Have you ever wondered what it would be like to train like a professional football player?
Kevin Dunn, Owner & CEO of TEST Football Academy, is your go-to guy.
TEST is a premier facility in the NY/NJ tristate area. They have trained the likes of Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, Top 5 Pick Patrick Peterson, Superbowl Champ Duron Harmon, and over 220 others that have earned a professional career in the NFL with 91 currently active players on 29 of 32 teams.
Kevin's approach is to build a comprehensive program around individuals' needs, no matter the sport or fitness goals. He even incorporates yoga and other stretches into the regimens.
Kevin joins host Lisa Davis to discuss what TEST does, his favorite types of workouts, and some sound nutritional advice.
NFL Combine Conditioning: Train Like a Pro with Kevin Dunn
Lisa Davis (Host): Hi, I’m Lisa Davis. So glad you’re listening to Talk Fitness Today, and I am super excited to have the fantastic Kevin Dunn. We’re going to be talking all about NFL Combine Training. Hello, Kevin, welcome to Talk Fitness Today.
Kevin Dunn (Guest): Thanks, Lisa. How are you?
Lisa: I’m good, how are you doing?
Kevin: I’m doing really well. I’m just looking forward to sharing some knowledge. I’m excited about being on the air.
Lisa: Yeah, excited to have you. Okay, so you are with TEST Football Academy. It’s a Premier Facility in the New York, New Jersey tri-state areas. You’ve trained the likes of Super Bowl MVP, Joe Flacco, Top Five Pick, Patrick Peterson, Super Bowl Champ, Duron Harmon, and over 220 others. That is really, really cool. How did you get into this work?
Kevin: It started about 13 years ago. We started working with an agent, actually, that had a similar personal interest in our kids, actually – our actual children. I have a son with autism. He had, also a son with autism. We just hit it off, and he knew that we were involved in training athletes and getting guys – all athletes, at all levels, in all sports prepared for their main event, whether that be off-season, in-season, pre-season. We had a love and passion for football and were interested in getting involved in the Combine business, and one thing led to another.
He signed his first class – he had four players in their very first class. We had four players in our very first year, thirteen years ago. We had four athletes involved in the program, and three of them ended up signing contracts on NFL teams. Pretty remarkable results – the guys that were involved, two of them are still involved with us to this day. One of them is actually our Director of Football Operations, Geir Gudmundsen. A lot of great history there. We’ve learned a ton over the last – over a decade of working with some of the best athletes in the country. It’s been a privilege working with them.
Lisa: Oh, that’s fantastic. You know, I have a daughter on the autism spectrum? We’ll have to talk after the show at some point about that, as well.
Kevin: There you go [LAUGHTER]
Lisa: Lots to talk about. I want to jump into this because you’ve got workouts that you’re doing, you’ve got nutrition, you’re looking at body composition. Let’s start with workouts. Give us some examples of what people are doing when they come to you at TEST Football Academy.
Kevin: Yeah, sure. The biggest impact that we have when we work with people is – it’s important to know where they’re at from a functional standpoint. I would love to have the opportunity to work with someone and know where their baseline measurements are. We put people through what’s called a functional movement screen. It’s seven different tests that basically screen for any asymmetries or dysfunctions in the movement pattern. We try to clean those up right away. That’s one of the first things that we do upon their evaluation.
Taking someone from that to giving them the correct prescription of exercises that will help rebuild the foundation that some of these athletes really have not focused on as much throughout their career. Building strength, and power, and explosiveness are obviously big markers, but without – if you’re trying to build those on a foundation of sand, it’s just a recipe for a catastrophe at some level. Non-contact injuries are still a big issue in all sports, not just football. You see it all the time with ACL tears, and more prevalent in female athletes, but those are some things that we can identify right away, and once we have that clear foundation of rebuilding and restructuring their movements, and we know that they can squat with a wooden dowel over their head in a proper way, then we can start to add resistance to those movements and feel comfortable knowing that the movements that we are strengthening are ones that are correct, versus trying to compensate with other muscle groups or other movements that may push them through the movement, but they’re not recruiting their body in a way that could be as efficient as possible.
Lisa: It sounds like you work with people where they’re at in terms of if somebody doesn’t have the baseline that they need to be able to add weight to that squat, you’re going to work to get them there. Whereas, if somebody already can add a lot of weight or can do more explosive movements, you’re going to work with them in that capacity?
Kevin: Yeah, we try to find the weakest link in the chain and identify what that is – whether that be flexibility, mobility, strength, power – power output is not just the force that you produce, but the speed at which you produce that force. We’ve got to make sure that we identify what that weak link is and either strengthen the weaker athlete or add explosiveness to the – maybe the stronger athlete just doesn’t have the same explosive power output. Those are all components setting the foundation on how we proceed in program design and progression in terms of what movements they can do, what things we need to work on, what corrections we need to work on, and then make sure that we’re progressing those movements down the road as things get more and more challenging.
Lisa: Now, what workouts do you use actually to produce that explosive movement?
Kevin: Power is defined as moving any resistance as fast as you can --
Kevin: A lot of times when we think power exercises, we go right to powerlifting because powerlifting is an event, not an actual sport. Clean jerks, snatches, those types of movements can all be found under the power umbrella. At the same time, we can take a six or eight-pound medicine ball and focus on rotational power and get a similar result.
For people that play golf or play tennis, there’s no more than the weight of the racket or the weight of the club head that they’re swinging through, but they’re incredibly explosive athletes because they are producing force but more importantly, they’re producing speed. Force time velocity is the definition of power output, so you’ve got to pick and choose what your sport is, and what each position at that sport is, and then appropriately design a program that is going to help that particular athlete excel at their position in their sport.
Lisa: That makes sense. Now, what about something like Yoga in terms of strengthening and stretching as an adjunct to the more powerful moves?
Kevin: Yeah, that’s actually a critical component. When we have guys that are coming in focusing on those types of things. Even in the beginning of all of our workouts, we do a series called movement preparation where a lot of those movements are Yoga based. We just call it movement prep because it sounds cooler to an athlete.
Lisa: [LAUGHTER] It does sound cool. I’ve got to try that.
Kevin: Things like the world’s greatest stretch is basically a Yoga movement. On Wednesdays, we have a regen day – on Wednesdays and Sundays. It’s all about regeneration where we’re doing Yoga movements; we’re doing flexibility, we’re doing foam rolling – focused on to try to lengthen the muscle before we strengthen it. You want to try to loosen up the knots, take the knots out to create more length in the muscle. That will help with any areas where we’re applying too much force on a tendon where some tendonitis starts to creep in. Yoga is definitely a preventative tool for us to help focus on that flexibility, focus on regeneration.
We’ve got hot and cold tubs here where we do contrast baths that vasoconstrict and vasodilate at the capillary level to bring in all of the fresh Oxygen, nutrients, and everything the muscle needs to repair itself and flushes out all of the swelling and edema that was there from the damage of the workout. Every aspect and every component of trying to get the body to heal as quickly as possible is critical because we’ve got guys that are in here, working out, training six days a week – sometimes 22 hours a week and burning 22,000 calories. If you’re an --.
Kevin: Offensive lineman from Alabama. Their workload is very high.
Lisa: My IT bands get super tight, and – do you use a foam roller for things like that, as well?
Kevin: Yeah, they make Vibra Foam Rollers, too. We have Power Plates here that we actually recommend that our athletes roll out on the Power Plate.
Lisa: Oh, I should try that.
Kevin: The Power Plate will actually vibrate at any frequency you set it at. Vibration does a really good job at trying to untie the knots, so to speak, either in a muscle or a tendinous sheath like your IT band. There’s certain ways to roll through an IT band bump, right? I’m sure everybody has those lumps and bumps along – you basically need to find that knot, roll on it, and be on top of it, and just hold it there. Take a deep breath, exhale, and literally try to let the knot sink into the roller instead of rolling back and forth on it and letting the knot slip back and forth with the foam roller because you’re just going to irritate an already irritated muscle or area of the muscle. The other thing you could do --
Lisa: That’s what I’ve heard. It can hurt like hell, too, but it’s worth it [LAUGHTER].
Kevin: Oh, my God, it can be very painful.
Lisa: It’s so painful.
Kevin: Once you find that spot, and that’s why it’s hard to stay on it. The other thing – if you go one joint above and understand that the IT band originates with the TFL and the Glut Max, so there may be some tightness in your TFL or your Glut Max. Trying to roll those areas out, as well, might take the pressure off of the IT band and get some relief along that same side. That would be another bullet in the arsenal to try to relieve your pain from that. The IT band is great for preventing any injuries – it helps support the knee because it does cross the knee joint laterally – on the lateral side. Glut Max, TFL, IT band, crosses the knee, helps to support the knee and stabilize the knee, and helps hold it in place – also a big thing for ACL tears, as well. It’s nice to have that support along the knee.
Lisa: Now, Kevin, before we move to nutrition, is there anything you wanted to add about workouts?
Kevin: The conditioning side is pretty incredible. We’ve got a system – we actually use a system called My Zone where every player or athletes that comes in, we hook them up to this heart rate monitor. We’ve got a 60-inch flat screen out on our turf area, and literally, every athlete can see what their heart rate is at any given moment in the workout. The nice thing about that is when we do our conditioning sessions; each athlete will start when their heart rate starts dropping below 85%, which is typically where their anaerobic threshold is. As soon as they drop under 85%, we have them start up again, or they do their next sprint. That keeps them in an anaerobic zone, but it also allows them enough recovery time between sets to make sure that we’re maximizing – looking at the heart as a muscle and when it’s fatigued, it’s going to take a lot longer for that muscle to recover to get back down underneath of that anaerobic threshold.
What that helps us do is prevent over training. It helps us identify guys that may either be sleep deprived or have issues with – let’s say, some kind of medication or stress or things that are affecting or impacting their resting heart rate. As a coach, if I’ve got 20 or 30 guys on the field knowing during the warm up somebody’s heart rate is already over 80%, then something is going on with that athlete, so I know that I need to back off of the volume rather than just have a “pick at it” approach from a coaching standpoint to push a guy through something that he’s not ready to be pushed through something that he’s not ready to be pushed through and risking an injury in someone who may be an NFL athlete earning a half a million dollars a year in salary.
That’s the kind of approach we take with it because they’re only got six to eight weeks before they test for their – they go, and they do their body composition. They’re going through these seven drills – they’ve got to run a 40-yard dash, run a 5-10-5, do a three-cone drill, any one of those – bench 225 as many times as they can. They literally are poked and prodded like a – it’s like people buying horses at a horse race. It’s literally very similar to that. It’s looking for any reason not to pay a guy or not to hire a guy because they are spending a lot of money on these players.
Lisa: I bet. I just wanted to mention WhatsGoodbyVi.com. If you’re looking for expert health and fitness tips, you can trust, plus inspirational stories of mental and physical transformation, What’s Good is your new favorite spot online. On the road to becoming your best self, swing by WhatsGoodbyVi.com for some helpful pointers. All right, Kevin, let’s jump into nutrition. What are these gentlemen eating?
Kevin: One of the most important things that we do from a service side is to be able to provide a turn-key system for nutrition. There’s really two organizations that I lean on pretty heavily to provide that. Calorie counts are critical. Making sure that the right protein, carbohydrates, and fats that they’re getting are replenishing all of the calories necessary to make sure that they can recover as quickly as possible.
Icon Meals has been tremendous. They basically deliver their meals directly to us, and we just hand those out. The guys can order – on a menu of 20 meals, they’re getting lunch and dinner six days a week from us. We can sit with them and talk to them about calories, talk to them about breakdown, and literally educate them on a weekly basis on what they should be eating, how many calories they should be having. They all know exactly how many calories they’re burning because of their heart rate monitors. It also calculates calorie burn, average effort, all of that good stuff. They have an app that says – these are the calories that you’ve burned today, so we want to make sure that we’re replenishing those for the guys that are trying to gain weight, lose weight, lean out. Those are all real specific goals when we go through their evaluation, so that’s been great.
The product that we’ve used from a nutrition supplementation standpoint as been exclusively through Inner Armor. They’ve been great partners for us, but they’re all being substance free, they’re all third-party tested, and to me, there’s no greater important factor than making sure the supplements that these guys are taking are not going to cause a red flag at the NFL Combine and cause them to enter in through a drug program. With that much on the line, you need to have something that you believe in that isn’t going to risk their employment opportunity in the NFL. All of their products are not only third-party tested, but I've also asked them to go through another agency – through the NFL, that the NFLPA supports. It’s called AegisShield. Literally, you can go into any vitamin shop or any store out there and use their barcode scanner and scan the product, and there will be a nice, big, green checkmark on every Inner Armor product that is out there – meaning that it’s preapproved by the NFLPA.
Lisa: Oh, that’s awesome.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s an excellent resource for players and agents knowing that certain brands have taken that extra step to make sure that they’ve got what it takes – they’ve got some powerful products in there, but it’s not going to risk their career. But then we just look at – again, what their needs are. If someone’s trying to put weight on, we just calculate how many calories are in each one of the products. The Lean Mass Peak has been pretty tremendous – that’s our post-workout shake. They’ve got a 2 to 1 carb to protein ratio. We want to replenish all of the carbohydrates they’ve just burned through the workout.
The protein sources that have been amazing really across the board for not only our NFL players but also female athletes, soccer players, lacrosse players, field hockey players, they’ve loved it. It’s their new – Isolate Zero. It’s like a protein water with zero carbs, and twenty grams of protein, with 20 ounces of water.
Lisa: Oh, wow.
Kevin: Yeah, it literally tastes like Crystal Light.
Lisa: Oh, my gosh [LAUGHTER].
Kevin: And they’ve got some great flavors, and they mix it up. There are a lot of athletes that are out there – they’re trying to drink a gallon of water a day, and literally, this is water and protein. If you’re trying to hit your macronutrient goals and have enough protein, that doesn’t have that heavy shake consistency that can fill you up. All of our female athletes are loving this stuff. They sip it throughout the day, and they get the same protein that they need in an isolate form, which is one of the best whey proteins that are out there.
Lisa: Kevin, what was the name of this again? I want to get this. The drink you’re talking about?
Kevin: Yeah, it called Isolate Zero. Inner Armor developed it literally recently, just this year. It’s one of their newest products out. It’s an isolate whey. It’s a protein water. People have hydration goals throughout the day – our athletes do. I know they’re drinking a gallon a gallon to a gallon and a half of water a day depending on their weight, and size, and what their goals are. Hydration wise – they can literally kill two birds with one stone, hitting their hydration goals with 20 ounces of water for every 20 grams of protein.
That’s been a tremendous resource for us, not only our male athletes that are trying to hit their macronutrient goal with protein but also our female athletes – soccer players, field hockey players, lacrosse players. They can also hit their protein goal without going over on their carbohydrate goal. I know a lot of people fear carbohydrates because everybody’s trying to lean out. The reality is carbohydrates are protein sparing, and protein is a building block of muscle. We want to make sure that you are getting enough carbohydrates in post-workout. Throughout the rest of the day, are you – on your nutrition side, are you getting enough protein in?
And that seems to be – especially with female athletes because they fill up on those shakes. They just
feel the bloat. This Isolate Zero stuff is probably the greatest one of the greatest breakthroughs – I feel like – on the nutrition side because they can hit their protein goals without feeling that bloat.
Lisa: That’s fantastic. I’m so glad you mention women athletes because when I asked the question, I asked about the gentlemen because I had football on the brain. I would love for you to come back and just talk about women athletes, women’s needs, a woman’s protein, all that nutritional – because the time goes so fast. Before I let you go, I just want to ask you a couple of personal questions. What is your favorite exercise?
Kevin: Wow, favorite exercise? Probably the bench because I’m really good at it. I have short arms [LAUGHTER].
Lisa: I’m like an orangutan, I’m totally opposite.
Kevin: I’m more on the five-six side – five-seven, so I’m on the shorter side – I’ve got short arms, but I can bench. That, I’m pretty proud of.
Lisa: Cool. That’s awesome. Now, what’s the most important thing you do every day for optimum health?
Kevin: I think – nutritionally, I think it’s a big – it’s probably the most important thing you could do. As undervalued it is as a younger athlete because you feel like you can eat anything and you’re invincible, I think the older you get, the more you feel – you just feel the energy drain. You don’t have the same juice you had when you were in your 20s. I’m in my 40s now and have been in this industry for 20 years, so I can see how my own body has changed and how much more I respect the nutrition side of what we do. You cannot out-train a bad diet. You have to make sure that you’re eating the right things in order to see results from a body composition improvement. I think that’s probably the biggest goal that’s out there.
I think from a female athlete or women’s standpoint; resistance training is not going to turn you into a bodybuilder overnight. I think that’s something that’s a misconception. The type of training that you do from a resistance training standpoint will actually help increase your basal metabolic rate – you’re burning more calories at rest. Carbohydrates are good for you after a workout, so you can replenish that – so your body doesn’t break down the muscle that you just worked so hard to build. Repair and recovery are just as important, if not more important than the actual workout and the damage that you do. Those are all big, key components that I know from a nutrition standpoint – the longer that I’m in this industry, the more results I see when the nutrition side is really taken seriously and that many times more seriously than the actual workout.
Lisa: Oh, I agree. Now, the last question. What’s in your gym bag?
Kevin: What’s in my gym bag right now?
Kevin: Underwear [LAUGHTER], socks. Let’s see, what else do I have in here? You’re talking like a travel bag for when I travel or what I take with me or --?
Lisa: No, just if you're going to the gym. Some people have a jump rope or water or maybe free weights, any of that kind of stuff.
Kevin: Oh, that stuff. Smelly T-shirt, probably a dirty diaper in there somewhere from my kids.
Lisa: You’ve had the best answer so far, Kevin. That’s awesome. We have to wrap up, so when you come back next time, we will dive into that. I want to talk about women athletes. I think that would be great. Kevin, in the meantime, tell us all the ways that we can learn more about you and all of your great work?
Kevin: Sure. We’re in New Jersey. We have a 24,000-square-foot facility that’s really state-of-the-art. We have everything you need under the sun. We’ve got physical therapy, sports psychology, chiropractics, Pilates, spin studio. We’re really doing everything we can to be a one-stop-shop for people. You can find our more information about us at www.TESTSportsClubs.com. You can also find out more about our football academy at TESTFootballAcademy.com. Our phone number is 732-271-1000.
Lisa: Fantastic, Kevin. I can’t wait to have you back on Talk Fitness Today. I want to thank everyone for listening. This is your source for all things fitness. Thank you, so much for listening. Follow us on Twitter at TalkHealthy2Day. Have a great day, and stay well.
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