Liverpool have already been on two warm weather training camps this year. They went to Dubai for four days in January and then to Marbella for a couple of days in mid-February. Their return from the UAE was followed by consecutive draws at home to Leicester, ironically in snowy conditions, and also away at West Ham.
That dip in form meant the Reds missed their opportunity to open a commanding lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table and led to criticism from some fans, who questioned the decision to take the players away to such different climates. But it’s not just Liverpool who do this: Wolves have also been to Marbella, Tottenham often break in Barcelona, and it’s a common practice amongst European clubs. Whenever there is a break of ten days or so between matches, sometimes due to a premature exit from a domestic cup competition, clubs waste no time in jetting off.
Jürgen Klopp is a big advocate of warm weather training and has brought this with him to Anfield from the Bundesliga, where there is a winter break or ‘Winterpause’. Interestingly, that’s what sees Bayern Munich make an annual winter trip to Doha through their partnership with Qatar Airways, something that has attracted controversy due to the human rights transgressions within the country.
The average UK temperature in January is a chilly 4 degrees Celsius and Klopp said that these cold winter conditions mean that you can “only run and shoot and tackle”. By contrast, it’s around 20 degrees at the same time in Dubai and 15 degrees in Marbella. Expanding on this, Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl, who took his side to Tenerife, said that there is more time to train tactical aspects in warm weather simply because you can “rest for two or three minutes and explain things without catching a cold”. Body muscles are more pliable in these conditions, meaning less time is wasted warming up and the general risk of muscle strains and tears is reduced.
There are also simply more daylight hours to train in, with eight to nine hours of daylight in the UK in January compared to eleven in Dubai. This affords time for the schedule to be more relaxed, especially with fewer media commitments to attend to as well.
Of course, there is an inherent risk where travel is concerned and changing time zones can harm the sleep patterns of finely tuned athletes. Warm weather training camps have long been used in athletics, where sport scientists have repeatedly found that it helps to improve cardiovascular fitness. That’s also why tennis star Andy Murray has always headed to Miami for an intense training block every winter.
The heat is a stress on the body that makes training more challenging. The blood thickens in warmer conditions and the heart has to work harder to pump oxygenated blood to the working muscles. The body adapts to this by increasing blood plasma volume, which essentially equates to better cardiovascular fitness. This benefits the players as they are then able to train more effectively in cold weather – useful when they return to the harsher conditions of the UK.
Back in 2010, a study at the University of Oregon found that cyclists who had done warm weather training performed between 4-8% better – a significant margin when it comes to elite competitive performance. Even in cool temperatures, footballers become overheated during intense exercise and so these heat adaptations can have an impact.
The sunshine also helps with Vitamin D production, which in turn helps reduce injury risk and benefits muscular function and adaptation to strength training. Up to 70% of athletes training in the UK have been found to have worryingly low Vitamin D levels. Sir Alex Ferguson installed tanning booths at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground for this purpose. Heat stroke and sunburn are also risks while training abroad, albeit minor concerns due to the extensive department of physiotherapists elite clubs have to look after players these days.
The psychological benefits are just as important as the physiological benefits and these camps are not just about gruelling physical work. The mental benefit should not be overlooked, particularly after the hectic December schedule in the Premier League. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be a problem in the UK and changing up the routine keeps the mind flexible and adaptable. It also provides an opportunity for team cohesion, bonding and to forge a close affinity between manager and players – something that has always seemed important for Klopp.
Virgil Van Dijk has recently cited the training camp the squad went on shortly after he signed for Liverpool at the end of January 2018 for his rapid integration into the squad. Distractions are reduced not just for the players but for the manager too. However, families are sometimes allowed to come along too and fostering such a close-knit atmosphere could make all the difference as the business end of the season approaches.