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Body balance key to Falcons staying uninjured


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Body balance key to Falcons staying uninjured

By D. Orlando Ledbetter

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Just hours after joining the Atlanta Falcons, new cornerbacks Tye Hill and Brian Williams received their equipment, playbooks and their functional movement screens.

The battery of tests, designed to reveal hidden weakness in the muscles and imbalance in the joints, is the cornerstone of the Falcons’ performance plan. And, no, Vince Lombardi didn’t exactly do it this way.

The team charts data and tries to determine if there is a higher frequency of, say, pulled muscles if a player’s body is off-balanced. If a player is stronger on one side than the other, he’ll compensate and increase his risk of injury.

Jeff Fish, the only director of athletic performance in the NFL, brought the program with him from Oakland, where the team had seen a decrease injuries.

A battery of tests and measurements include seven body movements in a variety of stances. There are four different lower body stances. Shoulders and core functions are all monitored for any motion restrictions.

“We are able to get a pretty good snapshot on what the guys need to get them going,” Fish said. “That way, every time a guy comes in the weight room, he’s getting what he needs, not necessarily what all of the linebackers are getting.”

Last season, the Falcons had only one injury-related surgery until late in the season and that one was considered a minor procedure on left tackle Sam Baker’s back. The Falcons were the fifth-best team in the league, in games missed by starters with 11.

Once the players receive their functional movement screens, they get individualized workout plans designed to create muscle balance and improve range of motion. In turn, the team has hopes that such a proactive program will eventually reap off-the-field benefits.

“I really believe that having this model here, combined with Mike Smith’s approach as a football coach, the great city of Atlanta, that we’ll attract a lot of free agents in the market in years to come,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.

Before Fish arrived in 2008, the Falcons suffered seven season-ending injuries in 2007. Renardo Foster, Wayne Gandy, Todd Weiner, Rod Coleman, Trey Lewis and Martrez Milner all ended their seasons on injured reserve.

Last season, only David Irons, Antoine Harris and Laurent Robinson — all backups — wound up on injured reserve and were all injured late in the season.

“Our numbers are down very significantly in a lot of areas,” Fish said. “... I saw the same thing in Oakland. As far as total games missed by starters, total surgeries, those type of things have been down [considerably].”

Lewis and wide receiver Brian Finneran have had to rehabilitate from heinous knee injuries. Finneran was out of football for two seasons before making a strong comeback in 2008. Players will undergo as many as five screens over the course of a season. Finneran learned he had some imbalances in his hamstrings and his quadriceps.

“You have to try to balance it out, once you figure out where the problem is,” Finneran said. “Then the balances make the body more in tune, which helps you run better and get in and out of breaks better. It’s a good theory and it seems to be working. I’ve been healthy the last year and half.”

Lewis had the misfortune of re-injuring a surgically repaired knee while walking down some steps. That led to him missing all of last season.

“It was new, but it wasn’t hard to buy into,” Lewis said of the program. “[Assistant strength coach] Bill [Hughan] and Jeff are real passionate. They make it real simple for you to understand and they show that it works quickly.”

While the Falcons deny that quarterback Matt Ryan’s play faded down the stretch of last season, one of his offseason goals was to get stronger. Fish and his staff put together a program designed to strengthen his body, but with a goal of keep it balanced.

The traditional approach would have included lifting as much weight as possible to build body mass.

“I’ve worked hard with them over the summer to try to improve the functional movement of my body,” Ryan said. “[i was doing] stuff that’s going to apply to playing quarterback in the NFL. I feel like I’ve really done a good job of it. My body feels great. I feel like I’m ready for the grind of the season.”

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Why do I only get one reply when I post this same thing up last night, and this thread gets fifteen. Gotta be my mouthwash.

I've met Jeff a couple times and have tried out his stance/movement/flexibility tests. It felt like torture, I still get cramped up just thinking about it..

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