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Returning To Play Gaelic Games

By David Hare, Strength and Conditioning Coach.

After a long lay-off from collective training, it is just common sense to ease yourself back into things? Why? The structures of your body that have adapted to cope with the demands of your sport will have potentially detrained, atrophied, or simply “forgot” what to do.

This is, of course, assuming you have done nothing specific or you’ve been pretty lazy during this enforced break from competitive sport and training. I would plead with all players to honestly accept where you are at physically right now, this is key, if you haven’t trained at all accept that stark fact. Just like you can’t speed farm, you can’t cram fitness training, it takes time, effort, and some precision to elicit the positive adaptations we are after.

A few ground rules.

1. If your diet has been poor during quarantine I would start now making positive changes, there are lots of resources out there to help you on this but suffice to say that watching your calorie intake, eating some good sources of lean protein and getting enough veggies into your body will do wonders for your return to the training paddock. Sleep is also crucial, put down the phone and get to bed early.

2. Slowly increasing the volume of running you are going to do over the coming weeks I would also deem crucial to avoiding injury and actually getting fitter. High speed running or sprinting can be problematic if introduced too quickly or intensely when you come back, ease into this, and only micro-dose a few sprints into your schedule the first 3 weeks. You will need to expose the body to high speed running to hit the pitch in good shape but do it gradually.

3. Give yourself enough recovery between training sessions. Keep your first few sessions short, sharp, and smart. If your coach turns the screw too early a polite word after training might be a good idea, in my opinion, 90% of coaches welcome private, considered and educated feedback about the training.

Warming Up:

The first few sessions back, warming properly before sessions are going to be crucial, forget the usual lap or two around the field and a few toe touches this doesn’t prepare you for the rigors of the game. Think movement preparation and activation. I would direct you to the great resources that are already out there on this such as the GAA 15 Warm-Up, Activate Warm up, The RAMP Format warm-up, and EXOS movement prep videos on YouTube. If you are the type of person who normally hates warming up I get it but you should really get good warm-ups done now after such a long layoff.

Make sure key muscles and Joints are targeted (Glutes, Groins, Hamstring & Calves), think slow to then fast movements, and static to dynamic movements. Including some landing mechanics and changes of direction is also a good idea here. Spend at least 15 mins here, as a former player once told me “it gets rid of the dirty diesel in the engine”, but specifically it prepares the muscles for what you need them to be able to do. It won’t be a miracle cure or prevent you from everything but it’s a start.

Speed Training:

There is a fine balance here between doing too much and getting injured, and doing too little and then getting injured because you’ve not prepared the body for the match demands. Here is some basic advice;

Start slowly and progress gradually take around 60 secs rest per 15-20m sprint there is no harm in doing some skill work between runs to keep you tipping over. Something like this might work. This is only very rough guidelines and it is very conservative in its approach.

Week 1: 4 X 10m Sprints

Week 2: 2 X 20m Sprint REST and then 1 X 20m Sprint

Week 3: 2 X 20m Sprint REST and then 2 X 20m Sprint

Week 4: 1 X 20m REST 1 X 20m

After the 4th week, I would include some deceleration work (i.e. braking) and some curved runs.

Fitness Work:

Hopefully, you have some control over this and you don ‘t have an overzealous coach pushing you too hard too quick. It’s probably best to start with basic aerobic work, meaning engine building activities that can safely get you back into the swing of things. Tempo runs are a good place to start. Tempo runs should be smooth and controlled runs and you shouldn’t be slogging to complete them. Something like;

Session 1. 100m run x 10 (in 16-22secs depending on fitness levels) – Total of 100m.

Session 2. 100m run x 6 (in 16-22secs depending on fitness levels) Rest and Repeat. – Total of 1200m.

Session 3. 200m run x 3 (in 34-44secs) Rest and then do 100m x 8. – Total of 1400m.

Session 4. Repeat session 1 again as it’s the 4th week and you should deload the volume of running to help you recover. - Total of 1000m.

Again this is conservative and I don’t know your fitness levels but you can play around with the template accordingly.

Gym Work:

If you have not done any gym work during the break I would start back now but again slowly and safely. Your first few gym sessions back should be easy and should contain basic multijointed activities that won’t make you too tired or stiff. I would include exercises like reverse lunges, core work, 1 leg deadlifts, chins and push ups. This is a big area and beyond the scope of this article but there are tonnes of great stuff online and indeed my book “Strength and Conditioning for Gaelic Games” has a great template that you could follow to get you back on track.


1. Improve your diet, get to bed early and have at least one day to recover between sessions at the start of your return to play.

2. Accept where you are, it’s ok if you got a little unfit, give it time and progress slowly.

3. Proper modern warm-ups are crucial now. Check out the GAA 15 and other great options that are online.

4. Start speed training, but do it in a gradual fashion. Less is more.

5. Get back in the gym on your off days, think of the basics and maybe leave the heavyweights alone for the first couple of weeks.

About the Author:

David Hare is the current Performance GDA in Offaly GAA and is the author of “Strength and Conditioning for Gaelic Games” which can be purchased here


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