Putting in the work (cont.)
Posted: Friday March 16, 2007 12:14PM; Updated: Friday March 16, 2007 5:05PM
Since the college season concludes between late December and early January and the annual NFL combine occurs in February, Shaw has only a short time to prepare the athletes for the event. Because of this, athletes in Shaw's program go full bore, hour after hour, day after day, to best prepare themselves.
"We don't give guys time to rest. We have two months to get guys better," Shaw said. "We run into an opportunity where kids can get injured quickly. So I give them every advantage that we can."
Enter Sarah Picot. A former professional dancer, Picot is now a certified Pilates instructor and author of a book and several DVDs on the subject. One of her DVDs, titled More Than Mat Pilates, caught Shaw's eye during a trade show exhibit in 2005. He invited Picot to Orlando to spend some time with his athletes, who were willing to try anything to alleviate the pain caused by Shaw's intense workouts and also settle their nerves as they prepared for the big day.
"They were very, very worried they wouldn't be in their best physical condition for the combine," said Picot, 39. "They felt a little desperate that there was nothing else for them to do short of going and getting physical therapy and massages and ice or heat."
Picot focused her time with the athletes on improving flexibility and strengthening their core. She found the guys were in phenomenal shape, yet still had ways to go in terms of muscle efficiency and balance.
Shaw confirms that, relaying a story about one of his clients, Deion Sanders. During his playing times, Shaw says, Sanders had a difficult time stretching. When trying to touch his toes, he couldn't go more than four inches past his knees. Shaw said the inability to properly stretch is a common problem among professional athletes and can become a direct cause of injury. That's the reason he keeps bringing back Picot to teach her mat Pilates techniques to his athletes. "It gives them an edge that very few players have," Picot said. "Nobody is concentrating on this stuff."
According to both Picot and Shaw, the athletes were very receptive. It would have been easy for them to look at the 5-4, 100-pound Picot and feel skeptical. Picot herself admits to knowing very little about football. But they all found the common bond of wanting their bodies in peak condition, so as not to injure themselves out of a job.
"We were open to everything that was going on down there," Johnson said. "We are aware that people know more about what we do in certain areas. She knew more about flexibility than we did and we learned the more flexible you are, the faster you're gonna be."
For his part, Johnson was a perfect pupil, said Picot, who admitted she didn't know who he was before their sessions. That puts Picot on an increasingly short list, as Johnson has been at or near the top of NFL teams' draft boards all winter, peaking when he ran the sub-4.4 40 at the combine, a time unheard of for a guy his size. While Shaw doesn't credit Pilates solely for helping Johnson reach his goal, he says it's an essential part of the mix.
"Calvin is looking for things that can help him as a football player," Shaw said. "When Calvin hears us say it works, he tries it."
And that was evidenced, Picot said, by the way Johnson responded to learning about Pilates. "He wasn't lying down waiting, he was looking at me ready for the next exercise. There were players from the Steelers and the Redskins there and they were already at that level. They didn't stop and sit and fool around, they listened to everything I had to say. Calvin was like that."
"People look at Pilates as sort of a girls exercise," Picot continued. "You can ask any one of those men I worked with, we kicked their butts. They were shaking, they were sweating, they were uncomfortable. And then afterwards they felt calm, relaxed, loose. It's a very empowering program and has so much potential for the NFL."
The same can be said about Calvin Johnson.
Dom Bonvissuto is a producer for SI.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org