Chris Johnson's Speed Workout | STACK
Josh Staph
- Josh Staph is the Senior Vice President, Content at STACK Media and joined the company shortly after it was founded in 2005. He graduated from...

Chris Johnson's Speed Workout

September 1, 2010 | Featured in the September, 2010 Issue

His teeth are gold, his hair is untamed and his running style is beautifully unpredictable. But at the heart of Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson lies an innate, intensely-focused discipline.

Such unwavering discipline is what drives the fastest man in the NFL to become even faster.

This same discipline motivated him as a struggling high school student to attend night classes until 9 p.m. each day to bolster his weak grades and keep alive his flickering dream of playing Division I football.

That steadfast commitment, along with a gigantic chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, also drives the most explosive athlete in pro sports to repeatedly push his body to the limit coming off a recordbreaking NFL season.

Chris Johnson Workout

“I was never a guy who wanted to just go off my talent,” Chris says. “Where I’m from, there are a lot of dudes with talent who didn’t make it. So, I always knew that working hard was one of the most important things.”

Throughout high school, Chris was focused and insanely talented. In addition to tearing it up on the football field at Olympia High School in Southwest Orlando, Chris blazed the seventh fastest 100m time in the nation. He was barely edged out in the state finals by Walter Dix, who eventually went on to claim the 100m Olympic Bronze medal at the Beijing Games.

Athletic success was abundant, but recognition lagged considerably due to bad luck and a less-thanstellar approach to the recruiting process. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t go to any Nike camps or football camps,” Chris recalls. “My grades [weren’t] up to par, and then I broke my leg senior year [during] the first game of the [season]. So, I didn’t have a lot of schools on me… I wanted to go to a big-time school like the University of Miami or Texas, but they didn’t recruit me because of my grades or because they didn’t know about me.”

Up to that point, Chris wasn’t exactly a model recruit in terms of self-marketing and academics, but then his fierce determination kicked in and kept his dreams alive. “I wanted to go to a D-I college,” he says. “And I was going to do whatever it took to get there. [During] my senior year, I took four night school classes to get my grades up and qualify to go to East Carolina. I had [offersfrom] UConn, East Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and a couple other I-AA schools, but I [chose] East Carolina because they stuck with me throughout the whole process.”

East Carolina is hardly a launching pad for NFL stardom, but Chris made the most of it, and luckily for him, world-class speed does wonders for getting a dude noticed. “It really doesn’t matter how big of a school you go to,” Chris says. “These days, you see a lot of big-school guys going to the League and being busts [while] a lot of small-school players are becoming some of the best players in the NFL. Just look at guys like Brian Westbrook and guys like me. If you do what you have to do, they’re going to find you.”

For Chris, that involved making an immediate impact his freshman year, keying the Pirates’ victory over powerhouse Boise State in the 2007 Hawaii Bowl; leading the nation in all-purpose yards his senior season (212.7 per game); and roughing up and running past big-school opponents in the Senior Bowl in front of a national audience and a slew of NFL scouts. The crowning jewel of Chris’ coming-out party was his 4.24 40 at the NFL Combine—the fastest time ever electronically recorded in the history of the mid-winter scouting event.

The Tennessee Titans overlooked Chris’ small-school origins, grabbing him and his big-play potential with the 24th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Although Chris was now recognized in a big way, the experience did little to calm the source of his angry running.

“If players tell you that they don’t look at other players on TV and think ‘I’m better than that guy,’ they’re lying,” he says. “In college I saw a lot of dudes I used to play with in high school who went to bigger schools. I knew they weren’t better than me. I was never that guy who was given anything or who was among the top-ranked players. I always had to work my way up, so I will always play with a chip on my shoulder.”

Since snatching everyone’s attention and respect, Chris spent his first two NFL seasons showing off what he had all along. “I’ve got speed, and I’m tough,” he says. “I can run on the inside and the outside. That’s one of my biggest assets.”

No wonder Chris refers to himself as “Every Coach’s Dream.” True for Titans head man Jeff Fisher. But for every other NFL coach, Chris will continue to be a nightmare.

Hitting His Stride

Improving on his historic 2,006 yards in a season and a 4.24 40 is no easy task. Further enhancing such a high-performing athlete comes down to microscopic elements of speed and athleticism.

Travelle Gaines, former director of Performance Gaines and current director of football at Athletes’ Performance, was up to the challenge.

“When you’re working with the fastest player in the NFL, you have to think outside the box,” Gaines says. “Chris has a lot of God-given ability in his speed, so we wanted to focus on the little things to make him a little bit better without messing up his superior technique and athletic ability. We felt that we could make some improvements by increasing his stride length and core strength. We do a lot of things to help him open up his stride by increasing his strength and flexibility through his hips and core.”

The goal of longer, stronger strides fits perfectly with Chris’ disciplined approach to speed development. “I ran track all four years in high school,” he says. “Even when I stopped running track, I focused on doing that same speed training. You always need to keep doing sprint work to perfect your technique.”

The 5’11”, 200-pound burner had a couple of additional goals coming into training camp. He worked to show up slightly heavier and stronger than the year before. “I’m in [a] great position to accomplish those goals,” he says.

Although Chris’ workout was specifically designed for one of the fastest men on earth, the following routine will help any athlete improve his speed, regardless of his starting point. There’s no denying that explosive strength + longer strides + perfect technique = the fastest you possible.

Chris Johnson Speed Workout

Watch video of Chris Johnson's off-season speed workout.

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Band-Resisted Speed Technique

Perform each drill against resistance for specified distance while adhering to proper sprint mechanics.

High Knee Carioca—Carioca with high knee drive when trail leg crosses over in front

High Knee Pump—Rapidly drive knees up in opposite-arm, opposite-leg fashion

A-Skip—Rhythmic skipping with opposite-arm, opposite-leg action

Accelerated A-Skip—Perform A-Skip in faster, more powerful fashion

Technique: Explosively drive knees up // Keep toes pulled up throughout // Drive ball of foot into ground behind hips to propel body // Pump arms forward and back from hip pocket to cheek level // Keep eyes focused straight ahead

Sets/Distance/Recovery: 2-4x15-20 yards each movement with 15-30 seconds rest
Gaines: All of these dynamic, resisted drills improve Chris’ sprinting technique and stride length. He has to open up his hips to rapidly strike the ground with each stride, and we make sure he’s adhering to perfect form.

Vertimax Squat Jumps

  • Assume athletic stance, feet at hip width, with Vertimax resistance attached to waist
  • Keeping chest up and knees behind toes, lower into quarter-squat position
  • Explode up for maximum height and drive arms overhead
  • Land softly with bent knees and immediately perform next rep

Sets/Reps/Recovery: 3x10 with 45 seconds rest
Gaines: This is pure vertical explosion. Chris has to explode up as hard and fast as he can.

Vertimax Med Ball Jumps

  • Assume athletic stance, feet at hip width, with Vertimax resistance attached to waist; hold 10- to16-pound med ball at chest
  • Keeping chest up and knees behind toes, lower into quarter-squat position
  • Explode upward for maximum height and drive med ball overhead
  • Land softly with bent knees and immediately perform next rep

Sets/Reps/Recovery: 3-4x8-10 with 45 seconds rest
Gaines: This is a great explosive exercise that works Chris’ core strength, balance and overall athletic ability by forcing him to explode up while controlling the med ball.

Vertimax Med Ball Step-Up

  • Assume athletic stance with Vertimax resistance attached to waist; hold med ball in front of chest
  • Step onto box and drive up until leg is fully extended
  • Drive opposite knee high and press med ball forward at top of movement
  • Step down with control to start position and perform rep with opposite leg
  • Continue alternating for specified reps

Sets/Reps/Recovery: 3-4x4-5 each leg with 30-45 seconds rest
Gaines: This is another great explosive exercise that improves core strength and balance while reinforcing running mechanics with the toe-up, knee drive.

Note: If Vertimax is not available, perform all Vertimax exercises with partners holding light band resistance attached to a weight belt around your waist.

Dumbbell Reverse Lunge With Knee Drive on Airex

  • Assume athletic stance with both feet on Airex pad and hold dumbbells at sides
  • Step back and lower into lunge until back knee is just above ground
  • Push through front heel to drive up and forward into start position
  • Drive opposite knee up at end of movement
  • Repeat for specified reps and perform set on opposite leg

Advanced: Add band resistance from behind and hold med ball in front; press med ball out during knee drive
Sets/Reps/Recovery: 3-5x5 each leg with 30 seconds rest
Gaines: This works overall balance, core strength and knee drive, which is an important component of sprint work.

Dumbbell Split-Squat on Airex

  • Assume split stance with back foot on Airex pad and hold dumbbells at sides
  • Squat down until back knee is just off ground
  • Push through front heel to drive up into start position
  • Repeat for specified reps and perform set with opposite leg forward

Sets/Reps/Recovery: 3-4x5-6 each leg with 30 seconds rest
Gaines: The biggest benefit is the ankle stability and overall balance of having one foot on the Airex pad. This also improves strength and flexibility in the hips, which translates into longer, stronger strides.

Related link:

Check out a video interview with Chris Johnson discussing his off-season training habits for football.

Related Exercises

A-Skip
Accelerated A-Skip
High Knee Carioca
High Knee Pump
Vertimax Squat Jumps
Dumbbell Reverse Lunge With Knee Drive on Airex
Dumbbell Split-Squat on Airex
Vertimax Med Ball Jumps
Vertimax Med Ball Step-Up
Josh Staph
- Josh Staph is the Senior Vice President, Content at STACK Media and joined the company shortly after it was founded in 2005. He graduated from...

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