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Image of woman playing rugby

The ultimate football and rugby pre-season training plan

Take note from the professionals to ensure you’re pitch-perfect come kick-off.

With figures showing that around one in five adults play football1 and that the number of those playing rugby has risen by around 26%,2 chances are, if you're reading this, you're looking to get in shape ahead of the upcoming season.

The football and rugby off-season can affect every player differently but, as Healthspan's resident personal trainer and wellbeing expert Nicola Addison explains, the longer the time spent away from your training plan, the greater the drop in everything from fitness, muscle tone and even mood.

"Your VO2 max (the amount of oxygen the body can use) can drop 10-20% off season, muscles can weaken and tighten, and some people have said they notice a negative impact on their happiness and short-term memory," she says.

With that in mind, when it comes to returning to your football or rugby training programme, it's not a case of simply picking up where you left off. "It's critical to build things up gradually on returning," says Addison. "Failure to do so could lead to possible injury and reduced performance. Follow a periodised four-week workout plan. The first phase of this should be focused towards low-weight, high-repetition muscular endurance, targeting the whole body with compound moves. The second phase can focus on strength training with heavier-weight, lower-repetition combinations. Target areas of weakness so when the season re-starts, the body is ready to handle it."

So, during your pre-season training plan, don't be alarmed to hear that you might not use the ball much. Even the greats, including Everton's Alex Iwobi, have to do their time on strength work before they can hit the pitch to practise footwork football drills again.

"We tend to do a lot of circuit training and some running, with and without the ball," Iwobi told the Daily Cannon 3. "We also do possession drills. Then we will go into the gym to work on upper- or lower-body strength. Later on, we might [….] do star runs. The cones are laid out in the shape of a star, and then you have to run against the clock. The coaches make the star bigger so that it becomes more difficult." And who didn't hear about Arsenal's medicine ball training programme, too?

When it comes to rugby pre-season training plans, expect the same - hill sprints, prowler pushes, speed skipping, burpees, weighted squats, cycling and wrestling 4, without a ball in sight.

Whichever training plan you decide to follow - see below for some examples - the key to maximising your physical gains is to track your progress. Activity trackers and food diaries can help to kickstart a healthy regime alongside a fitness app that can offer a detailed breakdown of stats such as muscle mass, BMI and visceral fat.

"Charting your workouts - the day/date you trained, what was completed and at what intensity - will allow you to view your progressions and identify trends," Addison says.

And be patient; it takes around four weeks of regular training to return to your usual, trained state, according to Addison. But when you score that first rugby try or football goal, the hard work will all have been worth it.

3 Pre-Season Training Programmes

Group Fitness Rugby Session

Professional rugby player James Haskell shares the power endurance circuits of prowler pushes, tyre flips, fast feet ladders and sprints that get - and keep - the England rugby team in shape. Click here.

Pre-Season Football Training Guide

Download the free six-week programme from Four Four Two Performance, in association with Coerver Coaching, and develop both pre-season fitness, ball mastery and nutrition. Click here.

Pre-Season Body Assessments

Before you start any training plan, be sure to take note of your physical starting point. In this video, discover the mobility and strength tests, and lactate clearance rate assessments that the Liverpool FC team do ahead of the season.

Emma Pritchard is a freelance journalist and personal trainer who writes about women's health and wellness.

Find out more about Emma Pritchard.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.