Non-Contact Sports Injuries

Garopolo ACL TearSan Francisco Forty-Niner football fans were sitting on cloud nine at the beginning of the 2018 NFL season. They had acquired quarterback, Jimmy Garopolo, from the New England Patriots at the end of the previous season. The hopes of turning the team into playoff contenders looked bright. Those lofty dreams appear to have crashed and crumbled away in week three of the season. As Garopolo was scrambling toward the left sideline, he changed direction just before making contact with a defender. That was, most likely, the last play he would be involved in for the rest of the season. Garopolo had suffered a tear to his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in his left knee. (Watch the Video) He had created so much momentum sprinting toward the sideline that the muscles of his lower body were not able to decelerate the force and change direction when he cut hard to the right.

In the NFL pre-season of 2017, Julian Edelman, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots, was running down the field with the ball tucked under his arm, when the same injury occurred  (Watch the Video). No other players made contact with him. He was merely executing a dodging action to avoid being tackled by two defenders when he hopped off the ground in pain and went immediately down. Once again his powerful movements overwhelmed the muscles that were meant to control his mass and momentum. Although the Patriots went on to the Super Bowl that year, they had to do so without their star receiver, as Edelman was forced to watch his team from the sidelines. Without his contributions on the field, the Patriots lost the championship game.Edelman ACL Tear

Unfortunately, ACL tears are very common in sports, especially when it comes to non-contact injuries. They occur when the femur and tibia rotate away from each other faster than the body can handle. The neuromuscular system governs the speed of the joint action and attempts to organize a way of controlling the forces which get produced. The muscles are meant to slow down the body’s mass and the momentum it creates, and be able to re-direct it somewhere else. The ACL is not meant to take on the primary role of the muscles.

Considering that this level of professional sports performance means a loss of millions of dollars in team earnings and player salaries, and could mean the difference in winning or losing championships, it seems almost unthinkable that the players’ bodies are not conditioned to withstand such forces. It is one thing to sustain an injury from being hit by a 300-pound lineman and the ground. It is another to receive an injury from moving fast and not having the body respond appropriately. However, when we look at how most professional athletes are being conditioned, it becomes apparent that several elements are not being addressed to the degree which they should.

I was curious to see what types of conditioning programs these NFL teams were following and I found a few through a quick Google search. Most NFL strength & conditioning programs are not easily accessible but the ones I did find confirmed my concerns. Many of the selected movements, which are meant to develop strength and power, do so in mainly one direction or dimension of motion. The programs are very biased toward forward and backward motion, with very limited lateral (sideways), diagonal, or rotational action. Although there are many repetitions, the action stays the same and is very strict and predictable, with very little chance of chaos occurring. Football is very chaotic and often unpredictable. Many of the exercises are machine based and isolate force production at one or two joints without training the body how to transfer the energy through the rest of the body. There is no athletic movement that requires isolation! The body functions as a whole integrative unit. If you are training an athlete, whose primary role is to scramble at full speed in a multi-directional fashion, how does the seated leg press help prepare the athlete? When does the movement like a bench press come into play? If an athlete finds himself/herself lying on their back and needing to push upward, chances are they are on the bottom of the pile and the play is already over.

Here are some samples of what NFL players are asked to do to “get ready” for the season. Notice how many exercises are performed lying or seated. If an NFL player is lying or sitting during game time, it is because they are on the bench or a stretcher. Most exercises are not specific to the sport but are selected from a bodybuilding program. Granted these guys develop bodies which are very Adonis-like and are GQ cover model material, but do these programs truly get their joints and muscles prepared for the actions they will encounter on the field? The answer is…not likely.

Excerpts from the NY Giants Strength & Conditioning Program

Circuit through the following exercises for 3 sets with a 2 minute break between sets

Exercise Reps Weight
TRX Push-Ups 10 Body Weight
Hanging Knee-Ups 10 Body Weight
Squats 10 50%
Pull-Ups 8 Body Weight
Dips 10 Body Weight
Side-to-Side Squats 8 L,R 50%
Inclined Push-ups 15 60-90 lbs
Twist Crunchers 20 L,R Body Weight

Circuit through the following exercises for 3 sets with a 2 minute break between sets

Exercise Reps Weight
Inclined Bench 10 50%
Step-Ups 8 L,R Body Weight
Inverted Rows 8 50%
DB Curl to Press 8 30-55 lbs
Single Leg Bucks 8 L,R Body Weight
Lying DB Tri Ext 8 30-55 lbs
V-Twists 15 L,R 10K
Back Extentions 15 Body Weight

Circuit through the following exercises for 3 sets with a 2 minute break between sets

Exercise Reps Weight
DB Bench 10 55-100 lbs
Front Squat 8 L,R 135-200 lbs
Upright Rows 8 80-100 lbs
Toe Ups 8 Body Weight
Tricep Pushdowns 8 L,R
DB RDL 8 40-60 lbs
Alt Hammer Rows 15 L,R 275-315 lbs
Landmine Rotations 15 50 lbs

Excerpts from the Houston Texans Strength & Conditioning Program As a Texan your neck routine will include the following: 1

  1. Shrugs
  2. Neck Flexion (machine or manually)
  3. Neck Extension
  4. Lateral Flexion (right & left)
  5. Shrugs

After all of the neck exercises are completed you will move to the hips and legs. We have a well-equipped facility and will incorporate a wide range of variety in our routines. A sample Texans leg routine will include the following exercises:

  1. Leg Press or Squat
  2. Leg Curl
  3. Hip Extension
  4. Leg Press or Squat
  5. Leg Extension
  6. Leg Press or Squat
  7. Adduction
  8. Hip Flexion
  9. Calf Raises (Straight-Leg & Bent-Leg)

Once started, you will complete all lower body exercises before moving to the midsection. Exercises are then performed for the trunk flexors, the trunk rotators, and the lower back. All upper body exercises are then performed followed by exercises for the arms. The four standard upper body planes include the following:

  1. Vertical (above and below the shoulders)
  2. Incline
  3. Horizontal
  4. Decline

Listed below are examples of the pushing and pulling movements that can be performed through the four upper body planes:

  • Vertical (above shoulders) seated press lat pulldown, chin-up, pull-up Incline incline press seated high row
  • Horizontal bench press seated row, bent-over row
  • Decline decline press seated low row
  • Vertical (below shoulders) dips, seated dips upright row

What would it be like if the programs explored the actual movements and joint mechanics they find themselves in? What if the programs were based on their own unique alignment, areas of restriction, and muscular imbalances? The exercises would not resemble many currently foundin the local health clubs or NFL training facilities. It might look more like multi-directional stepping or lunging when the foot is twisted or where the weight is shifting from one side to another. The movements might be derivations of sprinting and cutting mechanics. It could involve having the upper body pull, press, or rotate while the legs move in a number of ways. In essence, an athlete must be prepared for chaos. Traditional, linear, isolated training is great for posing on stage, but little does it prepare you for the field of battle.

So if you are an aspiring athlete and do not want to spend more time on the sidelines than you do on the field, you may want to take a second look at how you are being trained. Are you mimicking the actions of your sport or are you training to be a bodybuilder? Don’t get me wrong, sitting on your butt for most of your workout in the strength machines like leg press, chest fly, and leg extension have a place in a conditioning program, but you better be a NASCAR driver.

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