OUCH! STAGS PLAYERS LEARN THE PAIN GAME
OUCH! STAGS PLAYERS LEARN THE PAIN GAME
Evening Post, 12 February 2003
I suspect that some of you are reading this after a miserable day at work, contemplating what an easy life footballers have.
But, having witnessed what the players from Mansfield Town went through yesterday morning at Penarski's Gym in Alfreton, I would never wish to swap places.
When a morning's training at a boxing gym was announced, I was asked if I wanted to take part but, due to a nagging pain in my right knee (honest), the invitation was declined.
It was a good job it was because had I done even a tenth of the exercises Richard Penarski put the players through, this space would now be taken up by my obituary.
It's all part of Keith Curle's plan to keep the Stags in Division Two, with psychological and physical motivations.
One thing was for sure, though.
If the players were expecting a hearty pat on the back for their 3-2 win over Notts County, they were in the wrong place.
Penarski, who was at the game on Saturday, was congratulatory to start with but the mood soon changed after it was agreed they would work out for an hour.
"Put the effort in and show your Gaffer you are worth your ******* money."
Curle was walking around the gym, which was about the size of a double garage, offering encouragement at his charges and his assistant John Gannon, who had joined in, while the ex-boxer continued barking.
"You're not at some tiddly-piddly, poxy fitness club now . . . you're here to ******* work and get fit.
"Not just leg fit, proper fit.
"Put the effort in and you'll win, so do it for those supporters who pay your ******* wages."
All this was relayed to the players in a sergeant-major blast and meant the laughs were kept to a minimum.
I doubted whether any had the required amount of breath anyway.
The emphasis was on boosting the players' fitness throughout their body rather than just concentrating on the legs.
After an initial warm-up, which would have probably been sufficient to put me in hospital, there followed a lesson in 101 ways to do a press-up, with knees, full, half, you name it.
These were performed in batches of 20 with perhaps 30 seconds at the most in between each set and the former boxer, now 52, was leading the way.
"Come on, I'm nearly three times as ******* old as some of you lot."
If, after that, their arms weren't aching, they soon would be.
The players ran on the spot but had to hold their arms in the air while doing so.
This went on for a few minutes and the groaning started and intensified.
For those who were in any doubt as to what benefit this particular exercise would have, it was soon explained.
Penarski told them, while continuing to lead by example.
"Keep this up and you'll be able to do it for 20 minutes by the time were finished."
That prediction brought more groans.
"But, come Saturday, you'll be thinking, 'the Gaffer has let us off, we can play this game with our arms at our sides.'
"When you feel like that, you will be properly cardio-vascularly fit."
The run on the spot was then around the room, accompanied by Kylie Minogue but they had to keep up in time with the music that was thumped through briefcase-sized speakers at varying speeds.
Penarski moved past me on the steps and said: "It's all about their chests and not just being fit enough to run. It's all over fitness. That's the key. They have to be stronger."
And, at that, he was off at it again, pushing Liam Lawrence in the back shouting "faster, faster, faster."
There was no let up as attention moved from the legs and chest to the belly.
When Penarski said: "You can tell how fit a bloke is by his belly," I stopped chuckling but didn't notice any of the players looking at me.
I half expected him to say "You'll end up like that fat journalist by the door, if you don't do sit ups and drink too much beer," before pointing in my direction.
Now that would be motivation.
Fortunately, that never happened but sit-ups followed ranged from gentle rocking to those incorporating full head movements and the lifting of legs.
And that went on before the climax that involved more running, waving of hands and shouting, which produced a few laughs.
With the lads having worked hard and enjoyed it at the same time, in a session that was nearly two hours to their disbelief at the end, Curle was a happy man.
"If they can work hard and do it with a smile on their faces then that's great," he said
"We did a combat session at Fitness First the other day and I noticed that the lads needed to be stronger in their upper bodies so that is why we came to the gym, as Richard knows youth coach Ivan Hollett and he set it up.
"They have definitely got a lot out of it and they are becoming mentally stronger as well.
"They are willing to do anything and that is the attitude I want. Do what we say and ask questions later. And they are responding.
"Basically, I want them to be surrounded by positive people and you can't get much more positive than Richard.
"We gave them the day off on Monday so they could get all the backslapping and paper-talk out of the way and come in and work hard.
"Sometimes it helps to get them out of the club away from all that and they have responded very well."
The work ethic is good as they look to battle their way away from the drop zone.
They certainly aren't slacking, anyway.
You can have my personal assurance.
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