kneel below pulldown machine with independent cables
• Grasp handles with arms wide and extended overhead
• Drive elbows down and back to pull handles toward shoulders and slightly behind head so that arms form W
• Return arms to start position; repeat for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 1x10, 1x8, 1x6
Strength and Speed Presses
Lance: I’m pre-exhausting his shoulders with the Incline and also using it for a stimulus for some strength. For the Speed Combo, the second Ndamukong finishes a set of the Bench, he’s popping off that bench and doing the bands to finish off the system. The final piece of the puzzle is the Reach and Roll stretch, which takes his strength away even more. If we get his body all jacked up and ready to handle all of these challenges, then when we don’t throw the challenges at it [at the Combine], he’ll have all kinds of hidden reserves we didn’t know.
• Assume position on Incline bench; grip bar slightly further than shoulder width
• Keeping elbows tight to sides, lower bar to upper chest
• Drive bar up and slightly towards spotter until arms are straight
• Repeat for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 2x5, 2x3
Speed Combo (Watch video of Ndamukong Suh's 40-Yard Dash training.)
[perform circuit 3 times, with 2 minutes rest]
1. Combine Speed Bench
• Lie with back on bench; grip bar slightly further than shoulder width
• Keeping lower back on bench, lower bar to chest and drive it back up until arms are straight
• Repeat as explosively and quickly as possible for maximum reps at specified weights
Suh’s Sets/Reps: 250x26, 225x19, 165x25
Note: Adjust weights according to your level of strength
2. Speed Band Press
• Assume split stance with band resistance secured to stable object behind; hold handles at chest level
• Quickly and repeatedly press against band resistance achieving full arm extension on each rep
• Continue for specified reps
3. Reach and Roll
• Kneel on ground and place bottoms of forearms on physioball in front
• Keeping arms straight, roll ball away from body and dip chest until stretch is felt through chest, shoulders and lats
• Hold for specified duration
Sets/Duration: 3x30 seconds
Lance has Ndamukong circuit the following three exercises three times with minimal rest between each set
• Straddle bar and assume athletic position with back flat and chest out
• Grab rope attachment wrapped around bar near plates; assume 45-degree forward bend at waist
• Drive elbows back until hands reach outside of chest
• Lower weight with control until arms are straight; repeat for specified reps
Lance: We offset all of that pressing with some volume on this lift. We are working all the things that are the exact opposite of what we worked on the Bench Press.
• Assume position on Dip machine wearing weighted vest
• Keeping elbows tight to sides, slowly lower body until arms are bent 90 degrees
• Drive body straight up until arms are fully extended
• Repeat for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 1x8, 2x10
Lance: The hand position prevents [athletes] from using any cheats, so it helps isolate those triceps and the deep pecs—two areas they haven’t developed.
• Hold strap with both hands
• Position one hand in front of chest and other arm behind back, aiming to get hand between shoulder blades
• Retract scaps; hold for specified duration
• Switch arms; repeat
Sets/Duration: 3x15-20 seconds each arm
Lance: This works a little [shoulder] internal rotation. A lot of these guys lack that in one or both arms.
Three-Way Shoulder Raise
• Assume athletic stance, holding dumbbells at sides
• Keeping arms straight, perform Front Raises
• Keeping arms straight, perform Side Raises
• Bend forward slightly and perform Rear Raises with arms straight, back flat and scaps retracted
Sets/Reps: 1-2x6-7 each way
Lance: We’re trying to attack the three areas of the delt, which can really help these guys on their Bench.
Med Ball Hypers
• Assume position on Hyper machine so that upper body is perpendicular to floor; hold med ball against chest
• Keeping back flat, use glutes and low back to raise upper body parallel to floor
• Lower with control; repeat for specified reps
Lance: We want them to stabilize their lumbar spine and extend up into a straight plank position, no further. This gets them some glute work and teaches them to hold that plank position.
Supine Cable Bicep 100s
• Lie on back with cable machine set at low position near feet
• Hold handles and create tension in cables when arms are straight
• Keeping elbows tight to sides and near ground, perform Bicep Curls for max reps
• Upon failure, rack weight stack and have partner reduce weight by two plates
• Immediately perform as many reps as possible
• Continue dropping weight at point of failure until 100 total reps are performed
Lance: At this point, their triceps are fried, so I need to offset that with their biceps. This is one of those meaty things that someone figured out to fry up those biceps.