NFL puts core strengthening program of Delaware therapists in its playbook

Brian Catania works aide Taylor Putnam through the Row Dog, one of the six core activation exercises he and Travis Ross developed.

Brian Catania works aide Taylor Putnam through the Row Dog, one of the six core activation exercises he and Travis Ross developed. (Courtesy of ChristianaCare)

Physical therapist Brian Catania leads a client through an exercise he calls the Row Dog.

“Row forward, punch forward,’’ he exhorts. “And row back. Incorporate that glute max and link to that latissimus dorsi. We’re going to go reach back and forth. Good.”

The Row Dog is one of six rotational exercises designed to strengthen the abdominal core that Catania and partner Travis Ross of ChristianaCare Rehabilitation Services have developed. Besides the Row Dog, there’s the Upside Down Turtle and the Side-Plank Windmill. The goal is to help clients prevent and recover from strains and tears of their leg, groin, lower back, and hip flexor muscles.

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The therapists focus on the bands of muscles – the core sling – that stretch diagonally from ribs to thighs. The rotational exercises could loosely be called planks with a twist. Their clients are everybody people with injuries to amateur athletes who compete in tennis, flag football or other sports

Catania acknowledges the exercises are arduous — his wife reminds him all the time after she performs some — but says clients and even his spouse find them effective and worthwhile.

“Once they experience it and feel the difference and see how it can help them, the buy-in comes,’’ Catania said. “But it is hard.”

The innovative sling screening and exercise program is also getting national notice.

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The work of Catania and Ross was recently featured in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. That article caught the attention of the National Football League, the most popular sports league in America. The NFL invited the pair to make a virtual presentation this spring at a symposium for its therapists and trainers.

Afterward the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams, two of the league’s better teams, sought out more information so they could incorporate the program in their training and therapy regimens.

University of Delaware graduate Jon Hernandez, who was taught by Catania at UD, is a therapist for the Rams. Hernandez said he had already sprinkled in some of the concepts with the team but after the symposium, began using them more.

“A third of the team to half of them has some sort of iteration of this program, whether it be in training camp, in-season or out of season,’’ Hernandez told WHYY News.

Catania “does a good job of really making it concise and succinct,”  he said. “It’s not just theory. He can say, ‘I’ve done it on this player and gotten this result.’ And I think that really resonates with clinicians and practitioners when you can apply it in practice.”

Hernandez says one Rams’ devotee is starting linebacker Troy Reeder, who grew up in Delaware and starred at Salesianum School in Wilmington and at UD after transferring from Penn State.

Reeder, now in his third year with Los Angeles, sought out information and demonstrations of the exercises and did them during the off-season when he was home in Delaware, said Hernandez.

Delaware native Troy Reeder, who uses the exercises, makes a tackle for the Rams against the New York Giants this year
Delaware native Troy Reeder, who uses the exercises, makes a tackle for the Rams against the New York Giants this year. (Los Angeles Rams)

“He saw us do it on other players and wanted to do it for himself and know what he could fix and stay on top of some things and be proactive,” Hernandez said, adding that Reeder didn’t have an injury-plagued 2020 season. “It’s more of a testament to him and his ability to always be curious and kind of always be utilizing the tools and resources that are available to him.”

Ross says that’s the ultimate affirmation, to see their program adopted by someone whose career they have followed since high school.

“And then they make it to the next level and we have something to do with him even getting better and staying on the field in the pros,’’ he said. “And maybe even more peak performance to further this career. It would be great to see him 10 years from now still playing.”

Now Ross is hoping more NFL clubs and teams in other pro sports come calling.

“I think this is a proof of concept that, you know, a couple of teams are giving us a chance and I believe it’s pretty successful,’’ Ross said. “I think it transfers to other sports and weekend warriors alike — anybody who wants to be active.”

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