I think this article is worth a read – Conditioned to lose: Weight-room inconsistencies at fault for injuries

Conditioned to lose: Weight-room inconsistencies at fault for injuries

This article is about NFL but it may as well be about GAA, rugby, basketball and football.

Conditioned to lose: Weight-room inconsistencies at fault for injuries

Most NFL offseason conditioning programs started in earnest this week, not that Jay Cutler plans on attending Denver’s. Don’t think the offseason program means anything? Think again. A lot of the injuries that happen between August and January are attributed, rightly or wrongly, to the work, or lack thereof, being put in right now.
The funny thing is, not every strength coach seems to realize his primary job is injury prevention. The lack of research or science behind some of the conditioning programs in the NFL is startling. You would think if an owner is going to spend up to $127 million on his players, he would want to make sure his investment was being protected and not further beat down, as is still the case in some places.
I have seen the impact some NFL strength coaches have had. The results have been staggering, both positively and negatively. I was on a team whose strength coach was intent on the players doing power cleans, a lift in which the player propels the weight to his shoulders in an explosive manner from the floor. Of the six or seven linemen who worked out all offseason with him, three had back surgeries within four months of each other. Maybe it was simply a coincidence. I doubt it.
There is another well-known strength coach whose program is the same for every position on the team. Now the actual weights the players lift may be different, but the specific exercises that every player is asked to complete are identical, which makes absolutely no sense to me. How can he possibly think offensive linemen and cornerbacks are the same type of athletes and need the same workouts? That’s like training a bear and a cheetah to hunt the same way. They’re different animals.
Interior linemen and perimeter skill guys are barely even playing the same sport if you ask me. Offensive linemen need to focus on power, short-area quickness and lateral movement. Cover corners need to concentrate on speed, flexibility and fluidity in and out of their breaks.
The NFL is not like high school or even college, where the main focus is on the players making gains in both strength and speed as their younger bodies continue to mature and develop. Though that is certainly still a goal among some NFL players, it is not the primary one. NFL players already possess a certain level of strength and speed; otherwise they never would have made it onto a roster.
Instead, the most important thing an NFL strength and conditioning program can do is help the players make strides towards promoting their joint health, not breaking it down further. If players had the chance to choose between being a little bit stronger, a little bit faster or feeling a little bit healthier physically for a game, trust me, healthy would win every time. It is never a good feeling walking onto an NFL playing field when something is really bothering you physically. I can’t tell you how many times before a game I thought, If only this wasn’t bothering me so much …
I have always felt the best idea is to make the offseason program as player-friendly and adaptable as possible. That doesn’t mean coddle the players. It means work them hard but smart, and be willing to alter the program according to a specific player’s likes and dislikes. After all, they are paid professionals and they should know their body better than anyone. A player who is pleased with the program is more likely to not only attend the sessions himself but also tell all of the other players that they should fall in line. And the more guys there, the better, working together for team chemistry purposes.
What amazes me is that after all the research that has been done, there still seems to be little to no consensus as to the best way to train professional football players. Seemingly every strength coach has his own beliefs. Some coaches are huge proponents of the explosion garnered from the Olympic lifts, like cleans, jerks and snatches. Others continue to believe the crux of the program should revolve around the power lifts, like bench press, squat and dead lift. Still others adhere strictly to the high intensity mindset and have their players mainly work out using joint-friendly Hammer Strength machines.
The same holds true for the running component of offseason conditioning as well. Some focus mainly on speed work, while others place the major emphasis on conditioning. There are a few coaches who prefer working on agility exercises, while others believe mainly in position-specific drills. Still others prefer to mix and match all of the lifting and running philosophies, a hodge-podge of sorts.
Their work and results don’t go unnoticed. Just last offseason, Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio fired his strength and conditioning coaches, Mark Asanovich and Les Ebert. He did so after a string of injuries, especially a heavy toll along the offensive line, helped doom the Jaguars ’08 season.
Key injuries can be devastating, especially in a salary cap era in which the depth on a team is usually comprised of young, inexpensive and inexperienced players who may not be ready to succeed week in and week out on Sundays.
Del Rio was unwavering when asked immediately after the season if decreasing injuries was the primary focus of the offseason program, saying, “That’s the goal,” he said. “Everybody that wants to be a Jaguar [in 2009] will be here. Anybody who wants to be a Jaguar will be working out with the team.” Not exactly a subtle hint about his feelings concerning participation in the voluntary offseason program, huh?
I realize that some might consider it unfair to pin certain circumstantial injuries on strength coaches, but that can be a reality in the cutthroat NFL. Though I agree it can be difficult to correlate a specific injury on a unique individual to a certain workout program, a trend of similar injuries or a boatload of injuries in general is problematic. That is why NFL strength and conditioning coaches would be wise to do whatever it takes to try to ensure their players are physically healthy and prepared for the rigors of the season ahead. If not, they might be the next to get fired.

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31 thoughts on “I think this article is worth a read – Conditioned to lose: Weight-room inconsistencies at fault for injuries

  1. This is typical of some people, there is nothing wrong with power cleans if properly taught, the players brought through the technique and the weights being used are sensible and the players current physical state is taken into account . If the coach couldnt teach powercleans to his players then they shouldnt be used in that teams program. But you could substitute Backsquats, Frontsquats, Deadlifts,Benchpress plyometrics etc for powercleans and say the same thing. Just because some coaches dont spend the time to become proficient to teach the exercise doesent mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. That video has to be fake!

    I agree you could ruin an athlete with pretty much anything but in terms of coaching knowledge there are few things that people understand and try to teach as much as Oly lifting. I’m speaking from an Irish context of course because I don’t know too much about how the rest of the world do things. It’s hard to imagine it would be worse though.

  3. Barry there is much much worse than that

    Think I will have to disagree there , I have seen guys squatting hitting one or both knees off the floor and trying to come back up again and deadlifts where im waiting for the guys back to pop.
    Granted all of these were from young guys in gyms unsupervised usually with mates egging them on but I think that oly lifting is just one more thing that people who may be good coaches in their own field/sport miracolously feel able to teach without any prior ability or knowledge.

  4. Which school is to believed? The school of thought that thinks S&C coaches should be de-powered to the point where they are too scared to push the athlete hard in case they injure them or lose their job, or the school of thought that thinks too many professional athletes are pampered and that they should be pushed hard in the off-season?

  5. neither if an athlete participates in a sport that beats them up physically then they do not need to get more beat up in the gym in my opinion. This doesent mean that you dont work hard but that you assess each athlete according to his or her needs and if they are doing squats or cleans or heavy deadlifts or whatever that they train to do the lifts with good technique long before they are hitting big numbers that doing the lifts with good technique is constantly reinforced. Also I wouldnt really see the need for too many 1RMAXS as they are not oly/power lifters and anything they are doing in the gym is to help them in their sport not an end in and of itself.
    If you injure someone then you are doing something wrong.

    But I dont train anyone , barely get to the gym and have injured myself doing stupid shit a few times

    • That is embarrassing… I can’t believe a strength and conditioning coach would even post that as an example of how crap a coach they are let alone as an example of how good they are.

  6. I just found out for a NSCA regulated Clean, your feet cannot go wider than a certain distance. So you have to keep your feet inside a marked box on the ground at all times during the lift. You know, olympic style…

    Here’s a Top 5 NFL draft about to get +20$ million guaranteed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIsvP0FEeTo

    In my 4 years of collegiate football, out of +250 teammates, only 4-5 had really good form at hang cleans and power cleans. Over that same time there were about 10 or 11 to actually miss time because of significant wrist or back injuries.

    O-lifts are just not worth it.

    1. 455lbs= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0bZPBAgaVs

    2. “Big School talent” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0bZPBAgaVs

    • Vinny V said

      April 18, 2009 at 5:00 PM e
      I just found out for a NSCA regulated Clean, your feet cannot go wider than a certain distance. So you have to keep your feet inside a marked box on the ground at all times during the lift. You know, olympic style…

      Here’s a Top 5 NFL draft about to get +20$ million guaranteed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIsvP0FEeTo
      That sort of stuff is plain dumb….how dumb it really is needs to be calculated by multiplying the dumbness of this single event by the frequency at which it occurs…one off dumbness…I can live with…daily dumbness is a whole other matter.

      In my 4 years of collegiate football, out of +250 teammates, only 4-5 had really good form at hang cleans and power cleans. Over that same time there were about 10 or 11 to actually miss time because of significant wrist or back injuries.

      O-lifts are just not worth it.

      1. 455lbs= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0bZPBAgaVs

      2. “Big School talent” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0bZPBAgaVs
      You obviously thought that video was so good that you’d post it twice?

    • I think a lot of his logic is completely fucked. The bit about ‘If OL improves football, football should improve OL’ make zero sense.

      And I don’t think anybody Nobody claiming that ‘OL’ing will MAKE you a great football player’. That’s asinine. But it might make you a better football player (in that being stronger, more explosive, in conjunction with proper practice of your sport is generall beneficial) assuming you do the skill work.

      Not that many of his points aren’t valid but those two were silly.

      Lyle

      • He did exaggerate on that regard, but it’s still somewhat valid, let me explain:

        I have met college S&C coaches that have both hardcore and light stances on the subject. The hardcore ones think O-lifts are the shit for everything, and will make you faster, more explosive, stronger and everything else. Those have everybody from the CB to the kickers to the linemen doing them.

        My response to them is that accessory work will increase my o-lifts, but o-lifts won’t improve my poundages on squat, chin, bench, deadlift or anything else…

        The ones that are not as closed on the subject believe that there’s gotta be some kind of “strength” base or proficiency level before hitting the olympic lifts.

        What’s the value of having a 300lb lineman “muscle up” 225-275lbs in cleans and snatches because his form is shit and never learned them properly…if at all.
        You just 1. got them tired for the rest of the workout 2. made his shit hurt (elbows, wrists, etc)
        Or the opposite, how helpful is to have a 165lb freshman WR, do olympic lifts when he could be working on improving his 185lb-squat or bench?
        Or in between, a 200-lb RB with a legit 275lbs front squat but horrible form snatching 135lbs? What has that accomplished?

        I also gotta say I also have changed my stance on the whole “lifting weights, getting bigger/stronger” will improve your on-the-field performance as long as you are practicing your sport at the same time…I have experienced and seen first hand that things are more complicated than that.

        Sorry for the highjack, Will.

      • Vinny V said

        He did exaggerate on that regard, but it’s still somewhat valid, let me explain:

        I have met college S&C coaches that have both hardcore and light stances on the subject. The hardcore ones think O-lifts are the shit for everything, and will make you faster, more explosive, stronger and everything else. Those have everybody from the CB to the kickers to the linemen doing them.
        This is always a problem…be with Oly lifting or the Westside for Life crew or anyone else. I use a lot of different training modalities not because one works better than the other but because they are all just tools and there’s nothing more important than using the right tools for the right job.

        My response to them is that accessory work will increase my o-lifts, but o-lifts won’t improve my poundages on squat, chin, bench, deadlift or anything else…
        I would actually disagree with that…not that it might not be true in your case…but that I don’t think it is true generally.

        The ones that are not as closed on the subject believe that there’s gotta be some kind of “strength” base or proficiency level before hitting the olympic lifts.
        Best case scenario…I would actually develop all these capabilities simultaneously…that doesn’t mean…doing everything at the same time but that I’d program with everything in mind from the get go.

        What’s the value of having a 300lb lineman “muscle up” 225-275lbs in cleans and snatches because his form is shit and never learned them properly…if at all.
        There’s no value in it at all….but that is still a shitload of weight to be moving like that…impressive in the same way that ‘strongman events’ are impressive.

        You just 1. got them tired for the rest of the workout 2. made his shit hurt (elbows, wrists, etc)
        Or the opposite, how helpful is to have a 165lb freshman WR, do olympic lifts when he could be working on improving his 185lb-squat or bench?
        There are lots of ways to do Olympic Lifting…it doesn’t all have to be maximal.

        Or in between, a 200-lb RB with a legit 275lbs front squat but horrible form snatching 135lbs? What has that accomplished?
        You improve his technique and improve his snatch numbers and you would have achieved a good bit though.

        I also gotta say I also have changed my stance on the whole “lifting weights, getting bigger/stronger” will improve your on-the-field performance as long as you are practicing your sport at the same time…I have experienced and seen first hand that things are more complicated than that.
        It most certainly is more complicated than that.

        Sorry for the highjack, Will.
        It’s not a highjack and it’s not a problem.

  7. Will, I’m not a “fan” of Dos as I am of say…Cressey or Defranco, but I still do think the guy has some valuable info. But yes, I’m surprised he would put that shit up and brag about it.

    And Garrett, on what exactly do you want me to comment?

  8. Vinny pros and cons of powercleans/oly lifting for American football. I got from the interview that Buddy Morris was basically saying that apart from it taking too long to learn that these lifts and Football combined were just too hard on the CNS. I would have thought that this would rule out squats, benches and deads as well . Just wondering what your own opinion experience is and would you agree with what he was saying.

    • I agree with Buddy Morris on pretty much all counts. Based on my experience, the biggest issues with olympic lifts when applied to improving athletic performance are:

      – 1. Fucking hard to learn. Sure, you don’t need to have 100% perfect technique, and you can get away with ugly shit, but once you start to go upwards 80%, it’s just ugly and risky(like all those vids on youtube).

      2. Hard indeed on the CNS. Under 60% I actually find them to “wake me up” sort of speak, but then again, over 80% or when done for more than 3 reps (college coaches are retarded and sometimes reps go as high as 6 reps) they do fry you mentally. Especially hard on those with poor recovery capacities, chubby fatties and/or freshmen.

      (You know what’s hilarious? Incoming freshmen from high schools that did NO olympic lifts trying to hang clean AND snatch, especially when they can’t even do an overhead squat)

      3. About your point on CNS stress, the biggest programming issue is that 95% of the time after you do any oly-lift variation (clean, snatch, clean & jerk), you STILL have to do your squat/deadlift variation, single leg variation, etc. Doing 5 sets of 6-8 on back squats after doing 5 sets of 3-4 reps on clean & jerk is not really CNS-friendly.

      I rather do box jumps (or any other dynamic, RFD oriented exercise) before squatting than try to clean and jerk 225lbs for reps, while trying to not fuck your shit up.

      4. For the most part, a heavy hang clean in college sports involves: straps, an ugly reverse curls, a LATERAL split AND bruised thighs (get the picture?). You wanna see a shitty coach not giving a fuck about the athletes?
      Show up on “maxing out” day for any college football program. As an athlete, you really don’t give a shit about form when all the coaches just jizzed their pants because somebody ‘reversed curl’ (aka hang clean) 365lbs in the platform next to you.

      Personally, although I find them fun, I don’t particularly enjoy them (and I love pretty much anything else). My 1RM (if there’s such thing) on hang clean was 285lbs at about 110kg, and even though I tried SUPER HARD to not fuck up my form, the first thing you do after the initial move, is split your legs to the side like a total dumbass (again, as shown in multiple videos).

      At 225-245lbs I could drop into a legit squat, but after that, like I said, mental/psychological clusterfuck.

      PS. I have a first post on here on April 18, 2009 at 5:00 PM that says “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” Not sure if you guys have seen it or Will needs to allow it.

      • And where are the problems with OLifting for athletes( not saying i agree or not)? Everything you said just points in the direction of dumb coaches and programming, nothing else.

        1-Why would you even go heavier than 80% on a clean or snatch, for performance purposes?

        2- See above

        3- Again, poor programming

        4- I see this with almost every lift. The Olifts, being highly technical,just happen to magnify the retardedness.

        I’m not a fan of teaching the OLifts unless you have some experience and can actually benefit from them, and personally, i’d rather spend my limited time teaching that’ll actually be useful and that minimizes the risk of injury. However, nothing you said makes the OLifts a bad exercise per se.

  9. Will,

    in trying to help the restriction I was looking for options to sort my SI joint. The following stretch is one I used when away and found it really good. Can you guys let me know what you think and what the science is behind the utube

    • I like it…the 5 second hold I think is too long though as I told you. I think the benefit in this comes from the ‘oscillation’ of the joint if that makes sense. I tend to do 2 second effort to get the joint ‘rocking’ a little more.

  10. thanks Vinny

    I love the olympic lifts, but as for the relevance to football training I have no idea. But if they are used surely it would be better to actually teach them properly. They would be a lot easier on the cns and everything else if people were taught them properly.
    The reps you mentioned seem very high as well.

    Do you think that bench-squat-dead technique is generally better for most guys than their oly stuff?

    285 is pretty good in my book if i ever get that far i will be very happy.

  11. Mimo,

    1&2:
    We had “power” or “heavy” days when we went upwards 90% of our max, why? All my previous coaches believed sooner or later you had to do them heavy to REALLY reap the benefits. And because there’s no slow rep (either you get it or you don’t) heavy weights wouldn’t affect your “power”. Except form always went to shit.

    3: Completely agree. However, like I mentioned, you will rearely ever see an olympic-oriented-only session day where you don’t also do a main “strength” lift.

    4. Correct, however, guys have been doing “regular” lifts their whole athletic career. So if 20% fuckup their form when maxing on those lifts, that percentage will go upwards 80-90% for the most challenging and technical movements.

    I’m not trying to say O-lifts are ‘bad’ per se, I’m just making clear, than in my opinion, in an athletic setting, when trying to improve performance, olympic lifts are not the best “bang for your buck”, as Americans would say. Hope that answers your question too, Garrett.

    In the US, college (American) Football teams will often have 100+ players on the roster and while big Division I school may have 5-10 assistant strength coaches (and that’s being very generous), firstly, not all of those coaches will be proficient enough to teach them effectively, and secondly you just can’t coach each player individually cause that would take forever. And if you did, you’ll be taking time from other aspects AND the place will JUST look like an olympic training center…which would tie to Buddy Morris’ point on why not just recruiting olympic lifters in the first place.

    Lastly, while there are about 120 Division I schools with football teams, there are 300+ schools at the lower college levels (D2,D3, NAIA, etc) and these schools, while still having 100+ players, will on most occasions, have a position coach ALSO serving as strength & conditioning coach.

    For better or worse, I really enjoy all this debate, I gotta say.

    • I don’t think we’re disagreeing,after all.

      The Olympic lifts are just one more tool. I love to do them, but i don’t put anybody on them(not yet, at least). But this isn’t because the lifts are bad or wouldn’t help the athlete, but because:

      1-I’m not an OL coach and i always go by “if you’re not sure you can do it right, don’t do it”. I wouldn’t risk it.

      2-There are bigger,more important problems to solve

      3-It takes a lot of time to get proficient in them. Making other exercises more time efficient,thus better options,IMO.

  12. Vinny thanks for all the info, discussion would have made more sense if the posts had appeared when written.
    Anyways what you say makes complete sense , but if teams are investing that much in players and requiring them to perform oly variations you would think they’d ensure better technique to minimise injuries if nothing else.
    4-5 guys from 250 with good technique the mind boggles.

    • Garrett said
      Vinny thanks for all the info, discussion would have made more sense if the posts had appeared when written.
      For some reason…I’m assuming it was the YouTube links…your posts were picked up as spam….as you well know…there’s no censoring or moderation here….unless you just annoy me…then you just get deleted.

      Anyways what you say makes complete sense , but if teams are investing that much in players and requiring them to perform oly variations you would think they’d ensure better technique to minimise injuries if nothing else.
      4-5 guys from 250 with good technique the mind boggles.
      That stinks of crap coaching…I can coach athletes to coach each other better than that.

  13. About your point on coaching each other…I don’t know if that’s an American thing or an age thing, but that never fully worked at my level.

    Being a teammate, most players won’t listen to you unless you are a very accomplished player on the field OR somehow manage to fully gain their trust. At my ‘greatest’ playing-coaching moment, I’d say 5-6 guys continually came to me for advice or recommendations. But out of 100+ every season there’s bound to be some haters.

    Funny story: one guy, Senior starter, heard me talking about something and told somebody else I was full of shit and nobody should listen to me. A week later he’s passionately paying attention to some bench/squat tips a team captain is giving him.
    Guess who gave the team captain those tips?

    But yeah, for the most part players don’t like peer coaching around here.

    Looking forward to visiting next month, albeit for a few hours.

    • Some great coaching goes on in our gym and some of the guys who do the best job are the youngest. The determining factor is generally how committed they are as athletes themselves as in how much time they actually spend training…I suppose it also comes down to the fact that I continually say the same things over and over again and that eventually has to sink in.

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