Head of Sports Science on Solent testing
Head of Sports Science Nick Harvey spoke to Reading FC Player as pre-season got underway this week - and gave a fascinating insight into the highly scientific nature of the squad's preparations, as they headed to Southampton Solent University on Tuesday. View a full gallery from the day here
Nick - a very busy day down here at the University, what was the overall aim of the session?
For the last two days we've brought the players down here to the University for some physical and physiological measurements, to really give us a profile and snapshot of where the players are at currently. We can then revisit that at the end of pre-season to see how they have improved. It’s important information for us to get in terms of how we monitor the players every day. All those individual heart rate and GPS levels are geared towards improving the individual rather than being very general information. It’s been a good few days, the boys have really embraced it and I’m really happy with how things have gone.
There were plenty of different tasks involved - talk us through some of them
When they arrive they get their body composition tested; at the end of the last season we set them targets for what they needed to be when they returned, so the nutritionist will take their skin folds. Obviously it’s important for us that they start pre-season in good shape, and we’re not having to shed fat before pushing the training. They then come in and do the power testing. We’re trying to create a profile of a player’s speed and power capacity. We look at the vertical jump, single leg work, reaction jumps - things like that to help us when we do work in the gym to programme in more detail and try and address weaknesses in individual profiles. The keepers do extra jump testing in relation to goalkeeping; dives, reaction time stuff – this is the speed and power aspect.
And then the VO2 testing - which did not look enjoyable!
The dreaded VO2! Bit of a nemesis for the players that one. But it’s an important test for us, it really helps us to build that endurance profile so we can see the aerobic fitness levels of the player. We can look at how efficient they are. We measure their VO2 max, how much oxygen they can provide to the working muscles, so a nice analogy is that VO2 max is the size of the engine – but we’re interested in how efficient the engine of the player is. We measure blood lactate and heart rate throughout and that gives us a measure of how efficiently a player can produce energy and get around the pitch. There’s a subjective element – every two minutes we ask for a rate of perceived exertion. They’ll tell us on a scale of 6-20 how they're feeling, with twenty being the maximum effort. Towards the end of the test they’re up 18/19/20. Throughout the test we’ll collect the air that they breathe as well as the blood, that’s obviously a facility that’s not available to us on the training ground so that’s why we come down and do it in the lab. It gives us more detailed information which we use on a daily basis in training. The end of the test is a little bit painful, we’re asking them to push themselves as hard as possible. And what I’ve been really pleased with is the vast majority of players have really pushed themselves to the max.
All this work of course looking towards the pre-season fixtures themselves - and then of course the start of the season!
We go to a camp in the Midlands for four days for some really focussed training and this is a starting point; now we have some really good individual information to make sure we have those levels right and then we know that come the start of the season we will be as fit and as fresh as possible. Pre-season games are an exercise in fitness and getting the tactical elements and technical skills up to speed as well. It’s all about getting us right through, we can gradually build throughout the season so we can peak at the start and keep developing so we finish strongly as well.