Think of a high-powered collegiate football team hitting the gym and what comes to mind is probably a frenzy of massive weights, grunts, and sweaty red faces of NFL hopefuls. If Stanford's strength training coach Shannon Turley has his way, that all might change industry-wide in 2014.
In 2006 Stanford went 1-11. This year they finished 11-3. According to a New York Times' report, since 2007, when Turley joined Stanford as its director of football sports performance, injury-related absences from games have dropped by 87% and this season only a single player had to undergo major surgery for a serious injury. How did this miraculous Cinderella story happen?
Much of Stanford's success can be attributed to Turley's innovative conditioning program that favors injury prevention and balance and stability over brute strength, or what they call "real-world applicable man strength." The idea being that the guy who has more control over his body, more mobility and stability, can get lower and overpower a more formidable opponent.
Borrowing techniques from a variety of training styles, from CrossFit to powerlifting, Turley focuses conditioning on joint mobility and overall stability. The Functional Movement Scores (F.M.S.), a durability index that measures the quality of an athlete's movement, is the pivotal tool that Stanford uses to measure its players' progress. Success is seen in the development of the agile, stable body, not necessarily in the number of plates added to the bench bar. While weight training is still a crucial part of the program, Turley tells his athletes to focus on technique first, develop symmetry and movement before you amp up the weight. Copious amounts of stretching, calisthenics, plyometrics, and even hot yoga have become staples of off-season conditioning. You're more likely to run into a Cardinal athlete struggling through planks and lunges than maxing out on squats.
Turley's approach might seem unconventional, but the bigwigs over at the NFL are paying attention, and even international sports trainers have been rumored to drop in to learn from the man many are quickly beginning to see as a visionary. Whether or not Stanford's program revamp could signal the new measure of fitness is still up for debate, but for the moment, the team's stats seem to speak for themselves.
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