This week we have an honor to have a guest writer. He is the Fitness & Rehabilitation Coach of the recent 2016 Finnish football champions IFK Mariehamn. Let us introduce Kristoffer Weckström.

Kristoffer is a former football player who retired at 25 years of age and instead opted for a Naprapathy degree. He completed the UEFA A football coaching licence last year and is currently undertaking his Master’s degree in Strength & Conditioning at St Mary’s University. Kristoffer was a big part of the success that IFK Mariehamn reached this year and in this post he will tell us more about the insights of the physical training in Åland. Lots of great material ahead so get ready with your note taking. Here we go…


Thanks to the skilled guys at SAHA for inviting me to write this blog. Here, I share some insight into the way we look at football fitness at IFK Mariehamn.

An aspect that is fundamental to our coaching philosophy at IFK is teamwork. Daily to weekly discussions on training content for example, drive us towards a more effective decision-making process, and I strongly feel that better decisions are made when we fully take advantage of the competency of all staff members. In turn, this open and communicative environment hopefully has influenced the performance of the team in a positive way.

Rushing players to become better trained by doing too much too soon will result in tired players playing slow football.

When players report back for pre-season in early January obviously their fitness levels will be lower than at any point during the rest of the season. Rushing players to become better trained by doing too much too soon will result in tired players playing slow football. Also, the risk of injury is heavily increased. Therefore, we meet the players at the level they are at, and start pre-season with a low volume of training and from there gradually increase training loads over time. Starting practice with high freshness levels enable players to train and play at the best of their ability.

This year, we’ve been able to keep injury rates low. The way we made use of our football periodisation model has been an important factor in this regard. And of course, to reach such small injury numbers, you also need a bit of luck! In broad terms, periodisation can be explained as a process of planning that involves both training variation and recovery periods in order to optimise performance. Our view on periodisation is not restricted to physical performance only, though. Rather, we want to develop the quality of football simultaneously with the fitness levels of the players. Ultimately, our goal with football fitness is to contribute to the development of the team’s playing style by executing football actions at a higher tempo, and to do that for 90 minutes. Raymond Verheijen writes extensively about this in his book ”The original guide to football periodisation” (1), which is a great read for anyone that’s interested.

The physical, tactical and technical aspects of football have evolved. Modern football demand more football actions, a higher number of sprints and more distance covered at higher speeds.

Accordingly, our conditioning sessions mainly consist of football training. Short-sided games expose players to high neuromuscular loads as well as high heart rate responses. These games improve the players’ ability to recover quicker between actions, in order to perform more explosive actions in less time. When players are subjected to large-sided games that are played for an extended period of time they develop the ability to maintain the rate at which they perform football actions for longer.

This process of thinking goes well in line with how the physical, tactical and technical aspects of football have evolved. Modern football demand more football actions, a higher number of sprints and more distance covered at higher speeds than it did ten years ago (2). Together with games on large spaces, which will expose players to running at higher velocities, we involve isolated sprints in our weekly plan with the ambition to meet as many aspects of the demands of the game as possible in training.

An important adjunct to the periodisation model is the monitoring of training load. This can be done by measuring external load (what the players did during the training session), or internal load (what it actually costed them). We use a subjective questionnaire to estimate the cost of each session for every player. Multiplying the rate of perceived exhaustion (RPE) with training time gives us a load estimate. This can further be evaluated using the acute:chronic workload ratio, which is explained as the relationship between fitness, that is the chronic load from past four weeks, and fatigue, i.e. the acute load from the recent week (3). This fitness-fatigue relationship has helped us to individualise sessions and look at injuries in retrospective to figure out which players are able to handle sudden increases in training load better than others.

The time where all players are obliged to work on the same exercises in the weight room, and are equally trained on the pitch, has certainly passed.

Strength sessions are kept short and intense and are complimentary to the work we do on the pitch. Everything we do and can affect counts, let it be a technical or a tactical execution on the pitch, or a repetition during a strength session. We strive for 100% effort in every repetition and by doing this players can adapt and develop in a way that hopefully leads to a desired effect on injury resilience and long-term player robustness. Time is also invested in eccentric work on areas that are at high risk of injury in football, with a particular emphasis on the hamstring muscle group.

I feel flexibility in the weight room, in terms of individualisation, is important as every player’s situation is different with regard to training histories and how they cope with certain exercises. The time where all players are obliged to work on the same exercises in the weight room, and are equally trained on the pitch, has certainly passed.

Due to the explosive nature of the sport, an appropriate time for recovery between sessions and games is vital. For many players, a minimum of 72 hours is needed to fully recover following a game (4), and with games often coming in quick succession, we feel it is important to devote this time to recovery strategies. Here, the main objective is to set the basics right regarding sleep and nutrition patterns. Helping players to understand the role of adequate sleep and nutrition habits will empower them to make the right choices and take control of their own performance.

For many players, a minimum of 72 hours is needed to fully recover following a game.

When basics are set, you can start chasing the remaining few percents that may act as a tipping point and further create an advantage over your opponents. At IFK we use different methods such as water rather than pitch-based recovery sessions for mechanical muscle and joint offloading, cold water immersion to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and/or foam-rollers and stretching to maintain joint and muscle flexibility. At these sessions we can also get some upper body strength work done, as this unlikely will have a negative effect on the recovery process (5).

While starting players are working on recovery, substitutes on the other hand need to stress the system to avoid underload. For them, conditioning strategies are put in place straight after games, or the day following a game to ensure they maintain good fitness levels.

Needless to say, the Veikkausliiga season 2016 was successful and special in many ways. Now is a good time to reflect back and analyse the past – to find the factors that were successful, the mistakes that were made and why, and to identify the learning points. Hopefully, this brings us into a position where we can be even more effective in our efforts to empower players with the necessary tools they need to grow and compete at a high level.

– Kristoffer Weckström

 

References

(1) Verheijen, 2014. The original guide to football periodisation: part 1.
https://webshop.worldfootballacademy.com/shop/books/the-original-guide-to-football-periodisation-part-1/
(2) Barnes et al. 2014. The evolution of physical and technical performance parameters in the English Premier League.
https://www.thieme-connect.com/DOI/DOI?10.1055/s-0034-1375695
(3) Gabbett, 2016. The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?
http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2016/01/12/bjsports-2015-095788.full
(4) Dupont et al. 2013. Football recovery strategies: practical aspects of blending science and reality.
http://www.aspetar.com/journal/viewarticle.aspx?id=180#.WCgdBuaLQ2w
(5) Abaïdia et al. 2016. Effects of a strength training session after an exercise inducing muscle damage on recovery kinetics.
http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/publishahead/Effects_of_a_strength_training_session_after_an.96453.aspx