Real Madrid Players in Perfect Shape Despite Never Setting Foot in a Gym

Iniesta Surrounded by Madrid PlayersBarcelona’s Iniesta tries to control the ball while surrounded by Madrid players. Photo by Álvaro García.

Champions League Semifinal Game 1 Preview
Real Madrid Players in Perfect Shape Despite Never Setting Foot in a Gym
Coach Mourinho brings his players to the climax of the season in top condition without having weightlifting or physical training sessions
El País: Fuertes sin pisar el gimnasio
Diego Torres reporting from Madrid April 26, 2011

The first thing that caught the attention of Real Madrid players during their first preseason with José Mourinho last summer was that there weren’t any training sessions devoted exclusively to physical fitness. Their trainer, Rui Faria, the coach’s right hand man, didn’t make them run to exercise their hearts or lungs, nor were there weights to lift, ramps to climb, or obstacles to jump. “We only played games: three on three, three on two, four on three, five on five…” one player recalls. “We played every day on fields of varying size with goals that increased or decreased in number and size.

Some players were incredulous. “You’re going to feel great at the end of the season,” Mourinho assured them. The staff, in a stroke, did away with traditional physical training. There were only games with soccer balls, entertaining but intense routines which allowed them to naturally exercise their minds and bodies at the same time.

In the book ¿Por qué tantas victorias? (Why So Many Victories?) Mourinho said he’d never run a training session without a ball because the ball is the focal point of the sport. The players train in order to play, and they physically evolve as a consequence of that. “In favoring tactics, I am doing a favor to all the other aspects of performance,” he said, “because the rest necessarily proceed from tactics. I don’t believe there are clubs who are well or poorly conditioned, just teams that have or don’t have a strategy. The body adapts to a specific way of playing. Technical, physical, and psychological matters (like concentration) flow in currents.”

Eight months removed from the preseason, Madrid is in peak health. If it has an advantage over Barcelona in this round of the Champions League, it is that its players are fresher. In addition, having a deeper bench means the average Madrid player has played 300 less game minutes than the average Barcelona player this year.

The team’s method hasn’t changed this season. On the contrary, the usual starters, like Ronaldo, Alonso, and Ramos, are hardly training. Sessions on grass are minimal: 15 minutes, some stretching, and then rest. The gym is reserved for the injured or those who have a shortcoming to correct.

Training sessions last an hour, and the short practice games are carefully timed, between 10 and 20 minutes long, paced on a rhythm. The players say they aren’t allowed to stop. They must be constantly moving and giving their maximum effort. “We have a few seconds to rest or drink water,” one says, “and if you get caught up talking to someone, you won’t have time to drink anything.” Mourinho cyclically interrupts games to practice defensive tactics with groups of 11. Everyone recognizes the Portuguese does excellent work in this regard.

Thanks to his success, Mourinho has popularized a model, “Integrated Training,” which was conceived in Barcelona under Louis van Gaal. Integrated Training was conceived by Paco Seirul when he was the trainer for Valero Rivera’s Barcelona handball team. From there, the system passed to football through Johann Cruyff and Van Gaal. Juanma Lillo completed its application to the game when he coached Zaragoza in 2000. “Practically no traditional physical training methods are suitable for football players because they were inspired by mechanism and behaviorism,” says Lillo. “The old trainers came from athletic backgrounds, and they were inspired by the theory of linearity. But nothing is less linear than human life, and a group of 25 human lives is even less so.”

As Lillo says, “A football player training without a ball is like Rafael Nadal training his arm without integrating it with the rest of his body.”

Rui Faria and Mourinho practice this philosophy in Madrid, and their players are thankful for it.

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4 Comments on “Real Madrid Players in Perfect Shape Despite Never Setting Foot in a Gym”

  1. British Says:

    As long as this training philosophy works that well it means that it is a great philosophy but it also takes a great football manager to apply it. Mourinho is definitely one of the greatest coaches ever. His resume is more than impressive and his methods have never been questioned.

  2. Ryan Says:

    Hmmm, I wonder how lauded he’d be in the capital if Pedro’s goal had not been disallowed in the Copa del Rey final? He’s trailing Barcelona by 8 points in the league and resorting to defensive football on a team that prides itself on great attacking. Other famous coaches were fired for actually winning without the proper style. There’s no doubt that he’s finding a way to play vs. Barcelona, but I’m not sure how long he can get away with it. He won’t have the luck of cancer taking out Barcelona’s best defender next season, and if they don’t win the league next year and fail with defensive football to boot, I don’t see the Special One allowed to continue his ways at Madrid. Interesting to see his conditioning methods though.

  3. Daniel Pawlowski Says:

    do you have more tranlations of this book?

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