Despite being barely two months into 2019,
Liverpool have already been on two warm weather training camps this year. They went to Dubai
for four days in January and then to Marbella for a
couple of days in mid-February. Their return from the UAE was followed by consecutive draws
at home to Leicester, ironically in snowy conditions,
and also away at West Ham. That dip in form meant the Reds missed their
opportunity to open a commanding lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier
League table and led to criticism from some fans, who
questioned the decision to take the players away to such different climates. But it’s
not just Liverpool who do this: Wolves have also been to Marbella,
Tottenham often break in Barcelona, and it’s a
common practice amongst European clubs. Whenever there is a break of ten days or so between
matches, sometimes due to a premature exit from a domestic cup competition, clubs waste
no time in jetting off.
But why do they follow this practice? Jürgen Klopp is a big advocate of warm weather
training and has brought this with him to Anfield
from the Bundesliga, where there is a winter break or ‘Winterpause’ [prn: Vinterpowser].
Interestingly, that’s what sees Bayern Munich make an annual winter trip to Doha through
their partnership with Qatar Airways, something
that has attracted controversy due to the human rights
transgressions of the country. The average UK temperature in January is a
chilly 4 degrees Celsius and Klopp said that these cold
winter conditions mean that you can “only run and shoot and tackle”. By contrast,
it’s around 20 degrees at the same time in Dubai and 15 degrees
in Marbella. Expanding on this, Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl, who has recently
taken his side to Tenerife, said that there is more time to
train tactical aspects in warm weather simply because you can “rest for two or three minutes
and explain things without catching a cold”.
Body muscles are more pliable in these conditions, meaning
less time is wasted warming up and the general risk of muscle strains and tears is reduced.
There are also simply more daylight hours to train in, with eight to nine hours of daylight
in the UK in January compared to eleven in Dubai. This
affords time for the schedule to be more relaxed, especially with fewer media commitments to
attend to as well. Of course, there is an inherent risk where
travel is concerned and changing time zones can harm the
sleep patterns of finely tuned athletes. Warm weather training camps have long been used
in athletics, where sport scientists have repeatedly found
that it helps to improve cardiovascular fitness. That’s also
why tennis star Andy Murray has always headed to Miami for an intense training block every
winter. The heat is a stress on the body that makes
training more challenging. The blood thickens in warmer
conditions and the heart has to work harder to pump oxygenated blood to the working muscles.
The body adapts to this by increasing blood plasma
volume, which essentially equates to better cardiovascular fitness. This benefits the
players as they are then able to train more effectively in cold
weather – useful when they return to the harsher conditions of the UK.
Back in 2010, a study at the University of Oregon found that cyclists who had done warm
weather training performed between 4-8% better – a
large margin when it comes to elite competitive performance. Even in cool temperatures, footballers
become overheated during intense exercise and
so these heat adaptations can have an impact. Andrew Misra
The sunshine also helps with Vitamin D production, which in turn helps reduce injury risk and
benefits muscular function and adaptation to strength training. Up to 70% of athletes
training in the UK have been found to have worryingly low
Vitamin D levels. Sir Alex Ferguson installed tanning
booths at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground for this purpose. Heat stroke
and sunburn are also risks while training abroad, albeit
minor concerns due to the extensive department of
physiotherapists elite clubs have to look after players these days.
The psychological benefits are just as important as the physiological benefits and these camps
are not just about gruelling physical work. The mental
benefit should not be overlooked, particularly after the
hectic December schedule in the Premier League. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be a
problem in the UK and changing up the routine keeps the mind flexible and adaptable. It
also provides an opportunity for team cohesion, bonding
and to forge a close affinity between manager and players
– something that has always seemed important for Klopp.
Virgil Van Dijk has recently cited the training camp the squad went on shortly after he signed
for Liverpool at the end of January 2018 for his
rapid integration into the squad. Distractions are reduced
not just for the players but for the manager too. However, families are sometimes allowed
to come along too and fostering such a close-knit
atmosphere could make all the difference as the business end
of the season approaches.