The 5 Conditioning Keys for effective Match Preparation

Preparing for the demands of a match in footy – that is what everyone is training for here (or at least they are if football is their primary goal.) This would seem like an obvious statement, however it is worth reminding of this periodically, as often the physical training itself can take over in players minds. In other words, often just putting on size and lifting more weight and running quicker times becomes so central to what players out there are doing in their training, that they lose sight of what it is that all this is being done for after all.


Remember, if you are putting in all the extra time into supplementary training sessions – be they running based or strength based – don’t lose sight of what it is that you are training for. Enhanced physical output on game day is what counts at the end of the day. So what is required to give you the best possible chance of having a high level of carryover from all your training?



In its simplest terms, pre-hab (or pre-habilitation) can be thought of as training that is undertaken to reduce the likelihood of injury. This is a very broad term, and to an extent, all forms of specifically focused training will provide for ‘pre-hab’ by preparing the body for the types of demands that they will be faced with in a game. That is, the more specific to football and football based movements training is – be it accelerating and decelerating based running rather than monotonous 5km runs, or multi-directional lunges rather than leg press – the greater the buffer against soft tissue injury that will result when faced with similar movements and demands in a game.


But aside from the functional strength and running based work functioning as a form of pre-hab in itself, extra pre-hab based work is also necessary, and can be thrown into the existing sessions – strength, running and club sessions. Things such as mobility, active range of motion stretches, stability work and light plyometric work are simple things that can thrown into the end of a warm up in any of the 3 forms of training, or when at the gym doing the other work, even in between exercises with longer rest. This form of ‘pre-hab can take on rather generic forms, or more specific forms depending on previous injuries and issues that you may have.


2. Functional Strength work

The word ‘functional’ is so overused that at times it is meaningless – but in our case it essentially just means getting specific with the training we do due to our specific goals (football related tasks) rather than just following bodybuilding principles or Olympic weightlifting programs or crossfit. We have a little more discussion on ‘what is functional’ here to clarify this discussion topic for people.


The strength work for football is what at least 50% of the information in the articles section on the site is dedicated to, so we wont rehash it here. All that needs to be said here is that if you are strength training, and your genuine priority from your strength training is for football, don’t just do what your mate and everyone else at the gym is doing for aesthetics – get specific with the exercises that you choose, and perform them with appropriate sets and reps schemes.


3.Power work

Power and plyometric work can be though of as the ‘missing link’ in a sense between strength training and running and the demands in a game. Lighter plyometric work is also an important part of ‘pre-hab’ and warm up work. But this point about the ‘missing link’ is important, as without this link the strength developed in the gym will not necessarily transfer over to demands in a game. After all, what we are training for with the strength work isn’t just strength for strenths sake, but rather to build a platform for greater expressions of power in football specific movements such as tackling and jumping and sprinting and pushing off an opponent. This is why a improving your bench press does not necessarily mean you will improve at pushing off an opponent, or why improving your squat 1RM does not guarantee a higher vertical leap.


Additionally, plyometric work is also a key plank in linking in the strength work that you do with the running work that you do. Often thought of as 2 separate forms of training, the 2 ideally should be planned as complementary elements in a program, rather than separate elements that hinder each other (as is often the case with the standard bodybuilding training and steady state running that a lot of players still do.) By just simply picturing simple forms of plyometric work be it jumping, bounding, landing – and off 1 leg as well as 2 – is should be quite easy to see the similarity in movement to say accelerating or decelerating in a running based conditioning drill.


Once again, there is no point getting really strong with certain movements in the gym, if they arent expressed as powerful movement in football.


4.Appropriate running – and linking it in properly with strength and power work

We just touched on running, and indeed have covered it at length in other articles and the running book. But here it is important to reiterate that in order to get the most out of the extra running that you do in preparation for a match, it should mimic the running that you do in a match – not only in terms of the energy systems that you use, but also in terms of the patterns of movement. For example, in a game, far from being a setting where you set off and run 10km at roughly the same tempo throughout, a game is a series of accelerations, decelerations and changes of direction, at varying speeds, and in any number of combinations. Therefore, the best running training will comprise of a combination of these. Yes there is a place for some steady state running, but it should only be supplementary to the real running work.


5.Match simulation

This point isn’t particularly relevant to individual training – as by definition you require a whole bunch of other individuals to mimic the movements and competitive situations. But I thought I would throw this in anyway to highlight the holistic nature of what is required in terms of physical preparation in order to be best prepared for match demands, as well as how this then ties in with skill work, match play – and in short how it all comes together for maximum effectiveness.

Rather than just endless running and skills drills, adding in the match simulation work ties the 2 together to be developed in a more ‘functional’ setting. Performing skill based drills and running based drills on their own are still important, as it allows for a greater focused development of those components than mixing them together in match play does. However then these isolated drills must then be combined with the match-play/competitive based work to maximise the carryover between the work at training, as well as the work in a game. The majority of coaches out there are all over this these days, so this final step at club training will be taken care of for you. It is your responsibility to ensure that points 1-4 are met in your time away from club training in order to maximise your physical improvement that you can bring with you to club training, and then transfer this over onto game day.

If you would like more detailed and personalised direction, checkout our personalised online programming, or if you would prefer even more personalised and detailed in-person coaching (for those lucky enough to live in the beautiful city of Adelaide), check out our Athletic Development Coaching and Junior Athletic Development Coaching.


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