NFL Players and Offseason Conditioning – An ounce of prevention

Ted Sundquist looks at the need for progressive Strength and Conditioning Programs for NFL Players in the Offseason. [spoiler] In 1984 I was stationed at the United States Air Force Academy as ‘Graduate Assistant’ having just been commissioned Second Lieutenant the past summer. I had played football for the Air Force Academy, but after 4 years found myself relatively healthy yet in need of a competitive outlet. I did what most former football players would do to stay in shape; heavy weight lifting, sprint workouts, etc. My focus shifted from college football and to a shot at the 1988 Calgary Olympics in Bobsledding. You have to understand that the U.S. Bobsled Federation that governs the sport today has little resemblance to the group that oversaw the sport in 1984. Things have progressed throughout sports the past 20 years and bobsledding is no exception. In the years leading up to Calgary the American emphasis was placed on the actual sled itself. Next came the drivers and then the brakemen, or pushers. There were physical standards required of the athletes in order to make the team, a series of tests not too far off from the NFL’s Combine and the physical attribute testing of the annual incoming rookie class. The Federation did very little in the way of physical preparation of its athletes. It was up to the individual to ensure they showed up in proper condition to not only pass the qualification test, but to push the sled at a world class level. There was a mish-mash of athletic backgrounds mixed into Team USA. Along with a smattering of former football players were former college track athletes and lifelong ‘sliders’, bobsledders who had never really done anything else at a competitive level. The various training regimens were reflective of this and it was little wonder that the Americans struggled to keep up with the Eastern Europeans and Soviets in the sport. These countries put out ‘well-oiled’ machines to push and drive their sleds. It was evident they had spent the majority of their training concentrating on the skills necessary to explode the sled out of the blocks and to push it down the starting ramp at maximum velocity, then with precision timing enter the sled like a troop of Ninjas. The NFL reminds me a bit of the old days of bobsledding. Players have been on their own since the end of the 2011 season and many, if not most, take their offseason preparation into their own hands. This should be a time spent to rejuvenate both the mind and body in anticipation for another grueling 6 month march towards the playoffs and Super Bowl. Once the offseason doors officially open, players belong to the Strength and Conditioning coaches. The work put in the weightroom and out on the practice fields this spring will go a long way in determining who’s clubs are playing late into next winter. That alone tells you that an NFL season is a marathon and not a sprint. Players should prepare accordingly, and yet many tasked with overseeing this very process stubbornly cling to the philosophies of 20 years ago. Professional football demands as much or more from its athletes than any other sport. A new generation of Strength and Conditioning Coaches is embracing personalized preparation; programs with emphasis on baseline testing as it relates to core strength, balance, flexibility and recovery. These coaches appear to understand the importance of injury prevention and long term performance. Amazingly there are still those that overemphasize the techniques of the 70ís, 80ís and even the 90ís. These cookie cutter programs place way too much emphasis on heavy lifting and straight line speed. There’s ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for a player to pull a hamstring or quadriceps in Training Camp, and NFL Trainers and Strength Coaches should be held directly accountable for such injuries. But funny how when an epidemic of pulled muscles hits one or two clubs in droves, it’s usually passed off as bad luck and not bad preparation by the club. [/spoiler]

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