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Through S


massage & bodywork

may/june 2016


CORE Myofascial
Therapy helps
NFL hopefuls
recover faster
so they can train
harder. Photo by
Patty Kousaleos.

By Brandon Twyford

Defensive back Maurice Canady in

action during the 2016 NFL Scouting
Combine on February 29, 2016, in
Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Joe
Robbins/Getty Images.

The NFL Scouting Combine is a grueling weeklong

event in which the nations top college football
players undergo a series of physical and mental tests
in front of NFL coaches and scouts to demonstrate
their ability to perform under intense scrutiny. Its
a standout college prospects one chance to make an
impression on NFL teamsa sort of high-intensity,
high-stakes job interview with, potentially, millions
of dollars on the line. Everything in the athletes
lives has led them to this moment, and their futures
can quite literally depend on how well they perform.
The pressure to succeed is tremendous. The margin
for error is nonexistent, and a tiny advantagea
half-inch increase in stride length, a minute shift in
confidencecan be a colossal factor in an athletes
Thats where Tony Villanis XPE Sports Academy
and George Kousaleoss CORE Myofascial Therapy
come in.

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year, top agents send their top athletes to

Villani to prepare them for the NFL Combine,
where a fraction of a second in the 40-yard
dash can cause a players position in the draft to
skyrocket or plummet. Villani is known as the
speed guru to many in the NFL, and its his
job to help these elite college athletes perform
at a higher level than they ever have before.
Most of these guys have trained their
whole lives in how to be football players, says
XPEs lead massage therapist and strength
trainer Don Stanley. Its a very different type
of training getting ready for the Combine.
We call it running on the razors edge,
Villani says. Youre running the fastest youve
ever run in your life. Your muscles are working
more powerfully than they ever have and
usually at a heavier body weight than youve
ever been in your life. So youre on that razors
edge, where youre trying to run faster than
you ever have, without pulling a muscle.
Kevin Christie, a chiropractic physician and
certified strength and conditioning specialist,
is XPEs sports chiropractor. He says, The
reality of Combine training is that youre
pushing the envelope with football players,
basically trying to turn them into track stars,
and we have to do it in a short period of time.
Soft-tissue injuriespulled hamstrings
and the likeare common occurrences at
this level of training. A similar problem faced
massage therapist Kousaleos in 2011, when
he was asked to develop a sports bodywork
therapy team to work with the Florida State
University (FSU) football team. In crafting
a strategy, Kousaleos, a former student of
sports massage legend Benny Vaughn, drew on
the experience he gained as general manager
of the British Olympic Associations sports
massage team during the 1996 Olympic
Games in Atlanta and as the co-director of
the Health Services International sports
massage team at the 2004 games in Athens.
During the 1996 games, we designed a
program of modified myofascial therapy for
the athletes who were in intensive training,
Kousaleos says. We made it slightly lighter,
but still comfortably deep, to work with


massage & bodywork

may/june 2016

In addition to massage,
XPEs trainers
incorporate frequent
yoga sessions to improve
athletes flexibility
and mobility. Photos
by Patty Kousaleos.

the athletes during their

Olympic competitions, and
the British team responded
to it incredibly well.
Using the protocols he
developed during those Olympic
games, Kousaleos was able to
significantly lower the softtissue injury rate among football
athletes at FSU.1 Jake Pfeil, MS,
LAT, ATC, the associate director
of sports medicine and head
football athletic trainer at FSU,
says, One of the secrets to Florida
States successful 2012 football
season was the implementation of
massage therapy for all players.
That year marked FSUs first
conference title since 2005.
In 2013, with Kousaleoss
bodywork program in full
swing, FSUs football team
won the national championship
while enjoying something it
had never experienced before:
no season-ending injuries
for any of their starters.


The partnership between
Villanis XPE Sports Academy
and Kousaleoss CORE Institute
began with an introduction by
Stanley, a massage therapist

who worked with Kousaleos two

decades ago during the 1996
Atlanta Olympics. Largely as a
result of the experience he gained
working with Kousaleos, Stanley
designed his subsequent career
around structural integration and
myofascial therapy for athletes. He
also became a certified strength
and conditioning coach and
physical trainer, reaching an elite
level in the field and working with
some of the worlds best athletes
over his 20-year career. Stanley
came to work with Villani at XPE
Sports in Boca Raton, Florida, as a
trainer and therapist five years ago.
Kousaleos says, Don Stanley
brought Tony Villani and me
together this past June, and said,
You two are my mentors. Can
we put something together where
we work as a team and build a
camp, much like we did for the
British team at the Olympics?
But this time, well do it during
the NFL Combine training.


Somatotypes were developed in the 1940s by psychologist William Herbert Sheldon,
PhD, to categorize the human physique according to physical traits. Most people do
not fall neatly into one type, but are a unique combination of the three body types.
ECTOMORPH: linear, fragile,
delicate, lean, and lightly muscled.
ENDOMORPH: spherical, round,
soft-bodied, underdeveloped muscles,
difficulty losing weight.
MESOMORPH: hard, rugged, triangular,
athletically built with well-developed
muscles, thick skin, and good posture.
Clients body types influence how
they will respond to training and
treatment. Kousaleos offers these
guidelines for performing sports bodywork on each of the three somatotypes:
The ectomorphic structure (lean, endurance) needs more comfortable pressure
with less specific depth. Because ectomorphs typically have more neurological
sensitivity, the techniques and protocols should be smoother and less deliberate.
The endomorphic structure needs a more layered approach, focusing on
broad, less deliberate techniques, especially on the superficial fascia, before
attempting to stretch and release the outer layers of dense, fibrous fascia.
The mesomorphic structure of most football players allows for deeper
repeated sessions with less postsession soreness and more immediate
improvement of both structural and functional outcomes.

An NFL teams criteria for selecting

its next player can be acutely
specific. Quarterbacks, for example,
can be chosen or rejected because
of the size of their hands. A span
length of 9 inches from the tip of
the little finger to the tip of the
thumb is considered the minimum
benchmark for NFL quarterbacks.
Any smaller, and some coaches begin
to worry whether the player will be
able to maintain a controlled grip on
the football in inclement weather.
When Brandon Allen, a
quarterback from the University
of Arkansas, arrived at the XPE
Sports camp, his hand measured
8 inches. Conventional wisdom
would dictate that Allens hand
size could not be increased, and
that his position in the NFL draft
would be negatively affected.
Kousaleos had other ideas. In
2015, he used myofascial therapy
to increase the foot and ankle
mobility of Florida State Universitys
star quarterback and Heisman
Trophy winner Jameis Winston,
who went on to be the first player
selected in the 2015 NFL draft.
Using a similar approach,
Kousaleos was able to increase
Allens hand size to 87/8 inches
at Combine time, an increase of
three-eighths of an inch in about
a month. Kousaleos and Allen
plan to improve that to just over 9
inches with continued therapy.

Kousaleos uses the Storable Mat table
from Oakworks when performing
structural work on athletes. He says,
The Oakworks Storable Mat structural
tables are wider (3340 inches) and can
be set significantly lower (1620 inches)
to allow for better leverage, especially
when working with a large client in
side-lying position. I use an Oakworks
Proluxe electric table in my private
practice, allowing me to quickly adjust
the height of the table during the session,
depending on how I position the client.



Structural table




massage & bodywork

Standard table

may/june 2016

Kousaleos and Villani

developed a program in which
Kousaleos would train therapists
in his modified CORE Myofascial
Therapy in the morning while
the athletes were training for
the Combine. In the afternoon,
the therapists would put what
they learned in the classroom
into hands-on practice on the
athletes. Kousaleos tailors his
instruction around the work
the athletes will be doing that
day or the next: for example,
if Villani needs his athletes
legs to be fresh for a big day of
running and leg work, Kousaleos
and his team of therapists can
loosen up the athletes hips
and glutes the day before.
Villani says, We have a
program that George has built
around our day to day training
program. But at any given time, if
an athlete has a problem area, they
can get it worked on, on demand.
The bodywork Kousaleos
brings to XPE is not aimed solely at
assisting in recovery from training,
but also in making adjustments to
the athletes bodies so that they
are able to perform at a higher
level. Bill Welle, a former mentor
of Villani and now one of Villanis
XPE Master Trainers, explains,
Speed is based on stride length,
stride frequency, and power. Stride
length can be improved. If you have
a short, choppy stride, you dont
have a lot of power. With this type
of bodywork, we can open up the
stride so that everything is looser.
Even if the athlete is able to drive
his knee up just an inch more,
thats going to allow him to develop
more power into the ground.

Having access to the same

bodywork that helped FSU win
a national championship with
no season-ending injuries has
helped Villanis NFL hopefuls
recover faster so they can train
harder. Normally, we would
have more pulled hamstrings
than we have now, Villani says.
Christie concurs: Its been
great. Weve seen a decrease
in injury rates and an increase
in players recovering from
injury sooner. We have a bigger
class this year, so to see so few
injuries has been really nice.
Its this symbiotic dance of
training and recovery that allows
the athletes to push themselves
further than they ever have before,
while avoiding the soft-tissue
injuries that typically come with
overtraining. For a professional
athlete, coming back from a major
injury is an uphill battle. If Stanley
and his team can prevent those
injuries from happening in the first
place, their clients will have longer,
more sustainable careers. They call
the approach prehab, not rehab, and
its aimed at identifying, assessing,
and treating potential issues before
they become major problems.
A lot of these athletes have
never been through this intense
a level of training, Stanley says.
Theyre pushed to the absolute
limit. Theyve never experienced
this level of soreness in their body,
so having unlimited access to a
high level of bodywork, where they
can get bodywork every single
day, has been a unique experience
for everybody involved.




For bodyworkers interested in

practicing sports massage therapy,
getting the opportunity to work on
the elite athletes at the XPE Sports
Academy is the chance of a lifetime.
The therapists who were selected
for the certification course come
from a wide range of backgrounds,
modalities, and experience levels.
Wil Daddio, from Dallas, Texas,

has been practicing massage therapy for 21

years, while Kim Jackson, from Elmont, New
York, has only been practicing for one.
Describing the criteria he used to decide
which therapists to accept into the program,
Kousaleos says, We were looking for a
diversity of experience, a willingness to
work in a team atmosphere, and a passion
for helping athletes fulfill their optimal
performance skills and abilities.
Daddio was looking for something that
would help him take his practice in a new
direction; specifically, working with professional
athletes. When I found out about this course,
I knew it was an amazing opportunity, he says.
This training will open up many different
doors for me to work with athletic trainers,
chiropractors, and medical practitioners.
Jackson is a member of a runners group
in her town, and she says the other members
of her group are already requesting bodywork
sessions from her: They cant wait for me
to come back so I can use it on them. She
adds, I dont have many private clients
yet, and Im hoping to use this experience
and certification to build my practice.
Other therapists in the program already
have experience in myofascial bodywork
or structural integration (SI), but see the
certification in CORE Myofascial Therapy as a
natural extension of their current practice. Atilla
Pegan, originally from Budapest, Hungary, now
practicing in Savage, Minnesota, is certified in

SI and has worked on many athletes

in his career. But he was looking
for a gentler approach to use on his
clients who are in active training.
He says, Structural integration
changes so much in the body that
if an athlete is in active training
or in season, their movement,
pitching, throwing, or running is
going to be different. Structural
integration can actually destabilize
them, rather than help them.
Pegan finds the techniques he is
learning to be extremely effective,
especially when considering the
intensity of the athletes training.
Were not changing the posture
like we do in SI. Were giving more
freedom of movement and more
range of motion to the athlete,
and they can then increase their
training. This is now week six,
and theyre at the top of their
training and still getting structural
bodywork, which is awesome.
The precise, targeted nature of
the work gives therapists a deeper
understanding of the reasons
behind the techniques; theyre
not simply repeating the same
routine over and overtheyre
learning why certain techniques
affect certain muscles, and theyre
able to view measurable benefits
in how those muscles perform.
Tina Hopkins, a massage
therapist from Pilot Mountain,
North Carolina, who has been
practicing for just over two years,
says, I recently started a referral
relationship with a personal

The CORE approach

gives more freedom of
movement to athletes,
allowing them to
train at increasingly
intense levels. Photo
by Patty Kousaleos.