NFL Draft Motivation – NFL Athletes V Army Rangers – Who Wins?
What is it like to train the next generation of NFL stars? How is that different than training the Army’s elite? Which group is tougher mentally? Are Army Rangers really more physically capable than NFL stars?
These are a couple of questions I was able to ask legendary Strength Coach Nick O’Brien when I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him.
Nick O’Brien, M.S., CSCS, USAW
Sports Performance Coach at Velocity Sports Performance in Redondo Beach
Human Performance Optimization Coach for the 75th Ranger Regiment – Fort Benning, GA
Q – What was your job while at Velocity?
A – My job consisted of training all types of athletes with an emphasis on preparing Collegiate football players for the NFL Draft.
Q – What would the training consist of? What were the numbers they needed to achieve and how did you go about helping them to achieve them?
A – When specifically training for the NFL Draft, the training followed a basic outline with everyone and individual exercises that fell within those categories. The general outline of each week was:
Monday AM – Weight, Body Composition, Vertical Jump Testing and Linear Acceleration Training (starts, short sprints, sled resisted starts, etc.), possible 10 or 20 yard sprint testing
Monday PM – 225 Bench Press Test, Lower Body Power (Cleans, Snatches, resisted jumps, sled sprints, etc.), Bench Capacity, and Individual Assistance Training
Tuesday AM – Multidirectional Agility Focus, either 5-10-5 Shuttle or 3-Cone Drill, possible test of either drill
Tuesday PM – Lower Body Strength (generally double leg push focus like Back/Front Squat and their variants with bands/chains), Upper Body Pulling strength and individual assistance training
Wednesday AM – Recovery Training (Pool, light beach workout, or extended warmup with flexibility training), Massage specific to individual needs
Thursday AM – Multidirectional Agility Focus, either 5-10-5 Shuttle or 3-Cone Drill, possible test of either drill
Thursday PM – Lower Body Power (Cleans, Snatches, resisted jumps, sled sprints, etc.), Bench Max Strength, and Individual Assistance Training
Friday AM – Linear Maximum Velocity training (focus on the 20-40 yard phase), testing of 20-40 yard split
Friday PM – Lower Body Strength (generally single leg or double leg pull focus like split squats and Deadlifts), Upper Body Pulling, and individual assistance training (usually finishing off with some gun work so they look good/feel good in front of the scouts)
Saturday AM – Recovery Training (Pool, light beach workout, or extended warmup with flexibility training), Massage specific to individual needs
It would be hard to get into specific details of the target numbers that they needed to hit, but the answer is yes. Each position is expected to hit at least the bottom numbers to show they are adequate, and hopefully closer to the top numbers on each test. There is also a certain number on each test where they stop looking at it as a benefit, so continuing to improve that area may just be eating up time/energy they could be using to improve one of their weaknesses.
Q – Did you just focus on numbers or were there other areas of training which needed to be addressed?
A – Numbers are extremely important to get into the NFL. I did my Master’s thesis on improving the 40-yard dash in NFL Combine Invitees. I make sure each athlete understands that every fraction of a second and rep practiced counts. In the 40, .10 seconds can be the difference of millions of dollars. Because of this, we test everything that they will be tested on at the Combine/Pro Day and much more. But, the mental game cannot be overlooked when prepping for the draft. The NFL Combine is really the ultimate interview. It’s not just a physical assessment, but a medical, intelligence, personality, and psychological assessment. For these reasons we had regularly prepped them for interviews and used a sport psychologist (who now works for the Seattle Seahawks) to enhance their mental game.
Q – What sort of obstacles did you face while training college athletes? How did you address weaknesses?
A – It depends on the circumstances. I have worked with collegiate athletes on an individual/small group basis and with an entire team. The difficulty in the team setting is definitely providing an appropriate plan that works well for the entire team. You have a great array of abilities and in order to adjust for that sometimes the team needed to be broken into ability groups so that no one was held back. This is of course challenging; running a group of 30 by myself when 2 different workouts are going on… but it can be done.
Q – What is the most difficult area to improve in an athlete: speed, strength, or power?
A – They are all equally difficult in their truest sense. Just getting someone to squat more doesn’t mean they are stronger, it means they have adapted in some way to better tolerate the movement. The early improvements in strength in young athletes are usually technical, not an improvement in force production (or true strength). Once you pass this point though, strength improvements become much more difficult, especially with men prepping for the NFL draft who just finished 4 years of tough and thorough training with their collegiate coaches. Because power stems from both velocity and force, when you improve strength you improve power the majority of the time, so they are equally difficult to improve. Training for speed, in the sense of 40-yard dash or 5-10-5 shuttle is difficult, but not as difficult in the early stages because just like with the squat, it’s technical improvements that lead to better times. Once the technique has been learned it again becomes a much slower process to improve true speed. They are basically all easy to improve in a novice athlete, and then become difficult as an athlete becomes better trained.
Q – In 2012 you moved to Georgia to train Army Rangers. What is the biggest difference between training NFL caliber athletes and the Army’s elite?
A – Not to put down any of the pro athletes that I worked with in the past, but the biggest difference would be the amazing mental and physical toughness of the Rangers. It all comes down to their ability to endure extreme challenges. No matter what the undertaking entails they are ready to accept the job. Anyway, we are not just talking about any job. We are talking about an extremely taxing job, both mentally physically.
Even the basic selection process to become a Ranger is much more rigorous than that of a professional athlete. The mental challenges they undergo prepares them for any physical assignment which may arise.
Q – How much of the physical strength comes down to mental toughness?
A – A ton. Especially when compared to the average person. Often times their physical make-up, I am talking about genetic potential, does not appear that different than an average person. However, the numbers they achieve far exceed those of most civilians. It comes down to their mental strength, their belief in themselves, and what they can accomplish. Also, they are willing to work through anything without ever giving up until their body quits on them.
Q – How can mental toughness be improved?
A – By constantly training outside ones comfort zone. With the Rangers, their mental vigor is being increased throughout the whole process. Many get weeded out, those who don’t will eventually learn to train hard and work under any conditions, regardless of mental or physical fatigue.
Q – What does a typical week of training look like?
A – In general, we do 4 days per week strength training with a whole host of different splits like 2 upper body days. This would include such exercises as pull-ups or overhead press. And 2 lower body days. Such lifts would include squats, dead lifts, or split squats. This would equal 4 days total body, Lower/Upper/ 2 days total body, and even a scheme similar to the one list above for the NFL Draft Prep (but without the morning speed sessions). We also include 1-2 days of anaerobic (short high intensity or interval) conditioning, as well as 2-3 days of aerobic (longer runs, ruck marches, or usage of some of our low impact devices like the C2 Rower, Jacobs ladder, or Versaclimber) work. Depending on the week the soldiers get 5-6 days of training. Since I started working here, we have also implemented a great deal of recovery training to keep them healthy and ready for the next training session.
Q – Do the Rangers do Olympic Lifts?
A – They do. Besides their basic weightlifting within their programs, we offer the Rangers clinics which include Olympic Weightlifting to enhance their technical expertise. We also offer a host of other clinics including basic barbell movements, rope training, kettlebell work, running efficiency and so on.
Q – What do you find more enjoyable, working with professional athletes or Rangers?
A – Definitely the Rangers. Again, nothing against the great athletes that I worked with in the past and some of them fell into this highly motivated category as well. The rangers are such competitive, highly motivated and respectful individuals as a whole. It makes it a pleasure to work with them by helping them both stay healthy and achieve their goals. Their drive to increase personal education in the field of human performance also separates them. I also feel that they are so similar in mentality to me, that I am at home in this culture every day that I go to work.
Nick’s 5 Tips to train for a combine:
- Get a good, well organized coach.
- Make sure that you are being tested on a regular basis
- Focus on technique more than anything else; it’s the most bang for your buck in a short amount of time. Even exercises such as the bench press can improve dramatically by using proper technique.
- Make the 40 a priority; it’s the most looked at regardless of position.
- Don’t underestimate recovery; it’s the one thing that most performance centers do better than the colleges (although the big colleges have caught up on this lately).
Nick’s 5 tips to train like a Ranger:
- At least once per month go out for a long foot movement; this could be a ruck march (backpacking) or a hike.
- Obstacles are key; either find a place to create some outdoor obstacle based workouts or sign up for one of the million mud/obstacle runs.
- Pick up something heavy and walk; the “famer carry” is a main staple of our training. Be able to pick up some heavy dumbbells, kettlebells, or a trap bar walk. This can also more simply be done at home with 5 gal jugs full of rocks or dirt.
- Run; I know running has gotten looked at as sacrilegious in the performance field for the last decade or so, but it works. Some of the most overall fittest people I have met run because it’s simple and very hard (if you push yourself). It doesn’t have the technical limitations of circuits using weights and barbells. I have even spoken to the conditioning coach of some of the top Crossfitters in the world and what he has implemented into their program is running. Not tons of it, and it can even be short intervals like 200, 400, 800m distance repeats on short rest (like 8x400m on 1min rest).
- Test yourself regularly; it doesn’t matter what you test, just test something. The biggest failure of many programs is a lack of objective measurement. In the Ranger Regiment we test all the time. We have the APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) that we have to do, but also a 5 mile run in under 40 min, 12 mile ruck march in under 3 hours (with a 35lb ruck sack), and our own internal RAW (Ranger Athlete Warrior) Assessment including a host of well-rounded physical tests not unlike the NFL Combine. We also put out a new Bi-Weekly challenge every other week like BW Bench Max Reps, max upper body only rope climbs in 2 minutes, 2 x 48 kilo Kettlebell farmer carry for max distance, and many more. On top of that, we test all of your main lifts during regular training phases like cleans, squats, bench, deadlift, etc. Simply put, if you’re not testing, you’re not training. You are just doing a workout day after day.
NFL Draft & NFL Football Motivational Videos:
NFL Upper Body Football Training JJ Watt, Brian Cushing, Connor Barwin
NFL Motivation – Fight & Effort (The Last Ride) ᴴᴰ [720p]
American Football Motivation
Football Motivation 2015 “Secret to Sucess” Feat. Eric Thomas