by Joe Giandonato , MBA, MS, CSCS
It’s early March and we’re in the throes of the NFL combine and pro days. Events are staged to showcase acceleration (40 yard dash), strength-endurance (225 pound bench press for repetitions), vertical and broad jumps (lower body power), and the 5-10-5 and short shuttle drills (agility). And while superlative performances in one or all of them are laudatory — certainly helping NFL prospects leapfrog competition on pre-draft projection lists — none of those numbers can be notched in training or in testing environments without an aerobic base.
Your aerobic base or cardiorespiratory fitness level is quantified as the difference between your age estimated maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate.
Well-conditioned athletes are capable of expending and sustaining circa maximal efforts thus warranting higher heart rates, which have been observed among elite endurance athletes in both training and laboratory settings. And well-conditioned athletes also have lower resting heart rates. Many fervent gym-goers would register a sub-60 beat per minute heart rate, classifying them as bradycardiac. Olympic athletes whose events are predicated voluminous training, such as 23-time gold medalist Michael Phelps, have even lower heart rates. Reports had circulated during the 2016 Olympics that Phelps’ resting heart rate was a mere 38 BPM.
In preparation for the Olympics, Phelps spends a bulk of his waking hours in the pool. And for the loyal readership here — comprised of many accomplished strength athletes — more time under the bar equates to establishing and refining motor engrams that influence seamless and subcortical movement which become as second nature as brushing your teeth.
It is worth noting that scores of NFL prospects who are participating in the combine and/or respective pro days aren’t quite ready for an NFL training camp since they’ve spent time specializing in all of the events that can potentially earn or cost them hundreds of thousands or millions of contract dollars. In fact, some football pundits have argued that combine training muddles fitness and skill development among younger players.
In a vacuum, a 4.4 forty yard dash is incredibly impressive. An athlete notching a 4.4 second forty places them in elite company among fellow prospects and qualifies them as one of the fastest humans on earth. But say they can’t come close to replicating that performance in a second trial mere minutes later. Now what do you think of them?
Judging by the example above, it is clear that they lack sufficient repeat sprint ability, or the capacity to recover and maintain maximal effort during subsequent bouts (2). The capacity to recover is contingent upon the clearance of lactate among various metabolic byproducts stemming from glycolytic pathways and regeneration of ATP. Body composition and strength were also found to be key determinants in influencing repeat sprint performances (1).
If improvements in these aforementioned qualities are desired, athletes should begin to incorporate low-intensity steady state aerobic exercise in (30) minute increments three to four times per week, preferably following resistance training sessions and between subsequent sessions or on days in which no resistance training is performed. Athletes can also perform lactate threshold training in the gym via intervals with timed sets that are whittled down to a 1:1 work to active rest ratio. For example, an athlete would perform kettlebell goblet squats and intersperse each set with jumping rope for an equivalent period of time.
Set 1: Kettlebell Goblet Squats x 10 repetitions or :30; active rest: 30 seconds of jumping rope
Set 2: Kettlebell Goblet Squats x 10 repetitions or :30; active rest: 30 seconds of jumping rope
Set 3: Kettlebell Goblet Squats x 10 repetitions or :30; active rest: 30 seconds of jumping rope
Simply begin timing your sets, especially on accessory exercises, and shoot for a 1:1 work to rest ratio. Then plug in the last piece — active rest — which can range from “mobility fillers”, or blocks in which corrective based movements are performed, or calisthenics like shadow boxing.
Durandt, J., Tee, J.C., Prim, S.K., & Lambert, M.I. (2006). Physical fitness components associated with performance in a multiple-sprint test. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 1 (2), 150-160.
Turner, A.N. & Stewart, P.F. (2013). Repeat sprint ability. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 35 (1), 37-41.