A handful of Saints players underwent tough fitness testing at Southampton Solent University on Wednesday morning as they stepped up their pre-season preparation.
James Ward-Prowse, Jack Cork, José Fonte, Steven Davis and Paulo Gazzaniga reported to the Centre of Health, Exercise and Sports Science for assessments as they look to sharpen fitness after being given time to rest and recover from the 2013/14 campaign.
Southampton made good use of their Official University Partner’s advanced facilities as they pushed themselves to their limits physically after beginning pre-season duty under new manager Ronald Koeman in training on Monday. Other members of the first-team squad will head over for testing on Thursday.
Ward-Prowse backed the idea of VO2 Max testing as part of Saints’ pre-season programme and insisted that it sets the tone for a rewarding time in the run-up to a new campaign.
“It’s a really important part of the season,” the 19-year-old told the club’s youtube.com/southamptonfc. “We’ve had a long off-season and it’s important that we come back fit, strong and ready to cope with the pre-season schedule that the manager’s brought in.
“It was difficult. Obviously VO2 Max means you run to your maximum and you can’t run anymore, so it’s difficult. It stands us in good stead to go and tackle the rest of pre-season and the season beyond.
“In midfield you’ve got to be able to do a bit of both. You’ve got to get in the box to score goals and get back to defend. It’s a very physical, demanding position but that’s why I enjoy it.”
The youngster was pleased to reveal his fitness is looking positive – partly due to his participation for England in France’s Toulon Tournament in May – and feels the experience certainly benefitted his development.
He continued: “I feel alright. I had a couple of weeks extra in the Toulon Tournament which helped me. I kept up a little bit of the physical fitness over the holiday, got a good break in and I’m looking forward to the season ahead and I’m confident of a good, successful year for us as a team.
“I’ve never played against South American players side. I got to play against their style – they buy fouls and they’re very aggressive against you. It was great to get my goal and get the armband as well.
“I feel those two weeks, like last year at the World Cup, really did help me and hopefully stands me in good stead for a good season.
“I’ve just chilled and relaxed. I’ve gone away with my friends and gone away with my girlfriend to just relax and not think about football. You’ve got to get the right balance of working hard and being professional but then going away, having a break and recharging the batteries. I certainly feel refreshed, recharged and ready for a good season.”
Jack Cork, who had a longer break than Ward-Prowse, was grateful to get back in action after an extended spell away from football.
He also shared his fellow midfielder’s belief that the VO2 Max test particularly benefits those in their position due to nature of it requiring constant energy.
“It was hard,” Cork admitted. “We do it nearly every season and I thought with the new gaffer coming in we might dodge it this year and get away with not having to do it! It’s one thing that keeps me motivated in pre-season to try and do some work because I know the first thing I’m going to do is have something like that to test me straight away. It’s hard but it helps us with all the data.
“I think it’s more just to test what level we’re at. Everyone seems to do alright. Everyone seems to finish on the same level. You get some a little bit higher and some a little bit lower. It tests our heart rates to see how we can work through the season.
“It’s nice to spend a bit of time with the family, but I think Freya (his wife) was getting sick of me lounging around the house; I think I was getting a bit annoying!
“I’ve been wanting to release some energy and was looking forward to getting back playing. You do miss it. I haven’t really kicked a ball since the end of last season and I’m looking forward to having a few proper training sessions and getting back stuck in.”
Saints’ Sports Medicine & Science Manager Mo Gimpel hailed the ever-improving partnership of the club and Southampton Solent University and also praised the players for the manner in which they perform to their absolute maximum level.
“We’ve been coming here for quite a few years now, so it’s been a fantastic relationship both ways,” Mo enthused. “We get the expertise of the physiologists here and have access to fantastic facilities. The results are turned around very quickly and it helps us to plan the training and it gives us a benchmark. If we want we can re-test in six to eight weeks, two or three months, whenever.
“It’s an ongoing relationship. We take students from here into our programme at the training ground to assist there. Each year it develops further and further.
“The players are really intrigued to know what the results are and how they compare against each other and that natural competitiveness comes out. When they know they’re going to have a re-test in six weeks, I think there’s a subconscious thing like, ‘I really need to put a shift in at training to get my test results even better’ – that impacts on our training and it makes our life potentially easier at the training ground because the lads know the tests are coming up.
“They all really try and take it to the limit because of the natural competitiveness. They know that if they don’t put it in, the results show that. They all graft hard and it’s impressive to see; they can see what’s coming up and they get on with it. I’m impressed with them and I always am.”