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GAA Strength and Conditioning

GAA Pre-Season Time

It’s January so all of you hurlers and footballers are staring a few weeks of pre-season training in the face. I’m sure you’re all looking forward to it, in a way.

I thought I’d jot down some things that I do with my teams. You might get some ideas, or you might scoff at other things. It’s strange but some of the most mundane stuff that I do seems to get more reaction than some of the more technical stuff.

First up- frequency and duration. You’re probably talking 6-8 weeks. To strike a good balance between ball and gym work, you’re going to probably only see them once per week as a group. I recommend (though I’m only ever an advisor to management) for a club team training three times per week, that one be a skills session, one a high intensity fitness session with ball/hurl in hand, and one indoors in the weight room. This gives you good balance with the group, and if there is any additional strength work, the players can catch up with it themselves in their own time. Four times or more per week simply isn’t feasible with study and work commitments, and in any case, familiarity can also breed contempt and dissent. If you have a 4th session in a week, my advice is to make it as fresh and light as possible. Players who want to do more should be given the capacity to do so, up to a point. Overtraining and burn out is a distinct possibility in January among committed players. More lifting isn’t always the answer.

Coaches come into the S&C world believing they’ll be putting together a Rocky montage of training in 6 weeks. You won’t. You’ll see most players just enough, some not at all, and very few with the level of frequency you’d like.

What I do with them is simple enough. Our first session is a strength test. I’ll do body composition testing the week after. The reason for this is that body fat testing directly after Christmas is going to give you a false positive in March. Everyone is fatter after Christmas unless they got the vomiting bug, and everyone is thinner in March. I give them a couple of weeks to get rid of some of their Christmas pudge and then I pinch them.

Strength testing is easy. I love hearing stories about exotic strength tests that are examples of what Andrea Pirlo called “masturbation for fitness coaches”. No one cares how smart you are or what cool book you read. See how much they can safely lift, or squat, or pull, standardise it, then repeat it in 6 weeks. The key is that it’s easily repeatable. The bench press is a perfect upper body test because it’s got the blend of being a very familiar exercise to most people, meaning you don’t have to coach it, and easily quantified. My test is:
1RM Bench
Max Pull Ups
Max Push Ups in 60s
Max Inverted Rows in 60s
1RM Trap Bar deadlift
Max effort vertical jump
Conditioning Test

The tricky bit is next- how to get results. First up, I’m not results focused in terms of the above numbers. By that I mean I’m not a slave to the test. If I do my job correctly with the appropriate amount of speed, conditioning, mobility and strength work, the numbers will increase anyway. In other words, I could train a squad to just ace their next strength test and I would probably get better numbers and impress everyone- but this would not be an efficient way to prepare for a season.

With that in mind, I’ll just make a quick observation. It seems to me that a lot of coaches are personal trainers or powerlifters turned strength and conditioning coaches. This is fine, but I’m not sure many of them would know what a needs analysis was if it was fed to them. Most training seems to be powerlifting with some prowler pushes. Y’know- Strength and then eh, conditioning. We all know that just doing laps is bad, but aerobic capacity is still required. Players still need to do some hard running, and not always intervals. This isn’t American Football. If you’re preparing a GAA team for a season, take a look at the scholarly data!

“But I heard” says the guy who reads the internet, “that hurling and football are games of short bursts and sprints. So we should train more sprinting and less distance”.
This is true, and it’s untrue. First off, according to hurling data available here, the total amount of time spent sprinting is…. 5% of each game. The highest percentage, 39%, of each game is spent walking (walking!), a little less is spent jogging, and in fact, you’re more likely to be standing still (12%) than sprinting.

What does that all mean? Well it doesn’t mean that we should train to walk, or stand still. You can take it that the 5% of times when players were sprinting it was for possession of the sliotar, in other words- you sprint when it matters, and the bulk of the rest of the time is spent moving into positions to sprint! So you need to sprint and be as fast as possible, but you also need to have an aerobic system capable of carrying you around the pitch comfortably so as not to be exhausted for those moments.

Back to the gym. We’re always going to do some strength work, but the first few sessions are going to be based around adaptation. Crawling, walking, carrying, dragging and bodyweight are going to form the basis of strength training initially. Since we’ve got one session per week, we’re going to go total body every session, that’s upper/lower. I’ll change emphasis week to week for variety and efficiency, and also to accommodate friendly games or vital training sessions.

We’re also always going to do some conditioning work. Initially this will be light enough, and short enough, but as we approach the season, the intensity and duration will increase. In January, we’ll probably do a bit of a blow out at the end of each session, but by the end of February, we’ll be really working on building work capacity and big fuel tank stuff.

Back to running for a bit. Does your manager take you to the beach to run? Suggest to him that maybe stopping or decreasing this might be a good idea. You might have read some of the stuff on barefoot running, and how the incidents and frequency of lower limb injuries such as achilles and calf tears occur if a proper adaptation period isn’t adhered to. It’s not too different with running in sand. Even relatively hard sand gives way in a completely different fashion to grass or even concrete. The increased strain on the achilles in particular can lead to injury. That’s not to say running on the beach is always bad, just that it can be if too much load is put on too soon. I know some managers love the beach! It’s great to be in the fresh air, running up the dunes, and there’s a great team bonding element to it too, so I understand why you’d want to run there. If your manager likes that, avoid box jumps, bounding, or explosive lower body movements for a few days to be on the safe side.

If I get an opportunity and a willing cameraman, I might video some training sessions over the next while. Hopefully the above gives some food for thought anyway!

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