Heres some training some of you football players could do.
Ovie Mughelli steps out of his Lincoln Navigator, and suddenly I feel—for the second time today—weaker than usual. The Ravens' 6'1", 255-pound fullback greets me with a smile and a grip that envelops my hand. He's an easygoing guy—but with threatening pecs that look like they might burst through his shirt.
Earlier, another nice guy had knocked my body image five yards downfield. It was my trainer for the day, Jon Crosby, C.S.C.S., who had me do squat jumps on a Vertimax, a tool that improves lower-body power by laughing at you. The Vertimax's cables are attached at one end to a square rubber platform, and at the other to a belt around your waist. As you jump, resistance from the cables yanks you back down. When you're finished, though, you feel as if you could leap like an NFL defensive back.
This is my first workout at Velocity Sports Performance, Crosby's 16,000-foot training center in Baltimore, which houses an indoor artificial-turf field, a three-lane sprinting track, and enough bumper plates to sink a navy destroyer.
Mughelli has been coming here for three years. He first worked with Crosby as a Wake Forest senior to prepare for the National Football League's combine—the legendary battery of physical tests used to evaluate collegiate talent.
Crosby and his team of trainers typically have six weeks to train players for the combine. Coaches and personnel directors look for strength, speed, power, flexibility and agility. These players have plenty of that already. Crosby, who has put 100 players through his program in seven years, gives them more of everything.
I wanted to see how he did it.
Mughelli, wearing black shorts and a black compression shirt that strains to contain his biceps, starts with an "active and dynamic warmup" on the track. He skips, does butt kicks, runs ladders and does variations of the lunge while swiftly punching his knee back and forth. He mixes in sumo squats, planks and a pack of other exercises that get him moving in every direction and pausing in stretched positions. Fifteen minutes later, he's ready to work.
"It's definitely not the same as touching your toes a few times and going at it," says Mughelli. "You don't realize the difference this will make until you do it." (For a sample routine, go to MensHealth.com/warmup).
After his warmup, Mughelli rips through drills and exercises he first learned in training for the combine. Just five minutes in, he's dripping with sweat and looking bigger and faster than before. I'd draft him.
Soon Crosby is putting me through a similar, though tamer, workout. I come out of it feeling beat, but better. Anyone need a cover corner?
The following paragraphs take you through the combine's main events and can help you build a body that excels in any sport. Have a friend time your sprints and measure your jumps. Then do the drills and exercises and retest yourself every six weeks. It's more fun than tracking how many workouts it takes to move up five pounds on the preacher curl—and more rewarding, too.
The combine tests strength and endurance by seeing how many times a player can bench-press 225 pounds. Technique counts. If your hips rise off the bench on your second rep, for example, you'll stay at two until you fix your form.
. Lift as if someone were inspecting every repetition. "We're trying to save energy by how we line up on the bench," says Crosby. Using correct form eliminates unnecessary movement, allowing you to lift more weight more times.
Pay attention to your feet. Place them flat on the floor at the sides of the bench, with your knees bent at a slightly acute angle, just less than 90 degrees. Your feet should give you a wide base of support, says Crosby. Pull your shoulder blades back so there's a natural arch in your lower back.
Keep a tight grip. "A lot of people let the bar roll back in their fingers, but you want a straight line from the elbow through the wrist," says Crosby.
Improving your form will instantly boost your bench, but benching alone will only help you so much. "You have to work the triceps and the stabilizers of the shoulders, because once you fatigue the pecs, these other muscles finish the exercise to some extent," says Crosby. Try dips for your triceps and Swiss-ball pushups to strengthen the smaller muscles of your shoulders.
. Earlier this year, Brigham Young University offensive lineman Scott Young added endurance training to his bench-press routine, and it paid off. Young bench-pressed 225 pounds for an NFL-combine record of 43 repetitions. "If you increase your muscular endurance, you should be able to withstand more fatigue and increase your total number of reps," says Mike Gough, C.S.C.S., Young's trainer for the combine and owner of procombinetraining.com.
: Work on endurance every other time you bench-press, Gough suggests. Try bench-pressing 65 percent of your one-rep max (the weight you can bench-press only once) as many times as you can. Keep the bar moving fast, yet under control, Gough says. You can also try this chest routine:
Do 20 pushups, then 20 reps of a standing chest press using a resistance band. (Attach a band to a fixed object, face the opposite direction, and press the handles away from your chest. Allow the handles to move back to the sides of your chest, and repeat.) Using the bands allows you to develop strength and endurance in a full range of motion, says Gough. After the standing presses, try 20 chest flies with the band while standing and another 20 standing presses. If you're still not fatigued, perform another set of pushups.
This drill improves agility and quickness. It's easiest on a football field, but you can place three sticks, cones, strips of tape, or any other markers in a row, five yards apart on your lawn (see illustration).
Stand at the middle line with one foot on each side of it. Squat and touch the line with your right hand. (This is the starting position.) Sprint to your right and touch the 10-yard line with your right hand. Then sprint across to the far line and touch it with your left hand. Finally, sprint across the starting line. When you start over again in the middle, reverse the motion, sprinting first to your left.
Develop quickness. Shave seconds off your time by using a hockey stop to change direction. (Most men have trouble accelerating out of stops in this drill—and in games.) As you approach the line, drive both your feet into the ground while turning your hips 90 degrees away from the direction you've just been running in. Keep more weight on the leg you'll push off with to run in the opposite direction.
Increase your speed by strengthening your core. The small muscles that support your hips, pelvis, abs and back project your hips forward as you run—a key to speed. (More on hip projection in the 40-yard-dash section.) Try a variation on the drawing-in maneuver for your core. (See "Drawing-in Progression".)
Frequency: Do the shuttle three to five times in each direction, once or twice a week.
The classic football measurement. But better sprinting speed will give you an edge in most other sports as well."
Learn acceleration. The key to acceleration is fast arms. The key to fast arms is your back muscles, Crosby says, because they help move your arms. "Move your arms from your shoulders, not your elbows," says Crosby. Keep your arms bent and below your head as you pump—swinging your arms overhead can actually cause you to overstride.
Start the drill like a defensive end, left foot in front of right, right hand on the ground and left hand on the left side of your butt. For the first 20 yards, lean forward 45 degrees. You'll naturally move into a more upright position as you stop accelerating and continue to run at full speed.
A "wall sprint" accustoms you to running at the correct angle, because your torso stays steady as you pump your legs back and forth. (See the description of wall-sprint.) You'll do eight to 16 repetitions of the wall sprint, pausing after each rep to make sure your body remains at a 45-degree forward lean. Progress to doing two steps before the pause, then three steps (left-right-left).
Frequency: Work on acceleration twice a week.
This speed-and-stamina drill is best done on a football field. Place four markers in a row, five yards apart.
Sprint five yards and touch the first line, then sprint back and touch the starting line. Next, sprint 10 yards to the second marker, touch the line and sprint back to touch the starting line. Finally, sprint 15 yards, touch the line and sprint all the way back.
Develop speed. Try the box blast. It will help you accelerate in the 40-yard dash.
Frequency: Do the shuttle three to five times, once or twice a week.
The L Drill
This exercise improves agility. Arrange three cones in a modified L, with each leg of the L five yards long. Call the end of one leg cone A, the corner cone B, and the last cone C.
Sprint from A to B, then back to A, touching your right hand to the ground near the cone each time. Next, sprint past cone B and slice between cones B and C so that your right shoulder passes to the inside of cone C. Continue around cone C (don't touch it) and sprint around cone B (again passing the cone with your right shoulder) and finally back to A.
Boost your agility. Practice the L drill in parts. For instance, work on just sprinting from cone A to cone B and back in one workout. Work on the loop around cone C in another workout. You can also try the drill in reverse.
Frequency: Perform the L drill three to five times in each direction, once or twice a week.
Vertical Jump and Long Jump
The combine uses a piece of equipment called a Vertec to measure your standing vertical jump. It's basically a pole with plastic strips that you swipe with your hands at the top of your jump. In your gym, chalk or wet your hands and reach up to touch the wall, making a mark. Then jump, touching the wall as high as you can. Measure the difference to get your vertical jump. For a standing long jump, mark where you start and land, and measure the difference.
Jump higher and longer. For better hops, add the box jump to your workout. "I want you to handle your own body weight in gravity before we start strapping things on you," says Crosby. You'll need a box, exercise step, or bench.
After doing box jumps, try three to five rebound long jumps: Jump forward and land, then immediately spring up and out into your next long jump. You can progress to doing both box jumps and rebound jumps on one foot or with the added resistance of a weighted vest. You can also try long jumps starting with your feet in a staggered stance. Doing this not only improves your leg power, but will also help with your acceleration in each shuttle.
Frequency: Practice the box jump and rebound long jump once or twice a week.