Polo training and physical preparation in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Polo training and physical preparation in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

This article is not about writing another exercise glossary but share views on some key components of polo players’ physical preparation. Personal trainers, fitness experts, sport therapists or polo coaches all use different tools to work with the athletes under their care. Their ultimate objective is the same, to serve the polo players best interest.

“Nothing can really prepare you for what’s happening on a horse during a polo game”, Sunny Hale. (Winner of the 2000 US Open Polo Championships)

Over the last twenty years, my work gave me the opportunity to coach swimming, team handball, judo, rock climbing, track and field. My experience as a physiotherapist is as diverse, working with professional body builders, tri-athletes, football players, golfers and dancers.

To paraphrase Sunny “nothing could have prepared me to work with polo players, or maybe everything did?” Let me share my experience with Wind Horse Polo Team in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The original demands were simple: keep the players fit, enhance their physical abilities and prevent injury. The initial program started with basic questions:

• How is the power generated in a polo swing?
• What kind of stability is required?
• How important is mobility in the techniques performed?
• What are the most common injuries players encounter?

The first trainings were a basic combination of mobility and core strengthening to secure a strong base for the swing. But a polo swings take place in different planes and direction so the synergy between stability, mobility is constantly challenged. Very quickly more questions arose.

To generate power, the force comes from a ground reaction induced by the athlete’s action. Polo is no exception but the ground reaction is transmitted through a galloping horse.
There is nothing static about this sport everything is about dynamic balance and movements.
One of the most important tasks is to develop core strength and power to stay stable on a moving horse without jeopardizing the player’s agility.

Agility is the ability for players to move, change direction, position of their body quickly and effectively to play the ball while keeping their horses under control.
This key concept is not much discussed in polo literature.
Agility is also a key component of the players’ safety. Being a polo player is not about knowing if you will ever fall off the horse. It is all about: will you be ready when it happens?
I have witness accidents in polo tournaments and strongly believe that simple agility drills would help the riders to manage better the fall and minimize injury.

If agility was not enough to master, like any team sport, the players must also constantly process information about their teammates position and their opponents’ intention. Polo is a contact sport so judging your adversary intention could prevent injuries.
A good peripheral vision is essential for the players to pick up the information in their immediate surrounding. Some players will naturally have good peripheral vision; a lot comes from experience but can also be trained and developed through appropriate exercises.

My initial assessment has evolved along my experience. It now incorporates a thorough players interview about their past injuries and medical history key factors when it comes to predict future problems.
In order to have a clear picture of the players’ physical potential they would go through the following tests:

• A Selective Functional Movement Assessment that incorporates a movement pattern baseline into the musculoskeletal examination. A key component to tailor made the rehabilitation and fitness exercises.

• A simple balance test. Vestibular balance integrity will also be assessed, as it is too often over-looked in sports involving speed and sudden direction changes.

• A strength test that includes core lower and upper body. The test will not only detect weakness and strength but also muscle disproportion. Muscle imbalances are a source of complications; players will often develop compensation strategies and create even more problems. It is essential to address this situation during physical training.

• A cardio vascular test will determine how fast players will get fatigued and lost their focus. During a game, simple cardio monitors are strapped on the players. The data collected gives a clear picture of the metabolism used to create energy during chukkas. That information is crucial not only to optimize the cardiovascular training but also to provide the best recovery routine to the players.

Once a clear physical portrait of the players has been established the next step is to discuss the players’ and team’s objectives.

Players need to ride, attend stick and ball practice, some are not full-time polo riders; juggling with work, family life and a demanding sport can be taxing.
A balance between the players’ physical abilities, polo skills, level of competition, predominantly their commitment to practice has to be assessed.

A typical sequence of training sessions in our centre is essentially circuit training at a pace close to what players are experiencing on the field. It would include a combination of strength, dynamic core stability, agility drills and hand-eye coordination.
The postural and muscle imbalances related to intense riding must be also addressed through therapeutic exercises and manipulation to avoid any long-term effects on the players’ physical integrity.

Franck Coubard

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