It’s no secret Alvin Kamara is a beast when it comes to his off-season training regimen. Last year, he carried a weight rack with four plates while dragging a Jeep Wrangler behind him.
The video quickly went viral and Kamara’s status as a professional fitness legend was born. Last month, his legend grew when Kamara’s trainer, Dr. Sharif Tabbah of Athletix Rehab & Recovery, posted a video of their latest core and stability exercise. Even without utilizing heavy weights, Kamara’s workout impressed everyone who viewed it.
During an episode of NFL Network’s Total Access, Rams cornerback Aqib Talib saw the footage and joked, “I’m on my way out. These young guys are on another level... cuz you’ll never see me gettin’ on a full physio ball doin’ nothin’.”
LaDainian Tomlinson was equally impressed but less surprised, probably because he had done similar core stability and reaction exercises with fitness guru Todd Durkin.
Tomlinson reminisced balancing on one leg on a Bosu ball while Durkin threw playing cards at him with a fan blowing the cards around unpredictably. In fact, it was Tomlinson who introduced Durkin to Drew Brees and Darren Sproles when they were teammates on the San Diego Chargers, and both still work with him every off-season.
In today’s NFL, it’s becoming more and more common for players to seek out their own trainers with whom they work during the off-season. Sometimes they retain them in-season as well like Tom Brady does with his “body coach” Alex Guerrero.
This new trend of trusting health and wellness professionals outside of their team training staff has rubbed some coaches, including Bill Belichick, the wrong way.
Coaches don’t want their players getting popped for performance enhancing supplements or drugs like Julian Edelman did while training with Guerrero. But more, coaches don’t want their players getting injured, especially if the injury occurs while training outside of team facilities under another’s supervision.
It’s obvious Kamara is an incredible athlete capable of mind-blowing physical feats, but when his body is so valuable to himself and his franchise, one has to ask, do the benefits of these exercises outweigh the risks of injury by performing them?
I took an amazing evidence based strength and conditioning workshop years ago with Mark Asanovich who has been the head strength trainer for several NFL teams including the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Like Dr. Tabbah and Durkin, Asanovich holds a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). It’s one of the most reputable certification bodies along with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
All three of these trainers are incredibly knowledgeable and experienced, especially Dr. Tabbah who also earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy from New York University. It’s Dr. Tabbah, however, whose methods I question the most due to the extreme risk of injury in his latest exercise with Kamara.
Throughout his day long presentation, Asanovich drove home the four P’s when it comes to designing a strength and conditioning program: prudent, productive, practical, and purposeful. While Kamara’s balancing on a stability ball is certainly productive, practical, and purposeful, it fails where it matters most, prudence.
Asanovich asked us, “Are the training protocols orthopedically safe? Obviously it is the intent of any strength training program to enhance rather than endanger the physical potentials of the athlete.” I distinctly remember him showing us a slide show of professional athletes injuring themselves during seemingly routine exercises.
We watched an Olympic power lifter separate his sternum and crush his neck while using a false grip (not wrapping the thumbs around the bar). We watched an NBA player tear his ACL doing plyometrics. But mostly, I remember an NFL player tearing his labrum while doing a chest press on a stability ball because the ball popped under his 250 pound frame.
Kamara is 215 pounds. In no way should he ever put his full weight on a stability ball. Unlike a bench, balls pop under pressure, and just because it didn’t happen this time doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future.
Asanovich told us NEVER to use stability balls as their sturdiness will never be known unless they pop, which can likely cause injury. Obviously the most likely negative outcome is Kamara simply loses his balance and falls off. He could break a wrist, sprain an ankle, or hit his head and get a concussion.
I’m an ACSM certified personal trainer, and I use stability balls all the time in my workouts and with most of my clients. But we only do partial weight bearing exercises like back extensions, bird dogs, bridges, crunches, and core body twists. I never have them perform chest presses or full weight exercises on a stability ball.
I can do bird dogs while balancing on a stability ball. I can balance on one indefinitely on my knees, and you can throw me a weighted ball, and I’ll catch it without falling; but I do it on a padded floor and neither I nor my employer is out hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in value if I hurt myself.
I’ve been practicing these exercises for almost 12 years, but I would never have a client do them. If they want to try on their own, that’s their prerogative, but I’m not going to risk any liability directing them do it in a training session.
I’m sure as hell never going to strap a car in neutral to a client and direct them to walk with hundreds of pounds of weight on their shoulders until their knees almost buckle from exhaustion.
Players need to train smarter, not harder. Some players like Brady have stopped using traditional weights in favor of the much safer resistance bands. After sustaining a major back injury, J.J. Watt now loads his weights for his squats around his waist rather than risking compression of his spine by loading a bar across his shoulders.
Asanovich asked us repeatedly, “Is there a safer way to do this?” Dr. Tabbah has already shown it’s absolutely possible to continue challenging Kamara’s core stability in a safer, and quite frankly, equally bad ass way when he posted this alternative exercise.
I don’t want to dismiss Kamara’s abilities or Dr. Tabbah’s creativity, but I do want athletes of all levels to channel their inner Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park and challenge themselves, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Alvin, I love you. You are a generational talent and a lovely human being, but for your own sake, please stop putting yourself at greater risk of injury. Your job’s already dangerous enough.