The Lost Season: How Fatigue Shaped The NBA Season

Originally posted HERE at ESPN.

The playoffs are upon us and Baxter Holmes of ESPN has gifted us with an awesome article examining player fatigue and how scheduling taxation on players has potentially resulted in one of the worst injury-ladden seasons ever.  If ever there was a case for preventative health, biohacks, athlete monitoring, and other elements of training periodization-this is it.  I've included what I feel are the choice excerpts, along with some thoughts.

"Unfortunately, we'll never really see what these guys can really do, because they're tired all of the time -- because of the schedule." -- Gary Vitti, former Lakers head athletic trainer

More games on the schedule mean more $ for television deals and owners....but at what cost?  Is the risk of having more teams net key injuries-and thus games/playoffs being boring-worth milking some additional money out of a few insignificant regular season games?  Does everyone lose more money by eliminating a few games from each team's schedule to cut back on back-to-backs and crazy time zone changes (i.e. 5 games in 7 nights)?  Or do you lose more money by not having guys like Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kristaps Porzingis, etc. unavailable for long stretches or even the playoffs?  These are the questions.

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Even with the aggressive schedule changes that happened before this season aimed at improving player health, the total NBA games lost to injury or illness passed 5,000 for the the first time since prior to the 2005-06 season. "It's frightening," Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry told ESPN of the recent onslaught of injuries.

The rise of the superteam has given many fans pause about the predictability and excitement of the NBA seasonSo the big media market team that spent $30 million more in payroll because they could is on pace to outdo the smaller market teams?  Big surprise.  Now compound that with a ridiculous injury situation and you're compromising player safety firstly, as well as the fan experience.

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Even worse? For every hour that someone gains while traveling across time zones from East to West, it can take that individual a full day to fully recover, according to Timothy Royer, a clinical neuropsychologist and president/owner of Michigan-based Neuropeak Pro, which specializes in athletic performance and recovery. And for every hour that someone loses while traveling across time zones from West to East, that same person can need about a day and a half to recover.

"Sleep consistency -- going to bed and getting out of bed the same time every day -- is the most important thing," said Dr. Charles Czeisler, director of sleep medicine at Brigham Health and Harvard Medical School, who has consulted with NBA teams on managing their schedule. Czeisler said the NBA "really needs to eliminate the back-to-backs." And when it comes to those treacherous back-to-back sets? The Jazz tied with two other teams for the most (16) this season and tied for second in the most games played in a different time zone from the previous game (41). That's a lot of lost sleep and circadian rhythms that were thrown off -- and also the accumulation of sleep debt, which operates like any other debt: the more one builds, the longer it takes to pay it off.

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Here we touch on some real considerations of how this affects players.  Weird travel moments can seriously disrupt your circadian biology (or sleep cycles), which has many deleterious effects on the human body.  You also throw in ridiculous blue light exposure from the travel on top of that.  Furthermore, you have to look at the nervous system-athlete monitoring-such as our Omegawave system we use at XIIAM.-is used by many NBA teams.  This provides insights into when neuromuscular connection can be compromised, yet players have to have precision control of their bodies in the most athletic sport, nightly.  There is no room for error, yet athletes are getting asked to perform high risk moves when their brain has potentially less control over their musculoskeletal system-a recipe for disaster.  As a trainer, I do my best to conduct reactive neuromuscular conditioning drills by mimicking game situations-I'll have athletes perform reactive plyometrics & movements to simulate what it's like playing under fatigue.  It's not as ideal as scheduling adjustments, but it's a preventative step in the right direction.

What do you think should be done about the NBA season, or for fatigue monitoring in general in athletes?  Sound off.

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