PRE-SEASON has a major influence on what happens after the start of September, and it is both the busiest and possibly most important part of the year for Coventry’s head of strength and conditioning, Max Hartman.
Hartman’s mission, working closely with the physiotherapy department, is to make sure that the squad arrives at the start of the season in the best possible physical shape – a challenge, but one which he is enjoying and which the players have responded to in the two weeks since reporting back to the club.
“With the new facilities for training and everything moving around as well as new guys coming in, it’s been a challenge, but it’s the nature of the job and it’s always the way it’s going to be,” said Hartman, who has moved to the role from rehab coach last season.
“We’ve done some basic physical testing so far – a couple of tests when they’re running, some on the bikes, and some out and out speed testing so we can look at where everyone is – how the front rowers compare against each other, for example, and where people sit in the squad.
“That informs the coaches about who has come back in good shape and who hasn’t, and then six or eight weeks down the line when we re-test, we know if we’re doing the job well or not. If the guys are improving, then great, that’s what we want to see.
“Certain players are on a watch list for weight, but actually the guys that are have all been doing really well and they all came back in good shape as a group which is good.”
Getting the balance right is important at this stage of the preparation and is something Hartman and those involved on the medical side have been looking at closely.
“We know purely by the nature of the game that different positions have different demands and you need to have different physical qualities,” he said. “Equally, if you look at something even as basic as a squat in the gym, there’s ten different ways to do it and there’s no point trying to get everyone to do the same type, or dead lift, or whatever category of exercising you’re using because some of the guys are 6 feet 7 and others are 5 feet 8, and they can’t all be doing the same thing.
“It’s about making sure we are as close to what we call an ideal programme as possible but, equally, it’s individual enough for everyone to get the best out of it.
“Getting the balance right is something we have to be really careful with and myself and the physios, Hannah Walker and Ashni Desai have been to professional development lectures and talks at Coventry City given by world leaders on load monitoring so you can calculate how much work the guys are doing and where the risk lies in terms of the crossover point between not doing enough and dong too much.
“It’s something we’ve tried to get really clued up on this year and put into practice straight away so we’re pushing the player in the right way with exercises that we know they will develop from, but not drills that are going to put them at a massive risk.
“I think we’re treading just on the right side of the line at the moment.
“If we just absolutely flog them from day one, we’ll only have half a squad by the end of six weeks, so it’s about building up knowing that there’s an end and we’ve got a limited amount of time to get them all as fit, strong and fast as possible but also knowing that we’ve got to keep bodies on the pitch as well.”
Last season saw a marked decrease in the number of injuries picked up by senior squad players which, believes Hartman, didn’t just happen by chance.
“I think part of it was that we won more than we lost. When you are winning and on top of another team, the demand on you physically is that much lower.
“But as well as that, Rowland Winter worked to put in place a really good quality set up behind the scenes with the medical department, the S and C staff and the rehab work we are doing. It all contributed, we’re continuing to build on that, and it’s coming together nicely.
“We were lucky last season with major injuries. Eoghan Grace was a big one, if you get smashed in a ruck there’s only so much force you can tolerate and he had to have surgery, but as far as non-contact injuries – such as someone’s knee buckling, rolling an ankle or muscle tears – there were very few, and I think that’s a reflection on the progress behind the scenes.
“Those types of injuries are attributable to the training programme and fatigue in the players, so if we’re keeping those low, then we know we’re doing the right sort of stuff.
“It’s a busy time with all the preparation that is needed, and for me once we get into the season that will go quieter and it will give me more time to spend one on one with the players or with the guys in smaller groups.
“It’s fun, and once we get our own gym up and running – the kit’s all here, the weights and all the equipment – Hannah and me did a lot of planning over the off season, we know what we want to do, and from my point of view that’s the final piece in the puzzle.”