GORDON'S ROUGH GUIDE TO FITNESS
The one topic area that has featured fairly consistently in my mailbox over the past year has been issues around fitness. Not many things in life are constant these days, but one that is, is fitness. Whilst we might hope that fitness is something we can acquire easily amid a hectic life. Unfortunately, it is difficult to acquire and easy to loose! This article is aimed at individual players and coaches to small clubs or single teams and is designed to cover the basic issues ONLY.
ENDURANCE AND STRENGTH
These terms describe two similar aspects of fitness: Endurance is simply the ability to keep going and is both physical and mental whilst Strength is the ability of the body to meet the physical demands placed upon it. Training sessions need to recognise both and work on them in different ways.
AEROBIC AND ANAEROBIC
These terms are used quite a lot in coaching circles but in essence these terms describe where the body is getting its energy. Where the body is drawing its energy from the bloody supply carrying oxygen to where it is needed, then the activity is aerobic. Where the body is drawing its energy from sources already stored in the body (such as fat) as well as from blood borne oxygen, then the activity is said to be anaerobic. From the coaches point of view this has very important implications if you are dealing with young people. Until they have passed through puberty from a childís to adults body, young people have very limited anaerobic capacity. The fact that young bodies chiefly work on blood borne oxygen means that coaching sessions need to be structured so that bodies can rest frequently. (Sussex schools for example usually limit inter-school netball matches to four quarters of 10 minutes each with 5 minutes between each quarter).
The typical "Aerobics" class that many netballers will have participated in, are designed to develop the bodyís ability to get oxygen into the blood (through the lungs) and around to all its principal organs. Swimming, jogging and cycling are also good activities to develop aerobic performance. How much? Well at least two, 20 minute sessions, a week at a steady pace. If you can hold a reasonable conversation with a colleague during the exercise then you are achieving a "steady" pace. Once you have achieved this you should aim to increase the exercise time to 30 minutes. (Variations are possible such as keeping a 20 minute aerobic session but increase the amount of jogging). Once comfortable with this level of activity introduce speed sessions. So for the swimmer instead of swimming 1000m (40 lengths of a 25 metre pool are easily achieved in 20 minutes) work through a routine that perhaps starts with 200m free-style, 200m of back stroke (try to avoid breast stroke as part of the start-up programme as it puts very heavy demands on the knees) and 200m of kick or pull. Then go on to swim a series of sprints (10 single lengths flat out with 20 seconds between each length is a good target) followed by a long steady swim of (say) 200m freestyle at 75% effort. (You get the idea, mail me if you want some other swimming routines). For joggers following a regular course identify those sections which afford the opportunity of sprinting for a minute, two at the most. For the coach, training sessions are wasted doing much aerobic exercise; good for part of the warm up programme but thatís about it. A good drill for this is "Crocodile". You set players off in groups of 5 or 6 to jog in a line around the court following the leader (just like a crocodile of school kids), on a whistle blast, the player at the back sprints to the front to take over the leadership. Continue until players have passed a couple of time through the crocodile. With luck the rest of the players in the crocodile speed up to make life a little bit difficult for the player doing the sprinting! Away from training, encourage players to develop AND MAINTAIN their own aerobic training sessions. Possibly get them to keep an exercise diary, but do remember to look at it from time to time and give encouragement to keep it up throughout the year.
This is more of a dietary issue rather than exercise for which the aerobic activity above should be followed. I guess Iím in danger of preaching to the converted but a Mars Bar does not help you "Work, Rest and Play" in a sporting sense. If you have a craving for chocolate, buy a pack of mini-bars (but only 1 bar at a time!). There are hundreds, if not thousands of books devoted to this subject so Iím not going to attempt to go further. Two good sites are Brian MacKenzieís site, and Coaching Youth Sports from the Virginia State University. I havenít found anything else on the web, if you find one do let me know.
As I said at the beginning, "Endurance is simply the ability to keep going and is both physical and mental". The physical side is just about keeping to an aerobic exercise programme. There are lots of books on the market and thereís always Brian MacKenzie's website. From a netball perspective, during the playing season, players need to "up" the frequency aiming to do two aerobic sessions of at least 30 minutes each week along with a similar number of strength sessions (see next section). Again not a lot for the coach to do at training sessions other than setting targets and reading exercise diaries! The mental side is of course where the coach can have a big input; again lots of good books (and some pretty poor ones). The sort of thing a coach can do is to encourage players to train in pairs. Run short sessions based around 30 seconds sprinting/30 seconds jogging with one player working and one player resting/timekeeping and encouraging their partner to achieve more. You can also use Christmas Trees (follow link) so that players are sprinting against each other on the home run. You could also set them off on a jog around the court without telling them how many lap, then tell them how many more there are to do after the first couple. Deliberately loose count so that they do a couple extra and then count down "Two laps to go". Then on the last lap urge them to sprint to the finish. Afterwards, point out that if youíd asked them to jog 8 laps of the court with a sprint on the last they all have complained. Yet without thinking too much, they actually achieved it.
Again, not a lot for a coach to do during a normal training session. Most certainly at the beginning of season, help players to develop their own home exercise programme and then set aside time to check and encourage participation. Again the sort of exercises we're thinking about here are Squat Jumps, Press Ups, Step Ups, Sit Ups and a whole range of other similar torture techniques. There are plenty of good books to choose from. The key is having a programme of (say) 6 different exercises, which are repeated 2 or 3 times once or twice a week. Progressing on to the same number of exercises but repeated 3 or 4 times with each circuit completed in a few less seconds than the previous circuit at least twice a week. Where players have access to a well equipped gym, then the endurance training could be a mixture of home exercise and weight or circuit training using multi-gym equipment. Every gym, be it private club or local authority leisure centre, will have staff able to give advice on developing an exercise programme. Although hotel work can, by comparison, be poorly paid, getting free access to a well equipped gym and a personal trainer may be a useful part-time job for younger players keen to develop their fitness and strength aiming to play at county/regional level.
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