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A Supplemental Aquatic

Speed Training Program for


NFL Combine Preparation
Michael F. Marsico, BS, NSCA-CPT,1 Kylie K. Malyszek, BS,1 James R. Bagley, PhD,1
and Andrew J. Galpin, PhD, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D1,2
1
Center for Sport Performance, Department of Kinesiology, California State University, Fullerton, California; and
2
Department of Kinesiology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California
Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided
in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journals Web site (http://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj).

ABSTRACT
THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
(NFL) SCOUTING COMBINE PROVIDES COLLEGIATE ATHLETES
WITH THE OPPORTUNITY TO DEMONSTRATE THEIR SKILLS AND
ABILITIES TO PROFESSIONAL
FOOTBALL TEAM EXECUTIVES AND
COACHES. THE PREPARATION FOR
THIS EVENT IS EXTENSIVE, POTENTIALLY RESULTING IN OVERTRAINING AND/OR INJURY. PERFORMING
A PORTION OF THIS TRAINING IN
AN AQUATIC ENVIRONMENT (E.G.,
POOL) MAY ALLOW FOR THE
DEVELOPMENT OF SPEED AND
POWER, WHILE REDUCING IMPACT
AND JOINT STRESSES ASSOCIATED WITH ECCENTRIC LANDING.
THIS ARTICLE OUTLINES AN 8WEEK AQUATIC TRAINING PROGRAM USED BY A GROUP OF
ATHLETES PREPARING FOR THE
2014 NFL COMBINE.

INTRODUCTION

he National Football League


(NFL) holds its annual scouting
combine every February so collegiate football players may demonstrate
their skills and abilities to professional
team executives and coaches. Each prospective player undergoes a battery of
tests ranging from body composition,

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to intelligence assessments, to the 40yd dash. The 6 primary physical tests,


regardless of the position, include the
40-yd sprint, 225 pound bench press
for maximum repetitions, vertical jump,
broad jump, shuttle run (5-10-5 drill),
and 3-cone drill (www.nfl.com/
combine/workouts). These assessments
are used to quantify an athletes speed,
power, agility, and quickness and are
therefore emphasized in most preseason
and/or combine preparation training
programs (6).
Professional team representatives also
travel to colleges throughout the country auditioning athletes during schoolplanned workouts called Pro-Days.
The model for these testing days is less
standardized but typically includes the
same measures as the combine, with
the addition of a large number of
football-specific tests (e.g., catching
passes, demonstrating blocking techniques, etc.). Many athletes will participate in the combine and at least 1
additional Pro-Day. Although each
team considers a multitude of factors,
an athletes performance on any given
physical test during either of these testing sessions can have massive financial
and career implications.
With this continual pressure in mind,
prospective NFL players typically prepare extremely hard from the end of
their collegiate season (usually mid-/

VOLUME 37 | NUMBER 6 | DECEMBER 2015

late-December mid-January) up to the


NFL Draft (early May). Combine preparation programs traditionally include
some mixture of on-field preparation
(e.g., speed and agility drills, football
skill development, testing-specific training, etc.), weight roombased strength
and conditioning training (e.g., heavy
weightlifting, circuit training, etc.), and
recovery modalities (e.g., massage, ice
baths, physical therapy). Unfortunately,
land-based (i.e., on the field and weight
room) training programs can be
extremely taxing on the body (6), and
overtraining can cause serious injury or
decrements in performance.
Recently, aquatic training programs
have been suggested to safely and
effectively improve strength, power,
and flexibility (1). This training method
may be especially attractive to these
athletes as it has been shown to mediate joint impact (and therefore presumably landing impact and joint stress)
while providing enough resistance to
stimulate adaptation (7). Moreover,
appropriately conducted aquatic exercise regimens can increase lower-body
power output, imparting similar performance benefits as land-based plyometric training (3,5,7). Water resistance
KEY WORDS:

NFL; low-impact; football; power; overtraining; pool; water

Copyright National Strength and Conditioning Association

Table 1
Daily (;1 h) exercise regimens for the 8-wk aquatic training program
Time (h:min)

Exercise

Repetitions, duration, and distance

Rest intervals

0:000:15

Dynamic warm-up (athlete specific)

N/A

N/A

0:150:25

Sprint and backpedal drill

0:250:35

Single-leg bounds

5 3 10 yd

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:350:45

Broad jump

5 3 10 yd

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:450:50

908 arm drive

0:501:00

Athlete choice cool down

Week 1

5 forward, 5 backward, 10 yd

30 s on/off, 5 repetitions (5 min)


N/A

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

N/A
N/A

Notes: Exercises should be performed at very low intensity as an introduction


Weeks 2 and 3
0:000:10

Dynamic warm-up (athlete specific)

N/A

0:100:20

Sprint and backpedal drill

0:200:30

Single-leg bounds

5 3 10 yd

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:300:40

Broad jump

5 3 10 yd

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:400:45

908 arm drive

30 s on/off, 5 repetitions (5 min)

N/A

0:450:55

Footwork drill

60 s on/off, 5 repetitions (10 min)

N/A

0:551:00

Athlete cool down

5 forward, 5 backward, 10 yd

N/A

N/A
;90 s, while other group does
repetitions

N/A

Notes: Start at a walk-through speed, then increase intensity mid-workout in week 2. Introduce new footwork drill at the finish
but stress it more in week 3
Weeks 4 and 5
0:000:10

Dynamic warm-up (athlete specific)

N/A

N/A

0:100:20

Single-leg bounds

5 3 10 yd

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:200:30

Broad jump

5 3 10 yd

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:300:40

Footwork drill

60 s on/off, 5 repetitions (10 min)

0:400:45

Lateral shuffles

30 s on/off, 5 repetitions (5 min)

N/A

0:450:55

5-10-5 mock drill

Each player runs the drill 3 times

N/A

0:551:00

Athlete cool down

N/A

N/A

Dynamic warm-up (athlete specific)

N/A

N/A

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

Weeks 6 and 7
0:000:10

(continued)

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Aquatic Speed Training for Football

Table 1
(continued )
6 3 10 yd

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:100:20

Single-leg bounds and broad jump

0:200:30

Footwork drill

60 s on/off, 5 repetitions (10 min)

0:300:35

Lateral shuffles

30 s on/off, 5 repetitions (5 min)

0:350:45

5-10-5 mock drill

Each player runs the drill 3 times

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:450:55

3-cone drill (L drill)

Each player runs the drill 3 times

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:551:00

Athlete cool down

N/A

N/A

0:000:10

Dynamic warm-up (athlete specific)

N/A

N/A

0:100:20

Single leg bounds and broad jump

6 3 10 yd

0:200:25

Lateral shuffles

30 s on/off, 5 repetitions (5 min)

0:250:35

Vertical jump test

Each player runs the drill 3 times

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:350:45

5-10-5 test

Each player runs the drill 3 times

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:45-0:55

3-cone test

Each player runs the drill 3 times

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

0:551:00

Broad jump test (from the pool


edge)

Each player jumps 3 times

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions
N/A

Week 8

;90 s, while other group does


repetitions
N/A

Notes: The final week allows for testing of progress as well as creating competition and fun for the players. We test the vertical
jump, 5-10-5, and 3-cone test in the pool. The broad jump test has them jump from the edge of the pool (be sure to use a slip
resistant surface at the edge) and into the water. This allows the players to simply explode as much and as far as possible
without worrying about their landing

should work to improve performance


outside the pool, similar to training
with and without a parachute during
sprint training (4). Increased resistance
to movement requires additional muscle
activation while simultaneously providing a buoyancy effect. This facilitates
more rapid transitions from eccentric
to concentric muscle contractions, ultimately increasing power output (5). By
introducing a supplemental aquatic
training program into a regular NFL
Scouting Combine training protocol,
athletes can gain additional training
without compromising health. The purpose of this article is to highlight a supplemental aquatic speed and power
training program recently integrated
into the normal training routine of

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numerous college football players preparing for the NFL Combine and/or
Pro-Day events.
AQUATIC TRAINING PROGRAM

Our aquatic training program aimed to


improve lower-body speed and power
as well as reinforce movement technique
by mimicking land-based exercises (specifically altered for the pool), aiming to
positively influence athlete performance
(in 5 of the 6 [all lower-body] combine
tests) and provide dynamic conditioning
exercise while minimizing the risk of
musculoskeletal injury. This low-impact
program was designed to supplement
the athletes regular training program,
which included a combination of 45
days per week of resistance exercise,

VOLUME 37 | NUMBER 6 | DECEMBER 2015

24 days of on-field drills, and 45 days


of physical therapy/athletic training, chiropractic work, massage, and/or ice/
cold water treatments.
The aquatic program included 1 workout per week for 8 weeks and was implemented on a light or recovery day
(see Table 1 for a detailed outline of each
training session). Exercise repetitions and
time-in-training were kept low with rest
periods of at least 90 seconds, providing
players with proper recovery to ensure
maximal power output (2). A large outdoor pool with waist-to-chest deep water
(;45 ft) was used for all sessions. Pool
training was also used to practice specific
individualized technique issues and
cues. Noteworthy, before implementing

Table 2
Description of exercises for the 8-wk aquatic training program
Exercise

Sprint and backpedal drill

Description

Start 10 yd from the wall of the pool, sprint toward the wall with high knees and quick foot strikes
From the wall hip hinge back, bending slightly at the waist, and drive back with quick foot strikes

908 arm swings

Find a position where the water level is above the chest but below the shoulders. Each arm should
be bent at the elbow at a 908 angle with hands in a neutral position. Begin swinging the arms in
opposition, raising the hand to the brow, and then quickly to the hip

Footwork drill

Perform each drill for ;15 s bursts


Side short: on the balls of your feet with the feet together, quickly shoot the feet out 612 inches,
then back together and repeat
Side wide: on the balls of your feet with the feet together, quickly shoot the feet out 2430 inches,
then back together and repeat
Cross short: on the balls of your feet with the feet together, quickly shoot the feet out 612 inches,
cross one behind the other, then repeat
Cross wide: on the balls of your feet with the feet together, quickly shoot the feet out 2430 inches,
cross one behind the other, then repeat

Broad jumps

Feet shoulder width apart, hip hinge, and squat down, bring the arms back, and explode, leaping
forward throwing the body and arms as far forward as possible. Land. Repeat

Single-leg bounds

Drive the right leg and left arm upward springing forward, land, and repeat with the opposite side.
Perform 10 yd, turn and repeat back to the original position

Lateral shuffles

Mark off a 10-yd width of the pool where the water level is the same throughout. Shuffle to one
side without crossing the feet, then repeat to the opposite side

5-10-5 mock drill

Similar to a 5-10-5 drill on land; start from the middle, sprint to one side stopping at the mark,
push-off and sprint back to other side stopping at the other mark, push-off and sprint back
through the middle starting point

3-cone drill (L drill)

Similar to a 3-cone drill on land; Sprint from the first cone to the second, push-off and sprint back to
the starting point, push-off again to head back toward the second cone, turn left around the
second cone toward the third cone, turn around the cone, head back toward the second cone,
and turn right around the second cone, heading back to the starting cone to finish the drill

Athlete choice cool-down

These drills included low-intensity relays, water games, swimming, and stretching activities

Vertical jump test

Feet shoulder width apart, hip hinge, short squat and explode upward reaching as high as possible.
Hold a flag or towel out using a pole for the athlete to leap for

Broad jump test (from the


pool edge)

Feet shoulder width apart, hip hinge, squat low drawing the arms behind, and explode forward
leaping as far into the pool as possible. Note: Doing this from the edge of the pool can be
dangerous. Be sure to put a towel or other nonslip surface on the edge of the pool, or simply avoid

a program such as this, proper safety precautions and supervision (e.g., lifeguards
and certified athletic trainers) should be
taken. Check with your aquatic facilities
for rules and regulations.
All athletes in attendance were divided
into 2 teams for maximal utilization of
time and space. Athletes were encouraged to bring protective footwear/shoes
and goggles during training as pool

bottoms usually have a rough texture.


Weeks 1 and 2 of the program were fairly
light and aimed to introduce athletes to
the pool, the exercises (Table 2, Figures
15, and the videos in the Supplemental
Digital Content 15, http://links.lww.
com/SCJ/A157, http://links.lww.com/
SCJ/A158, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/
A159, http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A160,
http://links.lww.com/SCJ/A161) and

gauge how their bodies would feel during


and after training. Most of the athletes
had little to no experience training in
the pool, so we chose exercises to mimic
or replicate speed training drills typically
performed on dry land, as the athletes
were already familiar with these drills
without the pools resistance or buoyancy
factors. During week 2, most of the exercises were performed at moderate

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Aquatic Speed Training for Football

intensity and speed. Beginning at week 3,


the athletes became more comfortable
with the pool, so we steadily increased
the exercise difficulty and challenged
them further throughout the next
6 weeks.

Figure 1. View from above and under water: (A) forward sprinting and (B)
backpedaling drills.

At week 4, because of the athletes


limited training schedule, we eliminated the sprinting and backpedaling
drills and introduced lateral movement and mock testing drills. The
intent was to have the athletes perform and practice the actual combine
tests with the water resistance and
buoyancy factors. We accomplished
this by steadily introducing various
drills throughout the remaining
weeks of the program. We began with
lateral shuffles and the 5-10-5 drill
and eventually progressed to the
3-cone drill. Nonparticipating players
were used to assist others during
these drills by providing the participating players with a grounded
object to push-off when changing directions. During the 5-10-5 drill, nonparticipating players acted as the
cones. This type of movement and
teamwork required some practice.
At week 5, movements became easier
and more balanced allowing players
to focus on speed and power. In week
6, we added the 3-cone drill. This
new drill required many changes in
direction, and nonparticipating athletes again acted as cones and anchors to help other players. As we
approached the end of the program,
players focused on movements in the
pool that closely mimicked their final
combine practices and tests. By the
end of week 8, the athletes were
extremely comfortable in the pool
and noted strong improvements on
these same drills and exercises on
dry land. No injuries occurred during
the 8 weeks of aquatic training.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION

Figure 2. Underwater view of (A) side short, (B) side long, and (C) cross short footwork
drills. Note: Cross drill was also performed in a long fashion.

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VOLUME 37 | NUMBER 6 | DECEMBER 2015

Athletes may need 2- to 4-week postseason to recover from the rigorous season
before they begin any high-impact training programs, but players typically only
have 810 weeks after postseason recovery to adequately train and prepare for

Figure 3. Underwater demonstration of the standing long jump drill.

Figure 4. View from above and under water of single-leg bounding drill.

Figure 5. Demonstration of the vertical jump drill.

the NFL Scouting Combine and/or ProDays. Low-impact aquatic training may
allow for a quicker return to training as it
enables athletes to develop speed and
movement technique while provide little
strain on the body. Without question,
movement in water differs from that on
land. However, once athletes are comfortable with exercises in the pool, it
can be a safe and effective supplement
to any speed/power training program.
The program outlined here has been
implemented on players who have been
successfully drafted into the NFL.
Coaches and trainers should consider

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Aquatic Speed Training for Football

this, or a similar program, when preparing for such events to reduce impact and
joint stress on athletes while still imparting speed and performance benefits. It
may also be of benefit to professional
or youth athletes in the same manner.

Kylie K.
Malyszek is
a graduate student in the
Department of
Kinesiology and
Center for Sport
Performance,
California State
University.

Conflicts of Interest and Source of Funding:


The authors report no conflicts of interest
and no source of funding.

Michael F.
Marsico is the coowner of Match
Fitness,
Fullerton, CA.

James R.
Bagley is an
Assistant Professor at San Francisco State
University and
visiting scholar at
the Center for
Sport Performance, California State
University.

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Andrew J.
Galpin is an
assistant professor
in the Department of Kinesiology and Center
for Sport Performance, California
State University.

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