Do the Saints Rotate their Tires? by Preston J. Gary, Jr. <!-- / icon and title --><!-- message --> Back in the 70's, players would return from the offseason out of shape. The main objective of training camp was to get the players back in shape for the upcoming season. Hence the "camp" part of the term (the movie "North Dallas Forty" comes to mind). Over the last 40 years, along with medical science and sports technology, the culture has changed. Players realize their body is their commodity and do everything to stay in shape year round.
A smaller percentage of players show up out of shape these days. You can normally count on one hand the players who are overweight when camp begins. Much of this can be attributed to a better awareness about proper nutrition and players wanting that competitive edge of being in top shape.
So today's athletes have a distinct advantage over yesteryear's athletes. But training around the calender can have it's drawbacks. Everything in life needs balance. Starting with your body.
In weight lifting 101, you'll learn that in order to acheive maximum results, 3 things must be regulated with consistancy-- diet, exercise, and rest. It's best to work out the major muscles in lower body and minor muscles in the upper body one day, then do the opposite (the major muscle groups in the upper body and minor muscle groups in the lower body) the next day. You can work out your core muscles (neck, back, abs) every day because they heal fast. What happens when you work out is you tear down a muscle, and during the period of rest, in conjunction with your diet, your body rebuilds the muscle bigger and stronger. Traditionally, a group of muscles needs a day of rest before working out again. Steroid users are able to forego that day of rest and work out the same muscles every day, putting on twice the muscle as a clean guy.
That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to weight training, but our Steroid user will help highlite a point I wish to make. Putting 50 lbs of muscle on your frame may make you stronger and faster, even more explosive. But the one thing steroids doesn't do is improve your body's ability to carry that weight. So your muscles are able to do __, but your joints, ligaments, and tendons aren't increasing in their maximum allowable working pressure (to steal an oilfield production term). In other words, a body that can naturally support a frame of 235 lbs will break down faster at 270 lbs. The violence of the collisions that the extra mass will produce is too much for the body. The impact from everyday tasks like walking or jogging is magnified. The body has its limitations. On a side note, I don't believe steroid usage in the NFL is nearly as prevelant as many casual fans percieve it to be.
So how does the principle of rest and the dangers of steroid use relate to the year long training culture in the NFL today? Think of the athlete's body like a tire. Tires should be rotated every 3000 miles or so in order to spread the wear evenly throughout the life of the tire. If you don't, half of the tire will wear out much faster than the other half. Next thing you know, you start losing traction on curves or in wet weather. Ever hear our team is going to "kick the tires" on a "washed up vet" to see how much "tread" he has left?
Today's NFL athlete, with the culture of year round training, doesn't rotate his tires enough. Consider this: the season ended (during a "normal" year) between January and February, depending on post season success. By March, many would have been showing up for workouts. May and June would consist of a slew of minicamps, or OTA's (organized team activities-- practice). Players normally get July off, then it's on to training camp and the grind of a regular season. Their bodies, almost 10 months out of the year, are going through the same drills and football related motions, on the same surfaces, over and over and over. So you have more wear and tear on the same ligmaments, muscles, tendons, and joints.
You might say the NFL is a multibillion dollar industry, the pinnacle for the athlete, and they know best how stay in shape. I disagree. Carl Banks makes the following point each year on Sirius NFL Radio. When he played, during the offseason he did not show up to many of the OTA's and minicamps. He felt he could keep his body in shape doing alternative exercises. Instead of putting his body through the same motions year round, wearing down his "tread" in the same area, he did opposite activities, like pilates, raquet ball, ballet, yoga, ect. He found that utilizing alternative exercise regimes kept his body in shape while resting the parts of his body he used most for football. He's only made a few probowls and won a few superbowls, so what does he know?
The biggest lesson here is that a joint, ligament, tendon, or muscle can only do the same task for so long before wear and tear affect its efficientcy. And while teams want players to train year round (preferrably at their facility so that they can monitor the players and have a competitive edge), they would better serve their players by changing their offseason training regimen to utilizing motions, exercises, surfaces, and muscle groups that aren't used during the season in order to stay in shape while balancing the wear and tear on the body. Today's linebacker is the same size as an offensive lineman from a few decades back, yet about as quick as a running back for that generation. Training and nutrition advances have resulted in more than a few 6'6" 265 lb freaks with 4.5 second 40 yard straight line speed and explosive lateral movement to boot. That's more momentum, more force, more impact every play. We've figured out how to get the most out of what we were born with. We've figured out how to grow and condition muscles for maximum results. But there have been no scientific or medical advances to help equip the body's infrastructure to handle the resulting impacts with the added force that is the direct result of specialized weight training designed to increase "explosion" and speed.
Simply put, working out the same muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints while using the same motions or moves on the same surfaces almost year round results in more injuries, like triceps tears or achilles tendon tears or acl tears, or degenerative conditions in the joints at a more accelerated rate than in the past. It's really simple logic. If you work around the clock, you'll be more productive in the short run, but you'll burn yourself out before long. The new competitive edge is finding ways to keep your tires rotated-- to keep the players in shape by balancing that wear and tear doing alternative excercises and activities in the offseason.
I think teams should seriously consider funner alternative fitness regimens during the offseason in order to provide a balance to the range of football motions and activities they put a player's body through and make the offseason more attractive and less invasive on the body parts that are used during the season. Furthermore, this particular offseason may be just what the Dr. ordered. We should consider ourselves lucky to have much the same coaching staff (coordinators) and system (philosophy) in place with veterans in every position group who have been in our systems for years.
Whenever the 2011 NFL Calender Year does resume, we won't be as hard pressed as half the other teams who have made critical changes. Don't abandon weight lifting, because the gains in the off season from weightlifiting last the season, and during the season, players are focused on recovering week to week as opposed to trying to build up muscle. But the activities they do after weight lifting-- 7 on 7 drills, pushing the sled, running routes, ect-- all that can be saved for and honed in on in training camp.
Im saying keep training camp for the purpose of commradere and gelling of a team. But since players are already in shape, save the football stuff for camp and give their bodies a rest from football activities in the offseason and instead incorporate other exercise regimens to stay in shape. It's not as wild an idea compared to the thought that changing your mouthpiece helps you play better. Coaches can always work with a player or two that is looking to do extra or is need of better fundamentals in the offseason. But not every player needs or should be subjected to "summer school". How many vets, over the years, don't show up to offseason activities yet you wouldn't know at the start of the season by how they play? I think especially if you are a team with a stable front office and coaching staff, this idea has traction.
I think the personal repsonsibility aspect of it is huge. As it is (and it may change with a new CBA), players only have to go to one minicamp. All others are "voluntary" until training camp. But teams are putting "work out" bonuses in contracts so that if the player attends most offseason workouts and minicamps, he'll get bonus money. The majority of players do show up regardless. The training is done with the supervision of the Saints trainers and medical staff. That's a good thing. It's not as focused as getting 1 on 1 training as some of the better compensated players pay for privately.
I'm not saying all players should go out and get their own trainers, nutritionists, ect. However, one crucial point is that genetically, each player only has so many "fast twitch" muscles. These are the muscles that determine your athletic ability. You only have what you're born with, and just like the little hairs in your ear that help you hear, or brain cells, once you lose them, they're gone. You can train all you want, but unrealized potential has a ceiling set by the body's genetic limitations. Is it more beneficial to overwork something that you work on most of the year anyway or to instead strengthen your core muscles, improve agility, ect?
Many skill players take ballet. Instead of wearing out their hamstrings or hurting themselves running routes and diving for balls year round, they improve their agility and balance and it translates to gravity defying circus plays on the field. I'm not saying don't do any football training in the offseason, only not as much, and to balance it with alternative training that improves other aspects of the game.
The smarter players already make their body their responsibility and do these things. I'm just proposing that teams would benefit by broadening their training regimen and in turn change the culture to a more balanced training and fitness program. Moderation in everything.