Alabama Football: Train Hard, Recover Harder

As some of you may know, this past weekend, I had an amazing opportunity to get up close and personal with the University of Alabama football team. I am not going to lie, I did feel a little weird representing anyone other than my beloved Florida State University Seminoles. But let’s face it, Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide are legendary, and I am still a little star struck after the whole experience! So in honor of Rivalry Day this Saturday, as the boys prepare to take on the Auburn Tigers, I am going to share with you what I learned about the team, their facilities, and why they perform the way they do!

Watching college football from the stands is nothing less than exhilarating, but watching college football from the field is nothing less than extraordinary. While watching these athletes create such an astronomical amount of speed and power just feet in front of me, I was really able to appreciate JUST what these men are doing to their bodies. Something I say to my patients all of the time kept coming to mind: “ You HAVE to recover as hard as you train!” Athletics of all kinds have evolved so much, there comes a time where a hot shower and a protein shake post workout just aren’t going to cut it anymore. If you want to continue to push your body to perform at the highest level, you have to recover at the highest level, and that is EXACTLY what these Alabama players are doing.

After touring the player’s lounge, equipped with multiple flat screen TV’s, massage chairs, and even a barber shop, we headed over to the recovery facilities. YES...this is where the fun begins! Upon entering, the first thing I saw was an even BIGGER flat screen TV than the ones in the lounge, and it’s not so the player’s can keep up with the Kardashians during rehab. The screen is part of a virtual reality system that helps monitor and assess the player’s pre and post injury statistics. Complete with VR goggles and a fully integrated interactive floor, the system can monitor motor function pre and post concussion, as well as the muscle power generated from the lower extremities following a sprain/strain injury. Imagine what it would be like to know EXACTLY where you stand in the healing process?  

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The next stop on our tour was a room equipped with hot and cold tubs for contrast therapy, and an “endless pool,” which produces a current for swimming, exercising, or deep water running. Swimming is a fantastic form of exercise/therapy for athletes experiencing a variety of injuries, so having access to this is crucial for anyone who needs to remain in tip top shape. However, maintaining a certain level of fitness while decreasing strain on your body in the pool isn’t enough. The Crimson Tide players are in luck, because right outside the wet room doors sits a glorious AlterG (hyperlink) anti-gravity treadmill, with NASA Differential Air Pressure technology. I know-Dr. Jess, but what does that even mean? It means that you can train, injured or uninjured, without the stress of gravity on your long bones and joints. This treadmill will “unweight” you from 100% of your bodyweight down to as little as 20% of your bodyweight,  so you can train pain free, and maintain your cardiovascular fitness levels. Technology is basically insane.

If anti-gravity running isn’t one’s idea of fun, no worries. After learning about AlterG treadmill, we looped around the corner to rows of Zero Gravity Chairs, all equipped with their own NormaTec systems. Zero Gravity chairs decompress your low back, while simultaneously aiding in lymph flow and circulation by raising your feet around heart level. Normatec, on the other hand, uses “pulsing technology” to massage compressed air over the lower extremities to promote faster recovery after a brutal training session.

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Not to be confused with Normatec, there was no shortage of Game Ready systems in this recovery haven. Game Ready technology uses both cryotherapy and compression therapy for injury rehabilitation, taking the old school “RICE” game to the next level.  Cryotherapy (or cold therapy)  is one of the safest and widely used treatment measures for both acute and chronic injuries, or in post-operative settings. Cryotherapy reduces blood flow, therefore reducing inflammation and swelling, decreases metabolic demand on the tissue, reduces muscle spasm, and safely relieves pain. Compression therapy is used to apply even pressure to an injured area, reducing the amount of available space for inflammation and swelling to accumulate. It increases lymphatic drainage from the injured area, and is most effective when combined with cold therapy. Having access to a Game Ready is nothing short of a game changer when rehabbing an acute sprain/strain injury, or a more chronic tendinosis as well (good thing I have one in my office)! What was even more amazing is that there are so many Game Ready consoles available to the athletes, that injured athletes can take them home! As we were leaving the player’s lounge, we ran into #34 Damien Harris who suffered a mild concussion during the game vs. The Citadel. He was toting his own console, equipped with the cryo cap attachment, that will fit over his head. I’m sure he’ll be back in action in no time!

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Before I catch myself writing a 10 page article on the recovery routine of the University of Alabama football players, I’m going to fill you in on one more detail. This one is CRUCIAL to performance and recovery. THE FOOD. We finished our tour in the beautiful, newly built cafeteria, where the athletes have around the clock access to all sorts of healthy and delicious food. From gluten free options, to natural anti-inflammatory recovery juices, these athletes are not missing a beat when it comes to nutrition and recovery! It does not matter how hard you train, if you fill your body with trash, your performance will reflect that! My personal favorite detail was the fact that every food item and meal had the appropriate macros listed (grams of protein, fat, and carbs), so athletes tracking their intake can do so easily! Maybe next time I will be lucky enough to catch a meal there, too!

If you have learned anything from this behind the scene look at the Tide’s athletic facilities, I hope it’s this: it is absolutely imperative to make sure that you are caring for your body outside of the gym with the same vigor and enthusiasm that you give in the gym. We may not all be professional or collegiate athletes, but if you are looking for longevity in any career, this is a detail that cannot be overlooked!


Jessica Duncan Propes