The most important thing to remember when prepping for any sort of football combine is that you aren’t getting ready for a football game. You're getting ready for the most important job interview of your life that involves a specific set of tests. Whether these tests actually represent your football ability is up for debate, but the fact remains that you must master these tests to reach the next level in your football career. The purpose of this article is to give you an idea of the training concepts that go into developing a successful combine or pro day performance.

Resistance training: With resistance training, the biggest thing you have to remember is that you only have the athlete for six to ten weeks tops. So you’ll probably be able to make some pretty good gains strength-wise, but you also have just enough time to seriously injure that athlete. And that could cost the athlete thousands of dollars in scholarship money or millions in pro money. So be very careful with your exercise selection and recovery methods.

Bench press test: Obviously, the bench press test is the big “strength test” for most football combines. I’m using the term “strength test” loosely here. In all actuality, it’s a test of muscular endurance. For most high school combines, it’s a 185-lb bench for reps. For the NFL combine and pro day, it’s a 225-lb bench press for reps.

There are a couple things to remember here:

  • It’s an endurance test, so repetition effort work should be used heavily.
  • It’s an endurance test (see what I did there), so the lesser a percentage of my total max, the more reps I’ll be able to hit. For example, a guy with a 450-lb max might be able to hit a 225-lb bench for thirty reps (rough guestimate—remember it’s an endurance test). Meanwhile, a guy with a 300-lb max might be able to hit it for ten reps. Obviously, we aren't going to put 150 lbs on a guy's bench in the short time we’ll have him, but the point I’m trying to make is that max effort work is important as well. The better his 1RM, the lesser a percentage the test number is.

The first thing we do is teach technique. The “So You Think You Can Bench" series is best for this. Remember that due to poor collegiate strength and conditioning programs, these athletes are usually taught to bench with a flat back and close grip, so widening their grip and teaching them to arch will be new for them. After that, we basically use a max effort/repetition effort template.

Workout A looked like this:

1.   Max effort bench, 5/3/1 template (always keep the predicted max a little light)

2a. Repetition effort push-ups, 5 X failure (we added a mini-band or average band for these)

2b. Repetition effort blast strap inverted rows, 5 X failure

3a. Face pulls, 4 X 10

3b.Wall slides

3c. Ext. Rotation

Workout B looked like this:

1. Repetition effort bench (The goal was to get to fifty reps at 225 lbs in the fewest amount of sets possible. After the athlete was able to get it in less than three sets, we bumped it up to sixty reps and so on. Toward the end, the athlete was getting close to seventy reps in four sets.)

2. Timed lat pull-downs

3. Three-way shoulders

This template took our athlete from sixteen reps at 225 lbs to thirty reps in eight weeks. Obviously, it worked.

You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse; there is no standing still.” — Neil Young

Lower body strength training: There are several coaches who work with athletes on their combine/pro day preparation and like to limit the amount of resistance training done on the lower body due to the amount of speed training done. I’m not one of those people. I feel like lower body strength training for these athletes is important. If nothing else, they need to at least maintain the strength they have so that they can start a legitimate real training program once they’ve completed the combine/pro day process.

With my latest draftee, the biggest focus on lower body strength training was in a unilateral stance. I’m a huge fan of big bilateral squats and deadlifts, but I didn’t feel like it was appropriate in this situation. The risk simply didn’t outweigh the reward. I knew that by using single leg exercises I could still get him stronger, make him faster, and minimize the risk for injury and loss of coaching time. So I did that.

Olympic lifts: I'm a huge fan of Olympic lift variations for the athletes I work with. We decided to omit the actual lifts themselves this go around mainly because I only had a short time span to work with the athletes. I wanted to see if I could get good or better results without using the Olympic lifts, so we decided to go with a series of weighted jumps and medicine ball throws instead. It worked pretty well. However, we may go back to using some Olympic variations with the next class.

The speed and agility tests: At the combines and pro days, they’ll usually take times on the 40-yard dash (they’ll usually take a 10-yard split as well), vertical jump, three-cone drill, and 5-10-5 shuttle. Some will do a 60-yard shuttle. The key with these is to spend plenty of time teaching the start, steps, and mechanics of each test.

We split the speed training up into linear and lateral training days. On linear days, we work on improving the vertical jump and the 10-yard and 40-yard times. We only actually ran 40s a couple times because it’s too taxing on the central nervous system to continuously test them. Most of the time was spent improving 10- and 20-yard times.

Recovery management: Luckily, our last athlete still had access to the school’s hot/cold tubs, so he could do some contrast therapy once he got back to campus. We also gave him a foam roller and tennis ball to do soft tissue work on his days off. We measured his sympathetic response by taking his resting heart rate and measuring his vertical jump and/or 10-yard sprint time daily. We monitored these variables and adjusted the training for the day depending on his response. We also adjusted his diet and tried to get him to cut out all inflammatory foods.

Here are some highlights from last year’s training:

The biggest thing to remember when working with these guys is that they actually have to be good at football.Many guys can bench 225 lbs for thirty reps and run a fast forty or whatever. The bottom line is that they still have to be able to play ball. I just had dinner with an NFL agent and he spelled it out perfectly. During the meal, he told me this little nugget of wisdom: “I’ve been in this for twenty-five years, and I can tell you this—you can’t make a first round draft pick. Those guys are born with that ability, but your job is to take a potential fifth round pick and make him a third rounder. You can take a projected free agent and make him a fifth rounder. That’s your job.”