WHEN physical therapist David Reavy watches an NFL game, he sees a series of car crashes. Linemen are like large trucks, linebackers and running backs like sedans, and receivers and cornerbacks are sports cars. Instead of fenders and quarter panels, these on-field "vehicles" have knees, hips and shoulders that get dented and bent on impact. Reavy can attest to the damage: He has put NFL running back Matt Forte back together time and time again.
"Because of the hits, bones can shift and you can get out of alignment," says Forte, who signed with the Jets in March after eight seasons with the Bears. Forte, 30, has worked with Reavy since November 2011, and he credits the therapist's methods—balancing the body through muscle release and activation techniques—for keeping him on the field over the last four years.
In theory, muscles that are weakened or can't contract efficiently because of tightness or tension need to be "released" through a combination of massage and movement. Meanwhile, muscles that are underdeveloped or not responding fully when called upon need to be "activated" through targeted exercises.
"When you're running on a body that is unbalanced, you create a lot of extra force on your joints," says Reavy. "Matt was having knee pain because his pelvis was out of alignment, so we rebalanced the body by releasing certain muscles and activating others."
Though he missed the first weeks of Jets camp with a hamstring injury, Forte is confident that his comprehensive off-season body-maintenance regimen will help him get back on the field for the start of the season. "In the last eight years I've only missed eight games," points out Forte. "As a running back, that's kind of uncommon."
During the off-season Forte focused on flexibility (stretching and Pilates), strength (upper-and lower-body lifts) and speed work (ladder drills, sprints and route running), in addition to once-a-week sessions with Reavy and with a massage therapist.
Since 2008, Forte leads the NFL in all-purpose yards (12,718), but many NFL teams are wary of running backs over 30 because of all the bumps they've taken. "I don't care about age; it's really about how you feel and how you take care of your body," says Forte. "This is just another obstacle for me to conquer."
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Forte's sessions are catered to his specific ailments, but Reavy says that adding these exercises to any recovery routine can help with alignment and overall body function.
Hip flexor release
Lie on your stomach and place a lacrosse ball where the top of your femur meets your hip. Lean a tolerable amount of weight onto the ball and roll forward and back. Bend the knee on the side of the ball and swing that ankle side to side. Repeat for 30 seconds to two minutes.
Sit on a stable surface with one leg out and that foot braced against the opposite knee. Place your elbow (or the back of your forearm) in a sore spot and move your leg up and down. Perform on each leg for three to five minutes.
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