Fighting Fit

Monday 29 July 2013 09:00

Having joined the Club in 2008 as Director of Sports Medicine and Exercise Science, Mark Taylor has plenty of experience in how to get players fit for the start of a new season. Now, as the team prepare for a week-long training camp in the Austrian mountains, he tells us what the Fulham squad will be aiming for.

Returning from Costa Rica with three wins from three games was excellent for the team’s morale, but the work done in getting the players fit was most important of all. Battling high temperatures, humidity and altitude, the Fulham squad arrived back in England earlier this week and began training again at a sultry Motspur Park.

Following a week of recovery, a pre-season date in Germany against Werder Bremen came on Sunday, and now the focus is on improving fitness once more, before we travel to Sunderland for the first game of the Barclays Premier League season on 17th August.

“The Costa Rica tour was very successful,” Taylor told the official website. “The focus at that stage of the season is normally fitness work and the fact that we had three games in the humidity and temperature was obviously a great challenge for the players. Having the games in such a short period was good as well and everybody stepped up to the challenge: we had very good match data in terms of output and the players are hitting their targets in games already.

“We had lots of training sessions, so on top of the games we were able to increase our training load as well which is always something that is difficult to do. Because we had the players for 24 hours we were able to separate sessions and do something in the gym at 7am, then play a game at 8pm, for example, because there was a recovery period in between.

“We trained at the National Team Centre, which was very good and they had hydrotherapy options which meant we were able to get the players to recover well in the pool and ice baths. The pitches we used were excellent as well, so all-in-all it was a very good week out there. Fitness levels improved. Match stuff, both technical and tactical improved as far as the Manager was concerned, so it worked out well.

Many of the players insisted that it was their lungs that bore the brunt of the Costa Rican training regimes, while their legs felt fine.

And Taylor was delighted that they responded well to the sessions once they landed back on UK soil. “That was most likely the temperature and the humidity,” he said. “We did extra fitness tests when we were out there and they showed that the players’ heart-rates were under more stress because of the heat and humidity. When they got back, we did the same tests and they were able to cope much better as they had adjusted.”

With no games scheduled until the friendly at Craven Cottage on Monday 5th August (8pm) against Real Betis, a training camp in Austria affords the medical team a chance to push the players’ fitness levels up a notch.

“In Austria we have a full week following the Bremen game,” Taylor added. “Today will be an active recovery day. The rest of the days we’ll do double or treble sessions to push the fitness of the players up to another level.

“Last week was really about recovery from Costa Rica. Lots of recovery, prevention and strength work, with some very technical football sessions as well. They will go into this week and we’ll push them on fitness even more.”

There will certainly be a number of rigorous exercises during the camp designed to ensure that they come back in tip-top shape.

“Every player has a bike,” he said. “We expect them to bike to training and back again, it’s very hilly so it’s okay going as it’s downhill but then it’s tough to get back up. Then we have three tracks around the hotel: one at 5km, one at 7km and one at 10km. The players will do that before breakfast. Different groups are expected to go different speeds depending on what energy system we are using.

“Then we’ll do prevention work in the gym and the pool, before going to the training complex at 10.30am to do the sessions. Back to the hotel for lunch and in the afternoon we’ll split into individual sessions or small group sessions to get them on the pitch or into the pool. In the evening, we’ll run a nice relaxed recovery session either in the pool or on the bike.”

The altitude of both Costa Rica and Austria does help the players’ fitness, but Taylor insists that there are more benefits to be found from a pre-season trip abroad.

“We don’t really train at a high enough altitude in pre-season for it to have a physiological effect,” he said. “What we do know is that we train at around 2,000 metres above sea level and that seems to benefit the players in terms of the freshness of the air - they get high energy from being out in the countryside among mountains and trees. The air is very clean and the environment that they are in makes them feel better ahead of the new season.

“Because we stay in our own hotel, we are able to control their nutrition as well which gives us 24/7 control. Sometimes when they leave the environment they are in, the nutritional options are not as controlled as they are when they are within the camp, so we try and keep on top of that.”

While this stage of the season is often the toughest for the medical team, Taylor has overseen a number of innovations over the years and believes that the players will benefit from the intensity of the carefully planned sessions ahead of the 2013/14 campaign.

“Years ago it used to be hard,” he said. “Now we have a settled group of players who have good expectations of what we do on Day One of pre-season. We go straight into it, whereas before we would ease them into it.

“We now know we can load them up right away and get them ready for football from the start – some time ago it was 10 days before a player would play a game, but we’re starting earlier these days. We know the players are ready for it and with all the data we have on them, we are able to assess whether or not they can play. It’s not unusual for us to be at this intensity so quickly.”