The growth of sports science has transformed the way that a footballer trains. Middlesbrough defender George Friend spoke to the club’s head fitness coach, Adam Kerr, to discuss the appliance of science
A TYPICAL day’s football training isn’t what is used to be 20 years ago, the game has changed significantly. The weekly routine of a modernday player is hugely different to that of a footballer playing in the early 1990s.
At Middlesbrough’s Rockliffe Park training ground, Adam Kerr, head fitness coach, and his colleagues in the sports science department, ensure a specialised sports-science based programme is in place, enhanced by highly technological equipment and expert guidance.
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“We monitor all the players daily, on the training pitches and in the gym,” said Kerr. “It’s important that everything is in place and set up to try and keep players free from injury and able to train to their maximum.”
Professional football is a hugely competitive, multimillion pound business, so it’s no surprise that every team and player is searching for the slightest edge over their rival.
Here at Boro, the club has developed its sports science department in the hope of increasing performance and aiding injury prevention, giving that added edge to the training and match days.
Kerr has an abundance of sports and fitness qualifications, and through the 2012-2013 season, he worked at Arsenal as the lead academy sports scientist and fitness coach.
“I was part of the backroom staff here at Boro two years ago and since my return I’ve seen huge changes in the sports science department,” said Kerr. “The scientific involvement, facilities and fitness side of the club isn’t too dissimilar to Arsenal and I think we’re making great progress and a huge impact here.”
Sports science in football can be divided up into the following areas: gym conditioning, nutrition, recovery, the monitoring of work rates/loads and fitness testing.
The Boro training programme is devised to incorporate each of these areas on a daily basis so that optimum results can be achieved by every member of the squad.
“Gym conditioning is really important for professional athletes, however every individual has different needs and requirements,” said Kerr.
“Here we personally configure weights and stretching programmes specific to each individual, these include upper body and leg work exercises.
“We collaborate with the medical department to identify areas of physical strength and weakness in the players and adapt an individual’s programme where appropriate.”
Nutrition in football, and sport in general, is an area of sports science that can often be overlooked those in and outside the profession, but Kerr re-enforces how crucial it is.
“It’s so important, mainly because apart from sleep, it’s the second best form of recovery,” he said. “It’s vital for our players to eat well straight after training and matches.
“We use protein shakes, energy drink supplements and some tablets like multivitamins and fish oil omega 3 capsules, all in a bid to raise performance and aid recovery.”
Recovery sessions are paramount in a footballer’s routine between matches, and something Kerr has to plan and constantly think about.
After discussions with the coaches and the medical team, it’s important that the right balance is maintained in the player’s schedule.
“On a Sunday, following a weekend match, those who have played do a recovery session,” explained Kerr.
Geroge Friend in the Rockliffe Park gym working on the bikes
“This involves a light jog and ball work, followed by spinning on the gym bikes and stretching, there is also opportunity for a massage.
“In terms of rest days, players are off on a Monday if there is no Tuesday night game, this again gives the body further recovery before returning to intense training.”
The monitoring of work rates and loads is a side of football that has been significantly enhanced over the last decade.
Wearing heart rate belts has been a common theme among top professional clubs for a number of years.
However, the monitoring of players has now evolved with the use of GPS systems worn in training.
“This is probably the biggest, most significant change in football training from a sports science aspect,” said Kerr.
“The GPS devices track the players’ every movement, their changes of speed, distance covered and heart rate.
“So we can see in detail, how fast and for how long a player is running, even their weight transfer and what foot they’re predominantly using. The GPS units also provide data for me and the other coaches to analyse at the end of each training session.”
Players aren’t just monitored in training either.
There’s certainly no hiding on a match day, with a semiautomated tracking system used in many stadiums.
“Similarly to the training data, we follow players on a match day using Prozone software, which is installed in most Championship and Premier League stadiums,” said Kerr.
“It’s a program that monitors these same movements and distances and after every game a box of data is presented, displaying each player’s workout.”
“We measure minutes played, the total amount of kilometers covered, the amount of distance covered at a high intensity (>19.8km/hr) in meters, the total number of runs at full intensity (>25.2km/hr) and the average time between high intensity efforts during the game.”
George Friend is felled in the Watford penalty area at the weekend
Fitness testing is an area of football that is crucial in a player’s development and record of progression. By testing players in a number of different ways, results can be logged and compared at a later stage.
“We do a number of different tests here, from an endurance-based exercise like the ‘yoyo test’ to more power work in the form of jump and isokinetic testing,” said Kerr.
“We also carry out bodyfat percentage examinations and functional movement screening, which measures flexibility and core strength.
“The testing is really important because when a player is returning from injury we can assess how close they are to full fitness by re-testing the individual and comparing their previous results.”
At Boro, the number of injuries has fallen in comparison to previous seasons, and Kerr believes the influence of sports science is a contributory factor.
“The science aspect is so important, if the staff and players can appreciate and buy into what it’s all about then so many positives can be taken from it,” he said.
“We’ve had fewer injuries and have been able to monitor work loads and fatigue, which in turn can only benefit the outcome of the squad’s performance.”
In football, where a match can be decided by the finest of margins, it’s the intricate work of sports science that can give that edge in making a difference.
At Boro, that attention to detail and a combined determination to leave no stone unturned, all accumulates towards the club’s drive for success.