Ravens using air massages to help players recover quicker

OWINGS MILLS, MD -- When senior vice president public relations Kevin Byrne ventured to the Baltimore Ravens' new recovery area of the room, he was startled to see large bags on each of the eight training tables. But these devices are just part of the Ravens' plan to keep their players healthier and stronger.

"Players wrap these around the lower half of the body, and they basically receive an air massage to help revitalize the muscles," director of performance and recovery Steve Saunders told the team's website.

The leg boots, which were designed by NormaTec, mold to the shape of the athlete's legs and uses dynamic compression to enhance the movement of the fluid and metabolites out of the limbs. The result is massaging the sore extremities while promoting recovery at the same time.

The Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Boston Celtics are among the teams that use this system, according to NormaTec's website. The cost for one unit starts at $1,595.

The Ravens are looking for new ways to stay healthier after placing 39 players on injured reserve the last two seasons. It started this offseason with the hiring of Saunders, whose job is to maximize performance and reduce injuries.

In expanding their knowledge of sports science, the Ravens are using a new imaging program to look at players’ range of motion and movements to identify their strengths and weaknesses. By doing this at the start of the offseason program, the team has a baseline that enables them to tailor a player's training and help them avoid injuries.

“Injuries are muscle imbalances,” Saunders said at the start of the offseason. “They’re overuse or fatigue. How can we look at that, get ahead of it, monitor it and really try to stop the nuisance injuries?”

Saunders is the founder of Power Train Sports Institute, which has grown to 28 locations nationwide. To his knowledge, the Ravens are one of just a handful of NFL teams to employ somebody like him.

His focus at the start of the team's conditioning program in April was running. It was a mixture of speed work and conditioning. To ratchet up the workouts, the Ravens kept track of who came in first and last. The other key to the workouts is giving enough time for players to catch their breath.

“Recovery, to me, is whether they can practice tomorrow at as high a level as they did today,” Saunders said. “Can they perform in Week 16 like they did in Week 1? We’re trying to put that whole system in place so we can have a successful year.”