When a team launches into a run of results that takes them from near-certain relegation to finish 11th place in the Premier League in the final few weeks of a season, you can bet that fitness must have played an important role.
So where better to pick up some fitness tips than Crystal Palace’s Head of Sports Science, Strength and Conditioning, Scott Guyett?
Scott, himself a former defender in the lower leagues for sides like Bournemouth and Yeovil, said he was proud of his side’s ability to keep up their performance levels while sometimes playing three games a week against the highest quality opposition.
He said: “You play Saturday, Wednesday and then Saturday and there is no drop off in performance. That was a really pleasing aspect for me at the back end of last season.
“Having played Everton on the Wednesday night, we played West Ham on the Saturday and managed to win both games and do it reasonably comfortably from a fitness point of view. That sort of thing is really pleasing.”
Being the new boys in the league with a modest budget, it was important to have superior fitness.
“We knew from the very start that we were going to have to be strong in the areas that we could control.
“We couldn’t buy a £40million centre forward so we knew we had to be stronger, fitter and more disciplined than a lot of other teams.”
Scott said he believes professional footballers are constantly getting fitter.
He said: “I think they are stronger, more powerful and quicker.
“That is where the game is going now. We can all run along at the same speed for a significantly long period but being able to complete loads of sprints over a short amount of time, that’s where it gets really difficult.
“A lot of the training we are doing is going in that direction. Rather than long slow runs, there is more emphasis on maximal sprints.”
The routine for the players’ week is consistent – game Saturday, higher intensity training Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday off, and more tactical work on Thursday and Friday.
Scott said: “It’s just being sensible, really. There’s no point doing a two hour session on a Thursday afternoon if the boys are playing Saturday.”
The preseason training period is notorious in team sports for getting players physically up to speed before the season begins again. But Crystal Palace’s squad shouldn’t be afraid when they head back into work on Monday, July 7.
Scott said: “There’s a lot more science involved now. It’s not just about getting back on the first day and running them until they can’t walk.
“There’s a gradual progression to what the do now – 1, to avoid injury and 2, because players can then get up the next morning and do it all over again.
“There is no point working a player so hard on his first day back that for the next three days he can hardly walk. It’s just not sensible.”
As well as being sensible about the intensity, Scott said it is also important to be sensible about the type of training the players do.
He said: “There is a big push nowadays for getting the balls out on the first day.
“Going back to when I was playing, you didn’t see the balls for the first two weeks of preseason, it was just running.
“Now there is a what they call specific football fitness – being able to get fit by playing football, that’s basically what it is.”
He added: “They are not marathon runners, they’re not in the armed forces doing assault courses, they’re footballers. There’s real emphasis on football specific fitness. There’s nothing wrong with getting the balls out on the first day.”
Try it at home – the Dribble Track
A simple drill Scott recommends is one used frequently at Palace and it is called the dribble track.
It involves setting up a square (they use 40m x 50m) with lots of obstacles around the outside.
The players negotiate the course with the ball at their feet for four minutes before resting for two, and completing the cycle four times in total.
Scott said: “It engages the player because they are working with the ball, it helps them from a technical point of view and it helps them control the ball and work under fatigue, which is really important.”
The team uses the drill often, especially with players returning from injury.
Scott said: “It’s low intensity – there is no high speed running involved but it is good to improve your aerobic capacity.”