Pre-season: How club players can take preparation to the next level
As we prepare for the new season, strength and conditioning coach Cliodhna O’Connor explains how club players can push onto the next level. The All-Ireland winning Dublin ladies football goalkeeper, who was the subject of TG4 show ‘Laochra Gael’ in 2017, explains the type of workouts that can help streamline an athlete and their performance levels.
DIRTY BOOTS AND HARD RUNNING
Some considerations for those ‘lucky’ enough to be getting their teeth into Pre-season training. We’ve all been in that first team meeting: ambitious goals are set, motivation is high, internally every player has decided they are going to be the fittest player on the team and show the manager just how good they are. Pre-season is not easy because in short, the work just has to be done. There are, however, some considerations to keep in mind while getting that work done that should help you get the most benefit for your efforts and keep you as healthy as possible.
REMEMBER WHAT YOU ARE PREPARING FOR
This is the most important aspect of pre-season training. The goal of this block of training is to get you ready to compete on the field. You have to remember what exactly you are going to be asked to do on the pitch. Depending on whether it is hurling or football and the position you play, the demands placed on your can vary to some degree. In general, however, Gaelic games players will all have to do the following:
• Accelerate quickly over short distances
• Decelerate quickly and change direction
• Jump and land on single and double legs
• Repeat sprint longer distances
• Execute skills when tired
• Have a strong physical presence to deal with the tackle
Its easy to start well in pre-season, but after a few weeks however motivation can wane. From an injury point of view, you need to build up your training and allow you body to get used to a higher load; repeatedly stopping and starting will put you at risk of injury. Even if you miss a squad sessions or cannot do a full session get something done - something will always be better than nothing.
Again the aim of pre season is to get you ready to play — you cannot play if you are injured. If you have a history of repeated injury issues, even something that hasn’t kept you out for a long period of time but something that niggles at you during the season. Do you roll your ankles more than most, do you get hamstring or groin issues, do you get lower back pain when you do a lot of running? Now is the time to address it. Talk to a physio or an S&C Coach and figure out what you need to do to address it, make this a priority in your training.
WHAT SHOULD YOU WORK ON?
Realistically everyone will have slightly different needs in pre-season depending on what their limiting factors are, i.e. one player might be naturally very aerobically fit and can cover a lot of ground, but perhaps he gets pushed off the ball a lot in close-contact situations.
Pre-season training should contain a bit of all of the following with some areas given more priority depending on a players needs:
a) Core Stability and Balance
b) Injury Prevention
c) Aerobic capacity
d) General Strength
e) Power and Plyometric fundamentals – i.e. Jumping and landing (single leg and double leg)
f) Agility Fundamentals – Change of directions and Decelerations.
This may seem like a lot of areas and also far removed from just lifting heavy trap bars and running up and down a pitch. But the reality is that these are all the things a player will be asked to do when matches start, so they need to be prepared well. Also all of these pieces fit together: having better strength will improve your jumping ability, having better single leg and core control will improve your agility and having a better aerobic capacity will allow you to continue doing all of these things for longer. While focused speed and power work would be focused on later in the season, having the fundamentals of these areas covered early in the year allows you to make great strides in these areas later in the season.
It is natural for competitive athletes to want to do what they perceive are the ‘hardest’ or most advanced exercises, e.g. power cleans and box jumps for power, or back squats and bench press for strength. While these exercises are appropriate in the right context, remember there is more than one way to skin a cat.
When it comes to picking what exercises to do in the gym, the most important thing is that the exercises are appropriate for you. It doesn’t matter what the guy beside you is doing, it’s what meets your needs that is important.
Unless something has to be omitted from an injury point of view, a good rule of thumb is that across a week of training you should hit all the following areas. Remember some of these things can be achieved as part of warm-ups and not everything would be a ‘main lift’ in a gym session. (Note: demonstrations of these exercises can be found on Google or YouTube.)
1. Core and Stability
e.g deadbugs, plank variations, single leg balance exercises, palloff press variations.
2. Push Exercises
e.g. Horizontal: Push up, Dumbell Bench Press.
Vertical: Single Arm Overhead Press, Landmine press.
3. Pull Exercises
e.g. Horizontal: Inverted Row, TRX Row.
Vertical: Pull Up Variations
4. Hip Dominant Hinge Patterns
e.g. Deadlift variations, Double Leg RDL, Single Leg RDL.
5. Knee Dominant Squat Patterns
e.g. Front/Back Squat, Goblet Squat, Bodyweight Squat.
6. Single Leg Exercises
Lunge Variations, Single Leg RDL, Single Leg Squat, Step Ups.
7. Carry Variations
e.g Briefcase Carry, Waiter Carry, Offset carry.
8. Aerobic Capacity.
e.g. Intermittent Linear Runs, Aerobic Skills Sessions, Small-Sided Games.
Remember, if improving aerobic fitness is a priority for a player, they of course have to get through a body of running. However, getting back into a high volume of running can be tough on the body and injuries can occur. When building up aerobic fitness in pre-season, on-pitch work can be supplemented with bike or rower sessions, or aerobic-based circuits in the gym. This will allow a player to get extra aerobic work in if they need it without the heavy impact of running.
OFF THE PITCH
Pre-season for GAA coincides with the most miserable time of year. If pitches are not wet and muddy, they are icy and cold – or sometimes all four! A combination of the weather, a sudden increase in training and probably knowing at least one person with the flu, means that staying healthy is a critical element to completing a good pre-season block of training. Small things can make a big difference in this area:
1. Shower straight after training, even if the car journey is only ten minutes. Do not stay in wet training gear any longer than you have to.
2. Get plenty of sleep. Adaptations to and recovery from training occur when you are asleep. If you do not get enough sleep you limit the benefits you will get from all your effort during the sessions.
3. Good fuel for your body. Ensure you eat good quality food. Remember you are now asking your body to do a huge amount more work. You need to give it the fuel to carry out the work and also eat plenty of nutrients to allow you recover after and keep your immune system healthy.
4. Hydration. Don’t be fooled by the temperature, just because it is cold outside that does not mean you are not losing a huge amount of fluids during sessions. Make sure you are arriving to each session fully hydrated.
5. Do something even if you are sore. Every player has experienced DOMS at some stage – delayed onset muscle soreness! Basically it’s the aching feeling you have getting out of a chair a day or two after a hard session. This is perfectly normal but in order to stimulate recovery you should do some light activity. An easy answer and one that kills two birds with one stone is a light bodyweight circuit done at home. This will help you recover and arrive in better shape for the next session while also getting an extra bit of core work done in the week.