What we can learn from the NFL Combine?
2016 is my fourth consecutive year attending the vendor side of the NFL Combine. The experience never disappoints. While most of the football loving public is waiting to see the players on the field here in Indy, the early part of the week is time for me to get some behind the scenes work in with leading NFL S&C Coaches.
“Focusing on your own quality of movement is a critical place to start and build your talents and to reach your goals no matter what they are.”
One thing the average football fan may not realize is the combine can be as much “show” as real-deal performance prediction. For example, one study from 2008 examined the relationship of combine performance to success in the NFL1. The consistent findings were a low to no relationship between combine test scores and success in the league, with the exception of the sprint tests for running backs. Success was measured as actual game-performance statistics such as yards gained by running backs, wide receivers and quarterback ratings.
Not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, coaches can glean other important info from combine results. For example, getting data on body stature gives them an idea how much additional body mass a player may effectively add. From a purely “physical ability” perspective the combine can be a great way for some players on the bubble to get extra attention and for good players to potentially move up in a team’s eyes. So preparation leading up to the combine is important for everyone participating.
Combine prep, for the most part, is best described as “teaching and training to the tests.” As you walk the halls of the convention center connected to Lucas Oil Stadium you see various athletes and their coaches practicing techniques to get off the line better for the 40, maximize jump and reach (maybe minimize baseline reach) for the vertical jump, cutting and shoulder dipping for the 3 cone drill. Don’t get me wrong; I believe there can be value in combine testing and combine training. However, after the combine, coaches and athletes typically get back to training for the game. Off-season, preseason and in-season work requires tapping into some of the combine-tested qualities, but in a less controlled and more dynamic practice, scrimmage and game environment.
“It’s kind of cool that you can use the same gear and the same training progressions as the NFL players as they get ready for the combine and the season, right?”
The Functional Movement Screen (FMS) became an official test in the NFL combine in 2011. This supports the concept that movement, mobility, motor control and biomechanics all contribute to performance and durability. Data from the NFL has shown a criterion score of 14 on the FMS is related to injury risk for these athletes. What FMS and the widely accepted use of “corrective exercise,” motor control and movement based training appears to signal, is a growing appreciation for quality of movement in addition to strength, speed and power metrics. While there is still not a unanimous agreement on the utility of specific tests and screens, focusing on performance (quality) in addition to results (quantity) are consistent topics of conversation across programs and philosophies. Joe Kenn, of the Carolina Panthers, was awarded the NFL Strength and Conditioning coach of the year for the 2015 season, Darren Krein, formerly of the Dolphins and now with the Colts, was awarded the honor for the 2014 season. Luke Richesson, capturing the honors for the 2013 season and this year with the Super Bowl Champion Broncos. What do all these strength coaches have in common? They all have have a pronounced appreciation for “movement” as a key quality for football success.
What can the competitive or weekend athlete and average fitness minded person learn from these elite athletes’ training methods? The biggest lesson may be the idea of partitioning skill, practice and training. Strength, speed, endurance, agility, power, acceleration and deceleration are qualities best developed over time with a sound training plan. TRX believes that quality of movement is the critical foundation to these sports related skills and almost all other components of health, fitness and performance. Not every workout has to be to total fatigue. Sometimes you should approach a workout as movement practice, strength practice, speed or power practice. The idea of practice is to learn how to perform better – and learning is best achieved in a less fatigued state. Once you have the form and technique down, setting standards of movement, you add load, volume and speed for your training and conditioning work.
One challenge for strength coaches as the NFL preseason starts is rookies and new players show up with different training experience. Many coaches will use bodyweight training as a baseline for evaluating and teaching movements before and during the heavier loading phases. TRX, it turns out, is a great way to modify bodyweight training and it gets used throughout the year.
The TRX Suspension Trainer is in 26 NFL strength rooms. Core strength, mobility work, pulling exercises, unilateral lunges and circuit/work capacity rounds are some of the most common uses for TRX in these programs. Several strength coaches tell us the ability to have athletes of all sizes jump on and off the straps and adjust the intensity on the fly is a huge advantage. Using the straps to get deep into a squat position, while maintaining good posture and alignment is another big “go-to” use of TRX. I see a lot of “Y- and T-Flys” used in training. Coaches explain that it is a good way to work shoulder mobility integrated with core stability, all while training on your feet. “The game is played on your feet, so most of our training is done that way to improve transferability.”
So as you football starved junkies watch the combine keep in mind the amazing feats of strength, speed, power and talent are the result of years of practice and training. Focusing on your own quality of movement is a critical place to start and build your talents and to reach your goals no matter what they are. It’s kind of cool that you can use the same gear and the same training progressions as the NFL players as they get ready for the combine and the season, right?
1 Kuzmits, FE and Adams, AJ. The NFL Combine: Does It Predict Performance in the National Football League? J Strength Cond Res 22(6): 1721-1727, 2008.
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