Matt Forte highly conditioned to punish his body to reap ultimate rewards.
by Rich Campbell – Chicago Tribune
Matt Forte is lying face down on his living room floor, and there’s a woman standing on him.
Massage therapist Sarah Bach has one foot on the back of Forte’s upper left leg. Her weight is digging into his hamstring.
“Your adductors …” Bach says.
Forte cuts her off: “I know.”
“I can tell,” Bach says. “Wow.”
For almost 90 minutes, Bach pulls, presses and twists Forte’s body, contorting him like Gumby. Thai massage and deep tissue massage can be very painful, but Forte never even grimaces. By now, he’s used to it.
The session, on a Tuesday in December, is part of an extensive body maintenance routine that has enabled Forte to stand up to the brutal physical toll of being one of the NFL’s most utilized offensive players.
It’s a price he doesn’t shy from. At a time when lasting effects of this contact sport lead the conversation about player safety, Forte manages his body to maximize performance and longevity.
“During a game when you get hit, sometimes bones can shift and joints can shift and you can be out of line,” Forte said. “It’s really about being put back together and getting everything aligned so that stuff doesn’t carry over to next week.
“You might not notice that or really think of a bone being out of place, but joints do shift. Basically, they compare it to you being in car wrecks every weekend.”
Harsh imagery, for sure, but part of the job for a player whose 343 combined carries and receptions entering the final week of the season are third-most in the NFL. This is his third straight season with at least 300 touches.
Forte prepares for and recovers from such punishment with a regimen that includes weight lifting, arduous cardiovascular conditioning, physical and massage therapies to ensure joint and muscle alignment and techniques such as dry needling to promote muscular health.
It’s part of Forte’s plan for long-term security, as well. He turned 29 Dec. 10 and is about to complete the penultimate year of his contract. Established durability and production will help his case for landing an extension after this season.
The proof is on the stat sheet and on specific plays, such as his 32-yard, third-quarter run Nov. 16 on which he broke four Vikings tackles.
“It’s very clear Matt is hyper-competitive in his preparation,” coach Marc Trestman said. “We have to try and slow him down at times. (Strength coach) Mike Clark has to just (say), ‘Don’t come in today — just rest,’ because he’s a guy who’s going to try to outwork you every single day during the season and in the offseason.”
Matt Forte spends time with his daughter Nahla, 21 months, while receiveing a deep tissue thai massage from massage therapist Sarah Bach at his home.
Forte is now on his back on his living room floor. His 21-month-old daughter, Nahla, scurries over to him, falls face first on his chest and smiles. In this instance, he is perfectly happy being tackled.
Bach, meanwhile, continues her work.
“I’m gonna twist your spine,” she says.
Forte has refined his multi-faceted recovery process through trial and error during his seven-year career. The end of one Bears game begins a weeklong countdown to the next, and whether he can to subject his body to another car wreck.
“He’s the first running back I’ve met (who) after the game goes right into the ice bath if he needs it,” rookie running back Ka’Deem Carey said. “I usually wait till the next day, but he takes care of his body.”
Forte is an imposing, physical runner, standing 6-foot-2, 218 pounds with approximately 6 percent body fat. Soreness often is his most immediate problem after games.
Sore legs from being tackled. Sore upper body from hitting and being hit. Scrapes and scratches from turf or being stepped on.
“You’re pretty much beat up everywhere,” he said.
Lifting weights the day after a game helps alleviate that, Forte said. But that’s just the start of his recovery because the physical contact affects him structurally.
“It’s all about forces,” physical therapist David Reavy said. “If your body absorbs too much force, it’s going to come out of alignment. Things are going to tighten up and, once things tighten up, muscles shut down.”
Forte attends physical therapy twice a week to ensure his bones and joints are aligned properly and re-aligned. On weeks the Bears play at home, he tries to have one of those sessions on game day before arriving at Soldier Field.
Proper pelvic alignment is essential. Reavy considers the pelvis the most independent variable in the body. Forte’s used to be too high.
From that starting point, the sessions align and activate Forte’s kinetic chain to ensure proper balance and stability. That’s apparent in the difficulty defenders have tackling him.
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“He’s using all his muscles,” Reavy said. “He doesn’t get as fatigued. He’s able to absorb the force properly. He’s giving blows. He’s not receiving them as much.”
Forte also subscribes to dry needling to promote muscular health. A needle is placed through the skin into a muscle and moved up and down like a piston to create micro-trauma that loosens muscles and relieves pain.
“If my calves are really, really tight or something, then I know I can feel that I need it,” he said.
And then there’s the massage therapy Forte receives once a week. It helps his flexibility and range of motion.
Forte begins each session by explaining his ailments. On this particular afternoon late in the season, it’s a long list.
His right shoulder is sore. He was kneed in the left quadriceps in the previous game. His right ankle hurts. His right foot has a knot in it. And both hamstrings are tight.
Lying on the floor wearing a T-shirt and gym shorts, Forte hardly flinches as Bach goes to work.
His favorite stretch involves Bach pressing one of her knees into the back of his left knee and pulling his leg down over hers, as though she’s pulling his knee apart.
“If something is bothering you, then you can’t be confident in your body,” Forte said. “And it’s going to make you play a little slower.”
Last offseason, Martellus Bennett knew he needed to be in better cardiovascular shape. The solution seemed obvious.
“I got with Forte,” the Bears’ tight end said. “He’s the running back, and you see him in practice and he’s never tired.”
As Forte’s new conditioning partner, Bennett learned why. In addition to Forte’s in-season recovery routine, his offseason preparation is similarly extensive.
Their sessions included various runs and exercises on the sledding hills at Wood Oaks Green Park in Northbrook. The workouts weren’t always planned in advance. Sometimes they would improvise depending on how they felt on a particular day.
Forte and Bennett would sprint up the hills and run backward up the hills. They would hop on one leg or do two-legged broad jumps up the hills.
“His thing is, ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going,'” Bennett said.
Forte also loves to run on a special Woodway treadmill at Halas Hall — the “Force.” Instead of a motor to power the belt, Forte is tethered to the machine and runs on it to turn the belt.
Forte’s routine includes sets of a 10-second sprint followed by a 50-second walk.
“It conditions you really good, and it’s not hard on your knees either,” he said. “As soon as you’re almost about to catch your breath, you have to go again.”
Said Bennett: “We do this little treadmill workout, and it’s (absolutely) ridiculous. You’ll be tired after three of them, and he’ll be like, ‘Oh, we have eight more.'”
It all amounts to a process that has helped Forte remain on the field and consistently play at a high level. No player has more than his 11,357 yards from scrimmage since he entered the NFL in 2008.
With no playoff stakes against the Lions last Sunday, Forte played all 64 of the offense’s snaps, never yielding to the rookie Carey. He touched the ball 25 times and was tackled 23 by a swarming defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL against the run.
The human body’s ability to withstand such punishment over time will prompt questions about Forte’s longevity whenever he seeks a new contract to take him beyond age 30, that ominous milestone for NFL running backs.
But Forte’s commitment to maintaining his body leaves little ammunition for detractors. Bears general manager Phil Emery, whose background includes 19 years as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, even recognized that in an interview with WBBM-AM 780 on Nov. 24.
“Matt wants it? Matt will achieve it,” Emery said. “He’s certainly more than capable of bucking that trend.”
Forte will keep-going-keep-going-keep-going to ensure he does.