An Alternative look at the physical preparation of GAA Players

In previous blog posts I have written about the bigger picture, planning your season and the different factors that players need to satisfy for the demands of the game. Today I will look at the way I feel top level teams could plan out their training demands.

First I think we should look at what has traditionally happened. Preseason would start back with plenty of long slow distance running and plenty of gym / weights training and this would tend to happen for 6 or 8 weeks in the winter months before matches would take place.

Things are slowly improving but not to the level that I believe they could. Now many will disagree with me and I have made mistakes in the past. Take for example the number of teams who have done gym work or Strength and Conditioning for preseason but abandoned it all come Spring time, that strength training for one would be a waste of time in a lot of cases for the gains will disappear faster than it took to see them in the first place. Other mistakes we commonly see is the contradiction of training methods like doing hypertrophy (adding muscle) training in the gym while doing long slow distance running on the field – for a player needing to gain muscle they will need to reduce their endurance training volume. There is also the belief that speed work should be done at peak times or competitive times in season but what if we changed this and worked off the mantra that we “build it, then endure it” – you see we always do the opposite of this!!

Traditionally training has been very linear: Endurance → Speed on the pitch, Muscle → Strength → Power in the gym – and that is in a decent set up.

However what if we were to take a more Hybrid approach?

Let me explain – Imagine as a player every session that you arrived at for pre-season was not relentless endurance running but that you were learning running mechanics, bounding and plyometric work for speed – basically teaching the body to become faster and more powerful. For endurance work we do it by actually playing the game, skill drills, small sided games, matches etc along with some Maximum Aerobic Speed (MAS) training mixed in for good measure. Again I know some of you may read this and think – is he not going too easy on them – no absolutely not easier – smarter and more specific to the game while looking at the length of the season and the bigger picture of keeping players fit for the sport.

Imagine as we build our speed and power, we build resilience and learn to endure it. You see traditionally we try to get players aerobically fit for long periods of time and then work on speed in-season but as I said lets flip it on its head for a second and get players fast and powerful and get them fitter by being able to repeat and endure the speed and power that was built up. You may disagree but I believe we would see a lot less injuries and see players who are faster and more mobile and have the ability to maintain those bursts of speed as the season goes on.

It is extremely important that we develop the aerobic system as early as we can – as the aerobic system uses air or oxygen during performance meaning we will not use muscle glycogen as early on in a session or a match allowing us or our players to essential be fitter or more efficient athletes. So often though trainers and managers take this point alone and think laps, think long distance and forget about the other elements like the skill, speed and power which I believe should always be evident, while we improve aerobically in the most sports specific manner possible.

As a player what would give you more confidence in a critical championship match? The knowledge that you covered a lot of ground in pre-season or the knowledge that you know that you and your teams mates consistently are first to the ball winning the breaking ball and exploding past waning tackles as matches enter the dying stages. You have seen your scores improve on the yo-yo test, you have seen your fitness improve on the MAS testing, you feel fresher and faster on your feet than you did at this stage last year, while your strength has improved and those niggly injuries that were constantly in the back of your mind are now a mere memory.

So I mentioned a hybrid approach – what is stopping teams from having a Tuesday night focussing on Small Sided Games, Skill Based Circuits or MAS training for endurance. Thursday night plyometric and speed based session with a Saturday’s session based on tactics and team play. Every session should have speed and plyos in the warm up while skill work is used as part of all field sessions. It would not be long before we are developing skilful, quick thinking players who gradually ramp up the intensity of their sessions while getting more comfortable on the ball.

Obviously this is quite vague and universal and open for a lot of change but yet thought provoking and challenges a lot of people’s beliefs on how training should take place. Have fun looking at the demands of the game, the length of the season and how you think players could be best prepared.

Noel Flynn – is the owner of ABC Gym, a part time Lecturer in Strength & Conditioning with Setanta College, has being the S&C coach to the Tipperary Senior and U21 footballers, and a coach to many of Lucan Sarsfields GAA teams including the Senior Hurlers and Senior Footballers.