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Off the Couch – the key to a great pre-season

This article was originally published on November 24, 2014.

Couch’s pre-season program for 2015/16 includes a 14-week pre-season program, as well as 16 training drills that are used by AFL clubs. Click here to find out more.

For many players, pre-season is the worst part of footy.

Most are more than happy to swap weights and running for ball-work and match simulation – but during his two years at Melbourne, Tom Couch was an exception to the rule.

Though Couch has “moved on” from his ambitions to make it as a regular AFL player since being delisted by Melbourne at the end of 2013, his passion for fitness and conditioning is stronger than ever.

Always a dedicated trainer, Couch’s interest in fitness initially led him to take on an Exercise Science degree – one he’s set to complete in 2015 – before inspiring him to create a training program for local clubs, based on the fitness regimes he was exposed to in his two years at Melbourne and two seasons with Collingwood’s VFL side. It’s the result of training alongside players such as Nathan Jones and Scott Pendlebury, who Couch nominates as two of the best trainers he came across during his time as a VFL/AFL player.

It took Couch 200 hours to compile and fine-tune the 2015 pre-season program, but the end result is one he’s very content with.

“I first came up with the idea halfway through 2013 – it took me a bit longer to put together than what I had expected.”

Couch had planned to have the program finished and distributed by the end of the 2013 season but by the time it was completed, many clubs had already started their pre-seasons. As a result, only a handful of sides used it during 2014. It should be said though, that the results of those that used the program couldn’t have been much more impressive.

“Norwood won the first division premiership in the EFL and Leopold in the Geelong Football League made their first Grand Final in 25 years,” Couch says.

“The players I’ve spoken to from those clubs said it was the fittest they had ever been, so it’s obviously working.”

Couch has made some more tweaks to the program since then, and already has 12 clubs signed up to take on the program for 2015. While those who take on the challenge will work hard, they won’t have to set aside too much time to do so.

“The running sessions go for a maximum of 20 minutes.” Couch explains.

“All my running sessions are short and sharp, which is appealing for local clubs and their players. If sessions go for too long, players get bored. The days of 10km time trials are long gone.

“The sessions are meant to simulate the running players do in a game, so while the players will be fit, more importantly they will be match fit – which is a different thing altogether. Every session has a purpose.”

One of the biggest challenges Couch came across while creating the program was replicating the programs in place at AFL clubs without making it unachievable for those who aren’t at an elite level of fitness. Couch found the best way of combatting this was to make minor adjustments to individual exercises within each session.

“Instead of doing 12 200-metre runs, you might do 10,” he says.

“Instead of having three minutes between two sets you might have a five-minute break. I have had to tweak a few things because these guys aren’t professional athletes, but at the same time they need to be pushed to their limits. The feedback I’ve heard already from clubs is that it’s pretty much spot on. Although I’m always looking for ways to make it better.”

The pre-season program contains a 14-week running guide – which includes three dates for time trials – as well as warm-up routines for training and match-days, 10 weights sessions and 17 specialised sessions for injured players wanting to keep their fitness up. These include swimming, rowing, bike, and core exercise sessions.

The program is priced at $445 per club – just over 10 dollars a head for a squad of 40 – and includes a training session where Couch heads out to the club to speak with the players.

“It’s very easy to follow – the coach can use it or a senior player. The most important aspect of the program is that it gradually gets harder over the pre-season to match the gradual improvement of the players’ fitness, so they’re constantly being challenged. Sometimes clubs bring in a personal trainer for the odd night here or there without any real method behind it. To maximise your club’s pre-season, the sessions needs to be structured and have a clear goal.”

Couch knows from personal experience that for those wanting to have a big 2015, a solid pre-season is crucial.

“I’ve seen the two sides of it,” he says with a laugh.

“My two years at Melbourne I was the fittest I’ve ever been, I think I missed one session in two years. I came runner-up in the Liston Trophy in 2012 and averaged 28 disposals in 2013. If you compare that to my form this year, (playing for Collingwood’s VFL team) I completed only 20 percent of the sessions due to injury and didn’t get near it all season.”

“I can certainly vouch for how important pre-season is.”

Though his two seasons at the Demons yielded just three senior games, Couch is set to draw on the experiences of those two years for a long time to come.

“They were the best two years of my life,” he says.

“I learnt more as a player in my two years at Melbourne than what you could learn in 100 years at uni.”

If you’re interested in purchasing Couch’s pre-season program, you can contact Tom via email or on Twitter @tom_couch, or find more information on his Facebook page.