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By Ben Pollard

Can you believe it? Under three months until the 2013 SMJFL season kicks off…

By now, the country’s elite footballers are back into pre-season training after the Christmas break and preparing their bodies for the year ahead. But it’s not just elite footballers who can find improvement in themselves by training over the off-season – juniors can too.

We’ve spoken to Sandringham Dragons head of strength, conditioning and rehabilitation Nathan Rogers about what all SMJFL players can do to get themselves fit and healthy for the coming season.

DO: Aerobic training.

For juniors of all ages, building your fitness base by doing a variety of running exercises is very important. Good aerobic training will lead to high endurance levels and allow you to keep up your running intensity later in football matches, even when your body is starting to tire.

Nathan recommends “going out for a run, but changing your intensity throughout the run”. He says getting used to this kind of training early in your football life is important because “you don’t just go for a three-kilometre run in a game. You have to stop, start and change your intensity throughout.”

Good intensity-running exercises include:

– Fartlek running. Nathan has been getting the Dragons squad to complete Fartlek running sessions regularly this pre-season. “This is a long run but you change intensity throughout the run,” he says. “You might run a minute, for example, going at 60 per cent and then for 30 seconds you might lift your running intensity and go to 80 per cent and just keep changing your intensity throughout the run.”

– Interval running. This involves completing a series of short runs (for example, over 200 or 400 metres), but resting for only a minute or two between each run. Nathan says “the more intervals you can get into your running, the more it’s going to help you play footy”.

– Out-and-back running. This is another of Nathan’s favourites for his Dragons players. “Say you’re going for a four-kilometre run, find where two kilometres is and time yourself running to 2kms. Check the time at 2kms and then you’ve got to beat that time on the way back.”

– Gut running. “This teaches you to run at intensity under fatigue and this is one I only suggest juniors do when they’ve got a good aerobic base,” Nathan says. “It’s the same as interval training in that you do a certain amount of running and then you rest, but in the gut-running session the rest times change. For example, in one of the sessions I get the Dragons boys to do, they’ll do four three-minute runs and the first rest break is three minutes, the second break is two minutes and the last break is one minute.”

Nathan suggests doing running exercises three times a week, but in different ways depending on your age.

He says younger juniors should generally change their intensity during runs LESS frequently than older juniors. Nathan also says the younger you are, the LOWER your running intensity should generally be. But regardless of age, this all depends on how fit you already are and what level of running intensity you can handle.

Remember: Don’t run well beyond your capabilities – aim for small, gradual improvements in your running distance and intensity level with each new session.

DON’T: Go for long-distance, slow runs.

Nathan says this style of running is not suited to football players.

“A lot of juniors will just go out and do long-distance, slow runs, and those are the kinds of things I tell my players not to do at all,” he says.

“I don’t believe in long slow runs, because it’s just training you to become an endurance-based athlete and we know that in football, you need to produce repeat efforts over and over, with speed.”

DON’T: Run on roads.

Nathan recommends running on softer surfaces to avoid potential injury problems with developing bodies.

“That’s just going to increase your chances of shin splints and hip problems, because of the load you put through your (lower body) joints,” he says.

DO: Cross-training.

One way to overcome the stress that running can place on your body is to take the weight off your legs entirely. Nathan says swimming, cycling and rowing exercises are just as beneficial for your football fitness as running.

“All those kinds of cross-training exercises are really good for increasing your endurance without loading it through your legs,” he says.

* Continue reading with Opens external link in new windowPart 2 of our ‘Tips for juniors: Off-season training’ article, where Nathan Rogers provides guidance about weights training for juniors.