Fitness First

We spoke to Gareth Law, physio at Exeter City who provided us with his top tops for player fitness

Read Exeter City’s Head of Physiotherapy Gareth Law, who has also worked for Torquay United and Plymouth Argyle, on his fitness advice to Devon footballers.

The Off-Season Programme is Key

Pre-season training is a tough time for all players and very few look forward to the running sessions. However, a well-planned pre-season programme should focus upon developing the key aspects of fitness associated with football, not trying to make you run until you are sick.

A graduated approach is key to minimizing injury. Be honest with yourself – how much activity have you undertaken during the past two months of the ‘off-season’?

At the end of the season the body will become deconditioned to playing football. If you haven’t done very much, it’s highly likely that trying to participate in pre-season training 2-3 times a week will result in injury… too much, too soon, too often!

Therefore, our professional players are given off-season programmes to off-set these losses in fitness and prepare the players for what is ahead in pre-season. There is no reason why amateur players should be any different.

The off-season programme should consist of a graduating intensity of activities several weeks before returning for pre-season.

  • Running – aim for building a level of endurance to cope with the demands of football. 2-3 runs per week for around 12 minutes will be a good starting point.
  • Strength – during the off-season, maintain the strength in the lower body and core through exercises, such as squats, deadlifts and kettle bell swings.
  • Injury prevention – Certain muscle groups are more prone to injury during pre-season than others – for example the quadriceps. During the pre-season, players will return and begin kicking footballs, something they haven’t done for two months, making them prone to fatigue and possibly tearing muscle fibres. Therefore, it’s essential these muscles groups are worked before returning for pre-season.

 The Prep is Done. Now for the Hard Work – Pre-Season!

Think about what activities and movements and involved in football, and more specifically your position. You will have to replicate these at graduating intensities throughout the pre-season. A lot of our training is now becoming position-specific, so you train generically for football as a group, but then also as a position specific group.

My key advice is to not go too fast, too soon. The muscles and tendons will not be able to cope, particularly if you’re a ‘mature’ footballer. Instead, build up your pace gradually. At the end of your six-week pre-season programme, you should be aiming to be performing all activities at match pace and ready to start the season.

Key activities to include in your pre-season programme:

  • Endurance – Build upon the endurance you gained during the off season – start increasing the pace of these 12-minute runs.
  • Strength – begin to alter your weights programme to incorporate power-based exercises and plyometrics. These exercises will make you more explosive and able to accelerate quicker.
  • Sprints – Run 50 yards as fast as you can – perform these 10 times.
  • Agility – Football requires players to change direction quickly. The ability to decelerate, change direction and accelerate rapidly is key to optimal performance. So practice these 2-3 times per week. Slaloms, shuttle runs, the Illinois-run all require quick changes of direction. Perform a variety of different agility runs to incorporate running forwards, backwards, side to side and diagonally (jockeying).
  • Injury prevention – start to look after the muscle groups and joints ‘typically’ affected during the season. Hamstring strains, groin strains and ankle sprains are amongst the most common injuries during the season. For the muscles, eccentric loading after training has been identified as being key to preventing injury. It builds a higher level of endurance in these muscle groups. As for protecting the ankles, have a think about your balance. Stand on one leg and close your eyes. If you are wobbly or lose balance quickly, it is likely you are visually dominant, so you’ll need to train your proprioception receptors to become more sensitive. This can be done by practicing blind balancing for 3x30 secs and will help you react to unstable footing quicker, reducing the likelihood of ankle sprains. The improvements will be seen in just a few sessions.

These are just the basics, but will ensure you are ready to start the season in peak condition. If you require any further information, normally suffer with injuries in pre-season, are serious about getting fit for the season ahead and would like a personalized programme, then feel free to contact me on