Given Ryan Flaherty’s reputation as one of the most tech-savvy trainers at the highest level of professional sports—a soft-spoken metrics whiz who once pocketed $2,000 off Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel for correctly predicting the quarterback’s 40-yard dash time down to a tenth of a second—I expected to see a much cooler gym setup from him.
After all, when the owner of Prolific Athletes, based in Carlsbad, CA, isn’t training the NCAA’s top football prospects for the NFL combine—the league’s yearly predraft data fest measuring all things strength, speed, jumping, and agility—Flaherty is drawing up quant-based workout programs for tennis superstar Serena Williams, Bayern Munich midfielder Mario Götze (who scored the deciding goal for Germany in the 2014 World Cup final), USA Rugby speedster Carlin Isles, and countless Major League Baseball players and USA Track & Field Olympic athletes. This is the guy who once told a reporter that, when he watches athletes play, he “sees in numbers” only, as if he looks past their flesh and directly into their biological machinery.
So when I arrive at Flaherty’s latest ultra-exclusive six-week NFL combine camp one chilly January morning in San Juan Capistrano, CA, I’m surprised to discover no million-dollar bio-monitors with electrodes sprouting off athletes in gleaming, full-body supersuits, no glowing screens flashing columns of numbers that pour down ad infinitum. Nor is there any space-age machinery scattered about, processing heart rates, speed, acceleration, intensity, or power figures.
Frankly, I’m not certain I even see a Fitbit.
It’s just your standard gym where guys are lifting free weights and running sprints while listening to music. And had those guys not been top NCAA prospects, like quarterbacks Jared Goff of the University of California and North Dakota State’s standout Carson Wentz (who “took the NFL combine by storm” and may be “the biggest star” of this year’s NFL draft, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King would later write), I would’ve thought I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up at some high school’s early-ball conditioning session.
But no, I’m in the right place. And as I learn, Flaherty is even more obsessed with quantitative analysis than I’d previously thought. He just doesn’t need sci-fi equipment to gather his data, and his workout philosophy and training process are so disarmingly simple and effective, it’s hard to believe.
Over several years of refining his approach to helping star athletes build power, explosiveness, and speed, he has developed a proprietary formula that yields a single crucial metric that informs everything he does.
He calls it the “Force Number.”
(Trainer Ryan Flaherty watches linebacker Reggie Northrup from Florida State.)
With that one piece of data, he says, he can predict with 99% accuracy “any athlete’s 40-yard dash, vertical leap, even a 10K run time.” What’s more, improving an athlete’s number is not only possible, it’s also largely accomplished with the help of a single hardcore power lift. (More on that later.)
So if you’re an aspiring professional athlete looking to take your body to the next level—and, say, sprint like DeSean Jackson, jump like Julio Jones, or explode off the line like J.J. Watt—you pay Flaherty upward of $20,000 for one of 12 spots at his camp to learn your figure and improve it.
Yes, it sounds pretty cool, like some crazy stuff straight out of Star Wars. But unlike that metaphysical force, Flaherty’s number actually exists. Believe me, I know.
I’m here because he’s going to tell me mine.