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Techniques to Try if You Want To ...

Increase Speed

One of the best ways to increase your speed is by running 10-yard sprints, says Vince Gabriele, MS, owner of Gabriele Fitness and Performance in Berkeley Heights, N.J.

Gabriele, who has personally trained San Diego Chargers Luis Castillo and Quentin Jammer and New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson, says short sprints with full recoveries are a safe and effective way to improve speed. Start out with six sprints and gradually increase the number every few weeks. Give your body a chance to rest for about 60 seconds in between sprints. Keep changing your starting position -- standing with your feet wide, lying on your stomach, kneeling -- to improve your reactive ability and upper body strength.

NFL pros also lift weights to increase their speed. Olympic weightlifting techniques like the clean and jerk and snatch aren't just for bodybuilders. By lifting your maximum weight in short bursts, you'll not only build muscle, you'll also improve your power. "Olympic weightlifting teaches the body to be explosive and stimulates a large number of muscle fibers at a fast rate," Livingstone says.

"As a lineman, one of the best benefits of the Olympic lifts is it's going to give you an explosive first step," Griffin says. "When the ball is snapped, those first couple of steps can decide whether you're going to win or lose."

Even off the field, the quick, intense movements of Olympic lifting can help keep you faster on your toes.

Improve Flexibility

Stretching is the old standby for increasing flexibility, but you don't want to do it the old-fashioned way. Your high school gym teacher probably told you to hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, but experts say you'll actually reduce your performance and subject your muscles to micro-tears by doing static stretches before you're warmed up.

Research has found that stretching actively -- with lunges or squats -- is better for improving range of motion. Crocker starts his workouts with a series of dynamic stretches -- quick movements that stretch muscles. Save the static stretches for after your workout when your muscles are already loose. Only after he's finished a full routine does Crocker cool down with some light stretches.

Build Muscle

To improve your muscle tone, plan to hit the gym three to five times a week. Focus on the big muscle groups with exercises like squats and bench presses.

You don't need to lift as much weight as a football player to build muscle. At the peak of his NFL career, Griffin was bench pressing about 485 pounds. A more realistic goal if you're not a pro is probably in the range of 150 to 175 pounds, Griffin says.

Go for 1 to 3 sets of 6 to 15 reps each, but don't kill yourself. "Don't train to failure," Rubin advises. "When you get through with a set, know that you've got maybe two to three reps left in you." If you train too hard, it can take a week or more for your body to recover, he says.

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