By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Matt Capolongo, PES, USAW, CSCS, is a performance coach for football players at the Professional Athletic Performance Center (Garden City, NY). He shared 10 tips for helping a player improve his speed during the offseason.
Give players time off. Players need time to let their bodies recover at the end of the season. Capolongo recommends giving a player at least a month off before he starts his offseason strength and speed training. Active rest – like playing a recreational sport – is fine for a player.
Don’t lift too heavy. February is a time to ease back into the strength phrase of the offseason program. A player should start with low weight and high reps (12 per set). “It’s tough to mix in offseason speed training if a player has heavy legs from lifting,” Capolongo said.
Focus on fundamentals. Capolongo incorporates resistance band training to encourage players to over-exaggerate the fundamentals of running. Working against resistance will force a player to stay low in his acceleration, deceleration and cuts.
Incorporate change-of-direction exercises. Some of those drills include the Flat-Time 5 L-Drill and the three-cone shuttle. In each of these drills, a player is forced to moved side to side, start and stop, and finish in a timed repetition.
Wall sprint drives. A player will put two hands on the wall in front of him. A coach will shout, “One,” when he wants a player to lift one leg, “Two,” when he wants a player to lift one then the other, and “Three” when he wants the player to lift one, the other, and the first one again.
Reaction drills. A common football drill that you’ll see almost any defensive coach practice is one in which the coach stands in front of a backpedaling player and points in the direction he wants the player to break. The player is reacting to the point, and sprinting to the cone in that direction.
Work the hips. For skill position players, flexibility in the hips is so important. Capolongo attempts to increase flexibility by using resistance bands. He’ll ask a player to shuffle for five yards in a lateral movement and make a quick turn with the resistance band around his hips.
Pay attention to the arms. A player should swing the opposite arms and legs in sync while running. He should pump the arms forward and backward in line with the direction of movement. Swing the arms from the shoulders, hold the elbows at a 90-degree angle, and have the hands pass the body around hip height.
Test for performance gains. Capolongo recommends testing for performance gains at the end of a 14-week cycle. He tests in the following drills: broad jump, vertical jump, 40-yard dash, Flat Time 5 L-Drill, max bench, max squad and 300-yard shuttle.
Push to maintain the momentum. A February speed program doesn’t do a player any good if he allows himself to get out of shape over the next five months. That’s why tracking results is important. Show them the gains they’ve made, and let them know you’ll be testing in the same exercises when they return in August.