An evidence–based evaluation of a benchmark exercise.
the nfl scouting combine, a wintertime rite of passage for student athletes dreaming of stardom on football’s biggest stage, consists of a series of trials meant to judge speed, strength, endurance and mental acuity. Those who do well, typically about two-thirds of invitees, will more often than not realize their dream of getting a call on draft day.
Among the more revealing tests is the 225-pound bench press, universally referred to by insiders as the “NFL-225.” It’s a simple, if grueling, gauge of players’ strength and endurance. Participants — backs on the bench, feet on the floor —lower a barbell loaded at 225 pounds to their chest, then fully extend their arms. No chest bounces or pauses of more than two seconds are allowed. They are instructed to repeat until “failure;” that is, the moment when they can lift no longer.
Helping aspiring athletes perform well on the NFL-225, and gain in strength generally, is the job of Bryan Mann, an assistant director of strength and conditioning for Mizzou Athletics.
Like a lot of professional trainers, Mann has long been interested in whether impressive results on tests like the NFL-225 should be attributed to true performance capability or just day-to-day variability.
If, for example, an athlete could temporarily amp up his lifting performance during the Scouting Combine, the predictive result of the NFL-225 would be significantly diminished.
“No one had investigated what actually constitutes a ‘worthwhile difference,’ which refers to a significant gain as a result of training rather than luck or a particularly good day in the weight room,” Mann says.
The hunt for answers involved off-season testing of 72 players from the nation’s top football schools. Athletes were then divided into groups by size and number of completed repetitions to ensure that the “smallest worthwhile difference” was not influenced by weight or overall strength. They were tested on the same day and at the same time, one week apart over a period of three weeks.
At the end of the testing period, Mann’s results yielded an important insight into the dependability of the NFL’s benchmark strength and endurance test. “We found that the NFL-225, a bench press assessment, is reliable in that athletes consistently get within one or two reps of previous performances when tested weekly, demonstrating that such frequent testing is unnecessary,” Mann says. For all groups, he adds, the smallest worthwhile difference was equal to an increase of three or more repetitions.
Collegiate football programs — both MU and its gridiron rivals — devote large amounts of resources to boosting players’ NFL-225 results. Mann says his study, published recently in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, could help everyone better judge training effectiveness.
“At Mizzou, we work to marry athletics and academics, so we try to use all available resources to base training procedures on scientific evidence,” he says. “Ultimately, we want to be the school that changes how strength and conditioning is done.”