SPEED AND AGILITY FOR FOOTBALL
Is a speed and agility trainer who has conducted training clinics for NFL teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, and San Diego Chargers.
Football requires a very specific type of movement patterns. These are very sophisticated and precise, and if they’re executed at the highest level, then you will get maximum outcome for them.
People underestimate the conditioning that’s required for football. If you have 10-12 drives in a game and you get to the third down every time, then that’s 36 plays you may have before you get to the end zone. The efforts might be short, but they have to be consistently repeated at the highest intensity, so players do need a conditioning base, but it is more specific to anaerobic than aerobic.
NFL players would do most of their loading in the off-season, working from a long to short program. That means they start with longer distances and then shorten it off. As the distances shorten up, the intensity ramps up and so would the speeds. In-season, you would hardly get these guys running anything further than 40-50 yards.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable for some of the running players to run reps of 150 yards in off-season, but 6-8 weeks away, the furthest I would get these guys to run would be 100-120s.
I like to try and do repeat sprint training, even in-season. An example of a general repeat strength session I like to do is:
- 4 x 20 yards
- 3 x 40
- 2 x 60
- 1 x 80p
Have a walking recovery – so you sprint 20, walk 20.
At NFL level, their repeat efforts would be dependent on their position. A wide receiver might run repeat 60s on 45– 60 seconds. By contrast, defensive players might do repeat efforts of 10s off the floor.
I’m also a big advocate of over speed training. Over speed gets you strong for short speed and certainly strong for repeat efforts.
SPRINT STRENGTH AND TECHNIQUE
Most of the NFL players come from a track running background and I coach players as if they were track athletes. Their feet land completely underneath their hips, they’re right up on the balls of their feet, and they have a high ankle clearance. They get maximum efficiency and that’s why their runs are so productive.
I leave the strength training to the strength and conditioning trainers, but one thing I do look for with the naked eye is the ability to raise the hips. Hip height is a very important facet to get flying speed. That comes from the gym work. The hip flexors need to be very, very strong – combine this with a strong core and you will get good height in the hips so that the forward foot is nice and high before it starts its down and back action.
This is the ability to get to high speed very quickly so that when the opportunity comes up to make a break, you have the ability to seize that opportunity. Some people have first-step quickness naturally. It’s very difficult to coach, but very rewarding if you do get it right.
There are two dynamics to first-step quickness – stationary first step quickness and the ability to reach maximum velocity very quickly. In the NFL, there’s a big emphasis on stationary first-step quickness, so we work a lot from stationary 3-point or 4-point starts, with players reacting to both auditory and visual cues.
Sometimes a player can have quickness, but their foot hits the ground like a powder puff. We want them to hit the ground with so much force that there’s a digging effect – that’s the way you produce force. Other important factors are the height that you can clear the ankle because this will also give you maximum benefit of drive. You also need to understand the body position you should be in to create maximum velocity. This varies from player to player, as it depends on their individual biomechanics.
If a player is executing the movement quite cleanly, but he’s not producing that much force, then I’d look at a plyometric component to get him hitting the ground with some power. I’m very big on executing movement patterns that could happen in a game scenario, so while vertical jump is a very good plyometric, how often would you see a an NFL player jumping straight up in the air in a game? Instead, I look at movements such as a single or double-leg bound, which get players going in a horizontal direction – that is, the direction they spend most of their time moving.
In NFL, I spend about 75% of my coaching looking at changes of direction with speed. This is often referred to as ‘agility’.
Agility training used to be about setting up some cones with all these different types of degree angles, then just getting the players to try and get through them as quickly as they can. This doesn’t actually improve the agility component. There is some sophistication and technical execution to multi-directional movement patterns – you have to look at hip position and foot placement. You need soft knees soft knees, and trying to get a rip and tear effect when you plant your foot and change direction. In coaching, we show where the player’s foot should be planted, and whether they should be close to the hips or away from the hips. There are so many different technical components, depending on what type of agility you’re looking for. In offensive agility, you need separation against your defender, while defence agility requires you to try and minimise the separation. Both are very, very different.
This alignment of hip-to-leg is dependent on the angle that you want to create – the degree of the cut depends on the degree of the angle. Another important factor is to try to change direction but hold the same speed that you’ve built into it, and that’s pre-determined by where you will plant your plant foot to get the change. If you have to cut it down and break it down so far and you plant so far away from your hips that you lose all the speed that you built into it, then you become an easy target.