JOHN McMAHON: What are you conditioning for?

By John McMahon

WITHOUT doubt, the most popular topic area I have during Strength & Conditioning workshops I deliver to clubs is – What is the best way to condition our players?

A few articles back I discussed how to structure your training week and monitor and manage your training loads with your teams. This week I wanted to discuss the approach I begin with when presenting to clubs and organisations I work with.

Firstly, here is a task I present to clubs before we get into the discussion and practical examples of how to structure your conditioning approach with your teams.

A marathon runner wants to complete a marathon in four hours. How would go about setting up a 13-week training plan with a frequency of two running session a week to achieve this goal?

After a little discussion with the coaches, we start to do a time and motion analysis for the marathon runner to achieve this goal. The distance to cover (26.2 mile), the Duration (four hours), speed of movement (nine minutes a mile goal pace), training plan timeline (13 weeks) and training frequency (two running sessions a week).

Once we have focused our attention and extracted the key information from our time and motion analysis, we then, in a progressive weekly training approach, plan out the 13 weeks.

This is a relatively simple task to complete once we focus our attention on the ‘demands’ of that marathon scenario and extract the key information we require from our time and motion analysis.

Conditioning your players and teams for the demands of Gaelic games should follow this exact same time and motion analysis approach.

– What is the distance your players need to cover? (This can be further broken down to individual positional demands).

– What duration?

– Speed of movement?

Hopefully that marathon example above has made you stop and think.

In my experience with consulting with clubs and organisations, this fundamental game demand analysis is greatly overlooked. Replaced firstly with what ‘methods’ of training to use rather than applying your methods (which are many) to what your players need to successfully implement your team game-plan.

Before we delve into some numbers, it’s important to stress all this information is contextual. Your style of play and the game-plan implemented will determine the physical preparedness you require for your team. E.g., a high pressing team will require a far greater physical capacity than a team who parks the bus and then counters slowly.

So, let’s have a look at some general key numbers from our time and motion analysis of Gaelic football.

Distance players cover

– Club – total distance – 8-10km.

– County- total distance – 10-12km.

Player positions and player role will determine what physical conditioning your players need. However, in recent years the distance that players cover has increased in all positions.


Club – 60 minutes.

County – 70 minutes.

Half-time interval – 15 minutes.

Something to consider when planning your pitch sessions. All the physical metrics you are trying to elicit from your training sessions need to be accumulated within the time constraints of the game. This is classified as duration specific intensity.

Without doubt, the biggest oversight I currently see coaches making is achieving the target physical metrics for your players in your training sessions but not achieving this within the game time constraints. Your intensity level is not sufficient. Duration specific intensity is key!

Speed of movement

– Club:

Walking/jogging/running (0-5.5m/s) – 4000-6000m.

High speed running (5.5-7m/s) – 800-1500m.

Sprinting (7m/s+) – 400-600m.

– County:

Walking/jogging/running (0-5.5m/s) – 4000-6000m.

High speed running (5.5-7m/s) – 1000-2500m.

Sprinting (7m/s+) – 500-800m.

Interestingly, the highest volume of metrics covered in a game is from very low-level speeds of movement.

Hopefully this has provided some insight into the game demands you are trying to expose your players to in training.

Remember condition your players to what your game-plan requires (time and motion analysis) amd use the many training methods to achieve that goal.

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