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By Ben Pollard

Last week we spoke to Sandringham Dragons head of strength, conditioning and rehabilitation Nathan Rogers about off-season aerobic training for SMJFL juniors (Opens external link in new windowclick here to recap).

This week, Nathan gives advice on off-season weight training designed to have SMJFL players fit and healthy for the coming season. Just like building up your endurance through running exercises, building up your body strength through weight training is important in modern-day football.

DO: Aim to increase body weight if you’re under 15 years old.

Nathan says any footballer over the age of six can do weight training, but the types of exercises and the weights used will obviously vary between age groups and body sizes. For footballers under the age of 15, Nathan recommends exercises that will increase body weight.

As winning contests becomes increasingly important in football, it’s important that players have a strong body – not only to win those contests of strength, but also to protect their bodies from injury.

“Push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups and even body weight squats will get you into the habit of building up your body weight,” Nathan says. “For players that age (under 15), it’s going to increase their strength dramatically.”

DON’T: Do it without guidance.

Younger players in particular should be guided by a professional as they create an appropriate weight training program for themselves. Developing bodies are all different and this needs to be taken into account when starting out.

Nathan says: “If you’re doing weights, it’s better to get guided by a professional – that’s important. If you’re doing things wrong, you’re going to get in the habit and increase the risk of injury.

“So if you do want to get into weights, I would recommend seeing a gym instructor or a strength-and-conditioning coach to help you out, especially the younger you are.”

Professionals will be able to explain exactly what each exercise is, how to do it safely, which muscles the exercise works out and how many sets and repetitions of each exercise you should aim to complete.

DO: Resistance and core training if you’re 15 years old or over.

Nathan recommends “training the muscles you can’t see” when you’re age 15 or older. Getting into the gym for resistance and core training exercises provides maximum strength benefits for maturing footballers, as well as further helping with injury prevention.

Leg squats and lunges are some of Nathan’s favourite exercises for the Dragons, as they help in strengthening the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and calves for power through the legs.

Exercises which strengthen the ‘unseen’ muscles of the chest and back (or ‘core’) are also used in the Dragons gym. As with younger players, seek assistance from a professional on which exercises will be best for you and how you should complete them.

DON’T: Focus entirely on “beach weights”.

So, what are “beach weights”?

Here’s Nathan’s explanation:

“I’m trying to get my guys away from doing beach weights – as in, they just want to look good at the beach, so they do a lot of chest press, a lot of bicep curls, anterior shoulder exercises… When they take their shirt off they look good, but really, it’s not going to help their performance.

“There are no bicep curls in my gym – you train those muscles when you’re doing other exercises and they don’t help you play footy.”

DO: Pace yourself.

Nathan recommends completing three weight training sessions per week, but with one condition: “You have to have 48 hours rest in between each one,” he says.

“So if you do one on Monday, you can’t do another one until Wednesday at the same time as you did on Monday.”

And what about the Sandringham Dragons’ pre-season program?

Well, not surprisingly, Nathan says the Dragons’ pre-season training load is “quite heavy”.

“They train six times a week with one rest day,” he says. “They’ll do three runs minimum – and sometimes four depending on the loads for the week – and then cross-training two or three times a week.”

Regular weight training is also standard.

Sounds tough? It’s meant to be!

“This is definitely an elite program for footballers trying to make the AFL,” Nathan says.