By Andrew Parkinson
With the start of the 2020 football season suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, players might be finding it difficult to retain or build their fitness ahead of the eventual resumption.
But former A-League physiotherapist Murray Leyland doesn’t just believe keeping up fitness during the break is possible. He believes it to be essential.
Leyland worked as a head physiotherapist in the A-League from 2016 to 2018. He now has his own practice closer to home, Thornton Physiotherapy, and looks after a number of Northern NSW Football premier and community clubs.
An Australian Physiotherapy Association-titled sports and exercise physiotherapist, Leyland graduated from the University of Newcastle with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy with Honours in 2009. He then earned his Masters of Sports Physiotherapy in 2016.
Given his experience and education, Leyland knows how important it is for players to maintain a good level of fitness.
“I guess we all know what it’s like to turn up at the start of a pre-season and how hard those first sessions are,” Leyland said.
“In terms of injury rates we know that the body is good at doing what it does regularly. Consistency is key. We don’t see that many injuries in the middle of the season, it’s more at the start. Research shows whenever you have a 20 or 30 per cent swing in training harder or playing more games it places you at a much higher risk of knee and ankle [injuries] or hamstring, groin, those sort of soft tissue injuries.
“Without having a crystal ball, the concern when football does come back is teams will have a limited preparation, play their first game on the weekend, then more training, there could be make up games. Players will be going from no football to potentially an enormous amount of football which could predispose a lot of people to injury.
“You might play on the weekend and feel good, then have a midweek game and feel alright but your hamstring is a bit tight by the end. Then the next weekend 20 minutes in the hamstring tears. It’s a pattern we see across world football. If people don’t do anything and jump back in at 120 per cent the risk goes up and up.”
The overloading of players will be a concern for coaches when football resumes later this year which threatens to have a flow-on effect through clubs.
Which is why Leyland is so adamant that players need to continue to stay as fit as possible.
While he admitted maintaining or building fitness might be difficult given restrictions on movement and social distancing practices, Leyland believes it is not impossible.
“We’ve come up with a couple of things which are simple and don’t require equipment,” Leyland said.
“The risk of catching COVID-19 when you’re out for a run is extremely minor unless you’re wiping your hand along every house you run past and then sticking it in your mouth. Anyone who is actively contagious, has a high fever, coughing, sneezing shouldn’t be out running anyway. But if you’re healthy and you want to go for a run around the block the risk of transmission is extremely low.
“I’d encourage everyone to do that. We’ve got some suggestions for how to make running more relatable to football by having hard and easy efforts. You might sprint every second house or repeat some hill runs.
“Match fitness is hard to get without playing matches. That’s where you need to try and replicate what you’d do in a match. There are moments where you jog, quite a slow effort. Then running 50 metres as hard as you can to catch an opposition player. Then you might have a longer medium effort. So you can mimic those actions.”
But Leyland also believes that running is just one component of staying fit, with building and maintaining strength as important.
Gyms being closed presents another challenge but one that is not insurmountable.
“There are 1000 different ways to improve strength without having to go to the gym,” Leyland said.
“We’ve done a video series on what I feel are the best exercises with no equipment that will give players the best bang for their buck.
“They are exercises that almost every A-League and AFL club do twice a week. That’s how important they view them in terms of injury prevention. And it’s something I go out and try to teach our local clubs to do and recommend players do it in their own home and keep it up as much as possible.”
The last hurdle might be the most difficult, with the mental side of exercising and keeping fit with no fixed return to play date.
Finding the motivation to train alone will be a battle for many with strict social distancing being enforced in the community
But while Leyland understands it may be easier to sit home and “watch another episode of something on Netflix,” the rewards for staying active were plentiful.
“Obviously you can’t call up five friends and go to the park now because it’s not allowed. So it’s down to the individual,” he said.
“It’s a cliché but the harder you work now you’ll be much better off later on. As a team it is really important that coaches band together and set required material because the [suspension of football] will end at some point.
“It’s frustrating that there is no date set and because of that people will always be thinking ‘I’ve got a few more weeks to get fit.’ But we know at the top level if players have two weeks off training it takes them four weeks to get back to where they were. If they have four weeks off it’s eight weeks [to get back to where they were].
“So people need to try and plan ahead and stay as active as possible. You’ll really see the benefits in the long run. And anything is better than nothing.”
More information including training programs and videos here