By Sola Ogundipe
Spanish football clubs Granada CF and RCD Mallorca each have an ace up their sleeves when it comes to enhancing their fitness training.
Granada CF: Local muscle vibration gives Andalusians best injury record in Spanish football When Victor Lafuente was appointed as the fitness coach at Granada in the 2018/19 season as a member of Diego Martinez’s coaching staff, he proved instrumental in the club’s promotion from LaLiga SmartBank last time round. Granada has the third-lowest salary limit in LaLiga and is in a restructuring process initiated by the arrival of Chinese owner, Jian Lizhang in 2016.
They’re doing things the right way, though, even spending time as LaLiga Santander leaders following promotion from the second tier this summer and only having spent six seasons in the top flight in the last 44.
Amongst other feats, the Andalusian outfit promoted cause they registered the best injury record in the professional ranks of the Spanish game last term, picking up just five muscular injuries throughout the whole campaign (and just a single hamstring injury).
This record is partly down to the revolutionary local muscle vibration treatment, which was introduced into the club’s fitness regime by Lafuente, a pioneer and visionary fitness expert within the European game.
“It all started back in 2016,” recalls Lafuente. “I was looking for a muscle activation training course and came across Neuromecánica Lab, who looked at things from a neurological approach. My dad had Alzheimer’s and that was what initially prompted me to look at how the brain works. Another reason behind it was my interest in finding out why many players suffer injury relapses.
“And I discovered that injuries not only affect the body on a musculoskeletal level but that they also impact on neurological mechanisms. Whilst you might recover physically from an injury, there are still neurological changes which can end up causing a recurrence of that injury.
“We tend to think it’s a case of just improving your strength, but really everything goes through a primary process where the brain dictates and organises things. Any kind of neurodegenerative illness ultimately means that, even when your muscles can be healthy if your brain doesn’t coordinate the signals received that it has to send to the muscles, then the muscles aren’t activated as the context demands. An injury causes a neurological change because there’s an interruption to the process that carries the signal to the sensor and motor cortex and on to the muscle. This whole circuit is affected.”
Local muscle vibration, which is achieved using various different devices, works a particular muscle, helping to reorganise and reconnect the neurological circuits. It’s not enough for the muscle to be healthy; the brain also has to be aware that it’s healthy. The team’s injury record from last season speaks volumes of the therapy’s effectiveness. Indeed, the system is beginning to take root across Spanish and European football, both to assist injury recovery and activation prior to training sessions and matches. At Granada, where everything is done with meticulous detail, the technique is used on a daily basis.
Grounded on a similar theory, another neuro-priming tool being employed at Granada involves visualisation, which is very much on-trend due to the recent rise of virtual reality. The club turned to the technique when treating long-term injury victim, Quini. It involves getting the player to imagine himself back out on the pitch and in tip-top condition. The technique is producing good results, with the club recognising the role it’s playing in the defender’s recovery.
One vital ingredient in all of this is the collaboration between departments. One of the major programmes rolled out at Granada, again relating to neurological processes, is how the club studies players’ sleep. Led by Manuel Arroyo, a member of the medical department and an expert in what’s called ‘Sleep-Fit’, the guidelines offered to all squad members to improve the quality of their sleep sparked dressing room competitions to see who got the best night’s sleep, even despite these guidelines including factors like “the temperature, the light in the room and the use of mobiles before sleeping.” It’s all in the name of optimising player performance.
RCD Mallorca: measuring fatigue with heart rate variability and monitoring performance, even in training games, through GPS.
Mallorca are the exception to the rule in the world of football. Just two seasons ago, the Islanders were competing in the Spanish third tier and now they’re mixing it with the country’s big boys in LaLiga Santander, even managing to get the better of powerhouses such as Real Madrid and Valencia. One man who has had a big hand in the club’s meteoritic rise, which involved back-to-back promotions, is former Sevilla FC and Zenit St Petersburg fitness coach, Dani Pastor, who boasts 20 years of experience in the field. The enthusiastic Pastor is in his element as a member of Vicente Moreno’s backroom staff and feels very much at home at Mallorca, a club that’s strongly committed to enhancing its players’ performance levels and well-being.
The influence and vast experience of the club’s board of directors, which features Robert Sarver, the majority shareholder at the NBA’s Phoenix Suns since 2004, and Steve Nash, a living NBA legend, is plain for all to see. As Mallorca rose up through the leagues, the club’s facilities improved to the current enviable levels of professionalism boasted by the Son Moix outfit. Indeed, as Pastor reveals, the set-up at Mallorca is far better than those at many bigger clubs: “Instead of bringing methodologies and equipment back from Russia, I ended up taking things out to Saint Petersburg.”
Amongst all of the methodologies in place, Pastor highlights one that’s not all that common: heartbeat variability to measure player fatigue. “I’m a bit wary of using GPS when it comes to studying sleep. With everything that we already get the players to do, it might be too much to ask getting them to wear the vests in bed too,” jokes Pastor. Instead of using GPS technology, the club employs very basic software that features a band receptor which takes all of three minutes to measure heartbeat variability.
“There’s a time interval between heartbeats and the greater the consistency in this time interval, the greater the level of fatigue. The software itself produces a variability percentage that we can assess. We run this test two or three times a week before breakfast, when the players arrive at the training ground,” reveals Pastor. This is a fine example of an effective approach that’s not overly invasive.
In addition to this routine, Pastor uses other devices which are more widely found across LaLiga. One such example is a system that measures strength and power in inertial machinery, using conical pulleys to be specific.
This kit is more advanced than your traditional gym machinery, given that it’s able to replicate many movements that are similar to those carried out during games. The club also has a jump platform, which is extremely useful when it comes to vertical jumps, both to measure performance and possible asymmetries upon landing, which could point to an injury. Meanwhile, the club is also reliant on the widely used GPS technology.
Such is the scrutiny with which the information collected by GPS technology is handled that even training games and light-hearted exercises are likely to be analysed: “We recently did a football-tennis drill. On that particular day, there were major levels of asymmetry in the number of impacts, because, of course, the impact is usually just on one leg. So that’s now something we bear in mind in case the football-tennis activity is overloading the supporting leg, although the impact isn’t intense,” explains Pastor. There’s certainly no hiding place from football’s answer to Big Brother: GPS technology.