Since 1999, EXOS has prepared 105 players for the NFL combine who went on to become first-round draft picks, including seven No. 1 overall selections. This year EXOS again is training more than 100 prospects at its training centers in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas.
The NFL hopefuls will spend six weeks at EXOS facilities preparing for every aspect of the combine: physical tests such as the 40-yard dash and the 225-pound bench press, along with interviews with team officials. Since they’ll be weighed, measured, poked, and prodded, they must be in the best physical shape of their lives as well.
Shaq Thompson from the University of Washington has high expectations heading into the combine in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium from Feb. 17-23, spending the next six weeks training at the EXOS facility in San Diego at SKLZ headquarters. Known for his athleticism — he played on both sides of the ball for the Huskies — he’ll nonetheless find, like all EXOS trainees, that there’s always room to improve when it comes to running technique, speed, and power.
Melvin Gordon from the University of Wisconsin arrived one week later than most of the combine athletes, but has just as much work to do to prepare. While Gordon achieved great success as running back for the Badgers — earning numerous awards and breaking the FBS single game rushing yardage record, running 408 yards against Nebraska — he will also be challenged to make improvements in his technique and power.
Here is a look of what a typical week looks like for Gordon, Thompson and their fellow NFL hopefuls at EXOS leading up to the combine.
The athletes begin their day with a 7 a.m. breakfast at their hotel just 100 yards from EXOS and the SKLZ headquarters. To reach their body composition goals, they work with dietitian Jill Olson to choose the best food to fuel themselves for optimal performance.
The training portion of the day begins at 8 a.m. and Monday’s session focuses on linear speed, specifically starting strength for the 40-yard dash, perhaps the test most associated with the combine.
At 9 a.m., the athletes work on total-body power (a combination of strength and speed) with Olympic lifting. As the training progresses, the Olympic lifting changes to plyometrics, which focus more on developing explosive power. After about 90 minutes of training, the athletes drink a post-workout shake to jumpstart recovery.
Lunch (noon to 1 p.m.), served in the athlete lounge, is a key component to the combine training program and even athletes who had nutritionists available in college find there’s much to improve upon. The menu changes each day, but Gordon, Thompson and their colleagues will work with Olson to choose the appropriate foods and serving sizes to stay on track toward their goals. Some athletes might be trying to gain weight, others to lose pounds, but everyone is looking to specific body composition goals.
Once lunch has settled, Gordon, Thompson and their fellow EXOS trainees start the afternoon session at 1:30 p.m. with Movement Preparation. They then spend time refining and reinforcing their starting techniques for the 40-yard dash. At 2 p.m. they head for the weight room, where the focus is on lower-body strength and mobility. Primary movements include front squats, Romanian deadlifts, and the quad hip flexor stretch – half kneeling.
After an hour lifting in the weight room with the other athletes, Gordon and Thompson will spend an hour individually with the physical therapist to be proactive on the overall health of his soft tissue and joint mobility and stability. These sessions can vary as athletes arrive with different issues and ailments after a long college season — longer for those who participated in conference title games, bowls, and the new four-team playoff.
Dinner is served at 5 o’clock in the athlete lounge, where players can reflect on the day’s training session that focused on linear speed and preparing for the 40-yard dash. Camaraderie quickly develops among EXOS training classes, even though many played on rival teams in college and those at the same position are competing ultimately for draft position.
After breakfast at the hotel, Gordon, Thompson and the others begin the day at 8 a.m. focusing on the corrective exercises they’ve been given him based on their Functional Movement Screen scores. As the name suggests, this screen scores functional movement and identifies areas needed for improvement. These corrective exercises are a combination of soft tissue, mobility, and stability movements.
At 8:30 a.m., the athletes move to the weight room, where today’s session emphasizes upper-body strength. After an hour in the weight room, they grab a recovery shake and head to the physical therapy area to work with a therapist for an hour.
Part of the NFL combine evaluation includes position-specific work in front of NFL scouts. For Thompson that means the way he moves as a linebacker. To prepare for those drills, Thompson and the other linebackers in the combine class work at a local football field with a former NFL coach on what they’ll be asked to do in Indianapolis. This lasts from 11:30 to 12:45 p.m.
After lunch at EXOS from 1 to 1:30 p.m., it’s back to work with Movement Preparation on the EXOS field prior to a multidirectional speed session. The athletes will spend an hour working on movement efficiency, undergoing techniques, such as crossover drills, that prepare them for the Pro Agility portion of the combine.
After the multidirectional session, the players head to the weight room to complete an upper-body metabolic session. This session is designed specifically for each player’s body composition goal, which can include gaining lean muscle mass or losing body fat. Following this session in the weight room, the athletes grab their post-workout recovery shakes and will relax until dinner is served again at 4 p.m.
After breakfast Gordon and Thompson mentally prepare for their second linear speed session of the week. Today’s emphasis isn’t on acceleration but absolute speed, a critical component to running the best 40-yard dash of their lives.
A common tool for working on absolute speed is the SKLZ SpeedSac.
At 9 a.m. the group works on single-leg plyometrics to complement the speed work.
At 9:30 a.m., Gordon and Thompson meet with the physical therapist for an hour to check the health of their bodies. After a post-workout recovery shake, they head to the local football field to work with their respective position coaches until lunch is served in the athlete lounge at 1 p.m.
Since Wednesdays are recovery days in the EXOS Combine Preparation program, athletes embark at 2 p.m. on a 90-minute regeneration session that includes soft tissue work, maintaining mobility, and low-intensity cardio on the bike or treadmill. Recovery not only is essential for keeping an athlete’s body at 100 percent; it’s the key to performing well in the next training session.
After a player meeting with Brent Callaway and Roy Holmes, the EXOS coaches leading the combine training, dinner is served at 5:30 p.m.
Today follows the same schedule as Tuesday with one main difference. The multi-directional session has a different emphasis and focuses on cutting, lateral movement, and preparing technically for the 3-cone drill, the combine drill that measures multi-directional speed.
Friday mostly follows the same format and schedule as Monday. The difference is that the acceleration work places more of a focus on starting strength and force production in the acceleration phase of the 40-yard dash. This is done by using sleds and harnesses.
Like Wednesday, Saturday is something of a recovery day with only the morning dedicated to training. After Movement Prep, the weight room session focuses on a little friendly competition among the athletes as they work to keep building momentum in their training and improving their bench press, one of the signature tests at the combine. Saturdays also can include film sessions and preparing for the combine interview.
Although each player has the day off from coming into the EXOS facility, this day is still as important as any other. It allows them to visualize the technical speed work ahead on Monday. Athletes should stay within the guidelines of their meal plan and take some time to improve the quality of soft tissue using the SKLZ Massage Bar while relaxing in the hotel suite.
All-in-all, the athletes spend 40-45 hours training. EXOS Strength and Speed Coach Brent Callaway breaks down the week as follows:
Cody Carter Cody has spent the last 10 years coaching athletes at the youth, high school, competitive, collegiate and professional levels. During that time he has learned from and developed close relationships with some of the best performance specialists in the world. Growing up, he played football, basketball and ran track. He didn't specialize in one sport until college, where he chose to run track as a sprinter and high hurdler for Iowa State University. He has spent his entire performance coaching career in Southern California where he is now a Manager for the EXOS Performance Innovation Team. Now based at SKLZ Headquarters, directly above the EXOS San Diego facility, Cody is able to jump in for the occasional hands-on athlete training session. View all posts by Cody Carter