Minutes Count: Fatigue Can Spell Trouble for an Athlete

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In the NBA Finals beginning tonight (Thurs), the Cleveland Cavaliers are facing a basketball team called the best ever.   The Golden State Warriors set a record this year for the best season record,  winning 73 games and losing just 9.

One thing the Cavs can hope for: that the Warriors simply run out of gas.  Ideastream’s Mark Urycki reports that athletes must be careful to both train and rest so they can peak at the right moment.


You don’t often hear music fans say “Gee I hope Springsteen doesn’t sing too many songs so he’s fresh for the encore.“   But it’s not surprising to hear basketball ticket-buyers actually complain that coaches are playing the stars too many minutes. 

A few years ago San Antonio coach Greg Popovich drew wild criticism when he benched starting players to rest up for the play-offs.  But that’s common now.  Early this post-season Cavs fans Phillip Hart, Julie Likens, and Darius Tinker were all in with that idea.

HART “Because I know there’s a goal to get to,  I’d rather see them rest up and lose a few games.  Take the San Antonio approach."

LIKENS  “ I don’t mind the starters sitting; we’re early in this and we’re very strong and I truly believe we have a great bench.”  

TINKER  “ I think Kevin Love needs a little rest.  And I think need to rest for this first round to be prepared for the next two rounds because we gotta play a fast pace.”   

Distance runners have practiced this method for years: carefully plotting exactly how many miles and at what pace they run in practice so that they peak on race day. 

Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue did bench stars Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and fan favorite LeBron James in April, even at a home game.  And he was pleased they won the first playoff series in just 4 games because it meant more rest.

"I think it’s a benefit. I think especially with the minutes that LeBron has logged over his career and the minutes we played in this last series.  I think it’s good to come out and get our rest.”   

If the concern over “minutes in a career” sounds weird, consider that James is only 31 years old but he’s played professionally since he was 19 and fought through the playoffs for 10 straight years.   USA Today figures, if you add in all the time he’s played internationally for Team USA and the Olympics, James has played more minutes than anyone his age.

 “I think everybody toward the end of the season starts to break down to a certain degree or certainly they’re feeling the effects of that long season.”  

Mark Schickendantz, the team physician for the Cleveland Indians and former team physician for the Cleveland Browns.  It’s hard to say whether more minutes played means a shorter career.   But Schickendantz says it’s a good idea to keep tabs on how much work an athlete gets.

 “You can look at it during an event; you can look at is during a series; you can look at it during a season; you can look at it during a career.  Absolutely, I think all that concept of fatigue plays in at all those different levels. “

In baseball, managers are concerned how many innings a pitcher may throw in a year.  And in each game, the standard limit for starters is 100 pitches.  

Muscles help support the bones in the arm and shoulder and if they fatigue, the throwing motion is slightly altered and the player’s normal mechanics go out of whack.  So a pitcher can’t throw as well and Dr. Schickendantz says he’s more likely to suffer an injury.  

 “Late in the game if those dynamic stabilizers of your forearm - those muscles that we’re using to stabilize your forearm-  fatigue or are injured, they’re not doing their job to help support the static stabilizer of the ligament and can put the ligaments at risk. “

And the next thing you know, something tears.  

Schickendantz says he sees that as a growing problem with high school athletes who play in back to back games or play year round in one sport.  He suggests at least 2 months off from throwing.

Baseball and basketball have long seasons.  If the Indians get to the World Series they’ll likely still be playing in November.  

In the NBA,   most players have been on vacation for the last 6 weeks. But the Cavs have played 14 more post-season games and the Warriors have played 17.   

LeBron James has played a lot of minutes in these playoffs, averaging almost 38 minutes per game. But he’s not complaining.

“My body has been trained all season to do whatever it takes.   I’ve trained my body over quite a few months now to whatever coach needs me, whatever this team needs me I’ll be ready for. “

After all, the NBA Finals is a chance to get a major championship in Cleveland. One fan, Ryan Redeshek of Eastlake says there is no time for resting.

“You gotta put the best team out there to win.   I know LeBron has got a lot of minutes this postseason but I’d definitely run him to the ground.” 

The final push to the summit starts tonight at 9:00.


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