Reading FC fitness takes inspiration from New York KnicksBy Jonny Fordham
August 28, 2012
Reading FC fitness coach Karl Halabi reveals how the New York Knicks have helped shaped training at Madejski Stadium.
How do you go about planning for pre-season training? The remit is quite simple. Firstly it is all about getting the players as fit as possible from a collective stand point and as individuals.
Part two of the remit is to get the players through as many training sessions without breaking down or picking up non-contact injuries.
That’s how the fitness team approach it.
We want to maximise all training sessions to get the most potential, without injuries.
What level of intensity does training start at and how is that monitored during pre-season? In the first few days of pre-season we establish where the players are at in terms of fitness.
They will have undertaken their own individual training plans while they have been away. Since I’ve been at the club the players have always come back in tip-top condition, which allows us a good platform to work off, so we can really get into them straight away with high intensity work.
I would say that 99 per cent of what we do is with the ball and position specific – relative to the game.
So you know you can really hit the ground running when you come back to training? With the testing, if someone’s score is quite low we know that we can’t pitch training as high. But these guys come back each year super-fit, so we know we can then work on making them even fitter. They’re resilient, have durability and are hungry to work, so we’re in a good position.
How much has the science of training developed since you started working in the field? The testing at some clubs is quite extensive – every measurement of a player can be taken. But at Reading, we strike a balance between looking at them objectively and subjectively. The manager (Brian McDermott), Nigel Gibbs and Sal Bibbo have enough experience themselves, having played at the top level, to know what to look for.
We work together at pitching the training sessions. We screen players at the start of the season as some players can be fit, in terms of they can run a lot, but they may not move well.
By that, we don’t mean their running pattern isn’t nice on the eye, but their reflexes and movement patterns. We want our players to be balanced when they move to enhance their agility.
Does that mean working with players individually, or as a group, to get them into top condition? We term it corrective work. It’s balancing out work. We use foam rollers and make it individualised to each player to suit them.
Players can often be seen leaving the training ground with foam rollers, is that part of the additional training?
That’s right. Our ethos is to train hard and recover harder. We want these guys to work as if it’s their last session.
These guys need to be 24-hour pros, so when they leave the training ground they go home, have a foam roller and do myofascial release work (of the tissue that sits over the muscle) and stretches. That helps in the morning when they wake up.
Instead of coming in with stiffness and soreness, the players will come in fresh.
So how important is stretching after training? Stretching has been at the tradition of exercise for many years. But recently, it has been brought to light that to get the best benefits you do myofascial release work. The way I break it down is that muscles are like elastic bands and they can get knots in them. So you stretch them out to release that so you can move better. Foam rolling helps with that.
If you train for three or four days and don’t roll, but sit in the car or sofa, you end up hunched over. So if you roll, it helps keep your body more aligned, your posture is better, your hips move better and you perform better.
It’s as simple as that? Yeah, and I don’t think you can do enough of it. I do it too. It’s tried and tested. Everything we get the players to do, we do ourselves. That way we know how it feels and where to pitch it. We’re not from a school of reading books that recommend stuff. We know what the players will like and what they won’t.
And in terms of technology, you also now have GPS monitors to track the players? Previously we’ve had heart-rate monitors to track players’ loading and their cardio work. But now we have a GPS device that tells us the distance the players have covered, different speeds that they hit, the number of times they do that and also – the most beneficial factor – something called the body load.
That also allows us to tell the vertical displacement, when a player is jumping up and down.
So it works out how much load has gone through a player’s muscles.
If we did 11 versus 11 the players would cover a lot of distance.
But in a two-versus-two or a three-versus-three exercise the body load would be high because there would be more acceleration and deceleration work.
We can find out what energy systems and what muscles are being taxed – and that allows us to pitch training the next day.
I know you also look at other sports and try to implicate different training methods there.
I went to New York a couple of years ago, where a friend of mine is head of training of the New York Knicks basketball team. They can play three nights back-to-back in different cities and different time zones. I wanted to go over there and look at their recovery strategies.
They can come back late at night, early morning through different time zones. I wanted to find out what the magic pill was over there. What I found was that there is no magic pill.
They foam roll, they sleep, they eat and they wear compression skins. Some ice bath, some don’t.
All of those modes of recovery we now do.
The top players always recover right.
What about other sports? I’ve worked in football alongside people who have come from a rugby background. I’ve also worked with Michael Sprott in boxing. Different people are receptive to different things. The skill is knowing someone’s personality and whether they will be receptive and then to tailor things to the individual’s needs.
You also try to get the players to sleep a lot too, don’t you? That’s right, I think it’s one of the most under-rated recovery forms. If you don’t sleep right you won’t release the right hormones to help you recover. You need a minimum of nine hours sleep.
Nutrition is also another big thing. These guys work their socks off and they need to recover right.
So the players’ diet is also looked after? They come in for breakfast every day and have lunch here too. We educate the guys about the right snacks to eat and when to eat them.
We weigh the guys and monitor their body fat all the time. If someone is over-weight then we can control that. These guys train enough to stay lean and fit.
If you don’t eat right, you won’t perform.