SSA Blog: Warm Weather Training

This weekend sees the Premier League make way for the 5th round of the Emirates FA Cup. Only 7 Premier League teams have reached this stage leaving a number of clubs with the opportunity for a winter training camp.

England hosts the only major European league without a winter break, for those teams no longer in the competition FA cup weekends are increasingly used for that role.

Liverpool, Southampton, Newcastle and West Ham have taken advantage of the extended break before their next fixture, while Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United are considering a trip to sunnier climbs in the next few days.

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For Liverpool this will be the second warm weather trip since the turn of the year. Jurgen Klopp justified the getaway when saying “There’s nothing good about going out of competitions, but if you are out you can suffer or you can use the time”. So why do clubs value these mini camps so highly and what are the supposed benefits?

There is very little direct research on the topic in Premier League Football. However, the proposed benefits can broadly be broken down into 3 categories, Mental, Physical and Tactical.

Mental

In 2016 a study by Smith et al, showed mental fatigue having a negative impact on running, shooting and passing performance in football. A training camp, even for a few days, allows players to remove themselves from the pressures of performance and possibly wider lifestyle concerns which can support mental recovery and therefore performance.

As we all know a change of environment can be enough to help impact our mood. When that change includes a perceived benefit, such as sunny warm weather, the response is often positive.

A training camp also offers a controlled environment with less distractions. Players and coaches can benefit from extra focus and use it to reinforce positivity among the group, remove negativity and deal with stress in order to prepare for the final few months of the season.

Physical

In 2012 a study of Premier League players found that 65% of the sample were deficient in Vitamin D in the winter months (Morton et al 2012). A warm weather training camp with greater exposure to sunlight will help alleviate this problem and the related decrease in performance almost immediately.

The increased sunlight and warmth also helps maximise training times. With less time needed for warm up, more time can be devoted to training with the goal of improving or maintaining players fitness levels. Linking back to the mental benefits, it is often easier to run double sessions, players being motivated by warmer conditions. With longer daylight hours, less warm up time, the quantity of work can be improved.

When away on these trips the club has greater access to the players, for example, they are not driving home after training. This gives the club enhanced oversight of players’ recovery, ensuring they are maximising the value of training.  

Tactical

Southampton Manger Ralph Hasenhuttl, pointed to better weather conditions making it easier to train tactically because “you can work in a good atmosphere”. If players are not distracted by trying to keep warm and dry, they have greater mental capacity to take in tactical messages. The warmer weather also makes it easier to spend time on relatively static or slow-moving blocks of tactical drills.

Developing team cohesion also plays a large part in training camps. Research has consistently shown a link between cohesion and performance (Filho et al 2014). For new players coming into a side via the January transfer window or players stepping up to first team level, these camps provide an opportunity to create bonds at a personal level and adjust to the tactical demands of a new team in a less pressurised setting.

Warm weather training camps are much more than a chance to get away and top up a tan. For clubs, they provide a chance to prepare players for the remaining months of the season. For players it’s a welcome relief from the pressures of Premier League life and for staff they create a conducive working environment aimed at maximising performance needs - whatever they maybe.

With the Premier League introducing a winter break from next season, expect to see all clubs jet away for an extended break in the sunshine. With the need removed to find an artificial gap in fixtures, hopefully it will be a catalyst of more than 7 Premier League teams to make it through to the 5th round of the Emirates FA Cup…     

 

Sport Science Agency uses its insight and expertise to tell performance stories and unlocks their value for brands, broadcasters and rights holders. If you want to know more about what we can do for you, drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy vitamin packed drink. 

SSA Blog: New Year’s resolutions

As we approach the end of the year, our minds inevitably turn to new year’s resolutions. Health, exercise and activity are very often a premier focus. ‘I’m going to do more exercise’, I’m going to join the gym, ‘I’m going to run a marathon’ etc.

The proven benefits of an active lifestyle are many and varied. Those who maintain an active lifestyle continually report physical, mental and emotional advantages compared with matched groups of less active individuals. Conversely links between sedentary lifestyles and illness are overwhelming with obesity and diabetes now at the heart of public health messaging.

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The scientific link between health and activity was established in 1953. Writing in the Lancet Dr Jeremy Morris showcased how bus conductors, who spent their working day walking and climbing the stairs of busses, outlived their sedentary driver colleagues. Since then, exercise for health has been a significant focus for health care systems and governments as they seek to establish appropriate guidelines to promote health.  

In the 1970’s over 5,000 (average age of 48) men took part in one of the most famous research studies in public health history. The Copenhagen Study assessed a number of parameters, including fitness levels in the form of VO2max*. This year, Dr Johan Clauson and his team assessed the mortality rates of Copenhagen Study participants. The analysis separated the men into 4 groups ranking them from high to low, depending on their fitness levels (VO2max). After almost half a century, the results showed that those who were in the highest fitness group experienced almost 5 years of additional life.

Dr Clauson’s study marks a world first. They were able to show a dose response between exercise and mortality, rather than just health. Even more impressively the researchers were able to pin point the value of the dose response. For each additional unit of fitness, the men lived for an extra 45 days. While previous research has showcased the benefits of exercise and health, the focus on developing cardiovascular fitness rather than just being more active is an important distinction.  

In the UK it is predicted that the average VO2max for a young adult male is 45(ml/min/kg). Sport scientists will consider you fit if your VO2max is over 55(ml/min/kg). At elite levels,  athletes, triathletes, cyclists and rowers often score 70(ml/min/kg) and above with the highest levels ever seen in the low 80’s (ml/min/kg).

To develop cardiovascular fitness, particularly among already active populations, it’s important to train at an intensity sufficient to challenge the cardiovascular system. Generally, this threshold exists at around 85% of maximum heart rate. This means to benefit fully from exercise when in middle age, rather than focus on increasing the level of activity, increasing the intensity of the activity will have a significant benefit on both health and life expectancy.      

Modern health practice tends to focus on risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol and insulin resistance to predict health issues. However, this recent study coupled with a growing range of research is now showing that fitness testing can play a significant role as a credible indicator of health in later life. Traditionally, fitness testing has remained the preserve of elite athletes in high performance centres. The growing exercise and health focus, coupled with this new research, may act as the catalyst to push fitness testing outside elite sport and into the health world.

Brands and health providers have a huge opportunity to lead this transformation. Many health providers are already offering packages rewarding exercise and activity but fitness testing focusing on health and life expectancy is new concept. Counting steps, monitoring heart rate and tracking calories have all become normal in the health and fitness world. Why should fitness testing be any different?

This new research demonstrates the potential value of fitness testing’s ability to deliver new insight regarding health and life expectancy. Just imagine the brand power in helping people see into their futures. Then imagine being the brand at the heart of the message to help them shape it for the better.   

 

Sport Science Agency helps brand tell their performance stories using the latest scientific research. If you want to know more and discuss how we can help you, just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy performance boosting drink. 

 

* VO2max, is the rate at which the heart, lungs and muscles use oxygen while you are active.

SSA Blog: Peter's podcast - the change in football nutrition

A quick glance at the podcast charts sees ‘That Peter Crouch Podcast’ firmly inside the top 10 (at the time of writing the podcast is 3rd in the Apple Podcasts Top Chart in the UK). In the show Crouchy is refreshingly honest about his time as a Premier League and international player. In a number of episodes, Crouch describes the contrasting levels of professionalism at the beginning and end of his playing career. Sport science is often the basis for that contrast. Every element of a footballer’s life has improved; training, tactics, diet, recovery, travel, the list goes on…   

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Alex Ferguson famously wrote that “sport science was the biggest and most important change in my lifetime”.

Sport science is now at the heart of elite football. Gareth Southgate’s appointment as England Manager has seen a shift in the approach to building a ‘performance programme’ akin to the marginal gains mantra that developed over multiple Olympic cycles by British Cycling. Coaches such as Guardiola, Klopp and Howe have sport science teams working across every area of player development, recruitment and performance. Much like British Cycling, these new performance led programmes offer sponsors opportunities to become part of the team, to support players, coaches and other staff in delivering part of the jigsaw required to compete at the highest levels. Integrating products, expertise and support within the club structure can add significant credibility sorely lacking in many traditional sponsorships.

One example of the drive to professionalism mentioned during the Crouchy podcast was the change in nutrition, particularly the post-match meal. The team talk about the transition, with some nostalgia, from a few cans and stopping off for fish and chips to now, where the team bus is equipped with a kitchen and the team chef travels with the players to ensure the correct post-match nutritional balance.

Mention is also made of the two-hour window. This is the period within which players will gain the most benefit from refuelling post-match. It is a story football nutritional sponsors have been trying to tell for some time with limited success.

A number of clubs have nutritional partners. The model is now fairly standard across the game. Provide product and a rights fee and off they go. While the products are part of the performance story and the credibility of use is not in question, they still find cutting through to a football audience a hard sell.

The nutrition category is one of the most interesting and should be one of the easiest to activate, yet success is limited. The football market is still dominated by Lucozade and to a lesser extent Gatorade. Both have tried to incorporate a wider nutritional product range. So far, both have struggled to leverage the UK’s biggest sporting market to make these new products a success. 

While nutritional supplementation is important and plays a key role in supporting performance, nutrition partners have the opportunity to go deeper and support performance over and above a well-stocked cupboard of products in the sport science office. They should be moving to offer clubs a full nutritional support package from the first team chef all the way down to parental support for youth team players. A few workshops and leaflets are just not good enough anymore. 

Obviously, there are considerations regarding continuity and control from the clubs point of view when relying on a sponsor to provide key staff or critical expertise. But Clubs should also be thinking about how their performance programmes can offer credible and integrated support to sponsors whilst still benefiting their performance goals.

There are only so many ways a nutrition brand can recommend that you eat within two hours of exercise to maximise recovery. If it is at the heart of the players’ diet plans, recovery, preseason training and the bus ride home, then shifting its message to a more holistic and brand led story should have more resonance and impact with fans. Brands need to prove they share in the common goal of supporting the team. Modern fans, who want to feel part of the club and closer to the players, seek behind the scenes insight at every level, and will act on the knowledge they gain in their own lives. Clubs need to support their partners allowing them to become the conduit for fans to access this information, therefore presenting sponsors as a credible vehicle through which fans interact with the club.  

If nutritional partners and clubs can work together more closely and use sport science as a genuine platform to activate their relationships then perhaps, just perhaps, nutritional sponsors could start to unlock the massive opportunity that football really offers…       

 

Sport Science Agency works with brands, broadcasters, rights holders and agencies to create insight, experiences and content from the latest sport science research. If you want to know more just drop us a note via info@sportscienceagency.com and we can arrange to go for a healthy performance boosting drink.