Town stars facing fitness checks

STRINGENT precautions to protect Ipswich Town players are in place as the football world continues to mourn Marc-Vivien Foe, writes Derek Davis.Although super-fit athletes, the players will undergo a number of heart and lung checks before and during the season.

STRINGENT precautions to protect Ipswich Town players are in place as the football world continues to mourn Marc-Vivien Foe, writes Derek Davis.

Although super-fit athletes, the players will undergo a number of heart and lung checks before and during the season.

The Town squad returns officially for pre-season training this morning and Blues fitness and condition co-ordinator Simon Thadani will help monitor their fitness while whipping them into shape for the forthcoming Division One season.

He said: "Most of our lads wear heart monitors during training and they have been to the Human Performance Unit, at Essex University in Colchester, where they undergo VO2max tests, where they are connected to a computer while on a treadmill, and we also take blood samples.

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"Every player has a thorough medical when they join and are constantly monitored.

"We have a very good procedure already and the physios are very thorough.

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"The Academy players now have electro-cardiograms and they have picked up minor heart defects on them and been able to take the correct action.

"The FA have guidelines with Academy players and every other country has their own checks."

Thadani is impressed with the high state of readiness many players are already at. Although it is almost two months since they last played, many players have maintained a high standard of fitness through the summer, with as many as 15 returning early to train with Thadani, whose own break was highlighted by the birth of his second child.

"I have been quietly impressed and there have been some pleasant surprises. Some players are already absolutely flying and have already reached their targets and the pre-season has not even started," he continued.

"With those players we will give extra rest days or they will peak too early and like with everything things will catch you up, so we need to be careful.

"Others will need an extra day's training to reach their aims. Everyone accepts they have to work hard and will come back ready to work."

While there is nothing better than playing with the ball, there is no short cut to top fitness and Thadani knows it can be a tough grind, something he, along with coaches Willie Donachie and Tony Mowbray, need to be aware of – there is no substitute to hard work.

He added: "It is important that you make it varied for the players and within reason keep them guessing.

"There is not just running but there can be cycling, swimming or fitness with the ball – lots of different things as long as you know what you are doing and why.

"But unfortunately with cardio-vascular (heart and lungs) it is down to hard work.

"We will vary locations as well, running through parks, a couple of days at the training centre, Orwell Park and Holbrook Schools, so we will make it different.

"It is vitally important. It is the foundation of the season; it is like building a house.

"You need to build aerobic endurance and many players will say at the end of it how glad they are to get it in the bag. It also helps to prevent injuries.

"But the only real way to be ready for games is match fitness once they have the foundation. We will look for each player to play four to five games and work in between on individual things."

The former Royal Air Force instructor can be a hard taskmaster when necessary, but finds players are much more self-disciplined.

He said: "Joe has been telling me about players coming back a couple of stones overweight a few years ago, but not anymore.

"We expect them to be a couple of pounds overweight but that is fine because they soon burn it off.

"All the players have had a summer programme working on what is best for them, everyone has different needs. It could be stamina, agility, speed, power, mobility – it is more than just about running."

Among the aspects of fitness Thadani has worked on during the summer are Jim Magilton's agility, Darren Bent on strength, while John McGreal and Richard Naylor are very fit but need to strengthen their knees.

Thadani agrees with the notion that players are being asked to play too many games.

He said: "Players are not machines, and eventually everything will catch up with you. It seems these days that players are fitter, faster, stronger compared to 20 years ago. It was a different era then and I would love to compare it scientifically but we can't.

"With the advent of Pro-Zone, we know these days exactly what a player does during a game. How far they run, how many times they turn or jump, sprint and stop – we can analyse it well."

It may not be 100% perfect but at least the players will feel better for knowing just how far their bodies can be pushed.

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