The NFL combine uses the vertical jump as a measure of lower-body power and explosion. The athletes performed the vertical jump using a commercial vertec device (Sports Imports, Columbus, OH, USA). After using the stack of adjustable horizontal vanes to determine the flat-footed standing reach, the stack of vanes was raised to an estimated height so that the athletes were capable of reaching the lowest set of vanes but incapable of reaching the highest vane. After the athletes generated power and jumped as high as possible vertically, the difference between standing reach and vertical reach was computed. The highest vertical difference trial was used as the vertical jump measurement (8,10,15,22,26,39).
Also known as the standing long jump, the NFL combine uses the broad jump as another test of an athlete's power, explosion, and strength. The athletes began each testing trial with both feet behind a designated starting line while maintaining an athletic balanced stance. Once in place, the athletes performed a countermovement followed by an explosive jump for maximum distance. A countermovement is allowed to demonstrate true power performance (11,28). The test differs from the vertical jump as the jump also tests horizontal displacement and balance as landing under control is crucial. The best of the 3 trials was recorded as the athletes broad jump distance.
Also known as the 18.3-m proagility test and the 5-10-5 cone drill, the NFL combine uses the shuttle run as a test of lateral quickness and explosiveness. An athlete's ability to produce greater power and balance will ultimately lead to better agility results (35). The athletes began the shuttle run in a 3-point stance. They then exploded 4.6 m (5 yards) to a line right of the center line. Once contact was made, the athletes then exploded to a line 9.1 m to the left (10 yards) and made contact with his left hand. They then pivoted and exploded another 4.6 m (5 yards) through the center line. The best trial time was recorded as shuttle run result (14,39).
The NFL combine uses the bench press rep-out test of 103 kg (225 pounds). This test is not only used to assess strength but also to assess muscular endurance. Multiple methods of bench press testing have been used for research purposes (7,19,23), so this particular testing series used an indirect 1 repetition maximum (RM) bench press procedure. This also used both strength and endurance, as a maximum rep-out was also used, but at 90% of the estimated 1RM. The Adam's equation [kg/(1−(0.02 × number of repetitions))] was calculated to determine an indirect 1-RM bench press value for each athlete (17).
Using a sit-and-reach box (Baseline Evaluation Instruments, White Plains, NY, USA) and standard protocol, the athletes were tested for lower trunk and flexibility testing. While seated, the athletes placed their feet 30 cm apart, while contacting the standard box. The athletes leaned forward slowly reaching as far as possible while keeping their hands adjacent with one another. The best trial was recorded to the nearest 0.05 cm (33).
Athletes were asked to indicate their undifferentiated rating of perceived exertion (RPE) using a validated Borg scale at the duration of each condition (5,27,34). The athletes also indicated which foam rolling condition they preferred between FRml and FRap. Preferences of condition have been used as a measure of potential motivation, in this case, a possible motivation to include foam rolling into individual workouts (5).
The current research is unique as it was the first study to compare differences in performance as a result of foam rolling techniques and progressions. The FRml foam rolling progression examined the acute effects of foam rolling passes along the mediolateral axis of the body. Commonly, strength and conditioning professionals have recognized this progression to stimulate blood flow and nitric oxide release to the targeted muscular system (29). The FRap foam rolling progression examined the acute effects of foam rolling passes along the anteroposterior axis of the body. Strength and conditioning professionals have used this progression to stimulate neural factors such as recruitment and pain tolerance (1,2,13,24,36). Along the same lines, professionals have suggested that FRap may also improve lymphatic functioning; however, this is yet to be researched. It was hypothesized that different rolling progressions acutely impact performance variables differently (FRml vs. FRap). Results obtained during this study suggest that FRml has the potential to improve sit-and-reach testing ability when compared with FRap; however, no other performance or subjective scaling improvements existed. This evidence has recently been suggested, as studies have exhibited improved sit-and-reach scores as a result of direct application of the foam rolling device on the hamstrings muscle group (37). Other studies have also demonstrated self-myofascial release and direct application foam rolling to enhance ROM and flexibility in the hip, knee, and lumbar joints (12,25,32,33). This may be physiologically in part because of the dilation response of the direct application of the foam roller to the hamstring muscle. FRml showed an improved sit-and-reach value as the progression included direct hamstring application. No direct application of the foam rolling device with the hamstring groups existed during FRap and may have contributed to sit-and-reach testing differences.
Conflicting data on the effects of foam rolling as it relates to physical performance testing have recently been reported (18,31). Healy et al. (18), along with other studies, have demonstrated no evident foam rolling warm-up effects as it applies to performance testing. Other research by Peacock et al. (31) has demonstrated foam rolling effects in performance testing when combined with a dynamic warm-up (31). The purpose of this study was not to investigate performance improvements but rather to investigate the differences in performance as a result of 2 different rolling progressions. Aside from flexibility testing, there were no additional differences in testing variables including measures of power, strength, agility, and subjective scaling. These results suggest both FRap and FRml demonstrating to performance effects in regards to NFL combine drills and preference.
Although this was the first study to measure the acute performance effects of different foam rolling progressions, it is not without limitations. With any maximum-effort physical performance study, there is no real control group it may create an unnecessary risk of injury for subjects. It is worth noting that no athletes were injured during the performance variable testing. Further testing is currently underway examining the relationship between football specific strength and conditioning movements and foam rolling progressions. This may prove beneficial to not only improve performance testing but also on-field abilities.
Foam rolling may elicit physiological adaptations beneficial for performance, ROM, and recovery. Although conflicting research exists, there have been many positive effects as a result of foam rolling warm-up and cooldown techniques. Based primarily on this study, we suggest direct foam rolling application on the targeted musculature for isolated testing, as this may prove beneficial. Because there were no differences within our athletic population in regards to NFL combine drills and subjective measures, we suggest using a progression of choice. With the many benefits associated, it is reasonable to incorporate foam rolling into any prehabilitation and/or rehabilitation strength and conditioning program, as both progressions may be equally beneficial. Our results demonstrated that athlete preference exists between foam rolling progressions, and preference could then be considered when programming a warm-up. Furthermore, motivating an athlete to properly warm-up with a foam roller device may increase if they have a preference and choice (5). Further research is necessary as foam rolling is a topic of interest within the strength and conditioning field.
The authors take this opportunity to acknowledge the important supporting role of our performance colleagues Robert Fioritto and Kyle Von Carlowitz of Elite Sports Performance, Mentor, OH, for their advanced knowledge in prehabiliation and performance battery testing.
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