Monday, March 1, 2010

Combine Bench Press

One of the top prospect for this year's NFL draft, Gerald McCoy had a disappointing day in the weight room yesterday. While his main competition for the top spot, Ndamukong Suh, was busy tossing up 225 pounds 32 times, McCoy only manged to get the same weight up 23 times (a report on's blog of 26 reps was evidently erroneous). Of course this has sent all of the draftniks into a tizzy and now people are openly questioning McCoy's work ethic.

Well I don't know if McCoy has been sitting on a beach every day sipping pina coladas or if he has been locked up somewhere with dumbells and hot sauce all day. What I do know from personal experience is that the combine bench press can be deceiver, both on the positive and negative side. If you google "Gerald McCoy" and "work ethic" you get tons of articles about people raving about how hard he works. But with one bad showing on his bench press he has opened himself up to people questioning what had been one of his biggest selling points.

McCoy wasn't the only highly rated prospect to fall short in the bench press either. USF's Jason Paul-Pierre, a guy some think may go as high as 3 to the Bucs (which I already thought was crazy) only managed to get the weight up 19 times. Now its a kind of unwritten rule for defensive linemen. You want to get the weight up 25 times or more so you can be one of the leaders in that categor, but to not be seen as too weak to play in the NFL you want to at least get the weight up 20 times so as to not raise any red flags. For a guy like JPP whose rise up the draft boards has been driven more by potential than production, only putting the weight up 19 times may have some serious consequences.

I am a long time proponent of film over workouts anyway. I think that you will always have guys who look average on film who put up great numbers at the combine. But being a great athlete doesn't always equal being a great football player and coaches and GMs should always be aware of that. I will say however that plenty of teams use the combine numbers for question marks. What I mean is if a guy looks good on film but there are some nagging questions about them, many times teams will use combine numbers to answer them. If a guy looks good but might be a tad slow then the 40 numbers are brought into play. If a guy looks fast in a straight line but maybe not very quick in changing directions that's when the cone drill numbers come into play. And if a guy looks good but maybe gets pushed around a bit, that's when the bench press numbers get pulled.

Now I don't know for sure if teams have questions about McCoy's or Paul-Pierre's strength, but if they did before the combine, its going to be even worse now.

Its at this point that I want to make an observation about the process and also to give a personal anecdote.

First, I think its ludicrous that defensive linemen and offensive lineman are still being made to life 225 pounds for reps. It makes sense for the smaller guys because by and in large they probably rep out with 225 on a regular basis. However for most big guys this is some thing that they rarely if ever do aside from at the combine or at their pro day at their school. To be honest with you doing 225 for reps is more about endurance than strength anyway. There are some guys who can do 225 pounds 30 times or more but couldn't shed a blocker to save their life. There are other guys who can barely get it up 20 times but can rag doll an offensive lineman. That's because there is never going to be a time in any game where a guy has to do 30 bench presses in a row but there WILL be a time when a 325 plus pounder will try to lock on to them and they need to be able to get that guy up off of them.

For most big guys this means that you train with heavier weights for lower reps most of the time. I for one would much rather see an offensive or defensive lineman rep out with 275 pounds than 225. For one 275 pounds is closer to the weight they will have to push around when they face off with an opponent in football, and for two you would get to see how well they handle heavier weight consistently. I would be much more impressed with seeing guys do 275 15 or 20 times than watching them do 225 25 times or more.

But hey, that's just me.

As for my story....

I was a guy who played for a high school team that didn't have a weight lifting program to speak of. For that reason when I got to college at UT I was behind most of the guys in my class. I worked my butt off in the weight room the whole time I was there but even though I got stronger every year it seemed like I could never catch up to some of those guys. I believe I ended my career at UT having maxed out with heavy weight for reps that was the equivalent of a little over 400 pounds. Not bad, but certainly not as good as some of my classmates who had maxed out at 450 and above.

Well thankfully for me I hooked up with a guy by the name of Dean Lotz (rest in peace) who had formerly been the strength coach at several colleges, most recently at that time the University of Memphis. The one thing he did in training me to get ready for our pro day at UT (I wasn't fortunate enough to get invited to the combine even though I had 9 sacks as a senior in the SEC, go figure) was to explain to me the why we needed to train certain ways for the testing that were different from how I had trained at Tennessee. Specifically while we would be working on trying to build up my strength for sure, he was more concerned with building up my endurance for the bench press test.

At first I have to admit that I wasn't convinced. Instead of doing 225 on a regular basis, instead every week he would have me max out at least once with 185, a 90 pound difference. He explained to me that I would be plenty strong enough to lift the 225, but I had to get used to the breathing and timing of doing a lot of reps. The most we used to do with heavy weights at Tennessee, like I imagine it is at most schools, was 10 reps and that was just every blue moon. The scouts, as I said before, want to see you do 20. So the first day I was with him I tried to max out with 225 and I ended up getting in about 14 or 15 reps. After that I didn't max out with 225 again for two months. Instead we worked really heavy weight for low reps most of the week and then every Friday I maxed out with 185. It got to the point where I could easily do 30 reps with 185 so I started feeling somewhat confident. Finally a week before it was time to go do my pro day we tested again with 225. This time I got it up 26 times with relative ease and I have to say I shocked myself. I should note that while we were still lifting heavy most of the week, my low rep bench max hadn't gone up more than 10 pounds.

So off I went to my Pro Day and many of my classmates were there as well. I ended up doing 24 reps that day which was less than I hoped for but still pretty good for me. By contrast some of my teammates who had always been stronger than me through out our time at UT ended up with several reps less than me. I don't doubt that they could still bench more than me if we had gone to a higher weight, but what was apparent to me is that they didn't have someone training them properly to get ready for the endurance part of repping 225.

I say all that to say this, a guy not putting up big numbers on the bench press COULD be a sign that they haven't been working out, but it COULD have also been that they weren't trained properly. I can't say which is which quite honestly and I wouldn't want to unless I was sure. But I will say that the way to try to decide on something like that is to watch the rest of their workout. Guys who haven't been training will end up gassing out when its time for position drills. In most of the timed drills their second time will always be slower than their first time. And the last thing to look for is pulled muscles as that is usually a sign that either a guy isn't flexible, and or they aren't in good enough shape to finish all the drills.

And for any future NFL prospects, please be sure to train properly for the combine bench press. If you don't you might be one of the strongest prospects there but end up having folks question your strength and work ethic. And trust me, nobody wants to have that happen to them.

1 comment:

  1. wow this post deserves a lot more attention. appreciate the knowledge and insight you gave.