Falcons Have Winning Fitness Strategy

Wire, a linebacker, felt an instant affinity with his latest team. The Falcons’ meshing of newfangled training concepts with old-fashioned equipment broadened the scope of possibilities for the way Wire honed himself for the rigors of football.

“Every single person benefits with this,” said Wire, a modestly talented player who attributes his , which probably ended in September when Atlanta waived him, to superb conditioning. “The players who come into the system see this is what they should be doing.”

The approach could contribute to the Falcons’ enviable rate of injury-related absences from practices and games.

Precise statistical comparisons with other teams are not made public, but Jeff Fish, Atlanta’s fitness coordinator, was quoted last summer saying that the Falcons’ regimen had reduced the number of games missed by their players, which is among the lowest in the

General Manager Thomas Dimitroff suggested that data compiled by the team, which he declined to describe, supported the contention.

“I’m very confident with what we’ve been doing over the last three and a half years,” said Dimitroff, who described the methods as semirevolutionary.

“I believe it’s going to be the wave of the future” in the N.F.L., he added.

The Falcons, who visit the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, have emphasized flexibility, based on a procedure called . Its developer is the physical therapist Gray Cook, who has offered demonstrations at the N.F.L. Combine and estimates that 8 to 10 teams use the methods, which he said departed from the long-held credo of bigger, faster, stronger.

“That’s high-school mentality,” said Cook, who has introduced the F.M.S. regimen to Navy Seals.

Wire was exposed to some aspects of flexibility training while playing with the Buffalo Bills. His arrival in Atlanta coincided with the hiring of Fish, whose title, , is unique to the league.

Wire condemns “prehistoric, barbaric programs” that he believes some franchises practice. They cater, he said, to the typical athlete who cannot resist sliding under the bench press bar after loading it with as much weight as he can bear.

Building heft is for those “looking for big biceps” and who want to “look good in the mirror or on the beach,” Wire said.

Wire’s first order of business with the Falcons was submitting to the F.M.S. test, which has seven core parts. It pinpoints asymmetrical regions of the body, along with tightness and weakness in muscles. Athletes are graded on a scale of 0 to 3 in each category, which serves as their baseline.

One test might measure leg lifts. If, say, the left knee rises two inches lower than the right, the weaker leg will be singled out for improvement. The assumption with such imbalance is that half the body could be overcompensating for the other.

“It brings symmetry back to a full range of motion,” said Wire, who contended that he had registered a perfect 21 on the test.

A low score, marked in red on the player’s chart, indicates a susceptibility to injury in that area.

The counterintuitive aspect of F.M.S., Cook said, is that the cure is not necessarily increasing an existing . For a player who scores 0 or 1 on squats, ordering more squats can compound the problem.

“The thing that’s been hard for a lot of old-school coaches is, you’ve got to stop and get back to change that baseline,” he said.

The team’s fitness room evokes a workout gym in a bygone era. Players hoist — cast-iron balls with handles — that date to ancient Greece. Other gear of a certain age includes medicine balls and jump rope.

“We’re pretty basic,” Cook said. With such accessories, he added, “you can get closer to the movements in competition.”

Until this year, tight end Tony Gonzalez skillfully charted his own fitness course, losing only two games to injuries in nearly 15 seasons.

In deference to his age, Gonzalez, 35, incorporated F.M.S. practices, with no regrets.

“I told Fish, ‘I wish I would have listened to you a little sooner,’ ” Gonzalez said.

In the hypercompetitive N.F.L., the Falcons are loath to discuss the program. They refused, in accordance with their policy, to make Fish accessible for an interview.

His satisfied customers, including quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, have attributed their recovery from injury to Fish’s ways.

“He is always 10 steps ahead of where others are now,” Wire said.

The Falcons also broke down the barriers between their conditioning personnel and their trainers.

The two camps historically operated with different agendas, Dimitroff said. Atlanta decided to “bridge the ever-present chasm,” as Dimitroff put it, by allowing the parties to jointly determine a formula for injury avoidance and recovery with each player.

“When they disagree, you are pulling players in different directions,” Wire said.

The Falcons have even hired instructors for off-season tutelage in wrestling, boxing and kickboxing.

“We haven’t got it all figured out,” said Dimitroff, who is nonetheless sold on the general philosophy. “Progressive people are pulling for this to work.”

Cook, its chief proponent, reveals no doubts. Once players reach the N.F.L., he said, they are nearly at maximum speed and strength, so the focus should be on keeping them fresh.

“The pro team strength coach,” he said, “should try to make them age as gracefully as possible.”

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