Bigger, faster, stronger–the training mission of every NFL prospect when prepping for the battery of Combine drills and tests.
Although these elite athletes attend the Combine for the same purpose, the training methods they employ to reach their goals are quite different. That’s why each year aspiring NFL hopefuls go to top-tier facilities across the country to take part in crashcourse Combine training programs.
STACK did fieldwork at four premier performance facilities around the country to crack the codes that allow NFL Draft prospects to blow up the Combine.
Velocity Sports Performance-Irvine, Calif. Full-Body Training
“Winning the workout” is the Combine training goal at Velocity Sports Performance, says Ryan Kerrigan, an All-American defensive end and first-round prospect. Kerrigan, along with fellow Velocity trainees Von Miller and Nate Solder, credits the total-body training program developed by high performance director Ken Vick for getting them into peak form for the Combine. “We’re trying to get as much as possible out of every workout,” Vick says. “Everything I put in their program has to give them a big return.” (Watch a video interview with Ryan Kerrigan about NFL Combine training at Velocity Sports Performance).
Every day includes a full-body workout in Vick’s weight room, and the response is overwhelming. “We have a 93 percent personal record rate at the Combine,” Vick boasts.
Linear Explosiveness Hill Run/Explosive Start Combo
Making good use of time during workouts isn’t limited to the weight room. Athletes incorporate explosive, lower-body exercises into their morning speed sessions. Top prospects Von Miller and Jake Locker completed hill work after testing out in speed and agility events.
Performing Hill Runs can benefit speed and start technique in ways explosive start drills or Build-Ups cannot. Hill Runs are ideal for learning and reinforcing acceleration mechanics, such as applying “big force” into the ground in a short amount of time. Forward body lean and rapid arm drive are heavily emphasized acceleration techniques, first enhanced through hill training, then applied to start drills, which are performed on a flat surface immediately following the hill work.
Standing Broad Jumps
Practicing Combine tests is a must, and Standing Broad Jumps allow athletes to brush up on their technique for the event. This drill not only develops linear explosion for the test, it also trains athletes to apply big force into the ground for the start of the 40-Yard Dash.
Since it’s a horizontal jump, the athlete must project his body from the countermovement and explode out, not up. And it’s important to monitor the number of jumps (3). Vick says, “These athletes are going through three-a-days, and they just came out of a football season. I can’t have them pounding on their ankles and knees.”
Four-Point Stability Hold
Core work is part of every strength training session, and Vick focuses on getting the most from each exercise. The Four-Point Stability Hold improves core strength and shoulder stability—two areas essential for conquering the 225-Bench Test.
The Four-Point Stability Hold is part of a progression that starts with the basic Plank. It’s then paired with an explosive core exercise, such as Med Ball Rotations or Single-Arm Sit-Ups.
Plex, Stafford, Texas Lateral Explosiveness and Agility
Everyone fawns over the 40-Yard Dash. But, according to Plex founder Danny Arnold, of all test events at the Combine, the greatest indicators of football talent are Pro Agility and Three-Cone Drill. The ability to explode from a start position, change speeds, transition from low to high position and change directions are all on display during these events.
“When you look at how that transfers to the game, it’s the same movements a receiver makes off a break, a DB coming out of a backpedal or an offensive lineman opening his hips around the corner to block a linebacker,” explains Arnold, who trained top-ranked defensive tackle Nick Fairley and TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. (Watch video of Nick Fairley training at Plex in prep for the NFL Combine).
Med Ball Three-Cone Crossover Series
As part of the agility tests, prospects are evaluated on their ability to sink their hips and explode from a dead stop to full speed. Scouts don’t necessarily measure final times. They often rely on the eyeball test to grade an athlete’s movement patterns. Think of it as a test within a test; and, as Arnold notes, the skills being developed translate directly to the game.
Explosive exercises that target the hips are critical for accelerating, decelerating and changing direction, which is why training the hips is a top priority for Arnold. At the Combine, an athlete who fails to display loose and explosive hips risks wasting movement when performing the Three-Cone Drill and 20-Yard Shuttle.
The Three Cone Crossover drill reinforces the same movement patterns that these events require—the ability to change direction and speed quickly and efficiently while accelerating from a dead stop to full speed. Doing the drill with the resistance belt makes it more difficult by presenting an unstable environment, similar to a game situation when a player is forced to make a decision and react to an opponent’s move.
Explosive Mini Hurdle Start
At Plex, starts and first-step drills focus on eliminating the false step when exploding out of a start position. The false step doesn’t necessarily come from raising the foot, says Arnold. It’s more likely to happen when the athlete cocks back from the start position to generate force. Arnold teaches pushing forward from a low, forward lean body position.
In the Explosive Mini Hurdle Start, the athlete must drive his knee and lead leg up, covering as much ground as possible in that first step, then drive the lead foot into the ground as fast and hard as possible. “It doesn’t do any good to have a high knee if you don’t have force behind it,” Arnold says. “If your foot isn’t down on the ground, you don’t have any force behind you.”
IMG Performance Institute, Bradenton, Fla. Explosive Core Training
Training for the Combine is a double whammy for Anthony Castonzo, Mark Herzlich and other NFL hopefuls prepping at IMG Performance Institute. “We’re not just training for the Combine, we’re training for the NFL season,” says Jeff Dillman, head of physical conditioning at IMG.
The primary objective of IMG’s Combine prep program is to enhance the athletes’ work capacity, which enables them to execute with flawless technique throughout the weekend of testing. In a game setting, increased work capacity is the ticket to performing at a high level for all four quarters.
Rotational Med Ball-Backward, Overhead Throw Series
Med ball training consists of repeated bouts of explosive movements to enhance work capacity and cultivate the ability to perform exercises for a long duration with correct form. The med ball series also contributes to making athletes faster.
Loren Seagrave, dynamic speed coach at IMG, says that the key to maintaining energy and speed is core strength, “so the athlete doesn’t leak energy with every step.” His comprehensive core training consists of an active dynamic warm-up and abdominal stabilization work. The goal of the med ball series is to build total body explosiveness, generating force from the ground up to fire the med ball in any direction.
Athletes’ Performance-Los Angeles Linear Speed Development
What exactly separates blazing 40 times from sub-par showings in this marquee event? A quality start and sound technique.
Sixteen days out from the first Combine workout, lockdown CB Jimmy Smith refined his start technique under the watchful eye of Travelle Gaines, director of elite athlete development at Athletes’ Performance.
During his speed session, Smith’s primary focus was on arm action. Gaines says, “The arms have to be the fastest things moving coming out of the start. The faster your arms move, the faster your legs move.”
There’s nothing technical about performing this drill, but Gaines and his staff make it an important part of speed development. Technique Build-Ups lengthen and strengthen strides, because they require the athlete to accelerate while maintaining proper and efficient acceleration mechanics throughout different phases of the sprint.
Technique Build-Ups are also great for improving arm action for the 40-Yard Dash. While the athlete builds up speed in 15-yard increments, rapid arm drive, in a “mouth-to-pocket” fashion, remains constant throughout the drill.
AP prescribes using Technique Build-Ups when warming up for the 40 at the Combine. Preparing for every scenario an athlete will encounter during testing reduces the chance of running a cold 40.