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Secrets of Chip Kelly’s practice schedule

This one weird trick lets the 49ers use HGH to their advantage — legally.

While Chip Kelly — the son of a lawyer — can dodge a reporter’s question as well as anybody, he will often respond directly and bluntly. Tuesday, he gave a very interesting answer when asked why the team practiced in the morning. Was it to adjust for East Coast road games?

A: “...part of us practicing in the morning is just that, science. Your body releases HGH at the most between nine and 11. So, we should be out on the field between nine and 11.”

Q: So, you don’t want your bodies to adjust to east coast time?

A: “We do, but he asked me if the byproduct of us practicing in the morning, we’ve always practiced in the morning. I practiced in the morning when we were at Oregon. I practiced in the morning when we were in Philadelphia and part of that is because of the science aspect of it. The fact that it will matchup with us going to the east coast is a byproduct of that, not the reason we do that.”

Kelly has long studied circadian rhythms and sleep cycles for maximum game time performance, and this is just the latest in a long string of interesting choices.

Kelly urges players to get fully ten hours of sleep a night, as much to let the body heal from intense training as to conserve strength. As I note in my book “Controlled Chaos,” this is based on a lot of science, including a Stanford study that showed varsity basketball players who increased sleep to ten hours a night improved their three point and free throw shooting percentage by an astonishing 9 percentage points each.

The coach was recently asked about the team’s unusually intense practices on the day before a game. Most NFL teams just have a walk-through, aiming to let bodies rest of for game day performance.

Chip holds a high-speed practice, which then-Eagles cornerback Cary Williams complained about in 2014. (It should be noted that Williams was declining and is out of the league now.)

Kelly got the idea at the University of Oregon, which has a world-class track team. Trainers of some of the Olympic class runners there, perhaps informed by Nike research, told him that it was crazy to have athletes rest up for a day or two before a big performance.

At Oregon, Kelly also worked on a “game minus N” schedule. In other words, when a game was not on a Saturday (such as a bowl game), they calculated everything backwards from game day the same number of days and hours to maintain the stablished body rhythm. The NFL makes this difficult though, with swings from Thursday to Monday mid-season.

The HGH nugget is a big of a shocker, though, since players who take Human Growth Hormone as a supplement (without league and doctor permission) are violating the league’s PED policy. HGH is a naturally occurring hormone that builds strength and speeds healing. Mike Freeman at Bleacher Report quoted players estimating that 10% to 40% of players use it illicitly; it’s difficult for the NFL’s tests to detect it.

There’s nothing illegal about maximizing the body’s natural production of it, though. In theory, this should improve players’ recovery from strenuous practices and maximize the value of those high tempo practices.