Less is more as research finds training time-consuming and inefficient
An academic study strongly suggests that GAA training is too time-consuming and inefficient. The project undertaken by Roscommon forward Cathal Cregg assessed the fitness outcomes for two sets of 25 club players, each undergoing different training regimes.
One was the traditional slog of continuous running at low to moderate intensities or high volume endurance training (HVET) and the other repeated, short-duration bouts (10 to 300 seconds) of high-intensity exercise or high intensity interval training (HIIT).
At the end of the review period of six weeks the results among both groups were compared under the headings of aerobic fitness, speed over five and 20 metres and jumping power.
In relation to aerobic fitness or VO2 (the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can utilise during intense or maximal exercise), the outcomes were similar. There was also no significant difference with five-metre runs or counter-movement jumping (essentially from crouched positions).
Significantly though, whereas the HIIT group recorded no change for the 20-metre runs and vertical jumping (standing position) the same exercises in the HVET group recorded deterioration in performance.
Yet the time demands are radically different, with the HVET taking more than twice as much time as HIIT – 840 minutes over the six weeks as against 374, of which just 88 minutes were taken up with exercise with the balance given over to recovery.
The idea for the research emerged from Cregg’s conversations with Prof Niall Moyna in Dublin City University and is the subject of his MSc thesis submitted this month.
“There’s an increasing number of people who know that high intensity is the way to go,” says Cregg, “but high volume is the still the approach of most clubs. High intensity is more time-efficient. There’s still an over-emphasis on strength and conditioning work in training. Ideally teams should do enough but use the rest of the time for skills and tactical work.
“Better coaches will use the evidence available: there’s no point in flogging players when smarter training will get better results.”
It also, Cregg believes, restores a better balance between physical exertion and rest intervals, something that in a broader context distinguishes amateur Gaelic athletes from professionals, who can rest after training.
“Recovery time is massive for GAA players. People have a view that a team like Donegal is constantly involved in extreme training but that’s not happening because they couldn’t keep that up. They may do it for two or three weeks in a year but not on a consistent basis.
“Most county teams train as much as professionals do but they don’t have the same amount of recovery time, which makes them more prone to injury. College players can manage their days better than someone who goes to work from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon, then goes training, home to bed and up again the next morning.”
He suggests that one natural progression of his work would be to conduct a similar study amongst intercounty players to see if there may be any significant differences among an elite sample of players.
Cregg is one of the rising generation of players with qualifications in sports science. He has worked with Connacht rugby for nine months as a strength and conditioning coach, but given that rugby provides the only elite professional team sport in the country, it’s hard to secure full-time employment in the area – and being involved with a county team limits those opportunities even further.
He recently spent some time with American strength and conditioning gurus Mike Boyle and Eric Cressey in Boston, marvelling at the military precision and organisation with which they timed their sessions.
In Australia he met former Cavan and Melbourne Demons footballer Nicholas Walsh who is a high-performance coach with new AFL franchise Great Western Sydney Giants, and also attended Collingwood training sessions in Melbourne.
How hard was it to refocus on Connacht league fixtures and pre-season training? “Not at all, actually. When you’re away for a while you get to miss it so I was looking forward to getting back to the football.”