Although my favourite sport is tennis, as a personal trainer I’m interested in the athletic performance of top players in all sports. The recent success of Leicester City Football Club has sparked my interest in how top footballers train.
In what is now regarded as possibly the biggest achievement in football history, Leicester City became Premier League champions after being on the brink of relegation, and after buying its squad for a mere tenth of the money the traditional big boys (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City) spend on their players.
I look to the sporting greats for inspiration when I’m coaching my personal training clients in London, and the individuals who make up Leicester City FC are a huge source of inspiration, from the players, to the managers (and former managers), coaching staff, and medical/sports-science staff.
The BBC website posted a brilliant article by Alistair Magowan: “Leicester City: The Science Behind their Premier League Title”, from which I developed this blog post.
Leicester’s former manager Nigel Pearson deserves a lot more credit than he’s getting. Pearson laid the foundations, which current manager Claudio Ranieri was wise enough to build on rather than disturb.
Pearson developed a great bond with the players, with his warm-hearted yet down to earth style, and his talent for putting together a world-class coaching staff and medical/sports-science staff. His inclusive and democratic leadership extended to seeking the opinions of players, fellow coaching-staff and medical staff before making big decisions.
Formerly known as ‘the tinkerman’ from his days leading Chelsea and forever chopping and changing, Ranieri recognised a brilliant set-up when he arrived at Leicester, and kept it in place, with a few constructive tweaks.
For instance, Claudio recognised the importance of recovery. Players are not over-worked, and get at least two days rest per week. The results speak for themselves: Leicester FC’s players have had fewer injuries than any other Premier League side. More on their injury-free record below.
Leicester City FC is a team in the best sense of the word. All the players are incredibly dedicated and ambitious to achieve great things, and they all put the success of the team ahead of personal stardom. Jamie Vardy shows this by his huge number of assists to other goal-scorers.
Andy King, Wes Morgan, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, Robert Huth, Mark Albrighton, Jeffrey Shlupp, Danny Drinkwater, Shinji Okazaki, and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, to name just a few, are a band of brothers, close-knit and fiercely loyal to each other.
Star striker Jamie Vardy is the jewel in the crown of Leicester City FC. Sheffield-born Vardy joined Leicester in 2012, the first non Premier League player to be signed by a Premier League club for over £1 million.
Not only is Vardy a prolific goal-scorer, he is the fastest sprinter of any player in the Premier League. He is perfectly built for his role: lean and wiry, able to sprint and change direction with incredible speed and agility. He also has tremendous stamina, so he is able to perform sprints throughout a match without tiring.
As Head of Strength and Conditioning, Matt Reeves has done an incredible job in helping create one of the fittest teams in the Premier League. One of his greatest contributions is his emphasis on sprint training, putting his players through tough drills of 40 metre sprints. This has clearly paid off.
As Head of Sports Science and Performance Analysis, Paul has his work cut out for him in applying all the latest technology to the team’s approach to training.
A graduate of Loughborough University, the Mecca of sports science, Tom has the vital job of injury-prevention for the players, both in matches and in training. If Arsenal or Chelsea dedicated this much resources and brain-power on injury prevention ,they would be have far fewer injured players.
As strength & power coach, Mitch has extensive experience with Leicester Tigers rugby club, and now he is dedicated to giving each and every player a tailor-made strength and power workout regime in the gym. He works closely with the other coaching staff to minimize injury risk while boosting players’ physical potential.
Leicester City’s Performance Psychologist Ken Way has unlocked levels of focus and commitment in the squad which match the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo. Visualisation, mental toughness, resilience, focus, relaxation techniques, and the ability to block out distractions are all on the menu.
Credit too must go to the huge and loyal fan-base. An in-built advantage of Leicester City is that they are the county’s only football team, so there are no divided loyalties. I compare this to my personal training clients in London. The larger their support network among family, friends and loved-ones, the more likely they are to succeed in their fitness and weight-loss goals.
Leicester’s family-friendly King Power Stadium has cultivated an ethos of whole families of fans from kids to grandparents and everything in between. This has given a psychological boost to the players who feel loved and supported through thick and thin.
Dave Rennie – Head Physio
Leicester City has the lowest injury rate of any Premier League club. This is an incredible achievement, and Dave Rennie, the head physiotherapist, is a key part of this. Together with Claudio Ranieri’s policy of giving players plenty of recovery time, Dave Rennie’s use of cutting-edge rehab techniques is something other clubs are now seriously looking into.
Ice-baths have long been used to speed recovery, but the cryo-chamber unit goes one step further. This chamber of cold air (as cold as minus 135 degrees) , which the players enter for just a few minutes, promotes blood flow so that tired muscles are flushed with oxygenated blood. Leicester players report much better sleep after a session in the cryo-chamber.
The players also receive ice-bag massages to speed recovery.
Catapult GPS System
I think this is the secret weapon in the technological arsenal of Leicester City. This wearable technology maps and monitors each and every player’s movements on the pitch both in training and in matches. It measures distance run, intensity, pitch location, acceleration/deceleration, changes in direction, and the height and frequency of jumps.
Catapult was founded in Australia in 2006 by Shaun Holthouse and Igor van de Griendt. Its technology is built by in-house engineers, extensively tested, and independently validated by universities worldwide. The company now has branches in the UK (Leeds) and the USA (Chicago), and is now a world-leader in wearable sports technology.
Catapult GPS technology works seamlessly with heart-rate monitors and other tracking technology, and the data gathered can be manipulated and presented in a way that can form the basis for decisions such as giving certain players extra rest or extra training in specific areas such as sprints or agility or tactics.
First team science and conditioning coach Andrea Azzalin
NordBord Hamstring Testing System
Another great piece of technology is the Nordbord, a cutting-edge hamstring testing system which screens, trains, tests, and monitors hamstring strength. The hamstring muscles are obviously vital for running and kicking, and as my personal training clients in London know, are the most vulnerable muscles for tightness and tear injuries.
Players kneel on the NordBord, hook their ankles into restraints, and lean forward slowly, resisting falling for as long as they can, all while being hooked up to computer-monitors and sensors. They receive real-time feedback which can then be analysed and compared with other players. The NordBord was created by Vald Performance, and the brains behind this innovative company are co-inventers Dr Tony Shield and Dr David Opar.
My personal training clients in London will tell you how fanatical I am about good nutrition. Well, I thought I was until I started researching the nutritional regime of the Leicester City players.
The most well publicized food of the Leicester City nutrition plan is beetroot juice. Beetroot has long been known for its anti-inflammatory and blood-boosting properties, but it is also known to boost stamina.
The players’ eating habits are closely monitored by Performance Nutritionist Christopher Rosimus, who has extensive global experience working with professional footballers and cricketers. High quality protein at regular intervals is a priority for muscle growth and repair, and plenty of vegetables (and beetroot juice!) to optimize intake of vitamins and minerals to boost players’ immune systems and aid recovery and for dozens of other vital functions for a healthy body.
As the players are burning energy and sweating a lot, optimum carbohydrate intake and hydration (water mixed with electrolytes) are also high on the list.
All the Leicester players have i-Pads which they use to complete daily questionnaires about their energy levels, mood, injuries, eating habits, and a range of other questions. This high level of communication is key to any successful organisation, and gives the manager and coaching staff and medical staff valuable information in real time.
As a personal trainer I seek feedback from my London clients on how they’re progressing with their goals, what they’re eating, what exercise they’re doing between our sessions, and sleep patterns, in order to keep them on track. It’s inspiring to see Leicester City FC doing this on such a sophisticated scale, and makes me want to raise my game in seeking better and more regular feedback from all my clients.
Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha deserves credit for hiring Claudio Ranieri, and for investing heavily in one of the best support staff of any Premier League side, from the coaching staff to the medical staff. He is also keen to embrace the latest technology to give his players the edge.
So Leicester City’s success is no fluke, no flash-in-the-pan. It’s down to a combination of brilliant people, awesome technology, and strategic planning. Leicester deserve their success, and other clubs would do well to emulate their methods.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London and author of the Fitness4London blog.