Dana Stubblefield: Beyond the NFL

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  • How is CrossFit the same or different from your NFL strength & conditioning?
  • How has CrossFit impacted you as an athlete since you started?
We sat down with Dana Stubblefield, two-time NFL Pro-Bowl defensive lineman and former Defensive Player of the Year with the San Francisco 49ers. Dana now lives in San Jose, CA and is currently a CrossFitter at CrossFit Silicon Valley, where he’s become the beloved ringleader of the 9am crew. To call Dana strong would be a huge understatement. Although there’s no video recording of it as proof, several SV athletes have witnessed him perform “Isabel” (30 snatches for time at 135#) at 1:45 with a short break after 25 snatches. We wanted to talk to him about his CrossFit experience and how it compares to the strength and conditioning programs he’s experienced before joining.

How did you find CrossFit and why did you stick with it?

Dana: I always like to challenge my body with something new. During each of my 12 years in the NFL, I would find  a different type of workout or trainer to challenge my body. I didn’t want to keep doing the same old five sets of squats or five sets of bench — you know, the normal heavy lifting. When I found CrossFit through my wife Terry, it was a perfect fit.

What were your biggest challenges when you started?
You can do a power clean, but can you do burpees and box jumps with them for time?
Dana: For me it wasn’t lifting the weight, because I had the strength and I’ve done Olympic lifting. The biggest challenge was taking advice from the coaches and doing it the CrossFit way.

Let’s talk about that… What is the difference between the “CrossFit way” of strength and conditioning and the NFL way of strength and conditioning?

Dana: An example would be squats. Getting down lower [below parallel] on a squat. My power cleans. Getting low on cleans. You can do a power clean, but can you do burpees and box jumps with them for time? That was the CrossFit way.

CrossFit seems to be gaining popularity with some NFL players. How do you see that relationship growing and evolving?
Now that CrossFit is here, I tell [my football players] to do CrossFit. You would get your strength and your movement and your speed.
Dana: I see CrossFit as a valuable tool for training NFL players because it teaches you as a big guy to move fast. As a defensive or offensive lineman, the farthest you run is 30 or 40 yards in short spurts, so the strength and conditioning you get from CrossFit is huge for them. I think that’s where CrossFit would be so effective for NFL players. The flexibility and mobility you get for a big guy also helps.

As someone with coaching experience, how would you build CrossFit into training for high school athletes (male or female)?
I’m getting my whole family involved. Once an athlete, always an athlete.
Dana: My thing is I would tell my football players — my linemen — to wrestle, because of the speed and the one-on- one work. Now that CrossFit is here, I tell them to do CrossFit. You would get your strength and your movement and your speed. I think it is great because of the flexibility and the cardio workout — the cardio workout is phenomenal.

Looking back, how do you think CrossFit would have impacted your football career?

Dana: I wish this was around when I played because I was one of those defensive linemen that was big and fast and mobile. This would have fit in my back pocket. I could have played a good 14 years! All the flexibility is preventing you from getting injured since you are not being all tight, not being all sore. This matters especially late in the season, once you got to the 11th and 12th games; being in shape prevents you from being hurt later in the year.

Do you see CrossFit as a lifestyle now? Is it something you see doing for the long term?
Every year, I’d get a personal trainer to train me in the offseason because I wasn’t satisfied with the strength and conditioning occurring at NFL facilities.
Dana: Yes! Definitely. Talking with Judd and those guys, I want to compete now that I’m getting it. I’m knowing it, I’m doing it right, so I want to start competing. My wife’s coming in. My son. My daughter. I’m getting my whole family involved. Once an athlete, always an athlete.

What kind of injuries did you sustain during your NFL career?

Dana: I blew my medial collateral ligament, my meniscus in my right knee. I tore my Achilles and my left knee. I have ligament damage in my LCL. I’ve had shoulder surgery.

Has CrossFit training rehabbed these injuries?
The strength has always been there….What’s most important is that now I can push that same weight at a faster pace and then move on and do something else like gymnastics.
Dana: Oh my gosh — it was like a rehab because all the stretching and all the mobility work we’re doing has gotten the scar tissue out of there. It has enabled me to bend my knees without the pain. That’s why doing it the CrossFit way, you learn to do it correctly so you don’t feel the pain the way I did when I was training for football. It was just a matter of buying into the program. Once I bought into it, then I reaped the benefits of doing it the right way. It was like, “oh my gosh, I can go lower on a squat and my knees don’t hurt pushing that type of weight.”

So were NFL  and coaches telling you that deep squats or squatting below parallel was bad for you?
I’m pushing my cardio level further than what’s it been before, like back to when I used to wrestle.
Dana: Yes. They told me that deep squats were bad for my knees. Even deep bench presses were  discouraged because when you did that you were using your chest as a crutch to bounce off of, so they didn’t want you to do it. In the NFL, they’re stubborn in what they allow into their little cult as far as working out. A lot of them are just starting to teach Olympic lifts. They just felt like guys would get hurt trying to do them. Every year, I’d get a personal trainer to train me in the offseason because I wasn’t satisfied with the strength and conditioning occurring at NFL facilities.

What kinds of gains have you experienced as a CrossFitter since you started?

Dana: The strength has always been there. It’s coming back. What’s most important is that now I can push that same weight at a faster pace and then move on and do something else like gymnastics. I’m pushing my cardio level further than what’s it been before, like back to when I used to wrestle. Now I can push heavy weight faster — the correct way — and do something else.

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