Darcy Norman: Football still lags behind on S&C
Written by Simon Austin — September 18, 2018
DARCY NORMAN, the former Director of Performance at AS Roma, says football still has “a long way to go” with strength and conditioning training.
The American left the Italian giants in June after three years in Rome and has one of the most impressive CVs in the world of football performance.
As well as two years with Bayern Munich (2008 to 2010), he worked as a fitness coach for Germany at Euro 2012 and then at the 2014 World Cup (which they won) and Russia 2018.
Speaking exclusively to TGG from his home in the United States, Norman said football still needed to upgrade its approach to strength and conditioning.
“From an S&C standpoint, football does not have a strong culture,” he said. “It’s getting much better, but still has a long way to go.
“Research has divided it between fitness, which is cardio based, and S&C. A lot of people, even to this day, say you don’t need to train weights, you just need to run.
“You totally need to do that though. What a lot of people don’t get is that strength doesn’t equal size. If you are pound for pound as strong as possible, then the energy it takes to do the same step is less and there is less metabolic consequence to do those steps.
“There are so many other benefits to strength training – muscle strength, power and so on – and that’s a big part of why there are so many muscle injuries in the sport.
“These guys are often muscularly weak in respect of the demands that are put on them. In my experience, the guys that were really resilient were also super consistent in the gym, they had good strong programmes, lifted weights and ended up performing well on the pitch at a high level and recovering faster.
“One of the reasons was because the energy per step was less for them and was less taxing on the body, so they didn’t have any ill effects. S&C needs to get better in the sport and it is getting better.
“Look at Arsenal’s academy, for example. Des Ryan and his staff are doing a phenomenal job. He is an ex rugby guy and gets the players lifting and strong. The utopia is to have an athlete who is as strong as possible.
"Remember strong does not mean big – players also need mobility, stability, movement efficiency.
“If you have all that as well as your cardiovascular fitness, that is going to be the best outcome. Then it comes down to how are you going to manage this guy. How many sessions can he endure before a breakdown happens?
“Sudden spikes will also cause problems, because nobody is invincible.”
The prevalence of tactical periodisation - which dictates that physical work should be done on the training pitch, within a tactical framework - has meant that some coaches spurn extra work in the gym.
Norman added: “I love tactical periodisation, because you should do as much as you can within the context of the sport. It doesn’t eliminate the weight room though. I love tactical periodisation with strength training, which includes stability, mobility, strength, power.
“Strength training gets footballers to the end goal as efficiently as possible. The game is only getting faster and more explosive and intensive.
“If you look at Aussie Rules football, they cover similar distances to football - they are just as fast and they are ridiculously strong.
“With tactical periodisation, you need a coach who understands how to coach the heck out of it. Louis van Gaal did not do any extra running, aside from sprint work, when I worked with him (in 2009/10).
“Everything was small-sided games and football-specific drills, but he coached the shit out of that stuff and guys had nowhere to hide. If someone was slacking, he would get on to them.
“Those games were super hard, super intensive and the players were smoked when they were done. But he was also very clean on his periodisation plan, it was very calculated, and we had no injuries with him."
The approach worked well, because Bayern won the league and cup double and reached the Champions League final in 2010 with Van Gaal and Norman at the helm.
“Other coaches say they want to do tactical periodisation, but their framework isn’t set up for that and it can be a challenge. They’ll say, ‘we’re playing 5 v 5s' but allow corner kicks. But you can’t do that, because it slows the game down and you’re losing the fitness part.
“With tactical periodisation there have to be very strong rules and you have to pay attention to whether the guys are running. You need to get fitness out of the sessions or else the player will be out of gas fast in a game.”