Key to Olympics & NFL Training Camp Success: Rapid Recovery

I received great questions on from Carl in Texas and Maria’ in France related to how world-class athletes recovery so effectively.  Recovery is one of my favorite sports medicine topics.

I was talking to our defensive back Aaron Ross a couple of days ago at our Jaguars’ practice about his speedster wife and Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross.  He was bragging about her, for very good reason, and how she was racing against the best runners in the world almost every day for over a week.  Although the final races get all the hype, each event has preliminary heats that need to be successfully completed for an athlete to qualify for the “big events” in the Olympics.

It got me to thinking how similar that schedule is for high-level athletes in the NFL, in college and on courts around the world.  Lots of preparing, training, competing, recovering and repeating it all over again.  All it takes is to look at the hectic race swimming schedule of Olympic phenom Missy Franklin to appreciate why the recovery is so important for athletes focussed on performing at a very high level while avoiding injuries.

In an NFL training camp, the 90 players on each roster will practice twice a day for as much as 4 hours per day in extreme heat wearing full football gear, lift weights 3-4 days per week, attend 3-4 hours of classroom meetings per day, study their playbook 3 hours per night and spend 3-4 hours per day warming-up and recovering.  I have a huge amount of respect for these players and their dedication to the game of football!

Sports Medicine Applied

Bigger, faster and strong is the goal for most of us.  Elite athletes recognize that sports medicine techniques emphasize the RECOVERY to make it all happen faster.  Recovery is not as sexy as running up a mountain or lifting 300 lbs but its necessary for successful athletes at any age.

Recovery in the NFL

I’d like to show you how NFL athletes recover so quickly and effectively.  These are some of the tools commonly used by elite athletes to maximize their recovery:

  • Cryotherapy – Cold whirlpools, ice baths, ice massage and ice bags to decrease pain and inflammation.
  • Rollers – To loosen the body and extremities.
  • Elevation – Raising the legs after a workout to promote blood flow out of the legs and speed the recovery process.
  • Contrast Baths/Showers – Alternating hot & cold baths or showers to flush the body’s waste products from the muscles.
  • Compression – To maintain tissue temperature while minimizing extremity bloating and blood pooling.
  • Flexibility Exercises – To lengthen the body’s muscles and enhance one’s blood flow.
  • Manual Therapy – Soft tissue mobilization, massage, myofascial techniques and biomechanical therapy.
  • Cardio Exercise – To improve increase muscle temperature and blood flow while enhancing the ridding of the body’s waste products.

In Closing

If you only remember one thing, it’s recovery is a simple process that every athlete should implement to stay healthy.  It doesn’t require expensive equipment or time-consuming efforts.  Make it part of your routine and you’ll be feeling like a champ!

Finalizing an NFL Roster

Saturday, September 3rd at 6:00 PM EDT.

That’s the deadline that will directly impact the careers of more NFL players than any other day of the year.

It’s the time at which all 32 teams must submit their final NFL roster for the upcoming 2011 season to the NFL office.  Heading into the final preseason game each NFL team has 80 lockers filled by grown men with their eyes on a career as a professional football player.  As of Saturday night each team must trim their team to 53 players, only eight days before the first Sunday of the new gridiron season.

Do you ever wonder how the teams finalize their rosters?  Let me share with you the inside scoop on how NFL teams prepare to make these tough calls.

Each team will decide which players will stick around with the opportunity to make million$ and who will get escorted down the long dark hall to hand in their playbook only to be given directions to Concourse B at the airport.

Grading a Player

Each team differs in how they make their final cuts.  Typically, the following key factors are used to determine who “makes the cut”:

1.  Past Performance

2.  Athletic Potential

3.  Injuries

If a player is extremely talented and healthy, the call is easy.  Meanwhile if a young player with great potential is playing in a position of high need for that team, is lacking playing experience in a big-time football setting and is struggling with nagging injuries, that 6 PM deadline is coming way too fast for the club GM’s and head coaches making those decisions.

My responsibilities as head athletic trainer/physical therapist with the Jacksonville Jaguars during this process is to provide our General Manager Gene Smith and Head Coach Jack Del Rio with a complete medical update on all of our players on a daily basis.  From the minor muscle “tweeks” to the major fractures to the unmentionables, it’s my job to coordinate the entire Jaguars’ medical department, which is treating each and every one of the player’s injuries.

The Crossroads

There are only 6 options for each player and it’s up to the team to determine which road they take.

  1. Active Roster – total of 53 players.
  2. Waived (“cut”) – completely released from the team healthy.
  3. Traded – Players can be “shipped off” to another team.
  4. Injured Reserve – For a player who is currently injured and unable to medically perform their duties as a football player at the start of the regular season.
  5. Practice Squad – For 8 younger players and this has specific requirements to qualify.  “Clearing waivers” is the first step to being able to be signed by a team 24 hours after being released by an NFL team.
  6. Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) – For players who have not participated in any team drills or practices during this year and are medically unable to participate at the start of the regular season.

Volume of Info

As you can imagine, the amount of information on each and every player to be analyzed is huge.  The Jaguars’ Player Personnel Department and the coaching staffs work extremely hard at grading this data.  From comparing workout data, to watching practice/game footage, to factoring in medical reports to relying on their gut instincts on the capabilities of each player, making the final is not easy.

With a non-existent off-season this year, we have no Mini Camps, no OTA practices, no workout reports and only a minimal amounts of practices to help make these decisions for approximately $120 million worth of players for the 2011 season.

The End Result

It’s not an easy task but the objective is always the same: Create the very best NFL roster possible to help the Jags’ win as many game as possible.  I have extreme trust in my medical staff and the Jaguars’ football staffs that we will put the very best team on the field come this Monday morning.

Many childhood dreams and professional careers hang in the balance for players on all 32 teams.  The average length of an NFL player’s career is only 3.2 years.  Come Saturday night at 6 PM, that average is about to get even shorter.

How Can I Help You?

“How Can I Help You?

What Are Your Sports Medicine Questions?

These five simple words can be the difference between someone living a life of pain and limitations compared to a energetic life with great health.

Medical issues can be confusing and intimidating.  I’m entering my 24th year as a certified athletic trainer/physical therapist in the NFL and I have moments when this big medical world is confusing.  So no need to feel isolated, you’re not alone with your unanswered questions.

I’ve been getting amazing emails from Mike Ryan Fitness readers with great questions about sports injuries, tips on enhancing their recovery, injury prevention, knee strengthening tips, what was wrong with me volunteering to Run with the Bulls in Spain, tips on recovering after a surgery,…etc.

Commenting after my Sports Medicine Blog is always a great way to ask me a question while helping others who may have the exact same question.

Now it’s your turn.  What sports medicine questions do you have for me?  Let ’em fly and let me help you get back on the field where you really want to be.

An Inside Look at the NFL Combine

NFL Combine Workouts

With the NFL Combine medical exams and individual workouts starting tomorrow, there’s a lot of excitement in the air here in Indy.  The anticipation of seeing which elite athletes will put their athletic skills in the fast lane is thrilling for fans, the NFL teams and, obviously, the young football players themselves.

We’ve all seen the highlights of this year’s superstar college players during the fall season.  Now is their time to showcase their skills in an NFL setting under the watchful eyes of all 32 teams at the Combine.

What is “The Combine”?

Simply stated, the NFL Combine is a very organized and well-structured job interview.  It is an invitation-only event where approximately 420 of the country’s best college football players are invited to Indianapolis in an effort to launch a new career as a professional football player.

As Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist for the Jacksonville Jaguars, my main responsibility at the Combine is to oversee our team’s medical department and to coordinate a comprehensive medical documentation of every player attending the six-day event.  How difficult can that be?

I’m very fortunate to have an outstanding staff of highly skilled doctors and certified athletic trainers on my team.  The process of compiling and interpreting extensive amounts of medical data at the Combine is very much a team efforts and, I’m proud to say, the Jags’ have a great medical team at this year’s annual event.

Besides the examinations themselves, we all work hard sorting through mountains of medical information from medical history reports, internal medical exams, orthopedic exams, MRI’s, lab reports, surgical reports, player’s feedback, rehabilitation documentation, x-rays, and any other medical information available to determine the present medical status of each player.

Following the medical exams, the players are busy with the many phases of the Combine process.  These include personal interviews, bench press testing, cognitive testing and the well publicized on-the-field workouts.  The field drills are position-specific and closely watched by all the league scouts, coaches and interested personnel.

In summary, this week’s NFL Combine is a wonderful opportunity for both the players and the teams to take huge strides towards a successful fall season.  I tip my hat to National Football Scouting and the NFL for the massive efforts put forth to make the event happen so efficiently.  The amount of time and organizational skills needed to coordinate this event is more than impressive.  Personally, I understand how vitally important this event is to the Jaguars’ future and I’m proud to represent my team and the league as we all look forward to the upcoming season.