We have heard a lot about the players in the current crisis - how they are spending their free time, what they are eating and how they are training. Sweating and pumping is what our boys' individual fitness programme is all about. There is a mastermind behind it making sure it all runs according to plan. Sebastian Kirchner is our athletics coach and deals with all the data and details behind our team's home training work.
It's far from easy, Sebastian tells us, as personal contact with the players in training is incredibly important. Managing training loads means observing training very closely with no detail unimportant. Things like how players are coping with the demands on them and how easily they are able to complete exercises are very difficult to gauge remotely. Kirchner is not one to complain though, saying: "We have good facilities considering the circumstances. All the players took training equipment from the Taxham training centre back home. Everyone has a heart rate monitoring watch and an individual training plan."
Let's start with the latter of those. No two training plans for individual players are the same. They are all tailored around the results of endurance tests our players complete at least twice a year. Endurance certainly doesn't just mean going for a jog. Our athletics coach looks at it as being built up like a pyramid. At the base are basic endurance and strength. Exercises to shore this up are based on maintaining a certain fitness level and preventing injury. "We have data from physio screenings and strength tests that show us where potential injuries can emerge. We try to guard against these as best as we possibly can," says Kirchner. Particularly susceptible areas are the thigh and hip zones, which can be strengthened with special strength and stabilisation training. "During a normal week of the season, the players can do strength training a maximum of two times per week as we have to be aware of the need to rest. Now they are pumping iron at least three times per week", says Sebastian on the changed priorities during the coronavirus break. There is a lot more to it than that, however. At the top of the training pyramid comes the kind of strain typical to matches. Intervals, sprints and all the other intensive things that our boys are not encountering at the moment without any matches. Keeping this up could be a decisive aspect when football resumes. He says: "We presume that we will have to switch relatively quickly between training at home and competitive matches once football restarts. There will probably not be much time to work on fitness basics."
The players, who are in regular touch with Sebastian, know this very well, and sometimes know their bodies better than the athletics coach does. "I spoke on the phone with Andi [Ulmer] and asked him how he is coping with the training load. He said that it is going pretty well, but he had a few ideas of extra things he might need. It wasn't such a surprise that these were the exact same things I had prepared for him for the next week. The experienced players in particular tend to know their bodies really well."
Kirchner studies data from the heart-rate monitoring watches that the players wear during training. The image below shows a typical graph in an endurance and interval session.
As you can see, they are very intensive exercises. That can cause one or two minor grumbles, as Sebastian knows from his many conversations: "I called Toni [Bernede] and he said to me: "Sebi, you know I'm a footballer and not a dog!" Max Wöber also said in our recent Einstellungssache podcast that he finds himself having to confront a lack of willpower more often at home than is usual. Kirchner says amateur footballers can learn a lot from what the pros are doing currently. There is no holy grail when it comes to training at home, but every exercise that works for a professional would also benefit anyone playing grassroots football, albeit at a different intensity.