By: Dan Basso
Here’s a quick quiz: what two things do Deion Sanders and Michael Vick have in common?
Stumped? Okay, both men have reportedly run sub-4.2 second 40-yard dashes and both honed their ‘sickening ’ speed under Coach Tom Shaw at his facility in New Orleans.
No doubt both Deion and Michael Vick possess inordinate amounts of athletic talent and ability—but to run blistering sub-4.2-second 40-yard times, you need more than talent: you need a top coach. Together, Sanders, Vick and Shaw have changed the NFL ’s definition of speed—in fact, the NFL seems so obsessed with speed demons like Sanders and Vick that they may as well rename it the NSL—National Speed League.
STACK wanted to find out exactly how these world-class athletes developed their blazing speed, so we caught up with Shaw and asked all about his speed training philosophies. He shares some sure-fire drills and exercises for you to work into your training programs to improve your speed.
Shaw says running a scorching 40-yard dash time is simple: to get faster, all you have to do is improve your standing vertical jump and broad jump.“If you can increase those two numbers, you will run faster. No matter what kind of form you have, you will run faster.”
Still skeptical? Numbers don’t lie. “If you look at the NFL Combine results for the last 10 years, the majority of time whoever has the best vertical jump and the best standing broad jump at any position will have the fastest time in the 40-yard dash,” Shaw says. “The numbers can be skewed if you have 22 offensive linemen and 21 are all over 330 pounds, and you have one at 260 pounds. He may run the faster 40 just because he is a different size. But, if you really look at the combine results, the guy who is more explosive and powerful is going to run a faster 40.”
“So there is a strong correlation between explosive power and the 40-yard dash. If you have a combination of both the best vertical and broad jump, there is a good chance that you are the fastest guy on your team.”
Of course,you also can improve your 40-yard dash time by improving your running form, but the secret to a head-turning Deion Sanders or Michael Vick 40 is explosive power.
“The fastest kids that I have do not have great technique, but they are explosive,” says Shaw. “The most important thing that you, as an athlete, can work on is explosive power. Everything else is secondary. Deion does not have great running form. Michael Vick does not have great running form compared to an Olympic sprinter. If an athlete gets rid of all wasted movement and he works on his form and technique, the athlete will improve. But in order to get faster over a two to three month period, an athlete must increase his or her explosive power.”
So, how do you improve your explosive power? Shaw believes plyometrics are a great way to increase your explosive power. Plyometrics will increase your standing vertical jump, your standing broad jump and as a result, cut tenths off your 40 time.
Here’s a list of plyometric exercises that Shaw suggests you incorporate into your training program to drop your 40 time. Performing each drill once or twice a week will improve your explosive power tremendously. Remember: Do not over-train by doing these drills more than twice per week as part of your program.
Start with just the barbell and add weight as you progress. Now proceed as if you were completing a regular squat. Place your feet at shoulder-hip width, and perform a squat. When you reach the quarter squat position, explode and jump as high as you can. Place an emphasis on jumping straight up with as much power as possible. Display triple extension at the hips, knees and ankles. Do not waste movement. Perform 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps.
Hold a light dumbbell, no more than 20 pounds, in each hand. Now with your feet in the same position as the squat jump, again, lower yourself to a quarter squat position. When you reach the position, explode and jump as high as you can. Remember to achieve triple extension. Perform 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps of dumbbell jumps. After each set, drop the dumbbells and perform 3-5 body weight jumps, which are just dumbbell jumps without the dumbbells.
Step off a 20 to 24-inch box or stair. As soon as your feet touch the ground, jump up as high and as quickly as possible. The key to this exercise is reacting as quickly as you can and exploding into a jump the second your feet touch the ground.
“You are thinking like a superball or racquet ball. Once a superball or racquet ball hits the ground, it recoils real quick and is coming off the ground quickly,” explains Coach Shaw. Perform 2-3 sets of 3-5 jumps.
Dumbbell depth jump:
Perform the depth jump, but hold a light dumbbell, no more than 20 pounds, in each hand while performing the exercise. Perform 2-3 sets of 3-5 dumbbell depth jumps. After each set, drop the dumbbells and perform 3-5 regular bodyweight depth jumps.
Depth jump and sprint:
Perform a depth jump as described above. Following the depth jump, the second your feet touch the ground, sprint straight ahead for 10 to 20 yards. Perform 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps.
Ankle flexor hops:
Stand erect with your arms at your sides and your feet together. Now, only use your feet and ankle flexors to jump as a high as possible. Spend as little time as possible on the ground. The key is to jump as quickly and as high as you can by only using your calf muscles. Complete as many ankle flexor hops as you can in 10 to 20 seconds. Perform 2-3 sets.
Skips for height:
Skip as high as you can, raising your knee as high and as quick as possible, while forcefully extending your drive leg. Land and alternate legs. The key is to get as much height as possible. Explode off the ground into each skip as fast as possible. Perform 2-3 sets of 10 to 20 yards.
Skips for distance:
Just like the skips for height, but the goal is not to jump as high as possible, but as far as possible. Again, skip raising your knee as high and as quickly as you can. Remember to fully extend your drive leg and alternate legs. The key is to cover as much ground as possible with each skip. Perform 2-3 sets of 10 to 20 yards.
Alternating leg bounds:
In a running-like movement, jump from one leg to the other consecutively. Fully extend the jumping leg behind you and raise the front leg into a high-knee position. Get some hang time while gaining distance. Try to cover as much ground as possible with each bound. The key is exploding quickly off the ground and jumping as far as possible with each bound. Perform 2-3 sets of 10 to 20 yards.
(STACK note: Skips and leg bounds also help you diminish leg strength deficiencies. Shaw explains that many athletes have a 20 percent deficit from one leg to the other.)
Shaw also offers a few final tips to help improve your explosive power.
- Find some way to measure your jumps to push yourself to jump higher or farther on each consecutive jump. The only way you will improve your explosive power dramatically is by exploding with as much energy and force as possible on every single jump. By measuring your jumps and trying to jump farther or higher on each successive jump, you will improve your explosive power.
- When training, make sure to test your 40, vertical and broad jump often to measure your progress. Keep in mind that your goal should not be to improve on your times or measurements from your last test, but from your best test ever.
- Finally, do not over-train. Remember, less is more, so listen to your body to prevent injuries.
Here’s one final question for you:
What do Deion Sanders, Michael Vick and You have in common? It’s the ability to incorporate some of Coach Tom Shaw’s explosive power drills into your workouts.
Work hard and we have a feeling that the next time your team tests the 40, you are going to more than surprise some people with your improved explosive power and speed.