Unlike any normal season, the SPFL won’t be having a winter break this year. Normally you would find your club jetting off to a warm-weather camp in Dubai, Spain or Portugal in early January.
However, training through the winter months is really important, especially to maintain your fitness levels over the festive period!
Sure we will all eat and drink far too much…we are human after all! But, we’ve taken this chance to look back on some expert advice from Junior Mendes – who at the time of this Q&A was the lead sports scientist and fitness coach at Partick Thistle Football Club.
What are the main fitness challenges over the winter period?
The main challenge is to ensure that the players recover well, so they are as fresh as they possibly can be for the upcoming fixture. Recovery pool sessions, sleep, and nutrition are vital components during that process. A lot of athletes overlook recovery and think they just need to keep working to get better. But the truth is that without recovering properly, fatigue and injury will lead to a fall in performance levels.
How important is the recovery period that we got as a result of the winter break?
I believe the winter break is vital to help players recover from the first half of the season. Most teams now go away to a training camp and that’s after giving the players around a week off. I believe it helps all concerned to get a break from the physcial and mental rigours to recharge. This way they can then push themselves physcially and mentally all the way until the end of the season.
Some teams go abroad to winter training camps, what are the key fitness objectives here?
One of the most important aspects was to get a full week’s training on a grass surface without being interrupted by the cold weather and snow. Reports suggested that the weather was particularly bad the week we went away and the likelihood is that we just wouldn’t have been able to train properly that week.
As it was though, the players successfully completed a full week of double sessions in the sun with a game on the final day which was absolutely ideal. Thos extra sessions act as a great conditioning exercise for all players involved as put us in a great position to hit the ground running when we got back.
How big a part does fatigue play?
There is always a fine balancing act between freshness and fatigue. Fatigue lurks around every corner! With that in mind, the manager wants to know what the players’ daily workload is. I report these finding to the coaching staff, who then plan the proceeding sessions accordingly.
Depending on the current situation, I will push them on, or ease off during our gym sessions when we don’t have mid-week games. Instead of no gym at all. I will just reduce the volume but keep up the intensity, which acts as a regeneration session. We’re lucky in that the Powerhouse Fitness equipment we have access to allows us to vary our sessions a great deal so there’s always something we can do to fit the work cycle of the players.
How do you maintain an optimum balance between fatigue, recovery, and performance?
We use the gym equipment supplied for all aspects of the players training programme. For example, the medicine balls help focus on powerful ballistic type movements. Whereas I use resistance bands at the start of a match-day warm-up to physcially prepare the players. The resistance bands are partly used to activate the upper back which helps ease lower back tightness.
If you’ve ever had lower back tightness then you’ll know that it’s pretty hard to perform high-intensity movements efficiently but the bands are a simple but effective tool to mitigate against this. The medicine balls are used for ballistic explosive movements. The med ball exercises I use target the glute, trunk and lower limb muscles that help transfer force rapidly. This helps with quicker changes of direction, acceleration and jumping movements.
I already mentioned how important nutritional supplements are for player recovery after gym sessions and matches. That is a massive aid in achieving that balance between recovery and performance. To help fuel muscle growth, protein is consumed by the players directly after gym sessions.
Achieving the balance between fatigue, recovery and performance is really tough. The equipment and supplements we receive from Powerhouse make a big difference and really help me achieve my goals. Having said that, this kind of equipment isn’t only useful for professional athletes. They’re so versatile that anyone can use them and see benefits almost immediately.
This article was originally released in November 2018