NFL Combine Training for Football

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By Josh Staph

Every winter, NFL hopefuls arrive at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine to display their skills and impress the crowd of coaches and scouts. In the biggest tryout in the world of sports, dreams are realized and hopes are dashed; eyes are opened and backs are turned.

To master the drills that decide their futures, athletes travel across the country to train with leading authorities in Combine preparation—Tom Shaw, Chip Smith, Danny Arnold and Luke Richesson of Athletes' Performance. Lucky for you, traveling isn't necessary for your Combine prep. All you have to do is read on. Our panel of experts dropped their tips and techniques to help you blow up five staple Combine tests. >>>

Tom Shaw
Territory: Tom Shaw Performance Enhancement, Orlando, Fla.
Alumni: Deion Sanders, Michael Vick, Jevon Kearse
Top picks of '06: Reggie Bush (USC, RB), D'Brickashaw Ferguson (Virginia, OL)

Chip Smith
Territory: Competitive Edge Sports, Duluth, Ga.
Alumni: Brian Urlacher, Champ Bailey
Top picks of '06: Charlie Whitehurst (Clemson, QB), Roman Harper (Alabama, DB), Will Allen (Texas, OL)

Danny Arnold
Territory: Plex, Stafford, Texas
Alumni: Julius Peppers, Charles Woodson
Top picks of '06: Vince Young (Texas, QB), AJ Hawk (Ohio State, LB)

Luke Richesson
Territory: Athletes' Performance, Phoenix, Ariz.
Alumni: Roy Williams, DeAngelo Hall, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Ronnie Brown
Top picks of '06: Laurence Maroney (Minnesota, RB), Michael Huff (Texas, DB)

What it tests: The Combine is all about the 40. Coaches and scouts use it to evaluate a player's speed from point A to point B.

Arnold's 40 Technique

Stance You need a comfortable, natural stance to run the 40 efficiently—without wasted movement. To find a guy's natural stance, I have him run in place at the starting line. However wide his feet are when I say 'stop' is how wide his stance should be when he lines up. Another key is placing your hand wider than your stance, not in line with your back knee.

Start Since your arms dictate how your legs move, drive your down hand straight back to get your rear leg to move forward. We say 'burn the carpet'—if you're on artificial turf, rip your hand back so fast that it feels like you burned it. Drive off both legs. Most guys are too light on the back leg, forcing the front leg to do all the work. Some coaches tell players to take a short first step. I'm totally against that. Shorten your first step only if it's much longer than your natural stride. Focus on keeping your head down, ripping your hand back and taking a natural first step with your back leg.

Drive phase Bringing your hips under and popping up is the worst thing you can do. You want a good forward lean with your head down until you get 12 to 15 yards out. Drive your elbows back to get your legs moving.

Into stride Once you're in stride, find a spot on the wall in front. If your spot bounces around, you're too tense. Good track coaches tell their runners that relaxed equals fast. Once you're 20 yards out, become a track guy. Focus on arm rotation—driving your elbows straight back fast. Arms determine speed more than legs. Improve your arm speed and your legs can't help moving faster. Test this theory: start jogging, then begin rotating your arms harder and faster. You'll see that it's impossible not to run faster.

Gettin' Fast with Arnold

Staggered Broad Jumps

• Assume 40-yard dash stance, one foot slightly in front of other
• Squat down keeping chest up
• Jump forward by exploding through ground with both legs
• Land naturally with feet alongside each other
• Reset feet and repeat for specified number of reps
• Perform full set with opposite leg in front
• Rest

Sets: 4-5 with each leg
Reps: 12-15
Recovery: 90 seconds
The payoff: Recruits and trains fast-twitch muscle fibers to build explosiveness
The wisdom: "It doesn't matter how far your jumps are. It's more about switching from off to on. We don't ease into anything here. Squat down in the staggered stance, pause, then explode. It is crucial to explode with the front and back leg as hard as possible."

Seated Arm Rotations

• Sit on bench facing a mirror
• Place feet in staggered 40 stance
• Rapidly drive elbows straight back, then forward at full speed like you're sprinting. Focus eyes straight ahead

Sets: 3 x cycle (cycle = 1 x 10 sec, 1 x 8 sec, 1 x 6 sec, 1 x 4 sec)
Recovery: 10-15 seconds
The payoff: Develops rotational speed and proper technique with arms
The wisdom: "Watch your arms in the mirror; make sure they move straight back and forward. Focusing on the mirror is a good way to know if you need to relax your upper body. If the mirror shakes, you know you're too tense."

Gettin' fast with Shaw

According to Shaw, increasing your explosive power is the main component to moving faster. Make the following plyo program part of your training, and you'll be blazing your own trail along the 40 yards of carpet.

Alternating-Leg Bounds

• In continuous fashion, explosively bound from one leg to other over specified distance
• Cover as much ground as you can and achieve maximum hang time with each bound

Ankle Hops

• Stand tall with arms at sides and feet together
• Keeping legs completely straight, use your feet and ankle flexors to jump as high as possible
• Jump again immediately upon landing
• Spend as little time on the ground as possible
• Don't bend knees

Squat Jump

• With bar on back, lower into standard parallel squat position
• Jump as high as possible by exploding straight up
• Land with soft knees and repeat

Depth Jump

• Step off 18- to 24-inch box
• As soon as feet touch ground, jump as high as possible

Variations: Dumbbell: Hold dumbbells of no more than 20 pounds at side. Immediately after set, perform 3-5 jumps without dumbbells.
With Sprint: Instead of jumping, explode forward into sprint as soon as feet touch ground.

Dumbbell Jump

• Holding dumbbells of no more than 20 pounds at sides, lower into standard parallel squat
• Explode straight up as high as possible
• Land with soft knees and repeat
• Immediately after set, perform 3-5 jumps without dumbbells

The wisdom: "No matter what kind of form you have, to get faster in the few months leading up to a Combine, you have to increase explosive power. This program does that. Anything that improves your vertical and standing broad jumps will also improve your 40 time."

What it tests: The 225-bench test isn't about strength—it's about strength endurance. Arnold says: "We have guys who are strong, but this test doesn't measure that. It tests endurance—and power if you move the weight fast. To get better at it, you need to condition your chest like you would your legs for a run. My training teaches players to deal with the rush of blood to the chest and lactic acid buildup within the muscles." AP's approach is similar. Richesson calls the bench test "a measure of strength endurance." He adds, "You can't just focus on endurance-based workouts. We try to get the guys as strong as possible by lowering the reps and increasing the weight. That way, 225 feels light."


AP's Technique

Performing the bench test requires rhythm and proper breathing. If you are aiming for 20 reps, try to get the first 10 to 12 in one breath, the next 3 to 5 in another, then finish up with one breath per rep. Holding air in your chest gives you more stability in the upper body and makes your strokes shorter—meaning you move the bar a shorter distance."

Stabilize with AP

Isometric Holds

• Assume push-up position, hold for specified time
• After brief rest, assume push-up position and lower halfway; hold position for specified time
• After a brief rest, assume push-up position and lower until chest is just above floor; hold position for specified time

Sets/Reps: 1 x 30-60 seconds each position
The payoff: Improves shoulder stability, strength and endurance through range of motion
The wisdom: "If Michael Huff aims for 25 reps, his chest and shoulders will be on fire by the time he reaches 18 or 19 reps. So we work on his ability to last longer and deal with the high reps. Strengthening and stabilizing his shoulders accomplishes that."

Blast your bench with Arnold

The weights you use in the following program depend on your strength level. Use lighter weights if Arnold's suggestions are too heavy, but keep the same ratios between sets.

Monday: Conditioning Workout #1
Repeat the following circuit four times. Take as much rest as you need between circuits.

• Set up three benches—185 pounds, 135 pounds and 85 pounds (if you have only one bench, strip the weight during the rest phase)
• Perform max reps with 185 pounds
• Rest 30 seconds
• Perform max reps with 135 pounds
• Rest 30 seconds
• Perform max reps with 85 pounds

Push-up burnout Perform as many push-ups as possible

Wednesday: Conditioning Workout #2
Bench 185 pounds as many times as you can with proper form to find your rep max. Aim for that number on every set.

• Set up a 185-pound bench
• Perform max number of reps
• Rest as long as needed
• Repeat for 5 sets
• If you get stuck mid-set before reaching your rep goal, rack the weight, rest briefly and continue until you reach your mark

Push-up burnout Perform as many push-ups as possible

Fridays are the only days during Combine prep that Arnold's players work on strength and bench more than 225.

Strength workout

• Slightly increase the load for each of the following sets: 1 x 12, 1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 4
• Rest 90 seconds between sets.

What it tests: The Pro Agility tests lateral quickness, change of direction and coordination. "Quickness is a learned response," Smith says. "And that's what speed in sports is all about. We can take a kid who lacks linear speed and improve his lateral speed by teaching him the proper technique of this drill to eliminate wasted movement. Improved quickness will help him apply technique better."


Smith's Technique

We want our players to take seven to nine steps during the short shuttle. If they take less than seven, they're overstriding, not generating enough power. If they take more than nine, they're spinning their wheels—adding extra time every time their foot hits the ground.

The first five (1 step, ½ hop)

If you're moving to the right, place your left hand on the midline. Rip the right arm back to open the hips and pivot with your right foot. Crossover with your left foot, take a half step with your right foot, then take a small hop and touch the line with your right hand.

The middle 10 (4 steps)

Take four steps followed with a hop to cover the 10 yards. Touch the line with your left hand.

The last five (2 steps)

Take two steps to cover the final five yards. Make sure to run through the line.

The hop

The hop allows you to turn your hips around so you're ready to head back the other way. After the hop, your feet should face the way you came, so you're in your 40-yard dash stance.

If your feet are parallel to the line, facing straight ahead, you're going to waste two steps turning around—your first step will be used to move forward and your second step will be lateral to get going the other way. This approach, the hop and hip turn, helps you cover five yards by your second step. Shorten the drill even more by staying inside the line on the touches.

Gettin' Quicks with Smith

Shuttle With Resistance

• Wrap cord around waist, and have coach hold end to provide resistance
• Assume short shuttle stance
• Pivot, crossover, step and hop to cover initial five yards
• Touch line with hand

Sets/Reps: 4-5 in each direction
Frequency: Twice per week

Sandwich Drill

• Wrap two cords around waist. Have a coach pull one cord to right and another coach pull cord to left, providing resistance from both sides
• Assume ready position
• React to a third coach's cues in front by shuffling or turning and running toward the direction he points

Sets/Reps: 4-5 x 12 seconds (about 8 changes of direction)
Frequency: Twice per week
The payoff: Strengthens adductors, abductors, hip extensors and hip flexors—all the muscles that move you laterally and diagonally. Also improves first-step quickness, acceleration and deceleration.
The wisdom: "When you perform the Pro Agility after using these drills, your muscle memory makes your body think the resistance is still there. So your muscles fire extra hard and are more explosive in the motion."

What it tests: This test measures your explosive power vertically. To measure your vert, subtract the height of your reach from the maximum height you can touch when jumping from a stationary position. Although Smith sees little correlation between jumping straight up and playing football, he knows how to get results for this test. Competitive Edge alum Boss Bailey is proof; he launched himself 48 inches into the air while training for the 2003 Combine. You might not reach that number, but you can increase your vert four to six inches—like Smith's clients typically do—by performing the following drills.


Gettin' up with Smith

Power Clean

• Assume athletic stance with shins touching bar
• Grip bar just outside of stance
• Get into deadlift position with back locked, shoulders up, and abs and chest flexed
• Explode by fully extending hips, knees and ankles and forcefully shrugging
• Pull bar up keeping it close to body
• Drop under bar and catch it along shoulders in athletic stance with knees bent

Sets/Reps: 5 x 5 at 80-85%
Frequency: Twice per week
The payoff: Explosive power throughout your hips and legs
The wisdom: "There is a direct relationship between proficiency in the power clean and success in the 40 and vertical. The clean trains the same hip drive that generates explosive power in those tests. Therefore you need a good clean to get faster and jump higher."

Vertimax Negative Squat

• Stand on Vertimax with bungees set at max resistance
• Holding a 25- to 35-pound plate in front, take eight counts to lower into parallel squat
• Take eight counts to rise back into standing position

Vertimax Jumps

• Stand on Vertimax with bungee cords attached
• Lower to specified depth and explode into jump
• Land naturally, reset, and repeat
• For explosive jumps, immediately jump again upon landing

The wisdom: "The Vertimax is a great way to add resistance to jumps so guys become more powerful and explosive. If a Vertimax isn't available, put your weight belt around your waist and attach elastic cords to it. Have partners stand on the ends of the cords to provide resistance."

Tuck Jumps

• Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
• Lower into squat position, then jump as high as possible
• Bring knees to chest in midair
• Land naturally, reset, and repeat

Sets/Reps: Perform routine one time through
Frequency: Once per week
The payoff: Powerful vertical explosion and leg strength

What it tests: This measures your ability to stop, start and maintain fluid movement as you cut and change direction. The drill consists of navigating through a three-cone, L-shaped course as quickly as possible (see diagram). Richesson trains athletes for the L-Drill by having them master each leg individually. He says, "We begin by focusing on the first acceleration and stop, then the second acceleration and stop, then the third acceleration and first turn, and finally the figure 8. A few weeks before the Combine, we put all the pieces together and really hammer down the technique." AP looks to improve an athlete's best time by 10 to 15 percent during their six training weeks, as long as there are no injuries. Richesson says, "That improvement is on top of increased muscle mass, which is also usually 10 to 15 percent."


AP'S Technique

First acceleration and stop

Begin in the stance you use for the 40. In some cases, the timers dictate which hand you put down, so get used to starting with either. Line up about one yard to the left of the cone so you carry momentum into the first turn. If you're too tight to the cone coming out of a direction change, you have to come to a dead stop and make an out-cut like a receiver.

Explode out of the start; then, shortly thereafter, perform a hockey stop (shift your hips to the left so they are perpendicular to the line and about six inches wider than your shoulders). Try to get your right foot and right hand to the line at the same time; stretch your right arm so you can touch the line quickly with your middle finger, and lean toward the start line to create an angle from which to drive.

Second acceleration and stop

After the first stop, accelerate back toward the start line and perform another hockey stop, touching the line with your right hand. Make sure to move in a straight line with the first two passes, so you're touching the start line right where you lined up. Don't make yourself have to run more than 10 yards.

Third acceleration and first turn

As you come out of the second hockey stop, don't run directly at the second cone and try to plant hard off it. Round the cone to keep momentum going into the figure 8—just enough width to maintain fluidity through the turn.

The Figure 8

As you accelerate toward the second turn, you cannot put your hand down on that turn. They are sticklers about that at the Combine. Again, avoid planting and pivoting around the cone. Allow enough width to stay fluid, and keep your feet moving the whole time. Use your arms to accelerate through the turn.

Last turn

On the final turn, most people head straight for the cone, then break hard to the left. Maintain momentum and save time by bending the turn wide so you cross the line about five feet wider than where you started.

Gettin' Fluid with AP

Ankle Band Shuffle

• With mini band around ankles or knees, assume shoulder-width stance with slight flex in the knees
• Shuffle right 15 steps without rocking upper body or allowing feet to move closer than shoulder width
• Shuffle back left for 15 steps
• Repeat drill with legs straight

Sets/Reps: 2 x 15 steps each direction. Gradually increase reps
Frequency: 2-3 times per week

Side Pillar Bridge

• Lie on side with elbow tucked under and feet stacked on top of each other
• Lift body so only foot and elbow touch ground
• Elevate hips and keep core tight for specified time
• Intensify exercise by adding 25-pound weight to outside hip

Advanced: Raise top leg
Sets/Reps: 4-5 x 30 seconds each side. Gradually increase time.
Frequency: 2-3 times per week
The payoff: Improves strength and stability in the core, hips and groin.
The wisdom: "If your hips are weak, they will sag or keep moving when you try to stop or change direction during the L-Drill, forcing you to stutter step or preventing you from staying rigid and breaking down immediately. Hip strength and stability make athletes solid and efficient in their cuts and changes of direction."

A few Q's with AP scholars Michael Huff and Laurence Maroney

Dreams realized

Huff: I realized I had what it takes to get to the NFL the summer before my junior year at Texas. I heard coaches talk about it—my name was mentioned with other NFL prospects. That's when I knew.

Maroney: In high school, I didn't think I would make it to college. I thought there were too many other guys who were so much better than me. But once I started playing against the best in high school, I proved myself and earned a scholarship to the University of Minnesota. Then I was like, "Wow, I am pretty good. Let's see how far I can take this dream." College got me in great shape to take it to the NFL, so I came out early as a junior.

AP's method

Huff: I knew AP would have good work for me, but I had no idea it would be this good. I've been getting bigger, stronger and faster every day. In college, I was just trying to out-lift the guy next to me, and be conditioned to play four full quarters. deals more with technique to master specific movements.

Maroney: Being around all of these great athletes makes it easy to push myself here. It's different from what I did in college, where we focused on the big muscles to get stronger and faster. really fine-tunes your body down to the smallest muscles. You enhance your speed and strength by training little muscles you didn't even know you had. They're also big on technique and staying in rhythm.


Huff: I don't get nervous—that goes back to my track career. I like performing in front of people and showing them what I can do. I zone out everything around me and just do what I gotta do.

Maroney: Not an issue. I am a competitor and I like to perform on a big stage in front of a lot of people. I might feel a little something at the start, but I know I'll be relaxed and ready once things get going.

Favorite test

Huff: The 40. I can't wait to line up and show off my speed. I also think I open eyes on the bench test. I want to be the strongest DB out there. I think I'm one of the best defensive backs in the country, and I can display that against the best competition during this session. If someone is better, then I give him his props.

Maroney: Can't wait to do the 40. It's my strong point. I know I can compete with the best when it comes to speed. And as a running back, speed is key to getting outside and breaking the long run.

Charlie Whitehurst Smith says: "Look out for Charlie. He's going to test extremely well. I trained him when he was in high school, and he ran a 4.5 back then. They say he is not a great athlete, but here's his chance to run that kind of time again at 6'5". He'll impress a lot of people."

Vince Young Arnold says: "Vince isn't necessarily 40-fast. But in actuality, he is so elusive it makes him fast. He can do things without slowing down; he just keeps moving." thinks the start will be the most difficult part of the 40 for Vince to master: "He's never really had to practice the 40. He is very fast, but mostly because of his stride length. He'll practice and will do a great job at his pro day. People are more concerned with what he can do under center anyway, not running a 40."

AJ Hawk The Ohio State linebacker is considered the top defensive prospect in the draft. Here's why, according to Arnold: "There is nothing to hide when it comes to AJ. He moves like a freakin' DB and weighs 240 pounds. He's going to blow up at the Combine and his pro day. People know he's good, but they have no idea how impressive his hips are. I think we can get this guy down into the 4.5s."

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