Premier League return: How long will it take for players to get fit?
Former England physio Gary Lewin outlined the complexities of returning to fitness
Last Updated: 26/05/20 7:44am
As Premier League players return to training ahead of a potential restart to competitive action, we ask: how long will it take to regain full fitness?
The answer, as you'd expect, is complex. But there is one underlying consensus: match fitness is almost impossible to reach without competitive games.
Speaking on Monday's The Football Show, former England physio Gary Lewin outlined the complexities of returning to fitness, namely the differences between physical fitness and match fitness.
- Nev, Redknapp expect PL contact training go-ahead
- Government approves close-contact training
- Premier League clubs set for contact training vote
Premier League clubs are set to vote to start contact training despite the concerns of many players. Clubs have been training in small groups while respecting social distancing measures according to step one protocols, and the Premier League has been finalising step two protocols which will involve contact training.
They will consult players and managers before the proposals are voted on at the next shareholders' meeting on Wednesday.
Missing out on the hustle and bustle
Lewin, England physio from 2008 to 2016, says that while you can build up physical fitness through running and strength sessions, nothing compares to the full contact competitiveness you get in training sessions, and more importantly in friendly matches or reserve games.
"The biggest issue they've got is getting them up to speed physically without the group sessions and contact sessions," Lewin said. "Normally in a pre-season you would start off with a couple of weeks of very light training, close contact rather than full contact, and then building up into contact sessions.
"Working on a players' strength, power, and reaction times, and then you go into contract training and friendlies, slowly building up the competition and intensity over a six to eight-week period.
"The uniqueness of this situation is that they have gone through their physical phase, what you'd call park running in phase one, and then they're going into phase two, where there is still no contact with social distancing, but trying to do some work with the football, and then they're going into full contact.
"They're going to miss out on the general conditioning of falling over, getting up, colliding with players, and that side of the game that you only get with intense training sessions and friendly matches, so there are going to be a few problems.
"If I had a player out for two months, I'd bring them back very slowly through reserve team and Under-23 football. The absence of that progression is the main difference to this situation. The only way you can replicate a match situation is by playing a game.
"We are condensing nine games that are going to decide the season into a short space of time, so they have to hit the ground running."
Beware of muscle injuries
With 14 muscle injuries during the first round of Bundesliga matches in mid-May, Lewin expects similar issues if the Premier League was to return,
"You would expect to see more muscle injuries occur. It's also the reaction times, how the body reacts to jumping, landing, and that then puts pressure on joints.
"But the main issues people will worry about are the muscle injuries."
Nev: How is it different to a two-month injury?
Also speaking on The Football Show, Sky Sports' Gary Neville likens the break to having a two-month injury, where players are not given a pre-season timescale to return, but instead usually return to full matches within two weeks of recovery.
"I don't really liken what has happened in the last two months to a pre-season, I liken it to having a two-month injury, where you'd be out having done no contact training whatsoever.
"You'd be doing little bits with the physios, but then as soon as you went back training with the team, within 10 days or two weeks you'd be back playing.
"So I don't understand why this is different to having an ordinary two-month injury, which all players have had."
'11 v 11 training still some days away'
Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes on the return of close-contact training at Premier League clubs:
This is a very positive step in the journey towards the resumption of sport and contact training does literally mean that, but you're not going to have training sessions at the various facilities up and down the country with 11 v 11.
There is very much an onus on the individual sports, and also on the medics at clubs and COVID-19 officers. They have risk assessments to do and risk mitigation as well.
Step one was training on an individual basis with social distancing. Step two now allows contact training, so you can go within two metres but only during training sessions and only for the absolute minimum time required.
Initially they'll probably do it in groups of two to three players, that's the advice that's been given by government, and slowly progress to towards larger groups of four to 12 players and ultimately 11 v 11 - but we are still some days from that happening.
The Premier League faces its "most crucial week so far" when it comes to a potential restart, with plans to step up training "in the balance," according to the Sunday Supplement panel.
Top-flight players have returned in socially distanced small groups but clubs face a key vote on Wednesday over contact training, subject to government approval.
Will a positive test percentage of 0.45 so far reassure players? How big a factor could the psychological barrier be when it comes to returning to action? And is season curtailment still an option?
Sunday Supplement guests Jason Burt, chief football correspondent at The Telegraph, Shaun Custis, head of sport at The Sun and The Times' sport writer Alyson Rudd joined Geoff Shreeves to discuss the latest challenges for a return to Premier League action.