The 8 Key Elements Of Football Pre-Season Training
We all welcome a hard-earned break as the season draws to a close, finally a chance to recover and get rid of that niggle that has been bugging you for the last couple of months.
But as much as we value that rest period post season, in the back of our minds we know our match fitness is already starting to deteriorate and the longer we put off our pre-season schedule, the worse that first session back with the team is going to be.
‘It’s alright, I’ll just smash the gym a few weeks before I go back.’
Countless times I have witnessed players cramming in their pre-season schedule last minute in a desperate effort to quickly get their fitness back. What’s worse is that it usually involves long runs on the treadmill and a mixture of strength exercises found in magazines with no real plan to follow. This results in a look of bemusement when early in the season they find themselves on the touch line with an injury.
On average a player will perform explosive actions such as turning, sprinting, kicking, jumping and accelerating over 500 times during a match.
In the last 10 years the number of sprints performed per game in the premier league has increased by 85%! Of course, this is at the top level of football, but the game is evolving at all levels and the demands placed on our bodies are increasing.
If you want to reach and maintain yourself at elite level you must train smart and adequately prepare your body.
Here are the 8 fundamental elements for a successful football pre-season:
1. A gradual introduction
Smashing your training straight away following a rest period puts you at great risk of injury. You must give your body time to recover and adapt from each training component in order to see progress. This doesn’t mean only doing one session a week, it means adjusting the volume of each workout and adding variety in your training to focus on different elements of fitness throughout your week.
The workout that you found challenging in week 1 is no good to you in week 8, you must keep your body guessing and test out your limits to avoid plateauing. Every single week you should be looking to overload the body making increases of around 5%, this will keep your training challenging whilst limiting the risk of injury and keeping you surging forwards towards your goals.
Testing doesn’t have to be dreaded, it can be fun and you should be excited about recording some results you can work with. You should test yourself throughout your schedule to ensure that you’re heading in the right direction and to actually see your progress in black and white.
The time when we sleep and rest is actually the time that our bodies adapt to become stronger and fitter. Not allowing yourself recovery time is doing your body a disservice and will hinder the results you are training hard to achieve. With no time to recover you are likely to get ill, lose motivation and burnout. This doesn’t mean sitting around on the sofa all day, it means ensuring you get enough sleep, and shifting focus to low intensity, low impact activities.
I mentioned above about how the game is evolving. What you want to avoid is training hard but actually realising that the type of training you are doing isn’t going to help you reach your goals as effectively and efficiently as another type of training. For example, going for a 90-minute jog compared to 20 minutes of short, sharp interval training. Not only is the interval training more specific to football, it will most likely have me working harder and gaining more benefits as well as giving me more recovery time.
Use MERCS to measure your workouts specificity. M=muscles used, E=energy systems used, R=range of movement required, C=contraction type, S=skill or speed of movement.
6. Strength training
It amazes me how many players turn a blind eye to strength training in a belief that it will make them slow or isn’t appropriate for football. Strength is the main component of speed, and as well as making you a more powerful player it will greatly increase your resilience to injury.
Due to the stresses placed on the body during strength training, the pre-season period is a key time to utilise this type of training, during the in season we do not have the same availability of time to recover and be fresh in time for a match. Remember that a bigger muscle can be a stronger muscle, a stronger muscle can be a more powerful muscle.
Where a lot of players go wrong is performing the strength work but not combining this with explosive exercises whether they be field or gym based, therefore carrying extra muscle which hasn’t been conditioned to be explosive which is actually making them slower in their movements.
Football as a sport naturally tightens us up as athletes, therefore many males struggle with flexibility work. But it’s nothing to do with simply being a male, it’s a result of playing football and doing no work to maintain joint mobility. Mobility work will aid recovery, allow you to move more freely and actually enable force to be exerted more efficiently, meaning greater power output.
8. Ball work
If you want to play at a high level you must have a high level of technical skill. But just because the ball isn’t involved in your training doesn’t mean that it’s not specific to football.
Many exercises are made less effective if the ball is included. For example, trying to improve your running speed by dribbling a ball at speed will not produce the overload required to make you faster, you must train running speed without the ball first, once you’ve got the improvements you were looking for, add the ball back in and you’ll be a faster dribbler.
The focus in pre-season is preparing the body for the upcoming season, therefore add ball work into your training in a way that challenges your technical skill and focus when you a highly fatigued.