Haven’t played football since school? Let Chris Morgan, Head of Physiotherapy for Vitality partner Liverpool FC, guide you back into the game…

How can I get back into football gradually after a long period of not playing?

Like any sort of exercise it’s important that you start slowly and build fitness within that specific sport. Even if you do other types of training, such as jogging, football will put a different type of stress on the body due to its “interval” nature, contact elements and, of course, twisting and turning, which are all part and parcel of the game. This will load muscles, ligaments, joints and  the cardiovascular system in a very unique way. The best place to start is with a low volume by reducing the time that you play, the size of the pitch or the competitiveness of the competition by joining in with kick arounds with friends as opposed to league fixtures. If you want to get to Premier League level then you will need to build up to 12-13km over 90 minutes – with 1500 metres of this at high speed!

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What position should I play?

A gradual exposure to playing football will protect you from the various elements of risk. You will need to build endurance, so you don’t pull a Soleus (calf) the first time you play 90 minutes; and speed (i.e. don’t go flat out on an overlapping sprint down the wing) to protect the hamstrings, which are most at risk when you sprint. Don’t take a ball out and practice your hardest shots over and over again if you want to protect your Rectus Femoris (the main kicking muscle at the front of the thigh), whilst 60 mins of the twisting and turning associated with 5-a-side type football on smaller pitch would place more stress on the groin region and adductor muscles. In terms of specific positions, midfielders and full backs usually cover the most distance in a game of football whilst centre backs tend to cover the least – so choose your position wisely!

“Midfielders and full-backs usually cover the most distance”

– Chris Morgan, Liverpool FC’s Head of Physiotherapy
What pre-match fitness can I do to help?

A general fitness base will help when it comes to returning to football but in basic terms the only thing which gets you fit to play football is playing football. Give yourself time before playing to do a good warm up and afterwards have a stretch and do a cool down, such as a light jog. Allow yourself time to recover after your first game back; don’t look to play again the following day when it is normal to feel stiff and sore. Although a spin on a bike after a match will help you to flush some of that post-match stiffness out of the legs.

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What’s the best thing I can do in terms of food, drink and rest?

Playing football uses lots of energy so it’s important to eat well before a game and refuel again afterwards. Don’t eat a main meal too close to a game (no nearer than 3 hours before kick-off) and get some carbs on board to be used as fuel during the match. Afterwards, replace fluids with water or sports drinks containing electrolytes and eat again within 30-60 minutes of the end of the game to help your body commence the recovery process. If you are a true professional get yourself to bed nice and early too!

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