How to get faster for football...a question filled with gimmick answers and hucksters trying to stick you for your papers. Forgetting all the cones and parachutes that you have to get past, you also have "coaches" giving incorrect info on how to effectively use plyometrics to get faster for football and decrease your 40-time.
How do we really go about increasing football speed?
- Strength is the basis for speed. Cones and gimmicks are an enormous waste of time...unless your goal is to get faster at running cone drills and not football.
- You need to develop explosiveness through high speed exercises
- To really get faster for football, you need to add Plyometrics to your Strength Program
People love to complain when I write about strength's effect on football speed...they really do get angry when I tell them that to get faster for football you have to get stronger!
Usually it's talking about how some big guy on the team Squats "like 400lbs" and is "mad slow" but there's a small dude who isn't that strong but runs fast. It then goes on to explain how my program sucks and SPARQ training rulez cause NFL flavor of the week endorses it.
Bullocks, I say.
One, your "big" friend isn't strong if he's only squatting 400lbs. Let's say the guy weighs 285. That's about 1.4 x bodyweight. Now, when sprinting we sometimes produce 2, 3, 4 or even 5x's bodyweight in terms of force. Looking at those numbers, do you think your big friend will be fast?
Now let's look at that smaller guy who is fast. He only squats 365. But, he weighs 180. He's using twice his bodyweight. While he's not as "strong" as the big guy in terms of weight on the bar, he is relatively stronger...he lifts more weight in relation to his bodyweight than the big dude.
So, in order to get faster for football, we need to figure out just what strong is. Mr. 285lb'er should be Squatting between 550 and 600 to even begin to realize his speed potential. This is why I constantly harp on strength!
But, even if you are able to get this much stronger, many complain that they don't have that explosive start. This is because they lack starting strength and need to do more Deadlifts and Box Squats.
What they lack is reactive ability.
Reactive Ability is displayed when your muscles and tendons react to force and are stretched just before doing something explosive. When training for football agility or to get faster for football, we have to focus on training your reactive ability. We often refer to reactive ability as explosiveness.
And, when training your Reactive ability, you must keep several points in mind:
- The speed of the pre-stretch is key
- More Speed of pre-stretch (eccentric) = More Force Produced
- Luckily, this aspect of strength is highly trainable
One of the best ways to train this ability is through Plyometrics.
Yes, yes, we finally get to the damn plyos. I'm always hesitant to give Plyometric advice to young players or inexperienced coaches. They take what is a fairly straight-forward training tool and turn it into something Stephen Hawking couldn't figure out.
Born in the old Soviet bloc, Plyos helped those damn commies dominate almost every sport. Despite their lack of resources (and sometimes lack of food) the Russians, East Germans, etc. absolutely kicked some American asses in the Olympics. They were bigger, stronger and faster.
They even produced a boxer who killed Apollo Creed!
Eventually, some Western coaches found about plyometrics and began to apply it to American sports. Of course, they became fascinated and all went overboard...coming up with jump programs with insane volume and advanced exercises that should've only been used by those with years of experience at an elite level...and using them on High School kids.
Watching a 300-lb lineman with a 250lb Squat do a 30" depth jump wearing a 20-lb vest is an absolutely cringe-worthy sight!
So, before we even get into why plyometrics can help you get faster for football, and yes, take time off the loathsome 40, understand this:
o Keep it simple and progress slowly!
Plyometrics and Football Speed
Plyometrics are movements that allow the muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a period of time as possible. Re-read that and think of its applications to football training! That's what it's all about...Producing as much force as possible, as fast as possible.
You train in the weight room to get stronger. More strength = more force production. The amount of force your legs can produce will determine your speed abilities.
Remember that Newton guy from science class? For ever action there's an equal and opposite reaction.
If your legs can produce 200lbs of force per step, the earth will return the favor by returning an equal amount of force.
Plyometrics are exercises that allow the body and the brain to take your strength and have it be usable on the field. They train your muscles to produce max force in minimum time...even the definition sounds fast!
See, you can only use around 80% of your max strength in most football skills, like running or jumping.
When running on the field, your feet only hit the ground for about.1-seconds. But, for a voluntary muscle contraction, it can take.6-seconds to get the body going! You don't have to be a math genius to figure out that those figures do not bode well for you.
Sports movements happen in much less time than it takes for your muscles to contract maximally, so, this is why plyos are so important - they train your body and Central Nervous System to react as quickly and with as much force as possible without you even thinking about it.
So, you need two key qualities to get faster for football:
- A surplus of strength
- Explosiveness/Reactive Ability
We build strength in the gym and explosiveness with plyos. Simply (yes, I know I'm repeating myself, but most people who do plyos have no idea why), plyometrics condition your muscles to have elasticity...basically, they make them like a spring.
You coil and then release that energy. Think of when you jump...you take that short dip-squat before you leap, right? You don't try to dunk a basketball from a standing position with knees locked!
Plyos produce a rapid stretching phase that is so important...and, it is key to realize its importance. The myotatic reflex, also called the stretch reflex, responds to the rate at which a muscle is stretched and is one of the fastest in the human body.
This response is automatic. The muscle contracts faster during the stretch-shortening cycle (think of the spring) than in any other type of contraction. If you had to actually think about doing it, it'd be too late for jumping or running - the contraction would be too slow.
In the Classic text Ploymetric Training by Dr. Yessis, he states:
...the key to developing explosive force, which is the main outcome from doing various forms of plyos, is the switch from eccentric contraction to the concentric. This is controlled by the nervous system and because of this, a good portion of the training is directed to nervous system [CNS] training; not just the muscles.
When a tendon or active muscle is rapidly stretched, the elastic energy is stored and this energy is recoiled and used to enhance motor output in the concentric phase.3 Or, more simply:
The faster a muscle is stretched, the greater the potential force.
When this happens, you can produce a more forceful movement, or simply, you can hit harder, run faster, jump higher...you'll be more explosive.
Ok, Mr. Science, how does all this help us get faster for football?
By giving your muscles that elasticity, you are able to fire off the line faster, jump higher, develop great closing speed, and get better starts on your 40-times.
While I have the 40-test because it has absolutely nothing to do with actual football skill, I do realize you guys get tested in it. So, if you'd like to impress the guy with the stop-watch, you'd be wise to add plyometrics to your strength training program.
You've all no doubt seen videos of guys perfecting their starting form, their stance, their arm punch, etc. Those things are important but, if you don't have the necessary explosive power, you'll look good going slow. Even the best designed car is useless if it has a lawnmower engine.
Because of the better start, (let's break down the 40), you can easily take.1 off your 10-yard dash;.2 off your 20 and up to.5 from your 40. That's how you seriously decrease your 40-time...no gimmicks, just taking a full half-second from your 40 and getting faster for football.
Forgetting the 40 for a second, look at the 10 and 20 yard speeds. How many times have you seen someone just miss a tackle by a split second...or a receiver just miss the ball when sprinting...think you'd be a better running back if you could hit the hole in.1 seconds less time?
Seems like such a small amount of time, but add all those.1's and.2's up and you become the guy who's always getting to the ball and making the tackle.
Ok, I've tortured you long enough with the reasons why to do plyos...hopefully after the aforementioned 1500 words, you know why plyometrics can make you faster and more explosive. But, what do you do now? Most people just start jumping, doing depth jumps off their roof and quickly injure themselves.
[The following 4 paragraphs was taken from the How to Use Plyometrics to Get Explosive for Football Manual, which comes free with the Football Strength Workouts Manual]
This seems to be a lost concept in football training, but let's start at the beginning. These exercises are known as Sub-maximal Drills. They aren't always classified as pure Plyometrics because they require less voluntary effort, but they are extremely useful for teaching explosive strength and reactive ability.
These movements help build the skills necessary for performing more advanced Plyo moves.
- Teaches the "recovery" phase of sprinting
- Also trains the body to find the shortest "stroke" possible when running, which will
speed up your movements.
- Speeds up the leg cycle that is key to football speed development.
- Teaches quick feet and force production
- Great for force production and a great warm-up before football activities
Multiple Jumps are very easy to implement and will train the CNS to move on to more advanced jumping exercises.
Simply line up and start jumping forward. Think of it as a string of long jumps tied together. When first starting out, keep the distance to 20-yds. Then, as you become more advanced, you can increase the distance to 30-yds.
After you've gained a good grasp of the basics, it's time to get into some more advanced Plyos. This is where the true increases in football speed happen. Again, keep it under control. While plyos aren't inherently dangerous, you can fall and break your ass if you try to get too advanced too quickly.
If all you did was Box Jump, you'd be miles ahead of the competition and your football speed would explode. Box Jumps are just what they sound like, you, jumping onto boxes.
The most basic version is the single box jump - stand in front of a plyo box, dip into a very fast knee bend then propel yourself up onto the box. You'll need to coordinate you arms and legs - the arms, flexed at about 90-degrees will swing back during the dip and drive forcefully upward when jumping. The arm motion is crucial...and it must be violent, like throwing two uppercuts into someone's face.
Once you get on the box, step off, re-set and jump again. This is a good way to begin teaching the body and CNS the explosive force needed to run fast and tackle hard.
Do not worry about your knees or ankles being bothered by Box Jumps. Because the surface of the box is high up, you'll only be landing from a few inches off the "ground." If you jump on a 30" box, you're physically jumping about 31 - 32", so, you're only landing from about 2" above the surface...
Compare this with the "plyo hurdles" many advocate where you leap over a 30" hurdle and land from 32" in the air...ouch.
Next up is the Multiple Box Jump
You stand before a series of progressively taller Plyometric boxes and jump up on one, step off, and jump to the next.
Notice I said STEP off the box, not jump. You simple step off and land naturally. It's kind of like people who jump off a building...they usually actually step off rather than jump.
When you perform a Box Jump onto multiple boxes, each time you step off a box and drop to the ground, the energy is stored because of the rapid pre-stretch and they you rebound up to the next box.
The time you spend on the ground in between boxes is critical!
Once you start doing multiple box jumps, you'll see that if you stay on the floor for even a split second too long, you'll miss the next box.
If you hesitate on the ground you teach the CNS to move slowly. While you may think a brief pause is no big deal, remember what we're after here...an almost involuntary reaction to the stretch by contracting the muscles hard and jumping.
Lateral Box Jumps
If there's one aspect of football speed...I'm talking actual game speed, that is ignored, its lateral speed. We spend a lot of time each game moving side to side - shuffling down the line, pass blocking, sliding to another hole or down the line...
Yet, how many football strength programs address lateral strength? Those that do deal with lateral speed usually limit it to a few 20-yard shuttle tests.
Football is a game played at extremely high velocities from all angles, you'd better train that way. To truly get faster for football, you need to strengthen the muscles that move the body sideways. So, you need to do Side Lunges, Angle Lunges, Lateral Sled Pulls, etc.
But, again, we need to transfer that strength into real-world usability.
Enter Lateral Box Jumps.
Exact same concept as Box Jumps, but you move laterally.
You can either jump a single box, multiple boxes or do Side-to-Sides.
To do Side-to-Sides, stand to the side of a low box, jump laterally onto the box, off, on the opposite direction...back and forth until you get to the desired number of reps.
Seated Box Jumps
Seated Box Jumps are the bee's knees when it comes to getting faster and more explosive for football. These are a great exercise to wake up the CNS before testing as well...
Very simple, but not easy! Grab a chair, bench or low box. Sit down and relax. Now, from a seated position and without rocking, you jump up onto a box.
Talk about switching all the muscle fibers on at once! You must relax in the chair...if you try to flex and tense up, you'll jump about 3"
Don't rock...just relax... then Explode!
Volume and Loading of Plyos
Ok, finally we get to how, when, and how much to use these jumps. This is where most go horribly wrong. Because there's no "weights" involved and you don't get that sore, wobbly leg feeling during jump training that you do when Squatting, most assume they are easy and can therefore be hammered away at.
In reality, they are quite hard on the tendons, muscles, and very taxing on the brain. They are highly concentrated and must be treated this way! To get faster for football, not much is needed! The bulk of your speed and strength building will happen in the weight room. Plyos are the tools you use to transform that strength.
There are a few options with regard to when and how much, but, the one that seems to work best, especially for those training with the team is the Pre-Lifting Option.
Doing the plyometrics before you lift actually has some big advantages in addition to increasing speed and explosiveness:
- They serve as an excellent warm-up
- They wake up the CNS in a way nothing else can
- Because of their ability to wake up the CNS, they can lead to immediate increases in the weight room
Here's what your day would look like:
Warm up - Whatever you do as a team, but, it should include general mobility work and some calisthenics to get the body warmer.
Low Level Plyos
High Knees 2 x 10-yds
Butt-Kicks 2 x 10-yds
Lunges - 2 x 10-yds
Jump Rope - 2 x 50
Box Jumps - 3 x 5
Lateral Box Jumps - 2 x 5, each way
Do this twice a week. You can vary the exercises as needed.
Vary the intensity also. For example, one day jump up to as high a box as possible.
The other, shoot for a box that is 80% of your best box height. So, if your best Box Jump is 40," you'd jump about 32" on this day. This keeps you from overdoing it while continuing to increase your reactive ability.