Engineering athletes to be faster and stronger

March 5, 2012 9:43:44 AM PST
The Indianapolis Colts finished two and 14. With stats like that, it's hard to believe their quarterback is paid the highest salary in the NFL.

Peyton Manning will take home $23 million for a season he didn't even play. Neck injuries sidelined him. That's why the pros are working so hard to engineer a better athlete, one who runs faster, throws farther and is hit with fewer injuries.

What was once just sci-fi, is turning young competitors into better, stronger, faster athletes.

And although many strive for it?few make it to this level?an elite athlete, engineered to be one of the best in the world.

Devin Goda wants to be one of them.

At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Goda is a big man with huge aspirations.

"That's definitely my top priority and dream to make it to the NFL," he said.

During the past two seasons at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, Goda's time in the 40-yard dash has dropped from 4.75 to 4.38. That fraction of a second saved, puts him on par with the best wide receivers in the game. How did he do it? By improving one step, one movement at a time.

"Filming through the computer we can watch the athlete- whether it is sprint technique, Olympic lifting technique, plyometric technique" said Tim Griesser, performance coach for UPMC Sports. "It provides the athlete with instant visual feedback."

Specialized computer software analyzes performance. Trainers can tell instantly whether athletes are right on the mark.

The Atlanta Falcons, a high performance team with one of the lowest injury rates in the NFL, never underestimate the power of motion.

"You have to look at the movement," said Jeff Fish, director of athletic performance for the Atlanta Falcons. "It's so much bigger than just is this player strong, is this player fast."

Several times a year, every Falcons player undergoes functional movement screening. Seven specialized tests, scored zero to three, identify limitations in strength and motion from left to right, head to toe before they cause injuries.

"Over the course of a 16-week season, if you do have an asymmetry, if you do have a restriction, that's going to eventually break down," Fish said.

To prevent that breakdown, customized therapies target each player's unique risk factors. The healthy movement score becomes a benchmark for healing.

"I can use that objective data that was generated before the athlete was injured to help me evaluate the athlete at the time of return to play," said Dr. Spero G. Karas, the Falcons' head team physician.

Better mechanics, sharper science and breakthrough technology, fast-tracking players to their dreams.

"I'm going to come out of nowhere, coming out of a small school," Goda said. "Not too many people know about me. I'm going to turn some heads."

Motion analysis isn't just for professional athletes. Movement screening is now available through certified personal trainers all over the country to allow weekend warriors and fitness enthusiasts to test their own efficiency of motion, and improve performance.