Take it from Joique Bell - ‘It’s not working hardest, it’s working smartest’

Joique Bell’s arms stretch behind his head as if pulled by an individual rope.

Take it from Joique Bell - ‘It’s not working hardest, it’s working smartest’

His mouth opens with an enormous yawn and the mammoth legs that allowed him to pound for over 800 rushing yards last season as a running-back with the Detroit Lions point ramrod straight ahead. It is not the normal player interview etiquette, but it is entirely excusable.

Bell has been doing the rounds about London and Dublin since Tuesday, promoting the November 1 International Series meeting between his Lions and the Kansas City Chiefs at Wembley, and launching a new brand of Nike apparel at the Elverys Intersport outlet in Dundrum Shopping Centre where he entertained fans, journalists and bloggers for the best part of yesterday afternoon.

It was the seemingly innocuous discussions that intrigued most.

One underarm delivery about his diet elicited the fascinating fact that Bell routinely sacrifices strands from his dreadlocked hair for analysis by food scientists who in turn use the fibres to discover what vitamins, minerals and/or foods in general he may be lacking.

This is the sort of minutiae that is increasingly commonplace in modern professional sport.

Yet, American football is no paragon of foresight in all areas. Mike McGurn, the strength and conditioning coach who has contributed to the successes of the Irish rugby team, Wigan’s rugby league side and Bernard Dunne among many others, saw that for himself back in the day, when he was still a cub, learning his trade after studying in the States.

One day, during his time interning with the Philadelphia Eagles, McGurn witnessed a player doing leg weights to shrieking music with a ridiculously large load that was topped off by one of his hulking teammates.

Sure enough, something popped and, though the player finished his reps, he fell to the floor whining in agony when he attempted to stand.

Times have changed in the few decades since, even if the macho culture remains. The pity is that the art and science behind training and pre-season programmes such as those currently being undertaken by Bell, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland rugby team and professional soccer players the world over, is for the most part a key building block that remains off-limits to the majority of fans.

Less so in the States.

Starting in 2001, ESPN’s ‘Hard Knocks’ documentary series has shone a fascinating light on the training camps of numerous NFL teams.

The Houston Texans will be the latest subject when camps open nationwide next month and Bell was happy to elaborate on just what it takes for an American football player to perform to his best in any given year.

The most notable fact is the time off. Once the season ends in January or, if they are lucky, after the Superbowl in early February, the teams cut their men loose until April. That means two to three months down time as opposed to the negligible period of a month or rugby and soccer players will routinely be afforded.

Another six-week break is pencilled in for midsummer between mini-camp and the training camp that is held in August when teams perfect their preparations and cut their squad numbers with the help of pre-season games played in the run-up to week one.

“It isn’t about working the hardest,” says Bell.

“It is about working the smartest. Some coaches get caught up in the concept of having to work harder than everyone else to be better.

“There are days when you have to bust your butt out there, but there are others you have to be smarter.

“Players too. Football is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Going the extra mile doesn’t hurt.

Next month will bring with it stories on the grapevine of offensive lineman and defensive ends who have waddled into camp a few stone overweight, but Bell’s approach is far more typical of sportsmen worldwide who are mindful of the need to stay half a step ahead of the competition so that those mega-cheques can continue to be banked.

He may indulge with the family at Thanksgiving, but he is no regular at McDonalds and two weeks of his midsummer break has once again been spent in Hollywood where he subjects himself to a one-man camp that consists of workouts incorporating everything from MMA and boxing training to reps targeting improved hand-eye coordination.

“For every pass I caught in a game, I caught a thousand in practice.” Don Hutson, the late Hall of Fame former Green Bay Packer, said that and his career ended in the shadow of World War II. Sport has changed since, but some things just never go out of fashion.

Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie

Twitter: @Rackob

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