It’s the time of year when a lot of teams are looking towards returning to training for the season ahead. Of course, most will have different league and championship calendars and will go about their preparation for each competition in various ways. Some will begin with gym sessions only, some will opt for field sessions only, and some will choose a combination of both. Some coaches may even decide to give their players another few weeks before returning to any form of training.
Something that gets asked about a lot is pre-season conditioning, and specifically the type of running work a squad should complete. This question has far too many variables to have a definite answer. However, from our experience of supporting the physical preparation for more than 80 teams over the past 6 years, our learnings have shaped some principles for us around the topic of training load.
Although this first principle goes against the practice of many coaches, it is one of our most important. It is imperative that the training load is appropriate during the initial sessions of the season. Following a period of rest during the off season, the physical stimulus of running, jumping, cutting, accelerating and decelerating will cause significant muscle damage and soreness. If excessive amounts of any, or a combination of these demands are placed on the athlete too early in the training cycle then the result is an increased risk of injury for the remainder of that phase. In addition to this, the likelihood of successfully applying a progressive overload throughout the phase is reduced, negatively impacting performance and fitness improvements. As a general guide for the first sessions of the season, up to a maximum of 60 minutes of moderate intensity football drills with adequate recovery would be appropriate. In particular, repetitive sprinting and/or tackling should be avoided at this early stage.
We have found that a 10% week to week load increase is optimal for most athletes. Where GPS is not an option, as is the case with the majority of teams, training units (R.P.E x Time) can present a simple and effective alternative. Collecting RPE from players (rating of perceived exertion) provides the coach with a subjective unit of intensity for the session, while the total time of the session can represent the volume. To calculate the total load for a single session you simply multiply the RPE by the time in minutes. For example a 75 minute session where the average RPE collected from players is 7, would equate to 525 training units for that session (7×75 = 525). Over time a coach will become familiar with the types of drills and session layouts that deliver a planned intensity as measured using the RPE scale. Sessions can then be tailored in terms of duration to achieve a target load.
UP TO 2 HIGH LOAD SESSIONS/WEEK
We have found optimal progress, with minimal fatigue related injuries, when there are no more than 2 heavy training sessions delivered within a week (Mon-Sun). Typically, where a team trains 3 times per week (or twice plus a game), the first and last sessions of the week will be targeted for higher load, while the middle session presents a great opportunity to focus on coaching both technical and tactical aspects of the game. This also ties in with the obvious loading pattern within a week ending with a game. The game serves as the second high load session of the week in this case.
Managing the training load of players who do not receive game time or play for a minimal duration is another topic which we will aim to discuss again.
3 UP, 1 DOWN
As a rule of thumb, when designing annual plans for field sports, we programme accumulation/extensive phases for 3-4 weeks, and deload for 5-7 days. For more intensive phases we will stay within 2-3 weeks of loading before easing off. For both types of training cycles we will often end a phase with an impact week, but only where an appropriate deload will follow.
SCHEDULE IMPACT WEEKS
Within each phase, as mentioned previously, it is best to overload gradually from week to week using a guide of 10% progression as a threshold. One slight exception to this can be in the last week of a phase, prior to a deload period of at least 5 days. These “impact” weeks will not be included in all phases but will be added where appropriate to optimise performance later in the season. A typical week where 1-2 impact sessions are planned may have an increase in total load of greater than 15% above the previous week. This is an acceptable exception due to the chronic load accumulated in the weeks prior, which is protective against injury, and the subsequent deload period that is planned.
PLAY THE SPORT FOR SPECIFIC CONDITIONING
There are no practical running drills that demand a more specific combination of acceleration, deceleration, change of direction, jumping and multidirectional running, as would be demanded in, for example, a small sided game. We view conditioning/running blocks as supplemental to the main content of a session. These blocks of work are an important component within a training cycle but should not be included at the expense of more valuable energy systems development work completed in sport specific game variations.
– For players training on their own, abroad or in different parts of the country, we have an ideal solution – our online GAA Performance Plans provide everything required for a highly effective pre-season of strength, power & speed development and game specific conditioning. Find out more here!
STRENGTH & CONDITIONING
Conor Finn is the Managing Director and Lead Performance Specialist at AXSOM Sports. Currently the Head of Strength & Conditioning for the Mayo Senior Football team, he has worked with numerous high performing teams and athletes over the past 10 years