In the first two months of 2019, Liverpool went on two warm weather training camps. They went to Dubai for four days in January and in February they spent a few days in Marbella, these weren’t holidays. After their return from Dubai, Liverpool had two consecutive draws which included at home to Leicester which was ironically in snowy conditions. These results effectively gave the title to Man City as the Reds failed to open a commanding lead over Pep’s team and instead fell to second. The dip in form also lead to criticism from some fans. These fans questioned the decision to take the players to such different conditions especially so close to important matches.
However, it is not just Liverpool that do these warm weather training camps. Wolves also went to Marbella, Pochettino often takes Tottenham to Barcelona, this is common practice among top clubs over Europe. Whenever there is a break of about 10 days or a club has been knocked out of a competition, clubs will often go on a training camp.
Jürgen Klopp is a big advocate of warm weather training and brought this with him to Anfield. In the Bundesliga when there was a winter break, Klopp would take his side on a training camp. Similarly, this sees Bayern Munich take their annual trip to Doha in Qatar with their partnership with Qatar airways.
In January, the average UK temperature is 4°C. Klopp has said you can only “run and shoot and tackle” in these conditions. In contrast, in Dubai and Marbella it is about 20°C and 15°C respectively during the same time.
Ralph Hasenhüttl, known as the Klopp of the Alps, took his Southampton side to Tenerife in February. The former Leipzig manager said, “there is more time to train tactical aspects in warm weather simply because you can rest for two or three minutes and explain without catching a cold”.
In warmer conditions body muscles are more pliable, this means less time is wasted in warming up and the risk of injuries is reduced. Another positive to these camps is the fact that there is more daylight hours, with about three more hours of daylight in Dubai than in the UK, and this allows a more relaxed schedule. Due to the heat adding extra stress onto the body helps to improve cardiovascular fitness. In the warmer conditions the blood thickens, and this means the heart has to work harder to pump oxygenated blood to the working muscles. The body adapts to this by increasing the volume of blood plasma, this effectively improves cardiovascular fitness.
In 2010, the University of Oregon did a study and found that cyclists that did warm weather training performed 4-8% better. This may sound insignificant but is in fact a large margin in elite competitions.
The sunshine helps with vitamin D production, this reduces the risk of injuries, improves muscle function and adaptation to strength training. This is especially important when around 70% of athletes training in the UK are found to have worryingly low amount of vitamin D levels. To combat this, Sir Alex Ferguson installed tanning booths at Man United’s training ground.
The psychological benefits are just as important as the physical ones. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be a serious issue in the UK especially after the gruelling winter period which is packed with games. The change of routine keeps the mind flexible and adaptable whilst also offering the chance to improve relationships between players and staff, something that is very important to Klopp.
However, the travelling and changing time zones can affect the sleep schedule which can have serious effects on top athletes. Because of this, the players are able to train more effectively in cold weather which is useful for when they return to the conditions back in the UK.
Someone who is almost synonymous with warm weather training camps is Óscar Ortega, Atlético Madrid’s fitness coach. Ortega and Simeone first met in the 2003/04 season at Atlético Madrid with Ortega as the fitness coach and Simeone as a player. Simeone was so impressed with the Uruguayan’s work that when Diego Simeone launched his managerial career in 2006 at Racing Club, he asked Óscar to be his fitness coach. They have worked together ever since.
However, Ortega is best known for his summer camps in which some players have described it as a “hell” by Fernando Torres. In preseason, Atlético always spend some time on a retreat, normally in Segovia, just outside of Madrid. Here, the Uruguayan will put the players through 14-hour days of running, just running with just a few breaks for short meals. The players are made to run up and down the hills of a golf course, they go past some bushes that the veterans point to as a secret spot for an exhaustion induced vomit. This is done under the gruelling summer sun which only intensifies it. Like most fitness coaches, Ortega leads by example and joins in. He is known as “El Profe” or “The Professor” for his methods and despite being over 60-years-old, he is always one of the fittest there. Óscar’s main input is in the cardiovascular fitness of the squad, the miles ran at the golf course helps but the ability to maintain the fitness throughout the season is incomparable to other elite sides across Europe. El Profe utilises the warm weather training camps to improve cardiovascular fitness like no other and is the reason why Atlético Madrid are one of the fittest sides in Europe.