Strength & Training Coach Mike Morris says working on the upper body is an important part of speed training
(Editor's Note: The following article was first published in Volume 2, Issue 11 of Buccaneers Review,* the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' ground-breaking answer to the traditional game program. During the 2007 season, Buccaneers Review enlisted the aid of the team's assistant coaches to explain some of the fundamentals of the game, the basic building blocks of success football. This series was called "Fundamentally Speaking," and while many of the pieces focused on at specific plays, schemes or in-game techniques, our final installment was aimed more at the work that is done between football seasons. As such, it is particularly relevant as the Buccaneers head into the 2008 offseason.)*
In this edition of Fundamentally Speaking, with the help of Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Mike Morris, we take a slightly different approach. Rather than focusing on a specific play design or position responsibility, we're examining one of the training techniques that leads to success in the NFL. Here, Morris describes the methods the team uses to help its players increase and maintain their foot speed. A former Olympic-level sprinter, Morris helps the players break down the remarkable amount of technique that goes into maximizing one's functional speed, which goes far beyond simply pumping one's legs as quickly as possible. Interestingly, a significant amount of Morris' attention during speed training is on the arms and the upper body. Here is how the Buccaneers' speed training breaks down, in Morris's own words.
"Much of what we do in terms of speed training is accomplished in the offseason, when players have time to focus on increasing their speed. Our main focus at that time is to go back to the fundamentals of the drills. At this point in their athletic careers, these guys have been through a lot of workout programs, so we spend a lot of time developing their technique for them to be able to run. I have to work on making sure all the elements of their technique are squared away – their arms, their knee punch, their hip flexors and so on.
"Believe it or not, I'm not worried about the guys' leg strength. If you are pushing on people during the games, you are doing your lifting there. When you get to this level, it's all about technique, and players are familiar with that concept from everything they do, such as keeping your pads low, et cetera. It's no different training for speed. If you lose your technique, you lose your running style and you get sloppy. That's when coaches go back, look at film and clean it up, and that's what we do here in our speed training. It might be an arm issue, on how they are carrying their arms while running. It could be a knee punch issue, a hip, a foot, but we look at that stuff in the offseason.
"The main thing we try to focus on is having the body even out – opposite arm to opposite leg. That's the way you run. Running fast and running for speed is all about angles. Whoever gets to the correct angle faster is going to be the faster runner. So what we try to teach these guys is the fundamental things. It's like Tiger Woods with his golf swing or a baseball player with his swing. If they are struggling, they have to go back and see what they are doing wrong and come up with something that's going to fit them.
"One of the main things we work on is the arms. Probably the most difficult think for any athlete is trying to coordinate the movements of their upper body and lower body. People tend to fall into bad mechanics, and they don't spend much time working on that. They think that if your legs are going then they are running as fast as they can. But what dictates how fast you are going to run is your upper body. Your legs have an unlimited amount of speed, but it's all predicated off of your shoulders and how fast they can turn. The tempo of your upper body has to match the tempo of your lower body.
"It's funny – if a player gets hurt in his lower body, I have to make sure I train his arms, so when it's time for him to get back on the field he is ready to go again without missing a beat. Now if he gets hurt in his upper body it's difficult, because that's what drives you. If you ever see an explosive athlete, watch his shoulders because that's where he is getting that pop from.
"We do all kinds of different things to work the arms, but the main thing is to move them rapidly. A simple drill we do involves working on the clock and setting a tempo for the arms to get used to running fast without putting stress on the legs. What we are trying to do is train the arms to keep up with the legs. The lower body carries around our weight all day, it's used to it. When people are really tired, they have the tendency to bend over because the upper body is not used to that kind of action, so you have to train your arms to get used to that.
"A great example of all of this is Joey Galloway, who has unbelievable speed. His age and the fact that he is still one of the most explosive players in the NFL shows the importance of technique. His technique is flawless, it's impeccable. He spends a lot of time in the offseason training the details. Tanard Jackson has tremendous speed. He knows how to fly in close space. Gaines Adams is a big guy that can run very quick and he's very explosive.
"In the end, the only way you are going to get better at running, and get faster, is to run. But you can't just run – you have to run with a purpose. You work on your arm sprints and your knee kicks, work on one each day and at the end of the week put it all together."