Warrington Wolves’ head of performance Ade Gardner has outlined the challenges facing Super League clubs in trying to maintain their squads’ fitness amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gardner and his peers in the top-flight have the task of retaining players’ condition and morale in unprecedented circumstances in the coming weeks, without having any restart date to aim for.
The former St Helens and England winger is relishing that prospect, but he admits it is not without its issues.
And he said planning for this situation started shortly before the last game the Wolves played.
Gardner explained: “We had this in mind after we’d played at Hull FC on the Friday night.
“In the Thursday at the team hotel things started to escalate on Sky News, and in the morning the Premier League shut down. It was then that we started to think this would happen.
“We’d already had the idea of putting everybody into small groups and limiting their contacts with others that were training, so that if one person came down with it we would only have to isolate five lads.
“Then more restrictions came in and we had a chat with the CEO and held off training for a couple of days.
“By the time we did come in we had things bullet proof for the boys because we have a duty of care to them, and they trained in the small groups.
“Because we have a big barn facility with two pitches and our own gym, we could have different sessions going on at the same time.
“But over the weekend things escalated even further, and then the lockdown came on Monday evening and people were advised not to leave home.
“Then we went into the phase we’re in now, in what can only be described as an ongoing process.
“We emptied the gym of what we could use, and gave most of the CV equipment and weights to the boys to continue training.
“I needed to sort bits of equipment out for the boys so at first I was on my travels all over the spot.
“But once that was all done I could sit down in my house, get some content to the boys and see how they were travelling.”
Gardner admits that no level of experience, training or qualification can fully prepare a conditioning coach for the current situation.
“It’s a bit mad – you can never prepare for anything like this, it’s completely unprecedented,
“But from my point of view my job is the same and it’s to get the boys to be prepped to play.
“We’d had a really intense pre-season, were seven games in and had everything that comes with that and the rigours of playing week-to-week.
“What we could end up with now is a really long year where we end up playing for a long time, so I need to put together something that keeps the boys stimulated and fit.
“The lads could be training and playing for the best part of twelve months, so for now we need to keep them ticking over, doing the right things and not running them into the ground.
“The good thing is we’ve got a group of lads who are really professional and like training anyway.
“They also have nothing to do now but exercise, so for us it’s just making sure they make the best of their time.”
Gardner has made it clear to the Wolves players that they need to be physically ready to return at any point.
“I’ve tried to stress to the lads that when they do come back in they need to be in a trainable state without having let themselves go,” he said.
“If there is a two or three-week lead-in then we don’t want to be worried about what state they’re in, we’ll need to hit the ground running.
“My point to the lads has been then when we do come back in it’s going to be very much rugby-based, and they need to be fit enough and healthy enough to go.
“We need their body fat and weight to be within range and ready, because the coaches will want that time to put the structures back in place to play again.
“The reality is that when the season does start back up again we could have short turnarounds and midweek games, so training time will be minimal and it will be more focused on recovering from one game to the next.
“I’m very much stressing to the boys that they need to turn up in tiptop form, and that’s part of their discipline now.
“I can’t even go-round with a pair of weighing scales, or the nutritionists check their body fat because it’s against government guidelines.
“We’ve got to trust that they get on with their exercise as the process goes on.”
That process involves a wide-ranging variety of player training needs within a Super League squad.
“Take Danny Walker – he’s not the biggest lad but he can run forever,” Gardner explained.
“We’ve given him guidelines to maintain a decent muscle size; he’s taken away some weights and we’ll give him exercises to do the maximum time under tension, so one push-up takes ten seconds.
“At the opposite end of the spectrum Ben Murdoch-Masila could never lift another weight in his life and still be one of the most powerful players in Super League; the worry for him is keeping his body composition.
“He’s got a watt bike that he’ll be hammering with endurance work so that he keeps on top of his aerobic conditioning.
“Ben did really well in pre-season and went from playing 25-30 minute spells to 80 minutes the last couple of matches, and we want to maintain that.
“The lads have been out doing runs, which is fine, but they might miss out on the speed work. So part of my job will be doing reccies to the best hills in the area and taking some pictures of locations they can use.
“Doing high-force output exercises will build some resilience and guard against hamstring injuries.”
And while these are undoubtedly uncharted waters for everybody, Gardner admits that part of him is enjoying the different demands the situation is placing on him.
He added: “I see everything as a challenge – it’s keeping my brain stimulated, coming up with new ideas all the time.”