For over the last 6 years, I have specialized in training NFL football players to be more powerful and efficient where it counts: on the field. Beyond the fact that they have super-fly cars, wear boss watches, and have more money in their wallet than I make in a year, they also possess one major characteristic that makes them vastly different than me: they selected better parents (sorry, Mom & Dad!) and won the sperm lottery in the process. Of course, this fact should be intuitively obvious.
As time has passed though, I have realized are also often lacking certain physical and mental traits that if focused on, could quickly leapfrog them to the next level in their development. Sure; everyone knows the heavy emphasis that I place on dissecting individual strengths and weaknesses in one’s technical execution of movement on-field and the physical characteristics associated with it. In a basic sense, what works for one of these guys, will not be the most optimal approach for another (this fact becomes even more true as they move up the ladder of sport mastery). However, beyond that, there are given commonalities that simply can’t be ignored especially when a player initially begins work with me. Thus, today’s blog post will briefly shed light on some of these congruent factors and address some of the common training means I utilize to develop them.
1. Movement mastery
One would expect NFL athletes to be very proficient and programmed in their displayed movement patterns. At first glance, the general fan may actually believe that this is the case when watching their favorite player or team. However, when I start to break down common movement patterns being displayed on the field, weaknesses begin to jump out at me all over the place. When combined with quantitative measures utilizing devices such as force plates or accelerometers, a more thorough analysis can be completed which shows that even the league’s best at a given position has much to improve on.
Unfortunately, I have yet to have a player tell me that anyone on his team’s staff has even attempted to address on-field movement mechanics being displayed when they run, jump, or change direction. Sure they work repeatedly on skill techniques, tactical considerations, or maybe even ‘agility’ drills. However, in the NFL, coaches (for some dumb reason) stop addressing the all-important movement traits that players need to utilize to efficiently move from Point A to Point Z and every point in between. They may run through a drill but nothing is being coached. Because of this, these athletes simply turn into the world’s best movement compensators. They may still see success but to a limited degree in comparison to their overall physical potential.
Here is the rub though: if we optimize movement efficiency, we can maximize athletic performance. We know that technique is never constant because when you are changing your physical traits, you are also changing the way that you display your strength/speed in the execution of often performed movement skills and the overall working effect of the force going to the ground. Thus, no matter what the level of mastery is, I MUST program time each and every day to fine-tune the level of movement mastery for my athlete. I know its cliché, but it’s true; only perfect practice makes perfect and my athletes are required to focus on both global and local aspects of each movement each time they practice a skill. It’s common for me to take an athlete back to ground zero in their technique and continually work from the bottom up to re-establish new standards for each movement. If it is a movement that they have ingrained and occurs with unconscious competence (i.e. involuntarily during chaotic situations), it is often more difficult to change but it can happen no matter what the age or development of the athlete. From there, we will complete rep after rep till the movement imprint becomes one that is more optimal for total efficiency.
2. Force absorption
As I tell my athletes, as an elite level NFL football player (or anyone for that matter) you can never be too fast. It would be like having too fast of car or too hot of girlfriend…it just doesn’t happen!
Furthermore, in order to display the type of speed necessary to play on Sundays, it isn’t just about linear speed (and in most cases it never is), it’s about the ability to rapidly accelerate, stop, and change direction more efficiently than your opponents. In order to do this, you must possess very high levels of eccentric strength and ability. The body is required to absorb crazy amounts of force while its tissues are actively loading as in every maximal dynamic contraction sequence (i.e. the eccentric action of the Stretch-Shortening Cycle). With the way that the body functions, we could never expect to exert maximal force if our bodies do not possess the ability to absorb it. Unfortunately, I have found that this strength quality is rarely ever addressed in NFL weight rooms.
Luckily, it’s a relatively easy fix and it often leads my athletes to think that I have a magic wand that I have used to help recharge their movement so they quickly perform with greater proficiency. Most athletes have never taken the time to focus on the contact mechanics displayed during ballistic movements such as the landing of a jump or the intense & rapid loading that occurs before a quick cutting action. To add to this, I will begin including some sub-maximal Altitude Drops in football-specific landing fashions and begin the process of teaching the body how to more rapidly absorb higher levels of force. Shortly after incorporating this type of work with this level of focus, one will quickly begin to feel more ‘springy’ when their foot hits the ground or performing any athletic task.
3. Deliberate and focused intention
When it comes to reaching one’s goals, this next point may be the most important for not only my NFL players but also for you. Everything in one’s life (I mean literally everything), has to be completed with the highest degree of intention towards improvement. There is no room for half-assing it here! You really have to focus! Many NFL players are used to approaching their training sessions with a lackadaisical mentality because either they are overly accustomed to being better than their peers or they have never been given an accurate and clear idea as to what they need for improvement. I am talking about more than just hard work. Instead, I am talking about deliberate work towards a specific goal. They MUST come into each training session as if every session truly was their last and from there I can promise them that they will never be disappointed by the results they receive.
Much of what I just talked about probably seems somewhat obvious to most. Unfortunately, one look at the direction most trainers of NFL players head with their physical preparation plans would make it seem as though it’s rocket science. These ARE big picture items we are talking about here that are affecting so many players in the league and could have a great impact in numerous aspects of their game. In fact, I believe that the NFL could truly change if more people in our profession would attempt to prioritize each factor to a greater degree over some of the other novel approaches being taken.