People ask me questions about strength and conditioning in the GAA all the time. Clubs from all over the country want to know what they should be doing to get the best out of their players, and for the most part clubs seem to be making the same mistakes over and over. Here a few of the main blunders that should be avoided by GAA Clubs.
Buying Expensive/ Useless Gym Equipment
The club have a spare dressing room/ meeting room, and have decided to get a bit of a gym going for the players. Great so far! The big mistake that a lot of clubs make is forking out the big bucks for weights machines, and bits of equipment that would be more useful if they were melted done and used as material for electric motor cars. The tide is turning when it comes to weights machines, but make no mistake, the old reliable of barbells, dumbbells, chin up bars, and kettlebells are what your club needs. Functionally way better, require little to no maintenance, and less expensive. The crucial thing here is to have a qualified professional at hand to teach and supervise technique and build programs.
Running Too Much
Building a running conditioning program for GAA is very much like a witch at her cauldron making her next magical potion. You need the right ingredients, at the right time, and in the right amounts for the perfect potion. The one big mistake that many coaches make is over-stressing the players with repetitive long runs during the times when matches are abundant. A running program is beyond the scope of this article, but let it be known, players need to recover so they can perform in games and win them. However, if your goal is to enter a 25 man squad into next years 800m national championships, then keep cranking out them long runs. Of course there are times when you need to put the pressure on with the conditioning, but these times should be carefully selected.
THAT hamstring stretch (GRRR...!)
Every time I see teams doing this stretch, I die a little inside. We all know it. One leg out in front, point to toe upwards, and lean over to feel the burn on the hamstrings. The problem with this stretch is that your back in is flexion, you are reinforcing bad movement patterns, and actually encouraging your players to get into the position that results in eventual disc rupture. Think about someone who has blown out their back. More than likely the result of repetitive poor movement patterns, culminating in a sharp dart of pain while picking up a pen from the floor in the EXACT SAME position as that hamstring stretch that teams so love to do in preparation for the big game. Not to say that you are going to have 25 ruptured vertebrae on the team, but why reinforce such a crappy position?!
Not Maintaining Strength Work In-Season
Its November. Club gym, check, strength program, check, 40 people turning up for training, check. Then the league starts. Strength training out the window because its all about the hurling/ football from now on. This is a mistake. To give your players the best opportunity to stay injury free and strong, you need to sustain the strength training at least once per week. I know the schedule of an amateur player is tight with 3 sessions per week with the club on top of work/ family commitments, but one strength training session per week is essential to maintain your gains from the pre-season. If you throw the strength training out the window when the fair weather draws near, you may as well had not spent them dark nights pulling yourself up on the chin up bar with your comrades. A 30 minute session each week before/ after your club team training would be enough to maintain gains in strength and mobility so there is no excuse!
Not having a rehab process in place for injured players
This is potentially the biggest money saver for GAA clubs, and God knows every club could do with saving a few euros on the end-of-year team bill! As is stands, a club players gets injured, goes to physio for some treatments, and then takes up his place on the team a few weeks later. Alas, we are missing a key part of the process that will likely have that same player back on the physio bench again before the end of the season. You see, the biggest predictor of injury is the previous injuries of that player. If a player has pulled his hamstring, he is at major risk of pulling it again unless the right process is in place. In the GAA we have still not fully come to terms with this. Clubs need to have a defined path for players to follow to prevent re-injury. This comes in the form of going to the physio, then a functional and effective return to play strength and conditioning program. This will reduce the risk of re-injury massively, and save the club money on physiotherapy bills at the end of the year. With proper strength and conditioning services, a club can expect to reduce their medical bills substantially, as well as expect better performances on the field. Good for players, good for the club. Win/Win!
This Article is By Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS