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Originally wanting to add 2 games, the NFL recently went to a 17-game regular season after adding just 1 game for the 2021-2022 season. This was a hotly debated topic between the NFL and its players. While the obvious benefit to the NFL as a business was the additional revenue, player concerns over increased injuries were heard from around the league. While you don’t need to read a paper on recovery and injury to understand that additional football games equal more player injuries, this new found knowledge makes it easy to articulate the finer points of the players arguments.
As we discussed earlier in the semester the acute:chronic workload ratio is important to understand when looking at an athlete’s fitness and where that puts them in terms of injury susceptibility. While chronic workload can be looked at as the athlete’s general physical preparedness (GPP), acute chronic workload is likened to their “state of fatigue” (Gabbett. 2016). As Gabbett (2016) goes on to mention, an increase of greater than 10% in training volume per week significantly increases the chances of a non-contact soft tissue injury.
As with any sport, fitness typically declines in the later part of the season due to a variety of reasons. Athletes need to recover between games giving them less time in the weight room. Mid-season injuries may also cause a loss of fitness due to being unable to perform in-season training sessions. This detraining is what Gabbett (2016) talks about when he says that athletes that train at lower volumes are more susceptible to injury. As what was once a zero-sum training load increase week over week, now becomes an increase of greater than 10%. The same athlete that is asked to play 75% of the game at the beginning of season is not the same the athlete that is asked to paly 75% of the game at the end of the season.
While managing training and playing volume is an important aspect to injury prevention, recovery from training and playing is another piece to the puzzle. One facet of recovery is sleep. Lack of sleep has been shown to reduce muscle glycogen levels along with “decreased parasympathetic modulation” which is associated with overtraining (Hausswirth and Mujika. 2013). While this data was collected on sleep deprivation lasting 8 or more hours, even losing a couple hours of sleep over night, be it from going to bed late or waking up earlier than normal has been shown to “reduce maximal work rate compared to baseline values” (Hausswirth and Mujika. 2013).
Coaches should have a formal discussion with their players about the importance of sleep to create buy-in. Athletes are people and like everyone else have their own needs that revolve around their personal lives. Personalizing sleep schedules to the athlete will lead to a greater degree of compliance resulting in greater recovery.