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What We Can Learn From The NFL Combine

By March 2, 2020 No Comments

What can we learn from the NFL combine?  Every year, some of the best college football players in the country come to put their athletic skills on display for NFL teams (and the public).  The NFL combine is an event that brings out some extraordinary performances from these young men.  

Every year, we hear about the absolute ‘Freaks’ that show superhuman athleticism at the combine.  Some of these players go on to be All-Pros, Superbowl Champions, and even Hall of Fame inductees. As a football fan myself, I enjoy seeing these young athletes make a name for themselves.  I enjoy watching it every year and have even put myself through similar events to perform athletic tests.

As trainers and coaches, what observations can we make about the NFL combine?  We see that there are several events that are used to measure an athlete’s ability.  While the athletic attributes measured don’t always directly correlate with on-field performance, they are used as performance metrics and possible indicators.  Assessments are incredibly important to strength/conditioning, fitness, and personal wellness.

People love to train like ATHLETES.  I have put my clients through combine-like assessments more times than I can count.  There is nothing like hitting a new personal record, or finding out that you have an untapped talent that you didn’t know existed.  

I want to break down a few events that are held at the NFL combine and how to use them to your benefit either for yourself or your clients.

40 Yard Dash

What is it?

The 40 Yard Dash is an all-out sprint for 40 yards.  The most accurate way to measure this event is with a laser-timer.  However, for those who don’t have that kind of equipment at their disposal, a stopwatch will suffice.  

What does it measure?

Sprints in general tend to measure speed, but because of the short distance covered in this event, it is more about acceleration than top speed.  There is no change of direction, so this event primarily tests the athlete’s ability to explode off the line and track a short distance as quickly as possible.  

How do I use it?

Keep in mind that if you are hand-timing someone’s 40 Yard Dash, your measurement will likely be several 1/10th’s of a second faster than their actual time (due to human error/reaction).  However, this is a great assessment to see how quick you or your athletes are.

225 lb Bench Press

What is it?

225 lbs is loaded on the bar and the athlete goes for as many unassisted reps of the bench press as possible.  The bar must touch the athlete’s chest, is pressed, and completely locked out to count as a rep.

What does it measure?

The short answer is strength.  However, there is a fair amount of muscular endurance as an athlete approaches a higher number of reps.  For example, two athletes may bench press 300 lbs for a 1RM, but one may bench 225 lbs for 8 reps and one may bench it for 10 reps.  Both athletes technically have the same muscular strength, but the one who performs more reps has higher muscular endurance.

How do I use it?

This event is scalable.  For example, the last time I ran this event with one of my clients, he used 65 lbs.  He bench pressed it for 15 reps. He is also a 13 year-old. It is important to pick a weight that your client can do more than 10 reps with.  Anything heavier is too high of a load. Ath the same time, your client shouldn’t be able to perform 80 reps with the weight. Pick a challenging weight that you can safely manage as a spotter and let your client go to work.  

Vertical Jump

What is it?

Vertical Jump is a simple test where the athlete performs a standing vertical jump for maximum height.  A ‘gather step’ is prohibited. Athletes are measured with a standing maximum reach first and then that distance is subtracted from their maximum jumping reach height to yield their vertical jump.

What does it measure?

Vertical Jump is a fantastic measure of muscular power.  This power can equate to many things in the sports world.  Vertical jump is also relatively easy to measure and requires little equipment.

How do I use it?

A Vertical Jump measuring apparatus is a great investment if you train lots of athletes.  Before we had one, we used a gymnastic ring that hangs from the ceiling. Vertical jump is something that is important to many different sports and can be a performance indicator in weightlifting as well.

Broad Jump

What is it?

A standard Broad Jump starts from a standing position and requires a single, explosive jump for maximum distance.  The distance is measured from the landing place of the athlete’s feet at the base of the heel. If the athlete touches the ground with their hands, it’s a ‘scratch,’ and they should repeat the attempt.

What does it measure?

Similar to the Vertical Jump, the Broad Jump measures muscular power.  It is such an explosive movement and requires a fair amount of body control to land safely and maximize the jumping distance.  

How do I use it?

The Broad Jump is one of the easiest assessments to administer.  It simply requires a measuring tape. This event is scalable for large groups and is a great way to measure muscular power.  In my opinion, every athlete should know their broad jump.

20 Yard Shuttle

What is it?

Sometimes called ‘The 5-10-5 Drill,’ the 20 Yard Shuttle requires an athlete to start in the middle of 3 cones.  Each cone is 5 yards apart. The athlete begins the drill by exploding to one side until they reach the next cone (5 yards away).  They touch the line, change direction, and sprint to the opposite cone on the far side (10 yards away). The drill concludes when the athlete changes direction one more time, and sprints back to the middle cone (5 yards away).  This is where we get 20 yards of total distance.

What does it measure?

This drill measures several attributes.  An athlete’s ability to accelerate is important, but deceleration is also important (especially when it comes to avoiding injury).  Coordination is also a factor and change of direction is key to many sports.

How do I use it?

This is another fairly easy test to administer to large groups in a short period of time.  Have your athlete take several attempts to get some experience with changing direction quickly. 

Closing Thoughts

I am always inspired by the NFL combine.  Not only do I enjoy watching tremendous athletes compete in game-like events, but I like trying them myself.  Oftentimes, my clients find the same enjoyment as I do. You can certainly make assessment fun – as a matter of fact, it shouldn’t be boring or dreaded.

If you have some favorite athletic events or feats of your own that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you.  Leave us a comment below and until next time – stay moving!

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