Many are aware of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s implementation of sports science beginning last season. “We know about the personalized smoothies. We know about the extended periods of rest. We know about the hockey puck-like sensors on player’s backs. We know about Sports Science Coordinator Shaun Huls’ military background.” In case readers have not heard about Shaun Huls, “in his previous post, Huls coordinated the strength and conditioning and injury prevention programs for the Navy SEAL Teams.” There are also the “post-practice massages, Tuesday practices, Saturday jog-throughs and softer, gentler training camp have yielded the intended results.”
More than anything else, players want to play, but in order to play they must be healthy. To consistently remain healthy, players should embrace several methods of muscle-conditioning including practices such as yoga or Pilates.
Yoga programs in the NFL are nothing new. Several, if not the majority, of NFL teams have a yoga program for their players to utilize. Dating back to the 1990s, the Eagles employed a yogi named Baron Baptiste. Although Baptiste is no longer with the Eagles, he is credited (or at least partially credited) for “westernizing” yoga; which involved removing the religious and/or spiritual aspects of the practice and thereby increasing the comfortability for people of all walks of life to participate.
Several prominent NFL players including New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, and former linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens Ray Lewis all practice yoga. Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos is also a fan, “I can’t lift as much as I could in college, so alternate methods of training is huge,” Dorenbos said. “The ultimate goal is to play and have a job as long as you can and to be productive.”
This off-season, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers decided to exchange some weight room time for yoga. He missed seven games in 2013 with a broken collar-bone. “A lot of flexibility’s helping with those injuries as you get older,” said Rodgers, who turned 30 in December.
Like Aaron Rodgers, Eagles’ tight end Brent Celek has substituted some weight training for yoga, Pilates and Pure Barre (Pure Barre? Just imagine a ballerina doing stretches). Celek has wholly bought into Kelly’s approach and says that he has never felt better throughout all his years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Seattle Seahawks take it one step further and make it mandatory for all of their players to do yoga. They also preach the importance of meditation. Seahawks all pro offensive tackle Russell Okung proclaims:
“Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field for practice,” Okung says. “It’s about quieting your mind and getting into certain states where everything outside of you doesn’t matter in that moment. There are so many things telling you that you can’t do something, but you take those thoughts captive, take power over them and change them.”
After reading ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk’s article “Lotus pose on two,” one can see several similarities between how the Seahawks have been running their organization under head coach Pete Carroll, and how Chip Kelly is re-structuring the Eagles. Positivity, commitment and sports science are eminent on the Seattle team–and who better to emulate than the most recent Super Bowl champs.
Lifting weights causes an ongoing cycle of tearing then healing. This process results in the muscles becoming tighter and can subsequently increase a player’s risk of injury. “There’s no solid evidence to suggest that ACL injuries are more common now than they were 50, 100, or 1,000 years ago. Still, as athletes have gotten bigger and faster, their ligaments have had to absorb greater forces on the field.”
Perhaps it is fitting the Broncos’ were on the losing end in the Super Bowl. They too have a yoga program, but one of their star players made a point of declaring his aversion to it. “I’m trying to get away from the Gumby stuff,”he said last off-season. “I don’t want to rely on that. I just want that to be like second nature. I want to play football.” That player? Defensive end Von Miller, who sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in December and did not play in Sunday’s game.
Yoga can never replace weight training for NFL players. When a sport involves grown men smashing into each other at full speed, size will definitely matter. But as a supplement to increase a player’s longevity in the NFL, and thereby an extremely lucrative career, yoga appears to be beneficial to many of the league’s brightest stars.