Injuries In The NFL and How Poor Training Exacerbates This
Can proper training reduce the likelihood of injuries in athletes? Absolutely.
Can improper training lend itself to injury and prevent recovery in athletes? Unfortunately, yes.
The key word here though is proper.
There’s a stimulus, dose, tolerance, intended effect and actual effect. So while the stimulus (training) and intent (strength for example) may be appropriate, if you mishandle the dose and tolerance of the athlete, you’re in trouble. This is why I tend to believe in using the MED or minimum effective dose and leaving room for progression!
Whether or not you agree with all of Hans Seyle’s work, I would suggest reading into his general adaptation syndrome and how it might relate to training. If for nothing else it will allow you to view things from a different perspective.
Training is stress and everyone responds to stressors in their own way. Training can also have a tremendous effect on the central nervous system. Understanding how this effects recovery and adaptation is crucial in developing an optimal training program. If you neglect this and continue to blast the central nervous system your body will never achieve super-compensation as it will be too concerned with maintaining homeostasis. The goal of training an athlete is to expose them to the stimulus in such a way that they are able to positively adapt to it and improve their overall capacity and output.
Why So Many Injuries in the NFL?
Let’s take a look at the NFL and the injuries thus far through camp and the initial weeks of the season. First, there should be no debate as to why this is. Anyone who understands training and adaptation at a fundamental level will see that the system is flawed and broken.
Right before the start of training camp the players get a five week mandatory off period. Think about that for a moment. Right before they start full speed ahead at camp with two-a-days, meetings, training sessions ,etc. they are given five weeks to do whatever the hell they please.
We put athletes on a pedestal in this country because it makes for a better rhetoric but the truth is a lot of these guys are supremely gifted and attempt to do as little as possible to get by. Believe what you want but as someone who has been around tons of collegiate and professional athletes, it’s the truth. That does not mean that ALL players are like this.
However, there are tons of guys who take that five week period to vacation and then show up to camp completely out of shape. It’s not uncommon for players to come in overweight and having done literally zero physical activity in the weeks prior.
The first few days of camp start and before you know it hamstrings are being pulled and the soft tissue injuries pile up. Now, instead of preparing for the season, you are playing catch up. Mishandle the injury and it will linger throughout the season.
Decreased level of fitness/preparedness + rapid increase in exposure to high intensity components + improper implementation of training methods + inhibited recovery = increased risk of injury
This was further demonstrated in a recent study on soccer players using the GPS technology. To quote their findings, “periods of relative under-preparedness could potentially leave players unable to cope with intense bouts of high intensity efforts during competitive matches.”
So here’s the answer. Either change the current system and eliminate the 5 week dead zone period or reintroduce practice/training at a far slower and more gradual rate (neither will happen). All of the sports science technology is great and I’ve seen the GPS tracking live but what good is all of that information if you aren’t allowing it to influence what you’re doing?
This can be tough for some to accept at times because you may have athletes who encounter all of the above and make it through camp just fine. So it’s easy to chalk it up to guys being out of shape and not your program. Just like there are high school dropout millionaires, there are always exceptions to the rule.
At the same time, you can also do everything “right” and still have players experience injuries. It’s just a part of the game so to speak. However, in my opinion, far too many coaches just accept this and don’t put enough effort into trying to understand what could be done different. Is your program evolving based on what you see or are you just “keeping it old school” because “that’s what you’ve always done?”
Too Much Volume
In today’s world everyone is obsessed with strength and volume. Unfortunately, not all injuries are a result of low levels of strength. Usually during a season players will lose some mobility and experience larger than normal workloads.
They might see a slight drop in strength but I don’t believe this to be a huge issue. Strength is neurological and it’s impossible to always keep it at its highest level. Far too many coaches these days are “weight guys” and their entire program is built solely upon lifting weights.
Most people would agree that the majority of sports injuries are a result of overuse. Whether it’s the repetitive motion of the sport or just the frequency of play. Is your program feeding into this or helping balance this? Almost every program I see from collegiate and pro athletes features too much volume and no control over intensities. Training is not just about exercises and randomly throwing them together.
There are some programs in the NFL where they completely neglect thorough warm-ups, don’t account for the stress from game day and include too much volume/intensity throughout the week. Again, it’s a violent sport and injuries will always be a part of the game but consistent recurrence of soft tissue injuries should at least have you questioning things. Have a lot of hamstrings? Look at the warm-up and how you are balancing speed work with weights, good chance they could be programmed more intelligently.
Buddy Morris always hammers home that an NFL game is their “max effort” stressor of the week. Bringing them back in that week and performing high CNS taxing Olympic movements with uncontrolled intensities is a recipe for disaster. I’m not a fan of O-lifts for athletes and to be honest the athletes I get that come from Olympic lifting programs always seem to have injury issues or have teammates getting hurt performing these movements. Risk vs. reward.
Training ≠ Training
Training is about the proper execution of exercises in a carefully constructed sequence.
Training is about managing the total workload of the individual (practice, games, injuries, stress)
Training is about results AND keeping players on the field!
Here’s an example. A former athlete of mine just got a new strength coach at college. Now if you don’t know any better you look at the program, see things like squats, Nordic hamstring, split squats and think, ok, seems good.
What’s the issue? Here’s what you didn’t see:
- This was the first workout with the new coach
- He did no evaluations on the players and everyone had the same workout.
- There was 6+ total leg exercises, the rep ranges made no sense, sequence made no sense and total volume was way too high (4 sets of 20 on the Nordic hamstring for example).
- No extensive warm-up
- No prehab
- No consideration for the practice they had later
- No consideration for the bioenergetics of the sport
Again, it’s not that great coaches know any top secret exercises. Great coaches know how to manage a workload while still eliciting results.
Learning the Hard Way
I’ve seen a lot of collegiate and pro training programs and I think the most common error (in my opinion) is the inability to manage stressors and overall workload. In most athlete’s eyes, more is better. Want a better jump shot? Shoot more. Want a better golf swing? Go hit more. So from a competitors stand point “doing more” makes sense.
And more is better, until more is too much to recover from.
I was the prime example. Practiced my sport 7 days a week and trained almost every day as well. I had to learn the hard way that more in the weight room was not always better. I was an overhead athlete yet foolishly spent a lot of time performing overhead movements with the idea that it would help me. Fast forward to my career ending shoulder surgery and it’s no surprise why I got into this field.
If you are an athlete or work with athletes, remember, playing the sport is the primary goal. Everything in the weight room is secondary. Train smart.