Football can be a brutal, even lethal sport. But you can’t win games if players get injured.
Which happens all the time.
The results are obvious in high school and college teams – “take out” a key opposing player through injuries and you have a much easier time winning. Yet NFL players know that injuries represent the sharp border between career and no career.
And many teams are doing something about it – moving from the “standard model” of bigger, faster, stronger to one requiring great physical flexibility.
Because like most sports, football is an information game.
Falcons and Flexibility
In the December 16th New York Times, Mike Tierney writes about Gray Cook, the physical trainer whose Functional Movement Systems is used by the Falcons and other teams to minimize injuries. It works – reducing the number of injuries significantly. How? Emphasizing coordination between muscles, joints, ligaments, and the whole body – the same kind of flexibility that prevents an 85 year old’s fall on a rug from becoming a hip fracture.
If you play in the NFL you can expect multiple opponents with the speed of world class sprinters, the strength of body builders and the size of refrigerators to come after you and smash you to the ground. If most of us were hit that way we would feel injured.
In the NFL it happens again and again and again.
As knees are particularly vulnerable (ask Joe Namath) many aggressive tacklers go for the upper torso – which produces head injuries. In future decades you might suffer from dementia, but if knocked out of the game you won’t be knocked out of your career.
Still, muscle, ligament, cartilage and bone cells will be smashed and killed. So one trick to staying in the game is to recover fast.
Regenerate or Retire
Fortunately for most athletes the human body remakes itself very quickly – most of us is redone in about 4 weeks, barring skeletal parts like elastin, teeth, and bone. NFL players have just one week to get everything ready.
They must recover fast.
To make a body recover more quickly, flexibility helps a great deal. The body works as a system – so you have to get your body to recover as a system.
With greater flexibility players will respond more readily to the many knocks, smack-downs and dings that football inflicts. Human knees will twist and turn mightily – until something snaps – like the anterior cruciate ligament. Increase flexibility through training and knees, shoulders and ankles can withstand shearing forces that would otherwise wreck the joints of ordinary humans. Joints and bone get to work together, absorbing forces and offloading stresses into more, and more flexible and balanced, parts of the body.
But nothing works well unless the brain – and the body’s total information system – is involved. That’s one reason trainers suggest to players offseason workouts in boxing, wrestling, and kickboxing.
Variety of physical activity helps keep the body young –and more capable of regeneration and recovery.
The Information Model Versus the Machine
Nothing stays the same – especially in the best piece of technology you’ve got – your body.
Most people tend to see their bodies as machines. With time, wear and tear, they break down.
If that simple case were true, the incredible physical stresses undergone by football players would make most of them cripples well before middle age.
It happens to some – so that NFL careers usually only last a few years. Many players never make the NFL because of injuries. But most pros remain physically robust a long, long time.
That’s in part because they regenerate well – making new muscle, bone, and sinew all the time. With training, they do it more effectively.
Because the body is a giant information processing center – an organism – not a machine. Ding a car and it won’t repair itself. We do.
Normally we do that job magnificently. Yet athletes must do it far more quickly and effectively – especially in a sport like football.
So variety counts – training in different sports and techniques leads to different strengths, flexibilities, and capacities to recover. Coordination counts – getting all the parts to work together so they can restore together. Rest counts – without adequate passive rest, like sleep, and active rest – like yoga – the body can’t remake itself as quickly and as well.
And it all works best as a system – a system of information which tells the body how to regenerate and rebuild in ways that work. Learning and memory do not just involve book learning – it also happens to muscle, joints, and bone.
And for each, just as in nutrition, variety of experience is the spice of life – giving us more chances to remake ourselves. And that’s why flexibility training, muscle stretching and relaxing, is so important to athletes – professional or not. Flexibility is as critical to long term health as strength and endurance.
That’s how the body’s information flow works.
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