Yesterday, four Green Bay Packers had to leave the game due to injuries, two requiring surgery. Earlier in the week, several other players were unable to practice and play due to injuries from the previous week’s game. There have been injuries in earlier games, preseason and training camp as well and some of these guys are out for the season. All this in only 5 regular season games out of 16, not including playoffs. (At this rate of injury and diminished play from the replacing second and third string players, we may not have to factor in playoffs).
Injuries are a part of the game is what we hear all the time. It is a game of attrition whether we like it or not. (That, and an absurd number of penalties, which the Packers are also suffering from), make games look unwatchable, at least for me.
What is the cause of one team having an excessive number of injuries, while their division rivals have relatively fewer? Why is one year so much worse than another in terms of injury incidence and severity?
It is a fact the players are bigger, faster, stronger and for linemen, heavier and faster than ever. It is a fact, that equipment design evolves to help prevent and minimize injuries. Could it be from playing on synthetic Astroturf? That may be a part of it, but all four Packer injuries this past Sunday happened on the natural turf of FedEx Field in Washington DC. Even the rules have changed to prevent some of the more serious injuries from happening, especially to the quarterback.
Legendary strength and conditioning coach, Bill Starr has some thoughts on this subject and I have to admit, I wasn’t prepared for what he had to say about. It certainly is controversial but this is the best explanation I have heard yet.
In his article, “Choosing the Path Less Travelled,” we go halfway into his article to find his thoughts on strength and conditioning in the NFL today.
Excerpted from “Choosing the Path Less Travelled”, by Bill Starr, appearing at Starting Strength.com.
“In the pro ranks, things are even worse. The one thing that is taboo for any strength coach atthat level is to injure a player in the weight room. When I assumed that role for the Baltimore Stallions for pre-season conditioning, I was told by the owner that if I caused an injury to a player, I was gone. Which I thought was stupid, but many other strength coaches in pro football have told me they were given that same stipulation. I didn’t alter a thing in my program because I was confident that I could teach them how to do an exercise correctly, and thus not get hurt.
The reason I think this approach to strength training is ignorant is because football is a high risk sport with 330 lb. behemoths blasting into opponents moving at warp speed, encased in what amounts to full body armor. The total structure has to be prepared for the impact, or else. But they’re not being prepared. A pro football game is war, and the participants should enter the stadium as ready as possible for all sorts of physical mishaps. Few are. Due to the fact that those responsible for the strength training have prescribed only those exercises that are low risk – and none that require a high degree of skill – the athletes’ bodies are not ready for the relentless pounding they are about to take. Most pro programs focus more on the aerobic and agility aspects of the sport than on pure strength. This keeps them from getting hurt during training sessions, but it does little to help them get through a practice or a game without getting injured.
Bill St. John tells of the time he visited the weight room of the Philadelphia Eagles. After looking it over, he asked the strength coach why there weren’t any platforms. “Where do you have them power clean and deadlift?” he asked. In a gruff, annoyed tone, the coach replied, “We don’t have them do any of that crap. They get beat around enough on the field. They don’t need to punish their bodies in here.”
Yes, they do. In my way of thinking, the games and practices should be a snap after a weight workout. Make them so damn strong that they can withstand anything that occurs on the gridiron. And in the event they do sustain an injury, it will be much less severe if the athlete is super-strong than if he hadn’t been doing any serious weight work. This is a point that timid strength coaches and head coaches are missing. When you let up on the gas for any athlete who engages in a contact sport, you’re doing him a disservice. He may curse you for having him crank out the sets of heavy goodmornings and squats, but in the end, he will thank you.
Whenever one of the football players from the University of Hawaii was invited to a tryout for a pro team, I trained him as if he were going to an Olympic event. While most of the players who showed up planned on using the two-a-days to get into shape, my athletes were hitting the ground running. And it paid off. Seven players from fair-to-middlin’ teams made the pros: John Woodcock, Jaris White, Levi Stanley, Arnold Morgado, Charlie Aiu, Harold Stringert, and Dan Audick. Dan ended up playing in a Super Bowl for San Francisco. I would like to add June Jones, who I trained when he was a freshman, but he ended his college career with Portland State, so I can’t take credit. Other than Jaris and Arnold, none of these young men were exceptional athletes. Their success in football came directly from the hard work they did in the weight room.
The best example of the lot was Charlie Aiu, an offensive lineman. No team drafted him, but the San Diego Chargers invited him for a tryout at their summer training camp. He learned that the Chargers had already signed three rookie offensive lineman and paid them handsome signing bonuses.
So the odds against Charlie making the team were very slim. Charlie loved to lift weights so it wasn’t a problem to motivate him to do more and more in preparation for the camp.
When I had assisted Tommy Suggs at the summer training camp for the Houston Oilers a few years before, I noticed that the entire team was required to do chins on their way out to the practice fields. So I got Charlie started on chins, telling him that if he could do a lot of them in front of the coaches, he might attract their attention. Charlie weighed around 265 and could only do three when he started. But by doing them at every workout and adding a rep whenever possible, he was able to do sixteen when he left for camp. He was duly noticed because what other player anywhere close to his size could do anywhere near that many? Most of the other lineman could only managed one or two. The three drafted rookies all got hurt and Charlie ended up with a contract and played for several years.
He came to camp ready, and this is not happening lately. Check out the number of injuries that are occurring during the first few days of summer two-a-days. They’re dropping like flies and for most there is no contact involved. They simply sprain an ankle or blow out a knee while running drills.
They are not prepared because no one has pushed them into getting into superior condition for the upcoming stress. The so-called strength coach has made sure he doesn’t overtrain them to protect his own ass, and a great many turn to a personal trainer to help them get ready for the season.
For those of us who know about personal trainers for strength training, this is a laugh. While pro strength coaches are afraid that one of the players might injure himself while lifting, personal trainers take it a step further, or I should say, a step backwards. They don’t dare make their clients sore.
The programs they give the players are no more than bodybuilding programs and are desired to work a lot of muscles without being difficult. Pure strength exercises are not part of the package. In truth, personal training isn’t about fitness at all. Rather, it’s a service that allows the clients to talk about themselves and be the center of attention for a few hours a week. It’s pampered exercise, and lots of pro athletes like the idea that they have a personal trainer. It makes them feel special, although it does little to prepare them for the upcoming season.
It’s rather easy to slip backwards in terms of strength training and many are not even aware that they have done so. What happens is they start substituting a less-demanding exercise for a much more difficult one. This usually starts with replacing good mornings with almost straight-legged deadlifts. Heavy pulls off the floor are dropped in favor of a variety of pulling movements done with machines. Back squats remain in the routine, but are done with much lighter poundages so the workout isn’t so strenuous. High-skill movements are excluded entirely because they have proved to be much too demanding. Once this process gains momentum, it’s difficult stopping it. Soon, the strength athlete who spent time making certain that all of his major muscle groups were receiving equal attention is suddenly spending nearly his whole workout on his upper body.
It becomes a downward spiral, and the only way to stop it is to step back and reexamine your goals.”
Be sure to read the rest of Bill’s article. He addresses the evolution, or rather devolution of fitness and weight training methods and closes on a major high-how you can make yourself much stronger than you already are.
About the author: Bill Starr was the Strength Coach to the Baltimore Colts when they won the Superbowl in 1970. He was the strength coach at a US universities including Hawaii, Maryland and Johns Hopkins. Bill was also a US Olympic Weightlifting Champion and national record holders in Powerlifting and Olympic lifting. Starr was also editor of Strength & Health magazine.