The NFL Combine as we know it could change in the near future. National Football Scouting Inc., the company that runs the Combine, has established a committee to examine all phases of the annual testing event and to look for areas where changes might be beneficial. What might those changes be? Some have mentioned nixing the 40-Yard Dash for offensive lineman. Others have envisioned the introduction of full-pad drills.
But in the opinion of Dr. Michael Clark, founder of the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the CEO of a company called Fusionetics, the introduction of a simple five-minute test could dramatically improve the Combine.
"The [current] events are fine, because really they're just looking at speed, agility, strength and power, which is good," Clark says. "But movement efficiency testing needs to be a big part of what they do, identifying how well these guys move and the imbalances they have that predispose them to injury and decrease their performance."
The NBA Combine introduced a movement efficiency test several years ago, enlisting Fusionetics to conduct it. Clark believes it's time for the NFL to follow suit. The data this test produces could help NFL teams better understand players' bodies, and in turn incentivize younger players to pay closer attention to their own movement patterns.
The 5-Minute Full-Body Scan
The movement efficiency test that prospects undergo at the NBA Combine features three full-body movements—an Overhead Squat, a Single-Leg Squat and a Push-Up. Sounds pretty simple, right? As it turns out, those three movements reveal a lot about your body.
"We look at what we call kinetic chain checkpoints—your foot, knee, trunk and shoulder. While you're doing those movements, we look at those. So say you're performing the Overhead Squat—do your feet turn out? Do your knees cave in? Does your body shift forward, does your back arch, do your arms move forward?", Clark says. "All those indicate that certain muscles are overactive and tight while other certain muscles are weak. When that happens, it both decreases your performance and puts you at a significantly greater risk for injury."
Administering the test is simple. A screener, usually an athletic trainer or strength coach, instructs the athlete how to perform the movement. Next, they use a digital checklist to answer yes-or-no questions about the athlete's ability to perform the movement—for example, do his knees cave in when he Squats? After the three full-body movements are completed, the screener instructs the athlete to perform some simple segmented moves, which focus on the neck, shoulders and trunk. An example of one of these segmented moves is rotating at the shoulder. Again, the screener answers questions about the quality of the movement on their digital checklist.
Once the checklist is complete, the Fusionetics' system uses relational analytics to produce a full report and an overall movement efficiency score between 0 and 100. The test takes only 5 to 7 minutes to administer, but it can produce pinpoint insights into an athlete's body.
According to Clark, this information would be very valuable to NFL teams, as it would help them better understand how and why a player moves the way he does and discover whether his movement patterns place him at a higher risk for injury. "At the Combine, we're testing how big the engine is—the power, the speed, all those tests are important. But you also have to test the frame and the brakes, to make sure you don't have a Ferrari engine in a Toyota frame and suspension," Clark says.
Preventing Injuries Before They Happen
You might think a movement efficiency test at the NFL Combine would be a waste of time. After all, NFL prospects are some of the fittest people on Earth. If a guy can run a 4.4-second 40-Yard Dash, doesn't it mean his movement has to be close to perfect? Not necessarily, says Clark.
Clark believes the test would reveal several issues that plague most prospects, including limited ankle mobility and weakness in the stabilizing muscles around the hips and hamstrings. "Their ankle flexibility and the flexibility of the muscles in the back of the calves doesn't allow their ankles to bend. So what we see is their knees turn out or their feet flatten out, and that causes Achilles problems and plantar fascitis," Clark says. "Football players have these huge quads and hamstrings, but a lot of times, the smaller muscles aren't nearly as strong. The inside adductor muscles are overactive and tight, and the outside gluteus medius muscle is weak, so when their foot hits the ground, instead of those muscles working together to keep the knee straight, it caves in."
These sorts of movement deficiencies are the root cause of many of the non-contact injuries in football. "A lot of time and money is spent on concussions, which is definitely important, but over 9 out of 10 injuries in football happen to muscle, joints and ligaments. A good percentage of those are non-contact," Clark says. For example, for every 10 degrees your knee caves in while you squat, jump, run or cut, the stress on your ACL increases by 100 percent, and the stress underneath your kneecap increases by over 45 percent. This increased stress can have disastrous consequences over time.
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"With the guys who are running, jumping and cutting and whose ankles aren't bent and their knees cave in, the kneecap gets compressed and the ACL gets stretched. It's kind of like taking a plastic spoon and just bending, bending, bending until it breaks. It's not because the last bend was more force, it's the tension built over time that broke it. So that's what happens to a lot of ligaments, cartilage and muscles in non-contact injuries," Clark says.
The Trickle Down Effect
The NFL Combine has a powerful impact on the game of football. If the Combine didn't include the 40-Yard Dash or the 225-pound Bench Test, you can bet younger athletes wouldn't be as interested in them. As such, Clark believes the effects of including a movement efficiency test at the NFL Combine would likely reverberate through all levels of the game.
College powerhouses would see top pro teams using it as an evaluation tool and follow suit, thus enticing younger athletes to focus on optimizing their movement efficiency. "If it's going to happen in the pros at the Combine, colleges are going to start using it, and if colleges use it, high school kids are going to pay attention to it," Clark says. "It could get athletes to do things they don't want to do—foam rolling, stretching, core training, balance training, all the non-sexy stuff." In addition to reducing their risk of injury, the athletes would also see their athletic performance greatly improve. Clark says that movement deficiencies are like a "parking brake" on your body that holds you back from being your best.
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Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Fusionetics system is that it provides both the athlete and the athletic trainer with a customized plan of attack to improve the athlete's movement efficiency. Included in the report the system generates after the test is a 10-minute routine fot the athlete to perform prior to his workouts and practices. This likely wouldn't be relevant at the NFL Combine, but it would be a big help for any team that employs the system. The routine is ultra-personalized to an athlete's needs, providing exact details about what exercises and stretches he should perform to address his movement deficiencies. The athlete's trainer also receives a routine, telling him the best way to use manual therapy on the athlete.
If you'd like to find out more information about Fusionetics, check out their official website.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock