The Secrets to Success at the NFL Combine

Loren Landow enters his third year as the Broncos’ head strength and conditioning coach in 2020. A 24-year professional in the field of performance enhancement, Landow joined the Broncos after spending 10 years as the owner and director of Landow Performance, a sports training center in Centennial, Colorado. He has trained thousands of athletes during his career, including more than 700 professional athletes associated with the NFL, NHL, MLB, UFC, WNBA and Olympics. Now that Coach Landow is with the Broncos, he no longer works to prepare athletes for the NFL combine through Landow Performance. However, we wanted to hear from him this week to shed light on how these NFL prospects prepare for the biggest test of their career.

By Loren Landow

There are an increasing number of facilities that prepare football players for the NFL Combine and Pro Day, and most of them do a great job. What separates the work that Augustine Agyei and our other coaches are doing at Landow Performance is the individualized approach they implement to put every athlete in the best possible position to make it to the NFL and succeed in professional football.

When it comes to the Combine itself, this involves implementing a strategy based on teaching and rehearsal. Unlike during the competitive college and NFL seasons, in which players need to perform every weekend and then recover in between games, the Combine provides a single event for which players in every position need to peak. While we often only have a brief period of six to eight weeks to get them ready for all the testing they’ll have to excel in, this provides a big target to aim at and makes it easier to establish realistic milestones along the way.

To the casual observer, the Combine is all about running fast, jumping high, and moving quickly from side to side. While it’s true that these are desirable outcomes, the true foundation for the athletic feats you see on TV is movement quality, efficiency, and sustainability. It’s our job as coaches (or, should I say, the job of Augustine and the rest of his team, as I’m now director of performance for the Denver Broncos) to give athletes movement-based solutions to the physical problems posed by Pro Day and Combine testing.

In addition to preparing players to excel in situations that some have never previously encountered, there’s the added challenge of rebuilding the bodies of young men who’ve just endured the rigors of their junior and senior college football schedule. For those involved in bowl games, this trial by fire might have extended as late into the calendar as January 13, which gives them just over five weeks before they’ll be put through their paces in front of NFL scouts, team personnel, and the national media.

Some might see this as presenting a daunting – and maybe even insurmountable – challenge for the coaches charged with preparing athletes to prove themselves as NFL ready. After all, we need to not only squeeze every ounce of athletic potential out of each player, but also deal with any existing injuries he might have and enable him to bounce back from hit after hit sustained during the college season.

But throughout the years that I personally prepared NFL prospects for the Combine and Pro Day, I always relished the opportunity. We are up against the hourglass and those grains of sand slip away more quickly than we’d prefer. Yet with the creation and execution of the right plan, those four to six weeks are enough time to get quarterbacks, linemen, and the rest ready to audition for 32 NFL teams. Because players are motivated to try and extend their time in football and fulfill their childhood dreams of playing in the pros, they’re at their most coachable.

This means we have the chance to not only push them hard, but also get them to fall in love with the fundamentals of the process, retrain counterproductive behaviors, and teach them good habits that will serve them for the rest of their playing days (the latter is what we refer to as career hygiene). And as we no longer have the demands of weekly games to consider, we’re able to subject athletes to a fairly high training load.

Then we start tapering 12 days before the Combine and Pro Day. This is so gradual at first that athletes often wouldn’t notice for several days. We subtly reduce the rep count and remove sets until eventually, their warmup is longer than the actual workout. Volume, intensity, and density all go down. All that remains is what is absolutely necessary – such as sprints, jumps, and change of direction. Though we do our last 40-yard dash test a week before the Combine, we still have athletes perform 10 and 20-yard dashes to keep their speed and reaction time intact. The goal during this final phase of preparation is to allow adaptation to occur so that the player can peak on Pro Day or at the Combine.

Beyond loading and tapering consideration, preparing athletes to be their best during Combine and Pro Day testing always comes back from knowing what your principles are and sticking to them. For myself, Augustine, and the other coaches I’ve been privileged enough to serve with, the first of these is movement quality. I often say that speed and power rarely have a bad day, and so we need to develop these qualities. But the application of both requires movement literacy. If we can equip players with a wide variety of skills, they’ll be ready to pull the right one from their toolbox when they’re forced to react instantly in any game situation. This doesn’t just apply to football players, but athletes in every sport.

As important as physical preparation is for Combine and Pro Day prospects, strategy and mental readiness are just as crucial, if not more so. Players must be able to manage themselves, their time, and their mindset, or they’re not going to fulfill their true potential. The second an athlete is done with the bench press, he needs to start getting ready for the 40-yard sprint or the vertical jump (depending on the order of testing). It’s very easy to get caught up in talking with agents or family members or cheering for your college teammates or friends from other programs, but if you do that, you’re going to leave some performance on the table.

To make sure they’re ready, I tell players that they need to treat the Combine and Pro Day like a decathlon. They must consider each discipline as its own entity and give it the respect and effort it necessitates if they’re to show everything they’re capable of. They need to be fully prepared to get their physical and mental reps in. This isn’t just philosophy, but also applies to on-the-ground tactics, too. No detail is too small to be considered and planned for. Going back to the 40 for a moment, after a player has finished their final 10 or 20-yard warm-up sprint, I want them to have a minimum of three minutes before they start their 40-yard test. It’s also vital to conserve physical and mental energy, otherwise they’re going to end the day feeling completely exhausted. Whereas if they go through their drills, visualize success, and remain calm, composed, and focused, they’re going to be just fine.

I used to be delighted when the athletes I trained for the Combine and Pro Day met or exceeded their expectations. Nowadays, I’m excited about the athleticism of players who I think can help the Broncos next season. But 40-yard dash times, vertical leap measurements, and other quantifiable results only tell a small part of the story. My real goal has always transcended the numbers: a desire to serve. I hope my relentless pursuit of this calling sets up athletes and my fellow coaches for success. If they reach their aims in sports and in life, then I’m satisfied with a job well done.

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