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Tag Archive: pre-season

  1. How to make Pre-Season Training Interesting, Relevant and More Fun

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    I Hate Pre-Season Training

    This is often the thought of players who are forced to undergo various fitness tests and long slow runs as part of a pre-season training and fitness programme.

    Doing repeated doggies, shuttle runs and various circuits, with barely a ball in sight is enough to put most players off.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    As a Coach, you can make pre-season training interesting, relevant and more fun. Your players will be fitter, faster and stronger. More importantly, if they are willing, engaged and able to play, they will put more effort in.

    Why Pre-Season Training Needs to be Turned on its Head

    pre season training programmeDo you start your pre season with an endurance fitness test? Your players turn up and do either the bleep test or the yo-yo test.

    You then train them for a few weeks doing lots of endurance running and re test them before the season starts.

    Is this interesting, relevant or fun?

    Or are you just gathering random numbers?

    I used to do exactly this. When I started working with London Welsh RFC 10 years ago. My plan was this:

    • Test the players
    • Develop an aerobic base.
    • Build up into intermittent endurance work with strength training.
    • Finish the last 2 weeks with speed training.
    • Re test the players

    exercise physiology testI checked this plan with some “expert physiologists at Brunel University” they thought it was a good plan.

    Of course they did: in a laboratory situation this would look good as I was training to the test.  

    Over the last 10 years, working with hundreds of athletes I now realise that the situation should be reversed.

    As an athlete I hated getting tested if I didn’t get the feedback, if I didn’t think it would help me fight better, or if there was no follow up training plan to help me improve.

    Get Fitter, Faster and Stronger in Pre-season

    As a coach you want your team to be Fitter, Faster and Stronger. But fit for what? You want them on the pitch ready to train and ready to thrive in competition when the season starts.

    So, I look at developing 3 qualities:

    1. Efficiency: Get them moving well and with control
    2. Robustness: Get them able to do that under load, faster, further or heavier.
    3. Resilience Get them able to sustain that quality of movement or load for longer.

    Who wants to practice bad running, bad lifting, slow agility and irrelevant skill patterns?

    It is demotivating as a player, and a waste of your precious Coaching time as a Coach.

    pre season training programme

    How to Start Pre-season Training

    pre-season trainingTesting and evaluation are an important part of pre-season. But just telling players to run further or run faster to improve their test scores may only reinforce their bad technique, and could lead to injury.

    My overriding consideration as a Coach is to give the players the tools to do the job.

    Choose your tests carefully. If you are in a team field or court sport like Football, Hockey, Rugby or Basketball then the bleep test or yo-yo tests are relevant to the demands of the game. More so than a 1500m or 5km running (or even worse rowing) test to assess your endurance (more test detail here).

    But, understand that these tests measure more than endurance. They measure your ability to: accelerate, brake and change direction. All of which are needed in your sports.

    So, in conjunction with one of those tests, your first week would be well spent assessing the players’ ability to control their own body.

    Here is a FREE handout on the 5 tests that I use with players. (This is the Foundation week 1 of our Sports Training System)

    My motto is “Little things, done well, consistently.” If the players are given the tools to do the job, they gain in confidence and progress accordingly. You have 6-12 weeks to get players fit, you have to ask yourself

    Robin Williams blind football

    Easy to get players tired

    Are you making them better, or just making them tired?

    Over the next few weeks we will be looking in detail at a different quality that is needed in pre-season training:

    If your players can accelerate and change direction faster, are strong enough to handle the braking forces when stopping and have a higher top speed, they will improve their test scores.

    You can then work on doing more quality movements with a shorter rest time: this will then lead to an improved work capacity.

    Most importantly: they will be able to transfer those fitness qualities to the Game where it counts.

    Please share with your team mates and fellow coaches. Have you got a favourite pre season fitness test? Please leave a comment below. 

  2. Pre-season speed training

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    “Don’t run the speed out of you”

    Speed kills, and every coach wants a faster team. The best way to get a faster team is to recruit faster players. Failing that, get your existing players to run faster.

    Your team needs to be able to run fast at the end of each half, not to be able to jog aimlessly. around. Traditionally pre-season training has started with long slow runs and then worked towards trying to get faster.

    bad runnerOne certain way to get your players to run slower is to keep running them into the ground until all technique has been lost (pictured right).

    My focus is always on giving the players the tools to do the job. Coach them well, give the Run Faster  programme.

    You hopefully have read and followed our guides and built a good foundation, got the strength that you can apply, and become more agile. Now is the time to get faster.

    The 2 key components of running faster

    1 Get a higher top speed

    2 Accelerate to that top speed

    But in my sport we never get to top speed as we only sprint over short distances” I used to think this way, thinking “what is the point of getting rugby props working on top speed?” (apart from amusement!)

    The question you have to ask is “What am I accelerating towards?

    If your top speed is higher, then the percentage of that top speed that you are striving for at each stage of 5m, 10m, and 20m (common sprint distances in team sports) will also be higher.

    So, if you can only get to about 45% of top speed at 10m (based on what Asafa Powell can do), then all things being equal, increasing your 60m speed will also help your acceleration.

    Increasing your top speed.

    Pre-season speed training

    Sprint drills

    Running is a co-ordination activity,it requires practice and refinement. I get the players to work on 7 different aspects of running (see here) and use a variety of drills designed to help them achieve this.

    I focus on one thing at a time and vary the drills to challenge the learning and co-ordination of the players. Just like any other skill that you teach as a coach.

    Get the players to practice running, focussing on that one aspect, then rest and repeat. Introduce the next drill, practice, and then use it when running.

    (An example of me coaching a drill can be seen on this video)

    If you just run without technique focus, you will just get tired. If you just drill without applying them into the run, you just get better at drills.

    Accelerate fast

    acceleration drillAcceleration is crucial in team sports. “More specifically, horizontal acceleration of body weight. The simplest and most accurate description from physics for explosiveness; quickness, agility and even speed

    Jack Blatherwick GAIN 2011

    The ability to control the body in a Straight Line Extension (SLX) is the difference between a fast person and a slower one. Strengthening drills that incorporate the whole body in that position are very useful.

    speed drillIn the first 2-3 strides the Gluteal Muscles and Quadriceps are a key factor in providing force for the thrust. After that (5-25 metres) the co -ordination and SLX are more important.

    That is why your team must be doing lower body strength work, especially on single legs and in different planes.

    I work on acceleration over 5-10m using a top down and bottom up approach.

    Top down is “Lean, fall and go” which can be done against a wall, with partner assist, harnesses and then “free fall”. This gets the players to practice their first step and feel comfortable with SLX.

    acceleration drillBottom up is from a bear crawl into a sprint. Bear crawl over 5m and then come up gradually into a sprint over 15m. This helps with reciprocal arm and leg action (co ordination) and again on SLX.

    Tips for fitting in pre-season speed

    “This all sounds well and good, but how do I fit it into my technical and tactical sessions?”

    The traditional view of team sports coaches is diametrically opposed to that of speed coaches when it comes to work:rest ratios.

    We can not have team sports players having 15 minutes rest between 300m intervals. This is the real world and time is precious. Similarly we can not have “speed sessions” turning into shuttle runs with jog back recovery. That is not Speed.

    I go for the more pragmatic approach of doing shorter speed sessions, more frequently. This way your players are able to cope mentally and physically with high quality work, and you can then do your tactical \ technical coaching afterwards.

    Active recovery of skill work such as passing and catching, or dribbling is acceptable, but remember only do that walking or stationary.

    Elliot HoyteEvery time you jog a drill, you have to finish it which requires braking: this is not rest. Metabolically your players will not appear tired, but mechanically they will have been loaded heavily.

    Stress is stress, and your body can only cope with so much.

    Avoid the volume trap on speed.

    I have found that good Coaches like me getting their players faster, more resilient and less likely to get injured.  This has taken some change of thinking and heavy bartering on allocated times!

    Perhaps, more importantly, players appreciate getting help on How to get faster, rather than told to run faster.

    (Download our Free “Run Faster Guide” here for 6 example sessions) 

  3. 4 steps to get more agile in pre-season.

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    Its better to run round people than through them.

    rugby agilityThe ability to run “through spaces not faces” is very important in most field/court sports. You want to be agile enough to:

    • Avoid being tackled
    • Be able to get into position to stop your opponent
    • Get to the ball.

    Is your pre-season agility training helping you achieve this?

    Do you have a series of ladders and cones laid out and run around them?

    football agilityOr, are you really advanced and have a slalom series of poles laid out? Does that get players more agile, or just more tired?

    Small sided games are very popular, and one coach said to me “Gareth Edwards never needed coaching”. Nope, but he grew up in an age when kids played British Bulldog and kick the can, and had proper PE lessons where they had to get hot and sweaty.

    Nowadays, your team is made up of desk jockeys or couch potatoes, so the basics have to be built in and reinforced whatever your level.

    Agility training should be more than Organised Despair. It requires coaching, progression, variety and application.

    A 4 Step Approach to Getting More Agile

    Here is our approach to getting players more agile.

    how to get more agile

    1 Body Control. This is the foundation where the importance of strength and balance are emphasised. This allows better force reduction, force stabilisation and then force production (more details here).

    single leg squatThe use of Single Leg Squats, multi directional lunges, multi directional hop and holds are essential. For upper body the use of lawnmowers, sprawls and sit throughs are coached.

    These then become part of the Team’s warm up drills.


    (Get your Free 5 day agility training programme here)

    2 Planned Movements. Turn and Run, Rolling  and Crawling mechanics. Coach the push off 2 feet in different directions: forward, side and backwards. The open step and crossover step are both practiced.

    pre-season agility

    Practice getting up off the floor

    Agility is not just important when standing up. A lot of time is spent in getting up and down off the floor in sport. Players need to be taught how to land safely, and then get back up quickly.

    Forward rolls, sideways rolls, and backward rolls are all important parts of this. Bear crawls are useful to help teach sprint mechanics from the floor and short distance acceleration. These can then be combined to form a warm up sequence like this video.


    This is then rehearsed in drills like the Oregon Sway Drill and Foot Dot Drill. 

    3 Reactive Drills. Once your players have practiced their mechanics, and learnt how to use them in sequence, you can start getting them to react to different stimuli. 

    football agilityThis puts a time pressure into place and you can see how robust the players’ techniques are. The cues can be:

    • Visual (partner or coach moving, ball moving)
    • Auditory (left, right, go, or sound of ball being kicked)
    • Kinesthetic (partner push, feel of ball on feet)

    4 Random and Chaotic Games and skills drills. Now is the chance to put the different movements into place. For example, having your players work on a 2vs 1 drill in a narrow linear channel would follow on from the Foot Dot Drill.

    pre-season agility for football

    Excelsior athlete Dan James

    Having them work on a 3 vs 2 in a wide lateral channel would follow on from the Oregon Sway Drill.

    This gives the players the chance to rehearse in a “limited open game“. There are specific rules and boundaries, but decisions have to be made and reactions and agility are tested.

    You can do all 4 of this sequence in each session: If you spend 5 minutes on each part, then you are progressing through the learning process. After 20 minutes your players will be warmed up, be moving better, and have had to practice making decisions.

    How to Test Pre-Season Agility

    Agility is the ability to change direction at pace in response to a stimulus. Unfortunately , most agility testing just measures the ability to change direction at pace, without an appropriate stimulus.

    As you may have gathered from our previous posts on Pre-season training, we are not fans of testing for testing sake. If you do test agility, be aware that you are measuring your players ability to accelerate, brake and change direction. 

    Do not use the test as a selection process as decision making is not measured.

    The 3 cone L weave is an easily administered agility test, that measures change of direction off both feet in a speed cut and a power cut.

    3 cone L weave

    Next week, we will look at getting your team faster in Pre-season.

    If you want to get more agile, then why not join our Sports Training System

  4. How to get stronger in pre-season

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    Why do I need to start  pre-season strength training ?

    pre-season fitnessWell, ideally you won’t be starting from scratch. Hopefully you have been doing your foundation work throughout the off-season.

    This means that you are moving efficiently and can control your body through a full range of motion.

    Now, as we saw last week, we are looking to make you more robust. This will allow you to do those movements Faster, Further or with Resistance.

    Strength training will make you more resistant to injury too. This is is true of all sports, and if you are a junior player or female, you might think “strength training isn’t for me”.

    But females are 4-7 times more likely to get Knee injuries than males, strength training is an essential part of helping prevent ACL injuries (See Free ebook on S&C for females here).

    If you are able to move Faster, and Further and against Resistance (gravity, another person) and you are less likely to be injured, you will be a better player.

    Getting stronger does not necessarily mean getting bigger (if you want to get bigger for Rugby, then see here).

    Key message: Strength training is essential for all athletes. The type of strength training differs depending on age/stage and sport.

    What exercises should I be doing?

    pre-season strength testThis very much depends on your age, stage of development and the sport you play. But certain principles are important:

    • Work the whole body, not just isolated parts.

    The body is a very complicated system, it is not a series of individual actions or jigsaw pieces.

    Your strength programme should reflect this. Exercises like squats, jumps and pull ups use lots of different movements together.

    If you are sitting or lying down doing exercises, you are not using your whole body.he bench is good for doing step ups, not for doing 80% of your exercises! You can sit on it between doing proper work.

    • Start in the middle and work out.

    A weak trunk means that anytime you try to generate power in the upper body, or hold a position like a tackle, or keep your body upright when running, you will struggle.

    The trunk must be trained in 3 planes, and with slow, fast and stabilising actions. If you are making your athletes hold a plank for more than 2 minutes then you are wasting their time and yours (see this medicine ball sequence for an idea.)

    • mini band exercisesProgress according to individual pace

    Not every athlete will be good at every exercise. They will move faster along the progression with some exercises, and slower at others. Recognise this and adapt your programme accordingly.

    For example, if some of your team are having trouble with squats, they could do Goblet squats, the intermediate group could do overhead squats, the advanced group could do squat jumps.

    Mini bands are a good tool to help balance and control.

    • Combine big movements with single leg/single arm work.

    It is tempting to just work on big lifts because you can test and measure them. But you need to make sure that any strength gain is applicable to the field/court, or is helping to prevent injury.

    You could do a sequence of: Dumbbell squats (2 leg), single leg squats, Dumbbell Rotational Press (2 arms), lawnmowers (single arm with rotation). If you followed this with a bear crawl into a sprint, then your body is learning to apply its new found strength.

    • jaz sawyers trainingOverload is not just adding weight.

    Overload can be Spatial, Temporal or Resistive (more detail here). The answer is more than just “add more weight” or “you need to be able to squat twice your body weight”! It depends on your sport and your position.

    E.g. A rugby union winger might need to work on running around people, so she works on temporal and spatial overload. A tight head prop has to work on absolute strength so resistive overload is needed.

    •  Everything works, but nothing works for ever.

    It doesn’t matter how good your plan is, if you are doing the same exercises, in the same sequence in 4 weeks time, it won’t be as effective. Not only will your body have adapted, but your team will be bored stiff! (This is one of Dan John’s philosophies.)

    Try doing a series of 14 day or 21 day cycles that allow progressions and variety to be built in, whilst giving the body sufficient time and stimuli to cause adaptation.

    Get your Free pdf “Start Getting Strong in Pre-Season” with 5 Training Session Plans here

    What about strength testing?

    If you have read the above and have a good idea of what type of strength training your team will be doing, then it is relatively easy to test strength.

    Do not test your team with exercises they have never seen or done before.

    They will either: get a bad result which is irrelevant due to the learning effect or; worse still, get injured in the process.

    If you are working with junior/ developmental athletes the worst reason to use a test is “because the first team do it”.

    Time is precious, and testing lots of athletes takes a long time. I always prefer testing in the sessions, rather than having a “testing day“. That way the athletes are warmed up and I record what they are doing as part of their session.

    You don’t have to do all the tests at the same time.

    strength testingExample tests (not Gospel, remember the points above)

    Standing broad jump (yes, I know you might call this power but it measures spatial ability) 2 leg or 1 leg.

    Pull ups: Over hand, with extra weight if needed, or inverted rows for those who can’t do 1.

    Squat: number of body weight for juniors, a loaded variant (back, front, overhead) for experienced lifters.

    A push: hindu press ups, or behind head press are currently my favourites. Bench press is just not applicable, military press can lead to convoluted body positions to get  good score.

    Side leg lifts: Get into a press up position, lift one hand off the floor and point to ceiling, move that side’s foot onto the other one. Your body is now in a straight line perpendicular to the floor, resting on one outstretched arm. Lift the top leg up to head height and down again. Target is 25 each side.

    This seems to quickly identify those with poor single leg balance and control.

    Throw: A medicine ball or a heavy implement, either chest pass or overhead, but check how much of the body is being used. Whole body is fine if that is what you are trying to measure.

    5RM, 3RM or 1RM? I wouldn’t do 1RM tests at the beginning of pre-season, it is a good way of getting people hurt: they also can’t walk for 3 days afterwards! I prefer doing a 5RM as part of a session, or a max number in a minute for beginners.

    Choose a test that matches your programme, rather than design a programme to match your test!

    Next week we will be looking at getting more agile, using your new found strength and control.

    See our Get Stronger programme here