By Jeremy Poulson, First Team Sports Scientist, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club
In my role, I work with elite athletes to develop their fitness to ensure they’re in peak condition for every game. This involves training throughout the season, as well as creating off-season and pre-season programmes.
Although the current season is now in full swing, it’s my job to be looking ahead and planning the player’s schedules well in advance so that they’re always fully prepared.
For example, the next block of training I’m planning will be pre-season activity to start in July. Although pre-season training has a reputation for being the hardest type a player will do, it is actually the easiest for a non-athlete to replicate.
The players will have often had a six week summer break, so we’ll be building up from lower levels of fitness and setting goals for improving strength and losing weight – something a lot of people can relate to.
Assuming the players have followed their off-season programmes, they tend to come back to pre-season training with a base fitness and about 12-13% body fat on average. It’s my job to then help them reduce this to around 8-9%.
The first area we’ll work on is the player’s aerobic fitness. To build this up we go through a combination of regular football drills and practices. The days of just conditioning and running long distances have gone. Now the drills need to be more specific to the movements associated within the game.
When it comes to elite player development and optimisation, I’ll be considering a number of factors for this part of the training. For example, I’ll be looking at the average distance they run in a game, the average intensity of the workout, their maximum oxygen uptake, and ensuring they can reach maximal aerobic power and capacity.
Whilst non-athletes don’t need to worry about these technical details, the training work-outs we do can be easily replicated and will provide a solid base for anyone wanting to improve their fitness. The training usually consists of small-sided games, and short bursts of running with mixed speeds. Getting involved in a team sport once or twice a week is an ideal way to replicate this part of the training.
Building the players core strength is important as well, and just like aerobic training this is something everyone should include in their workouts. For players, we tend to incorporate this into the injury prevention and gym sessions. However, for non-athletes, I’d recommend repeating regular, simple strengthening exercises. Things like squats, bodyweight dips, and lifting weights are ideal.
Another technique we use during pre-season is training the body in hot, high altitude conditions, which places more of a demand on the body and creates an adaptation as a result. For this we use altitude chambers, hypoxic machines and masks whilst training, however, I’d only recommend this type of activity for elite athletes trying to optimise performance.
The first few weeks can be daunting, but once you’ve got through the initial stages, the routine becomes easier to follow. My main piece of advice would be to set realistic, achievable goals and go from there. Our players didn’t get to their level of fitness overnight.
Jeremy Poulson is the First Team Sports Scientist who joined Sheffield Wednesday Football Club in 2015, having previously worked at Birmingham City FC. He worked for two years as an intern with the Birmingham City FC First Team, while studying his BSc Sport and Exercise Science degree at Loughborough University, before taking a permanent role with their Under 18’s. Jeremy is currently studying at London’s St Mary’s University, undertaking an MSc Strength and Conditioning degree.