Matt Elliott

Matt Elliott's Pre-Season: Cliff-Edges & Dreaded Fitness Tests

Throughout former Leicester City captain Matt Elliott's 16-year professional career, the Scotland international witnessed firsthand a dramatic change in pre-season training methods.
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Over that transformative period, Elliott, a commanding centre-back who remains a popular figure with the Blue Army, sampled a variety of training schedules across spells with five clubs.

At City, meanwhile, the League Cup winner worked under three permanent managers during the summer months of pre-season - Martin O'Neill, Peter Taylor and Micky Adams.

With Brendan Rodgers' current Foxes squad due back at Belvoir Drive next month, Elliott recently shared his memories of a time all footballers greet with varying degrees of trepidation.

The 50-year-old said: "Back in the day when I started, it was in non-league and it was pretty basic until I was thrown into the deep end at Torquay United. It was a bit of an eye-opener!

It was a bit more stop-and-start... in eight-minute interval runs, stopping for two minutes. The only problem was that an eight-minute run took me 10 minutes!

Matt Elliott

"I started out at Charlton Athletic, but was soon shipped off to Torquay, where it was things like eight-mile runs... and up a cliffside on one occasion!

"One day I remember we were running up the cliff and, after two minutes I heard a big crack behind me… I thought it was a branch that had fallen off a tree.

"I looked back, though, and one of the lads had caught his ankle under the root of a tree! 

"It was just what you don’t need in pre-season! Thankfully the techniques have gradually advanced since then, but that is one of many stories I remember from that time in the game."

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Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott

Elliott was at Scunthorpe United during the 1992/93 campaign.

Following three seasons at Torquay, Elliott moved on to Scunthorpe United and, after a short loan spell, would later make 53 appearances for the North Lincolnshire outfit.

He noticed that medical staff at football clubs were beginning to adapt their methods, injecting more intensity into drills and shortening the length of time spent running.

"At Scunthorpe it was a bit later on so things were gently starting to progress," he added. "It was a bit more stop-and-start... in eight-minute interval runs, stopping for two minutes.

"The only problem was that an eight-minute run took me 10 minutes! I was still running when they were all taking their two-minute breaks, so I was just running for an hour.

You do become more mature and more disciplined as you get older and you do really feel the benefits.

Matt Elliott

"At one stage, I can't remember whether it was at Torquay or Scunthorpe, but when I was only a young lad, I put quite a bit of weight!

"It took me the whole season to get fit and, by the time I was fit again, the season had ended! I did eventually sort it out and I got fitter and fitter as I got older.

"It wasn’t easy for me after six weeks off because I liked barbecues! You do become more mature and more disciplined as you get older and you do really feel the benefits."

Elliott switched to Leicester, from Oxford United, in 1997 and the Wandsworth-born defender says it was at this stage, under current Head Physiotherapist Dave Rennie, that methods started to progress.

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Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott

Pre-season is a daunting time for footballers of all generations.

Players were given fitness programs to follow during their time away from the Football Club and a strict weight-management regime was introduced by O'Neill at Belvoir Drive.

He continued: "Every year I was nervous! You got weighed at the end of the season and you had to come back within two pounds of that.

"It’s constantly on your mind and you have to keep an eye on it. More often than not, I think I got back within a pound or two of the limit because it was a fine otherwise.

"Sometimes you work hard in the weeks leading up to pre-season, working out in the gym, completely forgetting that muscle is heavier than fat and you realise you’ve put weight on!

"You always had that pressure because every new season was a new era. It didn’t matter how well you had done the year before or how long your contract was, you can’t rest on your laurels.

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Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott

Strength and conditioning work quickly became a part of pre-season in Elliott's time as a player.

"Even if you’re established, like I was being the Club's captain, if I had three or four bad games on the trot, I knew that someone’s going to take my place.

"A young, sprightly 21-year-old was going to come in and muscle me out. It’s ruthless, but pre-season was always enjoyable for us at Leicester.

"With Martin at Leicester, it was a gradual evolution. Martin didn’t dress things up in games or pre-season, but he always put you through your paces. It was high-intensity training. 

"Dave Rennie had just come to the Club at that time and he’s still heavily involved now. He was bang up to date with the latest developments and I know he still is today.

"He gave us a more structured way of training. As I got older, I got more disciplined and actually looked after myself in the close-season!"

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