Taking the football combine tests are no different than taking the SATs. When you take an SAT course, there are strategies on how to answer those questions. The same goes for the football combine tests.
We’re here to help you ace those tests and reach your goals. For each of the six performance tests, we’ve shared our tips and insights from more than 25 years of training and working with 135+ NFL Draft Picks. Study these tips and you too will perform like a pro.
The 40-Yard Dash
The first most important combine test? The 40.
The second most important combine test? The 40
And the third most important combine test? The 40.
The 40-Yard Dash can make or break an athlete. It’s seen as a qualifier. If you don’t run a good 40-Yard Dash, you won’t be able to qualify for the other combine events.
The Stance: It’s crucial to begin in an aggressive stance. Toes to the bottom of the line, feet together. Which foot you put back is determined by which is your dominant hand. (Right-handed stance, place the left foot back half a step.) Bring the dominant foot behind the other heel. Taller athletes will bring the foot back farther than shorter athletes.
Lower down to your knees. A moderate stance will have the athlete knee to toe. A more aggressive stance will have the knee in front of the toe. Your back leg is very important. It is your first step. The further back the foot is, the shorter the first step is going to be.
While on both knees, stretch your arms fully in front and slowly walk them back to your body, putting weight on your launch foot and opposite shoulder. The back is flat, hips are higher than shoulder and shin almost parallel to ground.
The First Step: To maximize the first step, there has to be a violent exchange of the back leg with the down hand. Think of a pole vault. You want to launch off your down hand in the same manner. Also, remember that very little weight should be placed on the back leg.
Breathing Technique: Create abdominal pressure, stiffening the core by holding your breath to maximize force generation.
The 10-Yard Sprint: Body position should be a 45 degree angle. Imagine you are on a manual treadmill and need to accelerate to get the speed up as fast as possible. You are pushing the track behind you as you explode forward. Stay in your acceleration position as long as possible.
Top End Speed: Focus on arm action. Think of your arms as hammers and repeatedly hammer back, still keeping the core tight and body stiff to avoid energy leaks. Stay tall, create a short lever, bringing the heel tight to butt. Keep your hips underneath you – no anterior tilt – and toes pointed up! The majority of your force at top speed will be vertical.
And don’t forget – your last stride is a lean in. Throw your chest forward, arms out to the side to get that extra hundredth of a second.
Through drills and practice, the 40-Yard Dash will become second nature.
This is a measure of your change of direction and goes by a couple different names – Pro-Agility, Short Shuttle, and the 20-Yard Shuttle. Many athletes do not perform this race efficiently, but simple techniques can improve that.
The Rules: Your down hand is the direction you move in. You MUST touch each of the lines facing the evaluator. In some cases, you’re not allowed to put both hands down when you touch. In fact, we always recommend only using one hand.
The Path: The shape of the 5-10-5 is the rooftop of an A-frame house. The start of the race is the very top of the roof. Your touchpoints are the bottom of the roof. Anything run outside of this shape equals a loss of time.
The Stance: Lead hand straight down with other arm barred, knees slightly broken, head slightly down, almost looking through the leg.
The First 5: The first five yards is a side run. The key is getting your cross steps as big as possible. Mental Cue – Cross, Cross, Turn.
Panel 2: Three steps. On your third step, be sure to lower down, staying under the rooftop.
Panel 3: Steps 4 and 5 and big, while 6,7, and 8 are quick, like a quarterback.
Panel 4: Your goal is to hit the line on your third step. Be sure to dive through the line.
The L-Drill (also called the 3 Cone) is like a dance step, and also the test where the most mistakes are made. The L-Drill is sometimes a wild card, and may not be tested, but they test it and you’re not prepared, there are mistakes everywhere!
Here’s how to avoid being that athlete:
The Stance & Steps: Line up on the furthest cone, take one large step to the center of the two cones and turn. The evaluation begins in a left-handed stance, for everyone. Left hand down on the ground with a loose stance, staying as low as possible into each touch.
1, 2, right hand touch
1, 2, right hand touch
1, 2, 3, 4 around the cone
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 around the cone
Head for home and finish through the center of the cones
The First 10 Yards: Stay low and level the entire time. Think – low, smooth and straight.
The Second Phase: Remember to stay tight to the cone to avoid extra steps. On step 3, drop your hips as your round the cone for step 4, lining up with the next cone.
Putting It All Together: There are different gears to each phase. The first 10, you are going 80-85% and then you begin to pick up speed, getting to 100% at step 5. Following these steps will ensure that you do not hit a cone.
This is truly an athletic dance. Once you master these steps, you will achieve your fastest time.
The Standing Broad Jump
This drill includes specific techniques. This is a true test of power. While your stance is important, mental preparation plays a huge role in this test. Your best jumps will be jumps three and four because you’ve primed your nervous system. Make sure you get one or two practices in before you attempt.
Stance: Toes to the furthest part of the line. Make sure the whole line is covered (but not over the line). Feet slightly inside your shoulder.
Ritual: Ritual is very important. You need to perform the jump the same every single time. Hands come up, on your toes, hands come back (like an olympic diver). Perform again and on the second olympic diver, rapid fire with your arms and leap straight out (think Superman!) Use your arms as anchors to project yourself forward.
It’s important to have good body control. Where you land goes by your furthest part of your body towards the line, so don’t land with your hands behind you, or even worse, step back! You will most likely be measured at your heel. Falling forward and using your hands is okay.
The Vertical Jump
Everyone can improve the vertical jump with a couple simple strategies. Getting extra height through elongating your body all plays a role in adding marginal gains. Be sure to prepare prior to performing the test – you never jump your highest on the first try. It’s almost like greasing the gears. You’ll most likely jump your highest on your third or your fourth attempt.
Prep: Perform a hip flexor stretch to maximize glute activation and elongate your spine. The stretch should be done when you are on deck, otherwise it’s wasted.
Stance: Shoulder is to the post, arm up, knees locked and you’re measured to the middle finger. Take one step out, toes lined up with post, arm straight up, middle finger lined up with the outside of the pegs. Be sure you do not line up too close to the post. Think about jumping up to touch the rim – NOT trying to swat a fly.
Mental Cue: Pick a spot and pretend that’s the front of the rim. Visualize yourself jumping to that spot. Maybe even ask the evaluator to show you were 30 inches is.
Execution: Perform the same ritual as in the Standing Broad Jump. This is all about arm swing. The faster your arm can swing, the higher you will jump. Also, your feet are slightly inside your shoulders. A narrow stance creates a more direct force into the ground.
Not an overly complicated test, but the fine details play a big role.
The Bench Press
Having a plan will help you succeed. When you’re limited on time, every strategy can help. Setting up for an effective bench press is important, but keep in mind, this is not the prettiest of tests. It’s all about getting as many reps as possible. We’re not looking for perfect form; we’re looking to move the bar as fast as possible. High school combines will use 185. NFL combines use 225.
Prep: Leading up to your football combine, train the bench twice per week – once for strength, once for speed. Take your time to learn the movement, working with lighter weight until you are comfortable
Technique: Ideally, take as wide grip as possible for shorter range of motion. Squeeze the bar as hard as possible. Make sure your feet are comfortable, but able to push down as hard as possible. Your feet are another gear to generate more force.
Slight curvature of the spine, engage your lats and keep your chest up. You will touch the bar at the highest point of your chest.
The key is pulling the bar down right as it gets to the top. The focus is on turning the force around at the top of the movement as fast as possible. You will fatigue quickly. This technique allows you to maximize reps.
Breathing Technique: Perform your first 12 reps on one breath, take a breath, do 3 more reps, take another breath, do 2 reps, another breath, do one rep and repeat for as long as possible.