This athlete who emailed me is reflective of a pretty common situation in football. Players are often more developed in the strength department and need a shift in the explosive direction. See solution below.

QUESTIONS: “…I am 5’9”, 160 lbs, and run a 4.8 in the 40 yard dash. Although this is not related to football, I can hang on a basketball rim from a running jump which gives you a sense of my vertical jumping ability. To be honest, I am not very genetically gifted and not very naturally explosive. I have had to work to get to the point I am at now. I play slot receiver and safety…

I have worked very hard when it comes to my athletic development for football. This includes a rather long history of strength training (about 4 years), and my strength and conditioning program at my school is very good. It utilizes squats, deadlift, cleans, and snatches all in the manner that you talk about on your website. I can squat double my bodyweight, and I can clean around 210 lbs. This winter and spring, I have been and will continue to participate in our weight lifting program which consists of 4 days of lifting a week (lower body on Mon. and Thurs…

Personally, I think that my athletic performance will increase most by practicing my strength utilization, which you also talk about a ton. I already do practice becoming explosive through explosive exercises in the weight room such as cleans and jerks. Also, I use an online vertical jump program (PJF Performance) on a weekly basis, and I think it is a good program and agrees with the majority of what you preach. Obviously, I do practice sprinting and my 40 too. I try to do my plyometric workouts on the days I have off from lifting, Wednesday and Saturday. Other than that, I try to sprint almost every day.

Now that you know my athletic background and my training methods, I can ask you some questions. First, because so much of running the 40 is acceleration because it is so short, do you think that I can significantly improve my time? In your acceleration video, you talk about how acceleration is much easier to improve than top-speed as top-speed mostly has to do with genetic gifts. Second, should I continue regularly practicing plyometrics if I am trying to become faster at sprinting technically? One of your biggest points in your Speed-Science videos is that not all explosive training is equal, and that plyometrics takes too long to make top-speed improvement. However, if I really need to focus on acceleration, would plyometrics help me because I will have a longer ground contact time? Also, do you think I need to still improve my strength or do you think my strength is sufficient to reaching my top athletic performance? When I am lifting, should I be trying to lift as heavy as I can in lower-body and upper-body exercises? Considering my lifting schedule, on what days should I practice becoming explosive through sprinting and plyometrics? And lastly, should I try and improve my top speed velocity by gaining more vertical force and how should I do that?…”

ANSWER: “You seem like a pretty typical good football player. You’re fast, but your strength is more developed than your explosiveness. (I’m assuming your squat is legit, not half depth.) You are not so strong that getting stronger won’t help you in the future, but I think you first need to make sure you are as athletic as you can be at your current strength level. AKA you need to get to the top of your window. Based on what you told me, you would benefit from a shift in the explosive direction.

Yes, a fast 40 is largely acceleration in the sense that top speed might be reached late in the race or not at all by an athlete with high top speed. But as far as the strength dominant part of acceleration, you’re really only looking at the first 5 yards. In your case I bet that your GCT is under 0.2 seconds by your 3rd or 4th contact. Yes, I think your 40 can improve significantly, and getting stronger might be key to that, but only after getting a shift in the explosive direction first. In my opinion, training top speed on the track is the best thing for you to do right now.

If I were to be in control of your training, I would probably have you cut lifting down to just hang cleans and hang snatches and then get on the track for sprinting 3 or 4 times per week. And we would fit in some multidirectional speed as well (route running, 5-10-5). We would do that for a few months, basically have a track season, and see how that affects you before starting to train strength again. Also we would use at least 2 off days per week, maybe 3, which I suspect is something you are not accustomed to. One more thing we would address is flexibility. Strong guys like you tend to be little tighter than what’s ideal.

As far as what you can actually do, I’m assuming you have to do the football team workouts. I’m wondering if you can do lighter, more explosive lifting for a while. And I’m wondering if you have a good track team at your school that you can join. Training for the 100m and long jump would be perfect for you.

There’s nothing wrong with plyos, but actually sprinting is way more important. Any plyo work on top of sprinting is trying to eke out a fraction of a percent of force production. If you are doing a good amount of sprinting, plyos should be used in very small doses. Like maybe one exercise once per week.

When it comes to getting stronger, lifting heavy should be part of the plan. But when getting stronger as a way to get faster, a lot of light sets building up to heavier weights should be used. Think like 1 or 2 sets per week that are actually hard to finish. Right now, I would hope that you can just do all light sets.”