Nail your play-off fitness prep

With little wriggle room for making mistakes in your fitness preparation at the business end of the season, you need to mix rest and hard work for the best returns.


Get physical preparation wrong and you are doomed to underachieve. If you prescribe the wrong training, do too much, do too little, even the right stuff at the wrong time, and you will pay a price on the pitch. And when it comes to the play-offs, you have little wriggle room to make amends later in the season. One game lost and it could all be over.

Achieve a good balance between improving/ maintaining fitness whilst not impairing performance. Use a the careful monitoring and manipulation of three training variables: intensity, volume and timing of stress.


Intensity is the body’s signal to adapt and improve its fitness. Without requisite intensity there is no stress response, and there is no performance improvement.

It’s a sensible decision to maintain the intensity of training during play offs: particularly for explosive qualities like speed and power as these can be lost extremely quickly and need to be stimulated on at least a weekly basis.


If intensity tells you what adaptation you produce, volume tells you how much of it you will produce. The dosage-response curve of training at a given intensity follows an inverted U: some training is good, more is better up to an optimal point, and then the biological cost of training begins to outweigh the (finite) fitness benefit of what you’re doing. Eventually excessive volume of training will actually result in zero benefit, then worsened performance.

For this reason volume should be extremely economical during play-offs and set at a level higher than minimal but lower than optimal.


Bouts of training and recovery repeated over time will lead to a gradual increase in the fitness of the athlete. However, if sufficient recovery time is not available, fitness won’t increase and will actually worsen over time (over-training). Conversely if training is not frequent enough, adaptations will be lost and fitness will return to pre-training levels (under-training).

It’s advisable to separate days high force and speed training by a minimum of 48-72 hours. Any shorter an interval and it is likely that recovery will be insufficient and performance will worsen.

In a seven-day week this provides, at most, three opportunities for such activity:

  • Game day
  • Game minus 48 hours
  • Game day minus 96 hours


An increased level of activity acts as a biological signal to increase fitness but also reduces the body’s energy levels to recuperate in areas such as tissue repair and muscle repair. So while stress helps build in the long run, it makes the players worse off in the short run. Too much stress will create residual fatigue for players going into matches.

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