Jun 16, 2017
Clemson’s Secrets
Joey Batson and Adam Smotherman

Nothing can derail a successful season quite like the injury bug. But this is football, and injuries do happen. For this reason, we do not use the term “injury prevention” in our program at Clemson University — we prefer “injury reduction.” With the proper preparation, training, and emphasis on recovery, the number and severity of many in-season injuries can be kept to a minimum.

Our approach starts by diagnosing any movement-related deficiencies in the athletes. We work closely with our sports medicine staff, led by Head Athletic Trainer Danny Poole, to determine our players’ abilities to perform various athletic actions. Detailed daily injury reports allow us to understand the complexity of any issues that do pop up, and we constantly communicate with the sports medicine staff to help our young men heal.

Strength training itself is great for injury reduction because it fortifies muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues. To that end, we have implemented joint-specific and movement-specific lifting protocols for the knee, neck, and shoulder — three common injury sites for football players. These exercises are included in our auxiliary training.

We began an ACL-specific protocol in the winter of 2015. This program consists of terminal knee extensions, eccentric control work via various step-down exercises, ankle stability exercises utilizing balance boards and Bosu balls, and training with a neuromuscular emphasis, such as closing the eyes during balance work. Since introducing this program, we’ve seen a significant decrease in the number of knee ligament injuries requiring surgical repair. Of course, the ACL protocol is not the only reason for this decline, but we believe it has contributed tremendously.

Besides the knee, we spend a lot of time fortifying players’ necks. Research has shown that the greater the cylindrical mass of the neck, the more effective it is in dissipating whipping forces to the head during and after collision. So basically, we believe stronger necks translate to greater protection of the brain. To develop this area, we incorporate flexion, extension, and rotation at various angles using a neck machine and partner-resisted movements.

Additionally, we implement different exercises to strengthen the shoulder complex from multiple angles — attacking all three deltoid heads, the trapezius, and the various surrounding tissues involved in movement. Our athletes work pull-aparts; internal and external rotations; scap pinches; scap pulls; side, front, and rear raises; upright rows; and overhead presses targeting the shoulder joint.

The final piece to the injury reduction puzzle is recovery. We implement recovery protocols into our training every day via foam and PVC rolls, body tempering, lacrosse ball diffusion, PowerPlate stretches, high-and-low hurdle routines, and various static stretches. To gauge the need for additional recovery, we rely on player-tracking data provided by the Catapult system.

Our sports medicine staff also contributes to recovery by keeping the cold tubs stocked for athletes to use post-practice. Some researchers believe the efficacy of cold-water emersion to be unreliable, but our athletes feel better after their time in the cold tubs. In-season, that is what matters.

We spend 97 percent of our time during the season preparing athletes for the three percent they are competing in games. Beyond the field, we are fortunate to work for a leader who defines success by more than just the final score. As a result, we utilize sets and reps that develop lives as well as bodies, ensuring our athletes are able to compete at a high level on the field and in life.

Joey Batson, MEd, MSCC, USAW, is the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Clemson University football team. He was named the 1996 NSCA Strength Professional of the Year in the Southern Conference and FootballScoop's Strength Coach of the Year in 2009. Adam Smotherman, MS, SCCC, CSCS, USAW, SSN, is an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Clemson University football team.

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