Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on March 1, 2019 Comments off

For decades I wrote prolifically for publications related to my profession, the various “muscle magazines,” some book chapters, athletic event game or contest championship programs, and for Internet sites. I had features, my own dedicated columns, or major editing work but have in the past decade, purposely limited myself to providing Pete and TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS with what is now more than ten years’ worth of consecutive monthly features. Because I am enamored of football history and long before public interest noted it, concussion related research due to my own medical history that includes eleven hospitalizations for concussion with perhaps three or four times that number being suffered through years of football, street fighting for money, providing backstage security for a major recording company, two of the best known rock music venues, and various rock and roll tours, I also do “work” for HELMET HUT. If one goes on line to http://www.helmethut.com they will be treated to a ton of football history related to the suspension helmet era of football, a period spanning the approximate years of 1945 through the early 1980s with an emphasis on university and professional team histories, the evolution of football equipment, and the presentation of what is truly an on line museum of football helmet “stuff.” The company has provided the authentic reproductions (not “replicas”) of past helmets for the College Football Hall Of Fame, numerous collegiate athletic department displays, and the Halls Of Fame and “greatness displays” that many NFL teams have erected in the past fifteen years at their new or refurbished stadiums. Both “jobs,” for TITAN and HELMET HUT are done for pleasure and the dissemination of what I believe is interesting and useful information.

Alvin Roy
Alvin Roy is credited with being the first collegiate strength coach as early as 1957 although he was not a full time member of the LSU staff. He was also credited as the NFL/AFL inaugural strength coach and again, he was never a full-time employee. This in no way denigrates his contributions to the sport or coaching profession but Boyd Epley of Nebraska and Kim Wood of the Cincinnati Bengals should be credited with those respective titles. Alvin, as a former Olympic lifter and coach, emphasized the three competitive Olympic lifts in most of his training programs. The shift to powerlifting oriented movements did not occur until the late-1970s

More than other months of the year, February and March will be frustrating if one allows it to be, as powerlifting and football have a bit of a merger. Coincidentally, my monthly column for March 2019 at HELMET HUT is directed towards what I term “The NFL’s Underwear Olympics,” the annual NFL Combine where top draft prospects are put through their paces in a variety of drills designed to measure specific physical parameters. That most of these, and the studies support the conclusion, have no relationship to future success in the NFL has not prevented what has become a made-for-television-event a staple among fans. That the bench press was included since the inception of the Combine in 1984 as one of the testing measures, a so-called reflection of “upper body strength” and “football specific strength” remains a mystery and laughable. One may immediately wonder if having three or four years of collegiate varsity experience and daily practice during seasons in addition to spring football practice, all of it on tape, all subject to evaluation, and all pitting an individual player against others of varying size, speed, and ability would reveal his true talent. Best stated by current Houston Texans head coach Mike Vrable, a former player and assistant coach, “Ultimately, the resume is the film.” As obvious as this is it has taken NFL personnel a long time to figure out that the Combine is a made-for-television event even if that was not the original intention. For powerlifters who take their sport seriously, it becomes an insult to watch internet video of various athletes doing “700 pound squats” and then “35 reps in the bench press test” at the Combine.

Having played collegiate football long before most universities had weight rooms, a group of us would hitchhike or take the bus to the YMCA and as it was in the mid-1960s, join the competitive lifters in the basement where the weight room was invariably hidden. As football players we of course performed our exercises and the competitive Olympic and/or powerlifts as the competitive lifters did, meaning through a full, competition-legal range of motion. To do otherwise would get one verbally brutalized before being asked to leave and train elsewhere! Now, college weight room squats are done with a strength coach “not really assisting” but rather “just spotting” with his forearms and hands locked solidly around the lifters torso. It’s bad enough to see that occur in a legitimate powerlifting contest even when there is no contact being made between the rear spotter and the lifter who is squatting, it presents too many questions and doubts about the legitimacy of a lift. In a college weight room, I have, when in attendance, rarely seen “non-contact-spotting” with heavy squats. Add to this that college football weight room squats most often wouldn’t allow the athlete to safely defecate on a standard toilet, as they hovered inches above the toilet seat, in their “deep squat position.” In brief, most college weight room squats should not be viewed nor compared to competition legal squats because they aren’t; they are not the same lift, they do not cover the same range of motion, they rarely if ever reach legal depth and especially with the heaviest of weights, and they are plain and simple usually assisted by the spotter.

This collegiate football player had an outstanding rookie season in the NFL demonstrating obvious strength and speed. Video tape available to the public did not reveal the ultimate depth of the squat or the “level of spotting assistance” rendered although this weight room photo demonstrates inappropriate spotting technique. Much safer are “spotting bands” suspended from overhead supports and strong spotters on each side and behind the barbell. This allows the lifter to perform in an unencumbered manner leaving no doubt to the legitimacy of the lift while maintaining safety standards

The bench press performances can only be likened to the half to three-quarter range of motion movements done by most bodybuilders (with little to no physiological justification) and certainly not what should be a legal, competition bench press. Whooping, screaming, and pounding on the walls at the Combine might seem motivating but the bench presses that are done are still partial range of motion movements that reveal little. I respect anyone who trains and becomes strong but not only is the bench press “test” a poor substitute for a legitimate bench press evaluation, the lift itself means nothing in predicting a player’s possible NFL success. As early as 1996 studies indicated that there was actually an inverse relationship between the number of completed bench press repetitions performed at the combine and future NFL success. For those with limited math skills, this means that those who did the most bench presses, even partial bench presses, had less on-the-field success and a lower likelihood of making a squad than those that did fewer. Huh? A moment of reflection will quickly reveal what all powerlifters know: our sport is one of both strength and leverage factors. To pass block effectively, one would ideally have long arms; the longer one’s arms, the more effective one can be in keeping the defender from gaining contact with one’s body. Most excellent pass blocking offensive players have relatively long arms as might be, or should be expected. Of course as lifters we know that the longer one’s arms, the further they have to push the bench press, making increased arm length (more precisely upper extremity length as we must include the forearms) a definite disadvantage in the bench press. Most of the knock-out bench press performances at the Combines have been by individuals with relatively short arms, one of those predictors for failure as a pass blocker. Yet, because the average public can very readily relate to the bench press, has seen the bench press previously, and if ever in attendance in a gym environment no doubt attempted a bench press, it remains on the menu of useless evaluative tools at the Combine. One must respect the athletes that have worked hard enough to be invited to try out for and be evaluated for an NFL possibility but leave the comparisons to what competitive lifters do out of the equation. As a competitive lifter work hard to improve, don’t be concerned with the performances of others and certainly, don’t even take note of what is considered to be “record breaking performances” by football players.