Training for the “Sport of Kings,” in the modern day game, does not simply mandate a mallet, a horse and a field. Training for polo means countless hours in the cage, on the field, in the arena and in the gym. Although practicing the sport itself remains at the forefront of training, with each coach bringing their own training techniques and philosophies to their athletes, adding performance training makes a difference in today’s modern polo player.
Words like longevity, recovery and injury prevention are equal to “performance” when it comes to one of the most-likely-to-be-injured sports in the world. The athletes with the strongest and most mobile bodies typically recover faster, play longer and have less devastating injuries. However, the formula for this training methodology is highly complex with a lot of moving parts that must be implemented to each athlete.
The performance coach must avoid overuse injuries commonly associated with polo. Step one – train the counter muscles. A huge mistake coaches make is simulating power movements of hitting the ball. They place emphasis on medicine balls – and even hitting tennis balls as a major training bonus. However, these simulated movements off of the field do not directly improve the swing technique or power of the professional athlete, and in turn, can often lead to overuse from repetitive motions. Instead, the performance coach must look at how and which muscles are used during the swing, training those muscles to strengthen, while training the counter muscles to balance the body’s swing mechanics.
Step two – look to strengthen the lumbo-pelvic hip complex. This means high levels of core strength and stability along with hip stability. Hip stability is found through gluteal musculature strength, particularly the glute medius muscles. Having balanced and equally active gluteal muscles can be the difference in lower back pain as well as hip pain. Performance comes through a strong core that doesn’t overuse the lower back.
Step three – perform fascia therapy and stretch the adductors. Yes, strong adductors are vital for polo players. However, professional polo players are already quite strong in the adductors from countless hours of riding. Although it is easy for a performance coach to say “Train the adductors more for increased performance,” this can often lead to overuse injuries. A polo player typically trains three to four hours a day –and much of that time is spent on saddle or in the cage. Throughout the practice, their adductors are active. When a performance coach trains those adductors another hour after practice, those muscles will be fatigued. Replicate this five to six days a week and an injury is likely to occur.
Step four – analyzing the entire body of the athlete and making individual adjustments for their imbalances, weaknesses and strengths. As a performance coach, or any coach for that matter, we must remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to training. Every program / workout written must be looked upon as a blueprint for building successful and healthy athletes; adjusted as needed.
Polo is by far one of the most intense sports in the world. With high injury rates and expenses that go with it, polo players need to stay healthy to prolong their playing career, and it is performance training that will get them there.
Mark Wine is the CEO of Functional Muscle Fitness, Inc., in Concord, Calif., www.functionalmusclefitness.com