Joint-jerking Workouts Causing Football Injuries

Perils of Bigger, Stronger, Faster

In May 2021 I wrote a “fanpost” on a website devoted to diehard followers of the Cincinnati Bengals, theorizing that the rise in player injuries of recent seasons may have much to do with the raging popular physical training regimens of elite athletes.

I titled the post: “Many Injuries Start In The Workout Room.” What’s unfolding here is largely a repeat of that article, with some elaboration due to most of you lacking intimate familiarity with the Bengals, but also some revision based upon comments the post received.

Click on the photo to see the type of exercise likely to lead to injury.

hazardous exercise demonstration from the trainer of JJ Watt with Nate Burleson

I prefaced the fan post with the obvious:

Few will agree with this post and many with “credentials” will be utterly dismissive. But none can deny that today’s Cincinnati Bengals seem to compile an inordinate list of injuries compared to NFL players in decades past.

Someone who may be associated with the team’s training staff reacted to my post by providing a link to “NFL Injuries by year by team” showing that only six teams had fewer players on injured reserve that Cincinnati between 2014 and 2018.

Good for the Bengals (although the situation worsened in 2019 and 2020). But the thesis wasn’t about comparing Bengals players to those of other teams but to Bengals of an earlier era — before athlete’s workouts became grossly dangerous to joints and connective tissue.

Did Cris Collinsworth or Isaac Curtis miss playing time anywhere near the level of AJ Green?

Dan Ross suited up steadily, while Tyler Eifert was a scratch for most of at least three seasons.

Until a shoulder went awry after a dozen seasons or so, Anthony Munoz missed far less total playing time than has Jonah Williams in just two years.

This is a comparison of today’s Bengals to those of about 30 years earlier. So, think of your own favorite team of 1980-1990 and think how many games its star players missed compared to more recent seasons. Sorry there isn’t more definitive data than our memories.

Pec Tear Phenomena

William Jackson, Bengals’ top draft choice of 2016,  missed his rookie season due to a tear in his pectoralis muscle. Billy Price came to the Bengals in the first round two years later recovering from a pec tear and has since experienced back trouble. Trae Waynes signed to man a corner spot last year but missed the season due to a — drumb roll — pec tear.

I have an extensive background in fitness training and experience as an observer of high level spine rehab research. I’ve never trained an elite professional athlete. But of this I’m quite sure — Bengals players are predisposing themselves to connective tissue injuries by workouts and drills in the weight room.

Not that I know all of what they do, but I saw a photo yesterday of Jonah Williams bounding. I’m sure he’s trying to make himself “explosive” oblivious to the insidious explosion erupting in the ligaments and tendons of his knees and back.

An offensive tackle, Williams was Bengals no. 1 draft choice in 2019. He missed his rookie season and played only about 10 games last year.

JJ Watt Example

JJ Watt has missed a lot of games. He’s had back surgery then missed most of another season due to back trouble. I know he’s not a Bengal, but his high-profile status gives us a glimpse into his training regimen. Here’s a video of Nate Burleson performing a workout with the man who claims to be Watt’s trainer:

You can bet that what JJ Watt does will be imitated by players at all levels.

I know nothing about the Bengals’ strength coaches, but the team’s record of injuries in recent seasons doesn’t look good.

My beliefs about proper training — meaning workouts that strengthen muscle without eventual damage to joints — are out of date and out of touch with modern training. I’m told this by someone who knows far better than I do, Mark Asanovich, an NFL strength coach for 14 years.

When he was on staff with the Jaguars, coach Asanovich conducted a seminar that explains what I’m talking about. 

Explosiveness

Athletic training jargon spews a lot about “twitch” and “explosiveness.” Fast-twitch and slow-twitch, however, signify the muscle fiber’s rate of fatiguability. According to Asanovich who was quoting David Lamb, a researcher formerly associated with Ohio State University, contraction speed is determined by four factors few of us know anything about:

1. Degree of myosin ATpase

2. Degree of sarcoplasmic reticulum development

3. Degree of affinity troponin has for calcium

4. Diameter size of the nerve innervating the fiber

Get The Point?

NFL players, as well as other elite athletes, assume injury risks in their sport and, unfortunately, do so also in the workout room.

“You never know the structural integrity of connective tissue until you’ve exceeded it.”

That’s a statement Arthur Jones say numerous times. Jones invented Nautilus strength-training machines and later spine rehab equipment called MedX.

Picture This

Think of having your car parked at one goal line on a football field. You’re instructed to drive as fast as you can to the other goal line and stop right on that line. Then shift into reverse and return.

That’s supposed to be the word picture of a weightlifting repetition; picture a standing biceps curl.

Your car will have periods of acceleration followed by deceleration before stopping and reversing. If you’re going as fast as you can, you’ll probably go immediately from acceleration to deceleration.

But if you were instructed to drive to the other goal never exceeding 2 mph, you’d have a period a steady speed between acceleration and deceleration. You’d also have much less wear and tear on your brakes, which in a biceps curl signifies the shearing forces upon your connective tissue.

Jerking weight around is as tough on your joints and connective tissue as is slamming on your brakes to rotors, drums, and pads.

Bounding, jerking, ballistic movement, and simulation of athletic maneuvers is a double-edged sword. Yes, it can generate micro tears in the muscle that produce hypertrophy but micro tears of connective tissue strain and tear.

Athletes can get stronger training more sensibly.

Don’t put your physical wellbeing on injured reserve. For a much better understanding of these principles, watch the Coach Assanovich seminar.

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