In every sport there is an “off season”. This is a period after the last game of one season and before pre-season training starts back for the next season.
GAA is slightly different and a players’ off-season will change depending on their age and grade and unfortunately may even be non-existent for some.
Firstly, why do we need an “off season”?
All athletes need an “off season”. This gives the body a chance to recuperate and allow niggling injuries to settle and it also allows the mind to switch off before regaining fresh focus for the season ahead.
However, if we take too long of an off season, this has negative effects on body mass, aerobic fitness, power, speed, etc. i.e. All the stuff you worked so hard on in the gym or on the pitch to improve last season. So, there is a balancing act to the off season, too short and you don’t get enough rest, too long and you de-condition too much.
The general consensus would be that 2-3 weeks of rest is plenty, followed by a return to some conditioning sessions for a few weeks before returning to full on pre-season training.
Within the GAA, some players get too much of a rest, while others get little or none. Let’s look at 2 examples to illustrate this.
28-year-old Senior club footballer
This person will generally start pre-season training in January at some stage. He/She will train through January/February with matches beginning in March or April depending on what county they play in. Matches will progress though the Spring and into Summer before training really ramps up in the 6 weeks before Championship starts in August/September.
Depending on how the team progresses, this person will be finished football sometime between late September and late October. That’s a 2-4 month break before they are back to pre-season training.
19-year-old playing Senior club, U20 county and colleges football
This player started training and league matches with the college team in late September or early October. This progressed through the colleges league while he/she also had individual sessions to complete for the U20 county panel. Collective training for the U20 team starts in early January. At this time he/she also has colleges championship to play.
The U20 championship kick off in March and is finished by May. This player then reverts to the senior club team. This is ongoing until late October when the club U20 championship starts. This continues as colleges training starts back up again and the cycle begins again.
In this example, the player had no off season at all. It is easy to see how 2 players playing the same sport can have 2 completely different experiences of an off season. But here’s the point, they are both at higher risk of injury.
Risk of injury?
In example 1, if the player does not undertake some self-directed conditioning training him/herself, they will return to pre-season very de-conditioned. Even if they do take it upon themselves to train in the off season, they are very likely to have a poorer body mass, be weaker, slower, less aerobically fit and less powerful than they were at the end of the previous season. This leads to an increased risk of injury, usually within 6-8 weeks of returning to training
In example 2, this player has not had the opportunity to rest and recover. It is easy for this player to become overloaded, either physically or mentally, placing themselves at increased risk of injury or illness over time.
So, what is the answer? Balance.
Players such as in example 1, need to be encouraged to take 2-3 weeks off at the end of the season but to then get back on the horse. To get back to a structured gym program and very importantly from a GAA point of view, to get back running. Not every gym or run session needs to be very hard but they should still be aiming for 5 session per week.
On the flip side, players such as in example 2 need to be given space by team management in particular, to take 1-2 weeks rest, to manage their load on a weekly and monthly basis. With proper planning this player can continue to train at a high level throughout the year.
PMC Physiotherapy Recommendation
As Physiotherapists involved in GAA and other team sports, we see this pattern happening every year. With correct planning we can reduce the injury risk for every type of player, regardless of age or grade at which he/she plays.
If you have any niggling injuries or are interested in learning more about a structured strength and conditioning plan get in touch with one of our specialist physios and book a session in our in house gym.
PMC Physiotherapy Clinic, Unit 36, Dunboyne Business Park, Dunboyne, Co Meath
01 8253 997