Is an Outdated Strength Program Putting Dallas Cowboys Players at Risk?
Following his first off-season workout with the Denver Broncos, DeMarcus Ware raved about the "state-of-the-art" training program employed by his new team.
"It's an unconventional type of way of working out, but it's the best way to keep guys on the field and keep them flexible, but also being able to maintain a guy through their whole career," Ware said. "We did sleds, we did leg slides, Keiser machines. You name it, it was in there. Really state-of-the-art."
During his nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys—the team that drafted him in 2005—the All-Pro linebacker twice led the NFL in sacks, made seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, and, lucky for him, missed only three games—all in 2013.
Many of Dallas's other marquee names have not been so lucky. In fact, over the past two seasons, the Cowboys rank third in games missed by starting players because of injury, according to the Dallas Morning News. ESPNDallas.com reports that Cowboys players missed a combined 77 games to injuries in 2013, including key starters DeMarco Murray (two games), Miles Austin (five games) and Sean Lee (five games). Nearly a third of those missed games (23 of 77) were due to hamstring injuries.
Things got off to a bad start this season when Lee, Ware's heir apparent as the leader of Dallas's defense, suffered a torn left ACL during organized team activities. The linebacker is expected to miss the entire 2014 season. And while Lee's injury, which occurred when he slipped and collided with rookie first-round draft pick Zack Martin, looked to be a freak occurrence, other recent issues—such as two more Dallas defenders missing practice this week due to hamstring injuries—suggest a larger, perhaps systemic, problem.
Indeed, recent comments by head coach Jason Garrett seem to imply that the Cowboys coaching staff might be, well, behind the times when it comes to their strength and conditioning approach. Garrett told the Dallas Morning News:
"Typically, we've done kind of the old team stretch, and we're experimenting with dynamic warm-up stuff that I've done in my past, other coaches have done in the past. You try to be innovative, you try to evolve, you get feedback from the players, you get feedback from the coaches. We just try to help our players get themselves more ready to practice and hopefully stay healthier over time."
"Experimenting with dynamic warm-up stuff?'" Pretty much every strength & conditioning coach will tell you that a dynamic warm-up is a necessary component of any practice or workout. A dynamic warm-up increases blood flow, elevates core temperature, and activates the nervous system connection between brain and muscles. Here's Bradley Arnett, C.S.C.S. and owner of NX Level Sports Performance, who's worked with J.J. Watt and other top athletes, on the subject of hamstring injuries and the need for a dynamic warm-up to prevent them:
"Always warm up dynamically—constant motion on your feet—and always, always have a lateral movement concept to your warm-up to do just that. A warm-up through blood flow is important so you don't over stretch hamstrings in a linear motion until they are warm and hips are opened up." Read more.
Over-stretching an unprepared muscle can cause more issues on its own. The Cowboys have reportedly added six workout machines and a ballet bar to address the hamstring issue, but if players use this equipment without properly warming up first, the "solution" may be worse than the problem.
With so much at stake, it's the responsibility of the coaching staff to be on the cutting edge of the latest innovations in performance training and sports medicine. If a dynamic warm-up really is foreign to the current Cowboys' protocol, there's a serious issue with the team's strength & conditioning program.