Bigger, Stronger, Faster


This is in response to a newspaper article I read about how much bigger, faster and stronger athletes are becoming thanks to newer and better training methods and equipment.
I begin with an analogy. You purchase a standard vehicle, new or used, from a dealership. You decide to modify it from its original configuration by installing a 500 HP engine. Then you add a racing transmission, differential and drive shaft. However, you keep the original universal joints that connect the transmission to the drive shaft and the drive shaft to the rear end.
The first time you stomp down on the accelerator, the Universal or “U” joint snaps. It does so because it is the weak link in the now super powerful vehicle you have created.

Making athletes, high school, college and professional bigger, stronger and faster is good for the games and in many ways may help protect the participants. However, as in taking medicine that can save your life, there are side effects (just watch some drug company commercials on television).There are certain parts of the body, like the original “U” joint, that cannot be made stronger. Cartilage, ligaments, tendon attachments and, for the most part, bones are examples.

For many years I have been observing athletic injuries at all levels that occur without contact. At the University of Arizona, the nation’s top football linebacker, Scooby Wright, injured his knee and foot without any physical contact. In basketball, Kaleb Tarczewski injured his ankle and had a “stress reaction” in a bone of his foot. Once again, there was no contact causing those injuries. Don’t forget Tiger Woods. He built himself to the size of a professional football linebacker. His knee and low back (multiple times) have failed him. They should not have happened at his age, in a non-contact sport.

A player was recruited to be a linebacker for the University of Arizona. He was changed to nose tackle, and pushed to gain weight. He got up to 295 pounds. He had spontaneous fractures of the cuboid bone in both feet. They occurred one at a time. The first happened in pre-season camp and the second working out after the season ended. His position was then changed for the following year and his weight dropped to 265, a more rational weight for his height (about 6’1”). He had no issues since dropping the weight.

Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings NFL team, tore up his knee and missed an entire season. The injury happened without contact. There are many more examples at all levels of organized sports.

The process is to make muscles bigger and stronger with faster “twitch”. This means that the muscles contract faster and with more force. This is like adding the bigger, more powerful engine. The padding that provides a cushion between bones (cartilage) now bears more weight and faster, more frequent compression. Add a little twisting to that and that weaker area is subject to tearing. The same is true with bones of the feet. They can’t be made stronger. They are taking heavier, faster and more frequent pounding. A little twist or jump and a break can occur.

Ligaments are the parts of the body attaching bone to bone. They can’t get stronger. Have you notice how many knees, over several seasons, end up with torn ACL’s (anterior cruciate ligament)and MCL’s (medial collateral ligament)? Every season more of those injuries happen without contact? Ligaments can stretch only 4% of their length before fibers tear. Anything more than that and you have a sprain. A sprain, as compared to a strain, means that ligament fibers have torn. A lot more stretching and the ligament tears completely.

Discs of the spine are also vulnerable weak spots. They can tolerate an unpredictable amount of compression, twisting and stretching. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing or predicting which part of a player is subject to being his or her weak link. However, will there ever be a point that an athlete is big enough, strong enough and fast enough? If one has watched the NFL Combine, it appears the answer is, no.

At this time it seems that, as with medicines, the bigger, stronger, faster philosophy will continue until or unless it is “scientifically” proven that the negative side effects are no longer worth the benefits. Unfortunately, I have yet to see any research that studied the “Weak link theory.” I don’t expect to see such research any time soon.

In summation, most people are aware of the benefits of bigger, stronger and faster. I just want to point out the possible negative side effects that have been observed during athletic competition at all levels for many years. I am not suggesting suspending strength and conditioning programs for athletes. I am suggesting consideration of the concept of when enough is enough.

Dr. Leonard Rudnick, (Retired)

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