The NFL Combine. One week of poking, prodding, and testing potential talent from head to toe – not just figuratively but also literally. Cognitive tests, personality tests, and the head-to-toe medical evaluation.

We are not privy to any of these of course, but we do see the on-field skills and drills and athletic performance tests which are now televised on the NFL Network.

Like the Olympics and the 100m dash, there is one event that captivates us during the Combine – the 40 yard dash. Humans love speed.

In the past month or so, NFL hopefuls are not the only one’s focusing on racing the clock. Across America, college and high school football players have been participating in off-season winter workouts with many focusing on developing speed. In this quest to #MakeSpeedHappen here are a couple of important questions – What are the keys to getting faster in the 40-yard dash? And how are strength & conditioning coaches and sports scientists designing programs to improve linear sprinting speed?

To gain some insight into these questions, we sat down with Ryan Phillis. Ryan provides a unique lens on “football fast” having played at Indiana and since serving as a strength & conditioning coach at Mississippi State, Virginia, Purdue, and now Louisville.

What is your general approach to speed development in football?

Speed development in football, or sport in general, doesn’t come solely from sprinting on the field; however, that is a vital component. My approach combines and couples sprinting on the field with work in the weight room.

For instance, if we are focusing on Acceleration on the field, we are programming for force production in the weight room. When we focus on Max Velocity on the field, then we are working rate of force development in the weight room with explosive strength movements, including monitoring with velocity-based technology.

This approach also goes hand-in-hand with our plyometric work as well. Plyos on an Acceleration day focus on horizontal force production – e.g., broad jumps. And days that Max Velocity are the focus, plyos will be based around Rate of Force Development in the vertical plane of movement – e.g., continuous hurdle hops and drop jumps.


Speed Component

Strength Training



Force Production

Horizontal focus: Broad Jumps

Maximal Velocity

Rate of Force Development

Vertical focus: Hurdle hops, drop jumps

With all that being said, my general approach to speed development in football is to dial-in an athletes Force-Velocity curve, since Force x Velocity = Power, and try to continually move it up and to the right to produce more and more power.

How are you using the 1080 Sprint to develop speed?

To start, I spent time getting to know and understand how Dr. Matt Rhea and Les Spellman used and implemented the 1080 Sprint in their training programs.


Thus far, my use of the 1080 Sprint for football has been based on  Light Resistance and Heavy Resistance settings for Max Velocity and Acceleration, respectively.

On Light Resistance (Max Velocity) days, we will use a load that corresponds to roughly 10% velocity decrement. On Heavy Resistance (Acceleration) days, we take what’s considered the athletes “optimal load” based on the research by JB Morin and Matt Cross that shows that such loads improve horizontal force production during sprinting.

To determine an accurate “optimal load” for an athlete, you take anywhere between 48-52% of an athlete’s max velocity with 50% being the mid-point for maximum power. For example, if an athlete’s max velocity is 8 m/s, the 50% max velocity decrement will be 4 m/s. So, I will train that athlete with a load that gets him to 4 m/s.

One important note to make is that while training with the 1080 Sprint, we always pair a resisted sprint with an unresisted sprint. In addition, we always couple our speed training with strength and power development in the weight room. We use a “bucket system” to individual training prescriptions. These “buckets” listed below are based on data collected from force plates and other testing modalities like VBT power outputs and the 1080 data.

Bucket 1: Volume. The focus is on higher training volume in the weight room to increase muscle mass.

Bucket 2: Strength. These athletes are simply not strong enough to compete at this level.

Bucket 3: Power/Rate of Force Development. These athletes are strong but slow. They need to improve their ability to apply force quickly.

Using this system also informs us how to apply the 1080 Sprint speed training appropriately as well.

Bucket / Group

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3


Light Resistance/Max Velocity

Heavy Resistance/Acceleration

Heavy Resistance/Acceleration


Light Resistance/Max Velocity

Heavy Resistance/Acceleration

Heavy Resistance/Acceleration


Light Resistance/

Max Velocity

Light Resistance/

Max Velocity

Heavy Resistance/



What is your approach for preparing athletes for the NFL Combine 40yd dash?

First, using data and evaluation I bucket them as described above. I have found since these athletes have a high training age (3+ years of collegiate strength & conditioning), they usually land in the RFD/Power bucket. For the sake of Combine training, I refer to this as the “Neuro” bucket since I do overspeed training with them.

Since these guys will be coming out of the season or an extended break, the first couple weeks of training are composed of tempo runs and general work capacity. During this initial period, I also take the time to teach the details of starting, acceleration and sprinting technique. We will also get a baseline measurement of Max Velocity on the 1080 Sprint so I can use that measurement for their 6-week overspeed training protocol. Training speeds for this period will start at Max Velocity + 5% [e.g., for an athlete with 20mph Max Velocity = 20mph + (20mph * .05) = 21mph], and then increase 5% every 2 weeks. It is important to mention that this protocol is based on the individual athlete’s ability to handle the stimulus. Some athletes can’t handle this stress so they might stay at 10%. In addition, there is an incremental adjustment up to 10% as well. If an athlete hits 5% for a few reps, I will attempt a rep at 7-8% above Vmax and then push up to 10%. Again, this is all based on the capacity of each athlete to perform in a safe and technically sound manner.




Work Capacity; Tempos; Teaching technique Baseline assessment


Max Velocity + 5%


Max Velocity + 10%


Max Velocity + 15%

* Note: These incremental changes in %Vmax are based on the capacity of each athlete to perform in a technically sound manner.

Since these athletes usually fall into the Neuro bucket their weekly program is set up as such:



Lower body power lift + 1080 overspeed sprints


Training Focus


Upper lift with dynamic coordination, lower body plyometrics + 1080 Light Resistance (10% Velocity Decrement) sprints


Recovery Day


Upper body lift and lower body power lift + 1080 overspeed sprints


Heavy Resistance Accelerations followed by lower body strength training

* Note: The lower body power lift prior to overspeed training is based on the work of Dr. Matt Rhea.


Of course, continual monitoring of data allows for adjustments to be made during the training program. Is the athlete falling off in Acceleration? Max Velocity? Does he need more overspeed training? For example, one athlete was having trouble with Acceleration so instead of overspeed twice a week and light resistance running and heavy resistance running once a week, I adjusted to heavy resistance running twice a week to focus more on force production and acceleration.

Ryan Phillis is an Assistant Coach at the University of Louisville. Previously Assistant Coach at Purdue University working with football athletes.