To complement “Specialize in Sports Massage: Advanced Certification Can Change Your Practice” in the August 2016 print edition of MASSAGE Magazine.

football player

This past January, February and early March, the XPECORE Sports Bodywork Mentorship program brought massage therapists to Boca Raton, Florida, to participate in a unique weeklong educational and clinical program that would support the training of 35 football athletes who were preparing for the NFL Draft.

Eighteen of these athletes were invited to participate in the NFL Combine—only 300, nationwide, are invited to do so—a four-day event held in Indianapolis during the final week of February.

All of these incredible athletes were also invited to demonstrate their skills at one of 66 Pro Days held in March at various universities around the U.S.

Next January and February, there will be a new group of NFL Combine athletes who will discover the benefits of regular sports bodywork. Many of those who attended this past winter, or who received similar training over the past three decades, are already working with sports medicine teams, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and throughout the U.S., Great Britain, Canada and Australia. [Editor’s note: Read the stories of four massage therapists who participated in the mentorship program, in "Specialize in Sports Massage: Advanced Certification Can Change Your Practice,” in the August print issue of MASSAGE Magazine.]

The training will continue in 2017.

 

athletes

Athletes train at the 2016 NFL Combine, supervised by Tony Villani. | Photo by Patty Kousaleos

Draft Strategy

This July, 24 therapists trained in the same week-long Sports Bodywork Mentorships, except they worked with NFL athletes who are preparing for the 2016 season that begins Aug. 1 at preseason camps around the country.

All NFL teams have their coaches, scouts, medical staff and management at these events to evaluate the athletes’ talent and skill potential, starting the process of developing a draft strategy.

Tony Villani, founder and lead trainer of the XPE Sports Academy, has been working with elite collegiate and professional athletes for more than 20 years. He trains his athletes from a fitness equation that is commonly used in developing Olympic-level speed.

He has also developed a self-automated treadmill, called the SHREDmill, which focuses on speed mechanics with powerful stride frequency. Tony has been called the “speed guru of the NFL,” and his athletes train with him every off-season.

I have been involved in working with elite athletes, dancers and other performers since the early 1980s. My early career in Structural Integration included stints in New York, New York, where I worked with a leading chiropractor whose patients were top professional ballet dancers, symphonic and studio musicians, and classical and Broadway singers.

After returning to Tallahassee, Florida, I began working with varsity athletes at Florida State University, as well as elite amateur athletes in running, cycling, yoga, modern dance, rugby and martial arts.

After opening the CORE Institute in 1990, I was asked to coordinate an elite sports massage team for the British Olympic Association under a multi-year agreement that brought Britain’s finest athletes to train in Tallahassee in the years before and after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

This led to an incredible experience of co-developing a 170-member team that worked with the athletes of the 2004 Athens Olympics and Paralympics. Six years ago I was asked to coordinate a team of therapists who would work regularly with the top 35 to 40 athletes of the Florida State University football team.

The results have been incredible, with record-low injury statistics that have improved annually—and an undefeated National Championship season in 2013 that didn’t lose any starters to a season-ending injury.

 

sports bodywork

A demonstration of CORE Myofascial Spreading | Photo by Patty Kousaleos

A Big Question

The question Tony and I had to answer was, “Could coordinated myofascial therapy treatments help athletes train for seven weeks at a maximum intensity level for increased speed, power, agility and position skills, while also reducing the risk of soft-tissue injury?”

After eight weeks of training 52 therapists (seven or eight each week), and providing over 700 sessions to collegiate and international athletes—two from the U.K., one from France and one from Germany—there were no serious soft-tissue injuries that hampered their performance levels.

Indeed, all of the XPE-trained athletes were either drafted or signed rookie contracts with NFL teams. Most had personal bests in speed, agility and power drills and many moved upward by one or two rounds in the draft.

Tony and I began working on a plan we agreed upon during the summer of 2015 that would have the therapists focusing each day on the body regions that were critical in producing faster, stronger and more agile athletes.

Tony had developed training programs that have proved successful as many of his athletes over the past two decades have scored the fastest 40-yard dash times at the Combine and various Pro Days. He recognizes that structural issues need to be addressed during their training, issues that may have been ignored during their high school and collegiate careers. Indeed, many have to be retrained in sprinting and change-of-direction mechanics.

 

therapist massaging athlete

Licensed massage therapist Mary Bossard works on an athlete at the 2016 NFL Combine.

Elevated Levels

The initial structural issues included pelvic positioning, ankle mobility, dynamic hip flexion, spinal length, and shoulder mobility.

From the first day of training, the therapists focused on protocols that work with the four lines of the leg—anterior, lateral, posterior and medial; including deeper hip and lumbar techniques.

On the second day, the focus moved to the thorax, paraspinals, shoulders, neck and head.

The third day focused on deeper work for the thoracolumbar fascia, the scapular, gluteal and iliofemoral regions, and deeper techniques for the cervical column.

On the fourth day, the training included deeper and more specific techniques for the foot, ankle and arches and a stretching technique for the sacrotuberous ligament while deeply engaging the multifidi with specific cross-fiber techniques.

Day five brought the techniques together in full-body and region-specific protocols.

During the first weeks of January, we often dealt with the athletes’ increasing levels of soreness from the intensive training and from injuries from the previous season and bowl games. As the athletes elevated their fitness and agility levels, we were able to help them improve structural balance of the pelvis, hips, spine and shoulders.

Many athletes reported they were able to recover more quickly and find new levels of performance each week. Initially, Tony and I thought that having two 30-minute sessions each week would be enough, but many of the athletes dictated that they needed more sessions of longer duration.

 

Top Condition

By the end of the XPE NFL Combine Prep, the athletes were in top physical and mental condition, thanks in part to the regular sports bodywork treatments that sustained and boosted their athletic and cognitive abilities.

A team of therapists worked with them daily at the Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana, and other therapists worked with the athletes who continued their training at XPE for their Pro Day event.

 

George KousaleosAbout the Author

George Kousaleos, L.M.T., and his wife, Patricia, opened the CORE Institute in 1990. In the summer of 2011 George was asked to develop a Sports Bodywork Therapy team that would work with the athletes of the Florida State University football team. From their success in helping to significantly lower the soft-tissue injury rate, the CORE Sports Bodywork Team has worked during the spring and summer training camps and during the regular seasons on the majority of athletes who see significant playing time. More than 30 of these athletes are currently playing in the NFL.

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