The weightlifting exercise blamed for hospitalizing 13 University of Iowa football players was used inappropriately, officials for a major strength and conditioning organization said Monday.
Jay Hoffman, president of the board for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, also said the Hawkeyes’ football strength and conditioning staff misinterpreted the findings of a study that they claimed supported their use of the workout to increase strength during the first days of offseason conditioning.
“This workout is not a common workout and has no scientific basis to be used to train college athletes,” Hoffman said in a statement.
Tom Moore, a spokesman for Iowa, said the university’s committee report had “the benefit of leading medical science experts in the field conducting a thorough root-cause analysis investigation into this incident.”
“A direct result of their work has been this workout being removed from our training regimen,” Moore said. “We are confident that we have taken additional appropriate actions to protect our student-athletes, which has always been and will continue to be our top priority.”
Moore also defended the Iowa strength and conditioning coaching staff’s credentials, saying they were “in fact, certified and more than qualified to care for our student-athletes.”
The NSCA’s statement is the most recent development in the controversy surrounding Iowa’s response to members of the football team exhibiting symptoms of a breakdown of muscle tissue as a result of a strenuous workout on Jan. 20. All 13 players were hospitalized for nearly a week with the condition, known as rhabdomyolysis.
Last week, a five-member committee appointed by Iowa president Sally Mason and State Board of Regents president David Miles cleared the football program’s coaching staff of any wrongdoing but directed that an intense high-volume squat lift workout be dropped permanently.
The report also said members of the strength and conditioning staff did not know about rhabdomyolysis until after the 13 players were hospitalized with the serious condition.
Rhabdomyolysis occurs when muscle cells break down and release proteins, enzymes and electrolytes into the bloodstream. This can damage the kidneys and lead to their failure.
In its 18-page report, the committee pointed to the completion of 100 back squats using heavy weights as the likely cause of the muscle breakdown among the players. The report said that the exercise was designed to enlarge muscles because medical literature suggested it may increase production of testosterone and cortisol, natural hormones which produce muscles.
But Hoffman said the NSCA disagreed strongly with the Iowa’s staff interpretation of a report appearing in the January 2008 edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Among other things, Hoffman pointed out that recreational athletes, not competitive athletes, participated and that they performed half as many sets and repetitions as the Hawkeye football players.
“The physiological and biomechanical stresses are quite different,” the NSCA’s statement said, explaining that the workout should not be intensified to such great degree when used by competitive athletes.
Boyd Epley, the association’s director of coaching performance, said that the association wanted to clarify its position on the workout. He said the Iowa committee’s report cited two national associations — the NSCA and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association — as having a “considerable tension” over the use of the workout but didn’t directly state each group’s position.
The Iowa committee report stated an official for one of the associations had claimed that workouts like the one endured by Hawkeye players were common among college football programs.
Epley said that the NSCA’s position is that all college strength and conditioning staffs should “stay within the NSCA-recommended standards and guidelines when training athletes.”
Epley also said that a mistake likely was made by the Iowa strength and conditioning staff to have an intense workout after a three-week break and that too many repetitions were required.
“Coaches always need to allow their athletes to acclimate to the intensity of a workout before adding additional intensity,” Epley said. “It would appear that there were an excessive number of repetitions.”
Epley also said the association now recommends that strength and conditioning staffs operate independently of any individual sports programs.
Iowa’s football strength and conditioning staff is under the direction of Chris Doyle, who is identified by the school as a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the NSCA. That group named Doyle, who reports to head coach Kirk Ferentz, as the Big Ten strength coach of the year in 1999.
“Most sports coaches are not certified or have the background to be making decisions on strength and conditioning,” Epley said. “But it is very common for a sports coach to be dictating the intensities of programs, whether it is winter conditioning or summer conditioning. That can lead to problems.”
Areas of disagreement between the University of Iowa investigating committee and the National Strength and Conditioning Association:
The Iowa report: “On the basis of an article published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the strength coaches felt that the squat protocol employed on Jan. 20, 2011, might increase the players testosterone and cortisol levels, leading to some muscle (growth).”
The NSCA response: “The NSCA strongly disagrees with the University of Iowa strength and conditioning staff assertion. The (research) in question did not use 10 sets of 10 repetitions for the squat exercise, but instead used two machine squat exercises performing 5 sets of 10 repetitions in recreationally trained individuals. The physiological and biomechanical stresses are quite different and the results … should never have been extrapolated to what could be used in competitive athletes.”
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The Iowa report: “Based on their past experience, the football coaches, strength coaches or athletic trainers did not have reasons to suspect that a similar workout in 2011 would cause exertional rhabdo in 13 players and the temporary incapacitation of many other players with significant leg pain and stiffness.”
The NSCA response: “Rhabdomyolysis is not an expected or an acceptable outcome of any training program. It is not part of the inherent risk associated with athletic competition, and is a sign that the training program was inappropriate for those athletes at that time of the year.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football