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Tuesday 25 September 2012

Peak performance: The science behind player fitness

Find out how sports science has changed over the last 20 seasons of the Premier League

Dave Billows (left) puts Everton's players through their paces

There is an argument for saying nothing has changed across the 20 seasons of the Premier League: it’s still 11 v 11 and the Premier League trophy of the first season season doesn’t look that different to the 20th. But behind the scenes much has changed, particularly in the support given to the players. To see why this is the case we look at the work of three men whose professionalism affects what happens on every Premier League match weekend.

In our  third feature, we hear from Dave Billows, head of sports science at Everton, who has also worked in boxing, athletics and rugby.

My job involves everything that sports science entails – fitness, strength, agility, nutrition and recovery. In short, I’m trying to get the players in peak condition when they turn out on the pitch.

The role now is more about analysis of the workload on the players than anything else,
the matches they are playing and the training they are doing. The most important thing is the reduction of injuries.

One of the key things is making sure that players do not over-train. Generally at this level they are naturally good athletes. If they are playing regularly in the Premier League then what we need to do is just maintain, tweak a little bit here and there, and get them ready for a Saturday afternoon.

It’s a very individual thing finding out if a player is training too much. We use GPS in training every day as well as heart-rate monitoring and ProZone at the games. We can work out the exact workload that each player has done, in a day, a week, a month and a season.

There's a lot more athleticism in football now. In the past players used to regard themselves as footballers rather than athletes, but they now realise that athleticism is a massive part of the game. Year on year, the ProZone stats have shown that players are doing more sprints per game, they are sprinting at a higher speed, covering more distance at high intensity and more total distance.

The attitude to sports science is definitely changing for the better. Most of the Academies have sports scientists now so the players coming through have been brought up with that ethos and mentality, and they accept it and expect it. If it is not there, they want to know why.

Recovery time is one of the most important things I have to work on. The recovery process is about getting the right nutrition at the right times, getting it into the players quickly after the matches, getting them into the ice baths to start the recovery, and getting the contrast bathing going the following day. If you can get it right, it’s worth its weight in gold.

Managers question everything we do and that’s the way it should be. When you first come in and say you want everyone to sit in an ice-cold bath for 10 minutes, people think you’re mad. Then you get one or two players who try it and say ‘I feel quite good actually’, and the next day they do not feel as stiff as the other players. The other players feed off that.

Click here to read the Premier League 2011/12 Season Review

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Key Points

  • There have been lots of changes behind the scenes over the 20 seasons of the Premier League
  • Pitch preparation, sports science and medical care have advanced greatly
  • Sports scientist Dave Billows speaks about his job at Everton
Tags: Everton