The Science of Speed: How Jamal Liggin Gets Even More Out of the World’s Best Athletes
An NFL game goes by in a blur – literally. Simply watching on TV doesn’t do the demonstrations of sprinting speed, jumping ability, and lateral quickness that take place over four 15-minute quarters justice. And yet, even the world’s best athletes have room for improvement. And there’s one name that’s on speed dial to help them become even better: Jamal Liggin.
Over the past 10 years, the LA-based coach has not only created a highly regarded off-season program that has produced many first-round draft picks, but also become the go-to guy for many established NFL players looking to take their careers to even greater heights. On the other end of the development spectrum, Jamal and his team of inter-disciplinary experts at his company, JLT, also help high school players fulfill their potential. He also works with Nike as a performance coach and consultant who devises programming for Nike Football and Nike Training camps and other events.
When he took a few minutes to talk to us recently, Jamal – who’s the newest addition to the Momentous roster – had just finished the final day of such a camp in SoCal, having also completed recent camps in Dallas and Florida. “The work that these kids are about to do is something that makes every single one of my NFL clients say, ‘I wish I would have known Jamal in high school’ because it would have just elevated their game. Until they get to the professional level, they don’t fully understand why it’s important to have more control of their body composition, greater range of motion, or the ability to generate leverage.”
Seeing is Believing
In addition to taking high school phenoms through drills that develop top-end speed, agility, change of direction, and acceleration/deceleration, Jamal’s program is also noted for its inclusion of unique exercises that develop vision, awareness, and anticipation. Developed with his pro players, these drills are now trickling down to the next generation.
“For me to be able to show these kids what Odell [Beckham] is doing in his fifth year in the NFL while they’re still sophomores blows their minds,” Jamal said. “When I throw them 100 tennis balls and they only catch six, I encourage them by saying, ‘Well, Odell started at six, but that wasn’t until four years ago.’ Then they realize that they’re working with someone who trains a hundred NFL athletes every off-season and they’re starting the same drills eight years earlier.”
Speaking of the annual NFL break between February and July, Jamal has built a reputation for creating the most comprehensive off-season program around, in which he trains more NFL players than any other performance coach. It focuses on four main areas: speed, strength, nutrition, and recovery.
“The speed part is my foundation coming from a track and field base,” Jamal said. “The second component is strength. With a lot of programs, you go to the weight room and then go home. But I combine both – you’ll run, jump, and do whatever we need to do outside and then we'll go inside and knock out the strength work to complement the speed program. With the recovery aspect, athletes see the physical therapist I’ve hired, not just to work on injuries, but also to prevent them the next season. A lot of these guys aren't working on their hamstrings, or they're not doing ankle mobility. Last but not least, there’s the nutrition component – making sure players are eating well and getting the right supplements and vitamins before and after their workouts. The recovery and nutrition play a big role in what I do with them on the field.”
Many coaches break up their training with athletes into isolated chunks, but Jamal views the off-season, regular season, and playoffs as a single continuum and programs accordingly. To ensure his clients make the most of his expertise, he keeps the lines of communication open all year, so that he can identify problems proactively and provide immediate solutions.
“I keep in contact with my athletes throughout the whole year, and ask them the same three questions: What's going on with you? How are you doing? Do you need me to come out?” Jamal said. “When someone’s hamstring is bothering them in week 17, I need to know so I can do something about it. If you just look at what happens when you’re with them in the off-season, then you don’t really care about your clients. I try to take the big picture into account, because my defensive ends’ in-season program is a lot different from what my wide receivers do. They tend to have different issues, too – all my linebackers’ shoulders and hips are tight, while my receivers have sore calves and ankles. It just depends on the position. Every year there’s a new pattern that informs what I have them do in the next off-season and during the season so they can keep going strong.”
Though his off-season and in-season programming varies, one constant throughout Jamal’s entire client base is the need for good nutrition. However, this cannot follow a one-size-fits all blueprint, as every athlete is starting from a different baseline. This is where the nuance of Jamal’s coaching comes into play.
“You’ve got guys who are second or third string or free agents, and are going to do whatever it takes to make a roster,” Jamal said. “They're eating chicken breasts, rice, and salad every day and will do everything I tell them to. But then you have some guys who’ve already earned millions of dollars, and their attitude is that because they’ve made it, they can eat whatever they want. Depending on where somebody is in their career, I funnel them in one direction or another. I have to be realistic about where the athlete is and know how to meet them there. Otherwise, I’ll just be swimming upstream.”
A big part of Jamal’s nutrition program is making sure his athletes get sufficient protein at just the right time. This requires him and the other JLT coaches paying careful attention to both meal plans and pre- and post-workout nutrition to ensure that their clients are on the right track.
“I’ve worked at top performance centers all over the world, from London to Dubai to Tokyo,” Jamal said. “The one thing they all have in common is that someone is making the shakes and cooking the meals. They’re adding nutritional value. This shows the client that they care because they see it’s not just a case of ‘Work out, then go home’ – they actually want to make them a better athlete. With Momentous, there’s the same level of confidence. Parents know that their high school kid is going to get the right supplements. The college player knows that they're going to be treated right. The NFL athlete knows that they’ve got a shake coming when they work out. And I’ve got something that tastes great and helps my mental focus.”
Decoding the Matrix
While Jamal has made his name coaching high school, college, and pro football players, he also works with high level athletes across many other sports, from soccer to hockey to basketball, and beyond. There are obvious differences in the demands of each discipline, but Jamal has found a way to enhance the performance and longevity of all his athletes across the board.
“I coach functional movement – it’s all about examining the body from a biomechanical standpoint,” Jamal said. “It's amazing to see the explosive ability of my NBA guys and the endurance of my soccer players. Then you have hockey players whose lateral movement is so quick that it’s uncanny. It’s up to me to analyze, or decode, their movement patterns and help them build or maintain a platform that will keep them healthy and performing in their sport.”
Jamal has developed and refined protocols that have proven to be effective with thousands of athletes at every level over the past decade, yet he has come to realize that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription. And at the core of his tailored approach is getting to know them as people to not only assess their physical parameters, but also their motivation and responsibilities.
“The difference between me and a lot of trainers is that I want to understand the athlete before they even step into the weight room, on the turf, or onto the beach,” Jamal said. “To get the most out of my athletes requires me knowing more about their background, where they come from, and their financial obligations. I understand that what they're doing transcends their sport and I don't want to tell them, ‘We've got to get you your next contract!’ No, I want to understand that they’ve got their grandkids to take care of, their kid’s college tuition to worry about, or their mom's doctor bills to pay. It's so much bigger than training.”