Triple sessions & golf course runs: Charlton pre-season uncovered

CHARLTON won promotion back to the Championship after Patrick Bauer scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner to beat Sunderland 2-1 at Wembley on Bank Holiday Monday May 26th.

They didn’t have long to bask in those glories though, as the hard work ahead of a big season soon began.

Ahead of Charlton’s Championship opener at Blackburn tomorrow (Saturday August 3rd) I headed down to the club’s Sparrows Lane training ground to discuss the physical challenges of promotion and the importance of pre-season with lead sport scientist Josh Hornby, who joined the club in July 2017.

1. Is each step up the leagues a rise in high-intensity running and accelerations?

Josh Hornby: Definitely. The coaching staff were keen on comparing the benchmarks of the physical stats from the Championship compared to League One, and we managed to source several stats. From comparing the two leagues, the sprint distance is the metric that’s significantly different, validating that the Championship is a quicker and faster league.

2. Did the players take this into their off-season break?

To an extent, yes. Each player was given an off-season programme to take away, which scheduled in two weeks of complete rest and two weeks of specific physical preparation. This involved six sessions a week – three gym, three pitch – preparing them for the conditioning work and demands of pre-season. We have the player’s fitness-testing data stored, so we can set them targets of what condition we expect them to come back in, which includes their anthropometric data.

3. When did pre-season start for you?

Because of the play-off victory, we came back later than normal on Friday 28th June. We had two days at Sparrows before heading to Spain for a week’s training camp. It was intense. We had double sessions most days, even triple days; gym sessions; some old-school golf-course runs in there.

4. Tell us about those triple training days

They were inclusive of gym sessions, with two pitch-based sessions before. With the two pitch sessions, there was a different emphasis with both sessions from a tactical, technical and physical point of view. For example, the ‘am’ session may be unit work with phases of play and speed development; the ‘pm’ session may be possession games with external intervals. As for the gym session, that might have been bilateral strength acquisition.

5. Long runs dominated pre-season in times gone by. Has that changed?

We still start with aerobic conditioning work, though achieved through football-specific drills rather than solely running. During the first week, we’d work in large dimensions, with large-sided teams and long duration times.

As the schedule progresses, the football becomes more intense, reducing the area sizes. The focus shifts towards anaerobic capacity and overloading of anaerobic actions such as repeated sprint ability. This mirrors our conditioning runs where we start off with extensive intervals with high volume and low intensity, and finish with intensive intervals with a lower volume but higher intensity.

We were based on a golf resort for part of pre-season and it was at the request of the manager where they did several ‘run’ rounds of the hilly course as fast as possible. It’s a little bit old school and a bit of mental toughness for the lads, taking them out of their comfort zone. Good fun.

6. How do you reduce the likelihood of injury?

Before every training session, our players will go through a monitoring process in the gym, where we’ll screen their hamstring and groin strength, and flexibility, compared to normative baselines, and monitor their wellness through questionnaires. This gives us a picture of where the players are physically and mentally pre-training and whether any individuals require extra preparation work or modified training.

During the training session, players are equipped with a GPS and heart rate. The GPS units will record the locomotive data the players hit during a session, whilst the heart-rate belts will record the cardiovascular load. This data is pivotal to ensure players are pushing their physical limits to increase fitness, whilst simultaneously certifying that they’re not overloading, finding the optimal balance between fitness and fatigue.

In addition, players will go through pre-training activation with focus on conditioning elements and injury-prevention strategies and post-training strength and power gym sessions. Certain players with specific issues will have their own corrective programmes or injury-prevention strategies that they’ll complete every day.

7. Do the players undertake pre-season fitness tests?

The first two days of pre-season they underwent a gamut of tests: a four minute run, testing aerobic capacity; jump testing to test power; single leg jumps; speed tests, 10m and 30m efforts; a test called the ‘505’ change direction test; anthropometrics – skinfolds and weight; and the medical team did a screening – hamstring and groin strength. We’ll repeat the tests around now to see adaptation.

8. How has the final week of training panned out?

Our training falls into our normal periodisation for the week. The Tuesday and Thursday sessions will still have elements of conditioning work to them, but there’ll be a lot more tactical work introduced with the game on Saturday in mind.

9. Overall, it’s been a hot pre-season. Any cooling and hydration strategies?

We trained much earlier than normal on some days to avoid the extreme heat. And hydration is, of course, key in these testing conditions. We drive this message into our players, pre-, during- and post-session, encouraging regular drink breaks during the session with electrolyte-based solutions to optimise hydration and manage sweat loss. We also reduced the volume of several hot sessions without affecting the intensity and still satisfying the coaches.

10. What are your season aims as the club’s lead sport scientist?

Basically, in the modern game you need to be ready from the off, so from day one we’ve hit them hard. We met as a group and know fitness is key this year so we must be strong. Some will breakdown but we’re prepared, the aim being to keep them optimal all-year-round including the busy Christmas period.

Recovery plays an important role in these short turnarounds between games. Every player will consume a protein shake post-game or session. We’ll also use ice baths and compression tights, while the lads always come in after a game to ‘flush’ on the static bikes and for foam rolling. The physios will also work their soft tissue. Recovery is so important whether that’s to win promotion or to maintain your spot in the league.

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