This week Denver Broncos and I independently discovered something important about physical training and the importance of rest.
On Saturday the Broncos won a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills. The win was nice, but what was really notable is that the Broncos had no injuries. Last year by this time, the Broncos had lost a number of key players, including their two top running backs, to bizarre injuries in practices and games.
What was different between this year and last? Last year the young kid coach Josh McDaniels, a hard ass for the TV cameras, was pushing his players hard in two-a-day practices in 90 plus degree temperatures. Each day he had them do weight lifting and 40 yard sprints on top of practicing football skills in full contact scrimmages. Naturally, the players were fatigued and their bodies prone to injury. Dehydration and consequent depletion of electrolytes reduces inhibits reflexes and muscle performance, making a player prime for injury.
However, this year, with the strike ending late, NFL teams were restricted to one practice a day. The Denver Bronco trainer convinced the new coach Fox to postpone any weight lifting until later in the season. Instead, the trainer has had the players do brief push-up, sprint, push-up routines. In other words, short bouts of high intensity, functional body work. This has enabled the players to build some strength and endurance without exhausting them, especially when training in heat. They were fresh and ready to go when they stepped onto the field.
It's very possible that much of the way the NFL has approached training has been wrong. Most of their players are already very fit athletes who body build year round and all coaches and trainers with Marine Corps boot camp mentalities do is increase injuries, not make tougher players.
What does all this have to do with a decrepit TOJ?
Three nights ago at 11 pm I awoke with an cramp in my left calf. The muscle had contracted into a hard ball and the pain was excruciating. I tried to massage and stretch it, but nothing would stop it. All I could do was wait until it passed after a minute or so. Afterwards, it was tender to the touch, but I fell back asleep.
Then at 2 am, against all odds, I experienced a similar cramp in my right calf, not as intense, but also painful.
The next day I Googled and found out it's a common problem, especially with runners, that doctors cannot completely explain, but suspect the problem is caused by muscle fatigue and a lack of potassium.
I went to my training log. The day of the severe cramping I ran my local trail, which goes two and a half miles, steadily uphill. I ran in late afternoon, after work, when the temperature was 94 degrees. That day my legs felt lifeless, and it showed in my slower than usual time. The day before, again in the afternoon, I had done several sets of vertical jumps and lifted dumbbells, with the temperature at 90 degrees. And the day before that, when I worked out in the morning, I jumped rope for a long time with the temperature in the relatively cool 80s.
Bottom line: Three days in a row of hard exercise, very focused on my calves and in hot weather, had pushed them to their limits. I didn't even know it or intend to work them that hard. They had not hurt more than usual after those three days, they just felt tired. But they had been over-worked, which set off chemical imbalances leading to the severe cramping.
The Broncos figured out less is more and to respect what heat does to a body. I guess that's why they get the big bucks.