By next month, the picture over Aberdeen’s future at Pittodrie will become a little clearer.…
The departure lounges of Scotland’s airports were rather busy this week, busy with young men in tracksuits, designer wash bags in hand, oversized headphones hung round their neck – footballers. This was Scottish football’s great winter getaway, with Scottish Premiership clubs making the most of the mid-season break.
Aberdeen and Celtic left for Dubai, Rangers pitched up in Florida, with Motherwell off to Tenerife, Hibernian out in the Algarve and Hearts in Valencia. You’ll have seen their players’ snaps on Instagram – by the pool, on the golf course, out for dinner. You’d be forgiven for thinking these trips are nothing more than a jolly, paid for by those who file through the turnstiles every week. But they serve an important purpose.
Sport scientists have long looked at the benefit of warm weather training on athletes. The primary benefit, they have found, is in the way it helps increase an athlete’s bloody plasma volume, leading to better cardiovascular fitness. It also helps reduce core body temperature during exercise and, rather counterintuitively, makes athletes train more effectively in cold weather.
💪 | This is how our injured players are using the trip to Tenerife to their advantage. pic.twitter.com/M1gPT17MmI
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) January 11, 2018
This is why Andy Murray has made a habit of heading to Miami every winter to train and it’s why so many football clubs, including Scotland’s contingent, have set up camp for the week in places like Dubai and Florida. As Santiago Lorenzo, an expert in the field at the University of Oregon, says: “Heat acclimation provides more substantial environmental specific improvements in aerobic performance than altitude acclimation.”
At such a crucial stage of the season, the risk of injury is also much less in warm weather than it is in cold weather. What’s more, warm weather training helps improve the mental wellbeing of elite level athletes, who can suffer from a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a form of depression often experienced in the winter months. It’s a real thing.
Then there’s the way warm weather training helps break up the routine of a full season. Most, if not all, Scottish Premiership clubs train early in the morning five days a week, followed by sessions in the gym and maybe even a double training session in the evening once or twice a week. They do this five days a week, playing on the Saturday and generally, getting the Sunday off. That is their routine for nine to 10 months of the year. Warm weather training doesn’t just keep the body fine-tuned, but the mind too.
There are risks attached with escaping the cold, Scottish winter for a training camp abroad, as professional triathlete Vicky Gill outlines. “My aim is to come back from a training camp having over-reached, but not to the point of being broken,” Gill said. “I’ve learned it’s better to do a little bit less than to come home from camp ill or injured and in need of several weeks off training. That is totally counter- productive.”
But if training programmes are handled well, the benefits of seeking warm weather midway through the season far outweighs the negatives. It’s little wonder so many Scottish clubs have stretched their budgets to accommodate a trip abroad, and explains why Tommy Wright was so frustrated St Johnstone couldn’t afford one.
“It would have been important to go away,” he said after being denied the funds needed. “It’s good motivation for the players, something to look forward to. You can get extra sessions in on the grass, warm-weather training, it gives everybody a lift. But if I’m not given any money to do that then I can’t do it, which is disappointing, because I know the benefits of it.”
As fans, the winter break might benefit us too. As has been demonstrated in the Premier League this season, playing all the way through December and January can result in countless injuries to star players. Just last week, Pep Guardiola said the packed schedule is “killing players.” And that does nothing for the spectacle.
So while we’ve all laughed at the pictures of Spongebob Squarepants and Squidward lining up with the Rangers team in Orlando, while the Scottish hack pack have eked countless stories out of their trips, while players have kept us up to date with their poor and private yacht shenanigans through social media, it’s worth noting the importance of these winter breaks. It’s about more than just picking up a sun tan.