The Women's Euros 2022 final is set to take place today after almost four weeks of intense matches. England's Lionesses have well and truly killed it on the pitch, and much of the credit goes to their insane fitness routine.
It's no secret that the athletes' training regimes are hardcore (check out our interviews with Nikita Parris and Rachel Daly if you don't believe us), and to see exactly what it takes to be a Lioness, YouTuber Eleanor a.k.a. Elz the Witch, a 29-year-old sports and radio presenter for KISS FM, set herself the task of training like an England football player for a whole 24 hours.
Meeting with Ruth Waghorn, the England team's performance strength and conditioning coach, at St. George's Park, Elz got a taster of everything from what the team does to prep for big games to their go-to recovery techniques. Here's everything she learnt in the process.
Lesson one: mobility and proper warm-ups are a must
Before Ruth gets Eleanor shooting and scoring, she begins with a session on one of, if not the most, fundamental aspect of exercise: stretching and mobility. Off to a good start with hip openers and lunges, Ruth warns Elz that the next movement 'will really test your mobility if you're not flexible'. No pressure. It involves sitting in a squat position and rotating a fully extended arm, and Eleanor is commended for maintaining proper form (no rounded back, knees in line with toes). Once Elz is warmed up, it's time to move onto lesson two.
Lesson two: slowing down and changing direction (a.k.a. 'breaking') quickly is key
Being able to move speedily is key in a football game, but so is being able to slam on the breaks and move dynamically, explains Ruth. So, this lesson is all about teaching Elz how to slow down and change direction quickly.
For this, the spotlight is on eccentric training. That's exercise in which the targeted muscle is lengthened under weight, FYI. How does eccentric training help with slowing down and changing direction? Well, many eccentric movements have 'components that focus on absorbing lots of force on the downward motion, which is needed for changing direction quickly,' says Ruth, as she demonstrates an example: a weighted single-leg squat on the way down, then quickly bringing both feet into the centre to form a full squat position.
Up next, Ruth tests how much force Elz can produce with her lower body (another element of being able to change direction super speedily), using a nifty machine that measures jump height. To make sure her arms don't give her any help with momentum, Elz stands on a platform with her hands on her hips and 'jumps through the ceiling.' Well, she jumped with a score of 31. 'An excellent score is above 46 and what's really good is anything above 40,' says Ruth, sparking Elz competitive side to aim for a score of 36. Alas, 31.9 is Eleanor's PB.
The next exercise focuses on producing force and learning to channel it in the right direction at the same time. To test this, Elz puts one end of a resistance band around her waist, and the other tied to a squat rack, then pulls back as far as she can to create tension in the band. She then runs forward and stops suddenly to localise the force of her movement.
Finally, Elz is introduced to a kind of kit called the desmotech. Never heard of it? Well, the purpose of this kind of equipment is to 'overload the lowering phase to pull you down so you have to apply those breaks,' says Ruth. This particular gadget features a wearable harness attached to a machine that is designed to apply downward force when you drive up from a squat into a standing position, prompting your muscles to spring to action to stop you hitting the floor.
Lesson three: everything you do should be done with speed
Once Eleanor was up to speed with slowing down, Ruth gave her a lesson on moving quickly on the pitch. Here's the exercises she did:
Walking high knees
High knee switches
Resistance band bounding
Resistance band accelerations
Deciding Elz wasn't putting in enough force to succeed as a Lioness, Ruth showed her how to create forceful and aggressive movements. Positioned in a standing sprint start, Ruth tells Eleanor to drive her feet into the ground and create as much force and power in her legs as possible ('like Roadrunner', quips Elz), as this will help to create an explosive movement and more momentum when she begins to run. Revving up like Roadrunner seemed to do the trick as Elz said 'it feels like I'm putting in so much more effort, now.'
Lesson four: don't underestimate recovery techniques
After two full sessions of Lioness-level training, Eleanor is in need of some much needed R&R in the hydrotherapy suite. 'The recovery portion is so important,' says Ruth, 'Especially in a tournament where there is a short turnaround between games.'
Ice baths are a go-to for soothing the Lionesses' sore muscles, and Elz gets to test out just how effective they can be for aches and pains. 'The ice bath is about 7 degrees, and players will stay in there for anywhere between 8 and 10 minutes,' says Ruth. Luckily for Elz, Ruth reckons she only needs a couple of minutes in the water so she toughs it out, and her day training as a Lioness is complete. 'I feel great. I hear people say that when you do the ice bath you feel good afterwards, and I feel refreshed,' says Eleanor.
The verdict? 'I feel like I could be a Lioness. I'm on the way,' she jokes. 'I think I did alright and I'm so proud of myself for doing the ice bath. I feel great, revitalised, and I'm ready to be a professional England player.' Maybe in the 2026 Euros, Elz.
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