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Dwayne Hines II

Big, Fat, or Both? - The Modern Football Lineman/Linebacker
June 9, 2003

The physique of the modern football player has undergone an amazing transformation in the past few decades. This is especially true for the lineman, the biggest of football players. Since the Lombardi Era, when linemen such as Jerry Kramer played at 250 pounds, the typical lineman has gained roughly 100 pounds. Today even college teams consistently bring out a full line averaging anywhere from 320-340 pounds. Another area where a tremendous change in size is seen is in the position of the linebacker, where today some linebackers play at 265-280 pounds, a good 60 pounds heavier than athletes of the previous era. One question that occurs is whether or not these size gains are healthy or unhealthy for the athlete. Since many of these athletes don’t play football very long (the typical lineman’s career span in the NFL is brief at best), it is important to look at the effect on their long term health as well as the playing ability this added body mass brings.

A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined these issues by checking the specific body composition of Division I football players. The results were interesting. The concluding paragraph by Noel, VanHeest, Zaneteas and Rodgers was this “although a greater body mass may be beneficial to the positional playing demands of football linemen and linebackers, the current data suggest that this tendency to increase body mass among players in these positions has been accompanied by a significant increase in body fat percentage over the past 2 decades. The study also noted that the increased body mass (in the form of fat) is not likely to enhance the playing ability of these players. The study also noted that these players did not even compare favorably with the man off the street. This translates into the fact that the extra large football player has an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, as well as diabetes and obesity. In conclusion the study summed up that the increasing emphasis on body mass in the sport of football has had a significant negative effect on the long-term health for the linemen/linebackers.

This study is also interesting in light of Korrie Stringer’s death and other collegiate level fatalities and concerning incidents. Although other elements are sometimes cited (heat stroke, etc.), the body weight factor, in terms of being overweight, could be at the root of the problem. Mix in high risk supplements such as ephedra, and you have a nasty brew that could crop up again. It may be that the increase in body mass in the form of fat is putting many linemen and linebackers at high risk. When a large body is required to work out hard in the hot sun, nasty consequences can occur.

An interesting side note to this issue is that of steroids and human growth hormone. Many have suspected that the size gains made by professional football players, taking the size of the average lineman up from 250 pounds to approximately 350 pounds, was the result of the introduction of steroids into football during that same time frame (steroids, by the way, are illegal). The idea of steroid intake as the reason for size gain doesn’t quite match up with this recent study by Noel, VanHeest etc., due to the fact that the use of steroids and human growth hormone would not increase the body fat levels of the user. The opposite is true; steroid intake tends to decrease the body fat percentage as body muscle mass increases instead. If the linemen were taking steroids and/or human growth hormone to attain the massive size they carry, their body fat levels would tend to be low. The one caveat is that the linemen/linebackers could be taking the steroids and/or human growth hormone in the off- season and going dry during the regular season, with an increase in body fat levels at the time they were off the steroids.

Whether or not steroids have been a factor in size gains, the study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research points out that athletes are letting too much fat become part of the mass they carry. The NFL should take a look at this issue, particularly in the scope of long- term effects on the linemen in particular. Failure to do so could cause more physical problems in both the short and long term.

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About the author: Dwayne Hines currently has 12 books selling in major bookstores and writes for major magazines such as Physical and FitnessRX. Email Dwayne Hines: dhines@3dinet.com

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