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WE have all seen him. He's overweight, over 30 and probably over the hill for competitive sport.

He slogs around the local rec on these late summer evenings, desperate to get fit.

In his mind's eye he is a svelte Robbie Keane but in reality his figure owes more to a sweaty Robbie Coltrane.

Already, the first few run-outs for the Sunday soccer or rugby team will have taken their toll.

Limbs that have done nothing more strenuous than stretch out in the sun on a Spanish beach in August are being asked to gallop across the hardened parks and pitches of Cov-entry and Warwickshire in September.

If that's you suffering the seasonal ritual you won't need telling that it's blood, sweat and tears all the way to the final whistle.

The fact is you have been left in the starting blocks in the fitness stakes.

And if you are not careful it could mean muscle strains, ligament tears and visits to a physiotherapist.

"If you have left it till now, it's too late," says Coventry University senior lecturer in physiotherapy Lesley Ross.

"You should be fit to play, not playing to get fit."

As the physio to Nuneaton Rugby Club and having an involvement with the oval ball game for 14 years, she speaks from wide experience.

And she says whether you are a Joe Cole or a Joe Public on the pitch, the principles of training remain the same and "an injury is the same whether you are an amateur or a professional".

The seven S words should be the sportsman or woman's mantra: stamina, suppleness, strength, speed, skill, spirit and specificity.

The last one might bring a few puzzled looks from the dads who coach the juniors, but it simply means tailor the exercises to the specific sport and the position of the player.

The prop forwards at Nuneaton, for example, would have a different training pattern to the wingers.

"Looking at some of the statistics for soccer shows you the different training needs," says Lesley.

"Defenders spend about 20 per cent of the match running backwards.

"Goalkeepers do more jumping and bending so need to do plyometric exercises. An outfield player in the course of a game of football changes direction something like 450 times."

It's little wonder that the player who believes he is fit because he can jog for five miles is caught flat-footed and gasping when he attempts the twisting turning sprints that characterise soccer.

It's a sobering fact that the statisticians reckon that on average a soccer player only has possession of the ball for a maximum three minutes in an entire game.

Whatever your sport, you need a basic level of stamina and that means cardio-vascular exercises like jogging, cycling, swimming or aerobics.

Lesley, a chartered physiotherapist who lives in Nuneaton, says that as long as you have no medical problems, for a minimum level of fitness you should aim for 20 minutes' exercise three times a week.

Warming up and cooling down are the most important parts of any correct training regime.

The prelim to the sweat and toil should always include stretching out and then an easing up through the gears: going at a quarter pace, then half and three-quarters before full-throttle.

The same applies in reverse for the cooling down section.

It's a good tip for coaches to time their players over various exercises at the start of the season when they are at peak form, say the time it takes to do a 100 metres or two laps of the pitch.

Those figures act as a benchmark if injury strikes and the player has to battle back to fitness.

They can also be a personal record for the sportsman to check out his progress or decline over the seasons.

Sky Blues boss Gordon Strachan was a stickler for monitoring his own performance while a player and didn't need a manager to tell him when to hang up his boots.

His fastidious attention to training and diet kept him buzzing in midfield years after most of his contemporaries retired.

For the amateur sportsman or woman the "spirit" in the seven s words is arguably the most important.

It's an all-encompassing word for the mental approach to training and the game you are in.

"If people are looking to get fit then it is much easier to do it if it's a sport they enjoy," says Lesley, who used to play in a women's rugby team in her college days.

"In training, compete against yourself, because it is yourself you are trying to improve.

"But train with a friend, it's much more enjoyable."

Researcher investigates joint disease

COVENTRY University researcher Andy Turner wants to hear from amateur sportsmen who are suffering from joint disease.

Mr Turner, a psychologist, is researching the long-term affects of the lives of players who have had to cope with diseases like osteoarthritis.

He has already studied ex-professional soccer players and found many with the debilitating condition were facing a tough struggle in their personal lives.

Mr Turner, who lives in Blake Close, Nuneaton, used to play for Arley FC and Stockingford FC before being forced to give up because of osteoarthritis.

He believes his injuries were a major factor in him being made redundant from his job with an engineering factory.

But it forced him to think of a another career and after A-levels he took a degree at Coventry University, where he is now studying for a PHd.

He said: "I would very much like to talk to local players who find they are having similar problems to identify how widespread osteoarthritis is in the amateur game."

Amateur footballers who would like to take part in the research can contact Andy on 024 7688 8882.


Make sure you have the right kit. More expensive doesn't necessarily mean better.

Everyone knows that you lose speed with age - but older athletes gain more stamina.

A fit 74-year-old can have more puff than an unfit 25-year-old.

Children should never train with weights.

Joggers should vary their routes and avoid running on a road camber.

Always do warm-up and cooling down exercises either side of your training.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Chilton, Steve
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Sep 14, 2000
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