J.J. Nelson might be the fastest man in football. A receiver out of UAB who was recently drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, Nelson ran a blazing 4.28 40-Yard Dash at the NFL Combine, establishing himself as a blink-and-you-might-miss-him type of player. Some of his speed is undoubtedly the result of good genetics, but Nelson wouldn’t be nearly as fast as he is today if it weren’t for the countless hours of hard work he put it improving his strength and technique.
Below is a basic acceleration workout that R.J. Barrett, a performance coach at the Madison Healthplex Performance Center, led Nelson through in preparation for the Combine. It helped Nelson improve his technique and increase his lower-body power. Give it a try and you’ll be burning your opponents in no time.
A solid warm-up is key to any effective speed or acceleration workout. The word “dynamic” refers to the fact that you’re moving throughout, as opposed to performing static stretching. “Dynamic stretching gets you ready to go through a dynamic range of motion. It may be the most athletic-based method of flexibility training,” Barrett says. A good dynamic warm-up will include a variety of Lunges, Skips, Cariocas, Leg Swings and other dynamic stretches.
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After your dynamic warm-up, perform:
- Wall Switches – 3×5 each leg
- Band- or Sled-Resisted A-Skips – 3×10 yards
- Acceleration Runs – 4×20 yards
Repeat this sequence for three rounds, performing a total of 9 sets of Wall Drills, 9 sets of Resisted A-Skips and 12 sets of Acceleration Runs. Read on to find out how to perform each of these exercises.
Wall Switches reinforce proper running form and technique. To perform, angle your body at 45 degrees and place your hands out in front of you against a wall. Keep your back straight and your head down. Keeping your toes pulled up towards your shin, drive your knee up, then drive your foot back into the ground directly underneath you. Check out this video to view NFL pro Da’Quan Bowers performing Wall Switches.
Band- or Sled-Resisted A-Skips
These emphasize leg drive, high knees and proper foot placement. “A huge part of speed is the idea of ‘big force, short time,’ which means the amount of force you exert when your foot strikes the ground,” Barrett says. During A-Skips, drive your knee and toes up in a skipping motion. Use opposite-arm, opposite-leg action. Keep your feet underneath your hips and your chin pointed slightly down. By using a band or bungee for resistance, you can perform the drill with greater body lean. Check out this video to view NFL pro Chris Johnson performing Band-Resisted A-Skips.
Acceleration Runs are sprints with a focus on punching your knees high and driving your feet into the ground behind you. “You want your shins angled back and your feet punching the ground behind you, alternating like they’re pistons,” Barrett says.