During early season training, the focus on the pitch tends to be heavy on fitness work and skills. While these sessions tend to be well planned and implemented, gym work sometimes can lag behind.
Players don't often relate the importance of the work they do in the gym to the work they can do on the pitch.
A good block of gym work pre and early season will give players a solid foundations for injury prevention, improve transfer of training to performance on the pitch and allow them to train at higher intensities as the season progresses without breaking down.
The two key objectives that players should be aiming for with their gym sessions are injury prevention and improved performance on the pitch.
It's no good being strong, skilful and fast if you are spending most of your time stuck on the sideline with injury!
Early season gym work should be focused on building good functional strength and movement patterns – the basic fundamentals a player needs before looking to develop high force and power.
Along with the obvious strength gains that occur, correcting and improving movement patterns in fundamental exercises will improve muscle activation patterns and synchronisation – basically teaching muscles to work together more effectively. This will allow players to:
1Have better control in agility movements.
1Improve their speed off the mark.
1Make them more solid in tackles.
1Perform repeated skill movements with greater accuracy.
A simple way to pick up on any underlying issues a player may have is to look at injury history – are there any recurring problems or areas of injury? Now is the time to identify and work hard on strengthening the weaknesses or correcting the imbalances that are causing the problem and reduce the risk of injury.
A good starting point for many players would be to address deficits in hip mobility and strength in the pelvic region, which cause problems for many footballers and hurlers.
Weakness, restricted mobility and/or poor stability in the hip area can be related to common injuries like hamstring and groin strains, labral tears and impaired sprint mechanics.
Below are three fundamental exercises to begin with to strengthen and improve mobility and function of the muscles of the hip area:
Standing straight with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, squat down pushing your weight back on your heels but keeping feet flat on the ground. Descend until hips are level with knees, and then return to start position driving straight up with hips. Keep hips, knees and feet aligned during the movement, keep back straight and head facing forward. Repeat x 8.
2. Lying hip bridge
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the ground and slightly apart, ankles straight below knees, arms by your side. Tighten stomach, squeeze glutes and lift hips pushing arms into ground. Hold for a two count, lower and repeat x 10.
3. Side-lying quad stretch
Lie on side, lower knee bent up at 90 degrees. Bend top knee and grab ankle pulling heel into bum, engage glutes and core and aim to keep knee, hip and shoulder in a straight line. Hold x 10 and repeat on other side.
If you experience any pain with the exercises, stop and seek professional advice. If unsure of the correct movement, check out these exercises online.