Football Features

‘Brutal intensity’ — The methods behind Bayern Munich’s fitness transformation

By Dr Rajpal Brar

Published: 13:50, 23 November 2020 | Updated: 15:38, 24 November 2020

While many of us spent the initial quarantine and lockdown period catching up on our favourite Netflix series and perhaps making one too many trips to the kitchen, the players of Bayern Munich were not quite indulging in such leisures.

With a Bundesliga title, DFB-Pokal and, of course, Champions League trophy firmly in their sights at the start of summer, there was no respite for Hansi Flicks’ charges. And it is no surprise the Bavarians went all the way and secured a famous treble when you consider the work that was put in behind the scenes.

Indeed, many of Bayern’s players have undergone a quite drastic transformation in terms of their physiques, packing on the muscle while keeping extremely lean in the process. 

These transformations look like something out of a Marvel movie (super serum, perhaps?) and are a testament to Bayern Munich’s health and fitness planning, from staff to players, and to their fitness team.

That fitness team is led by Dr Holger Broich, who has the title of “Chief Scientific officer and head of fitness”; a position he’s held at the club since January of 2014.

The title itself — with an emphasis on both ‘science’ and fitness — gives a key insight into Bayern Munich’s approach and how the fitness team condition their players for the gruelling intensity of a top-flight season in professional football. 

A research-based and data-driven approach

The crux of the club’s approach to fitness and health is rooted in the latest research, and being able to measure as many variables as possible with actionable data.

That data consists of extensive biometrics data to measure physiology related to training load (such as metabolic and neuroendocrine stress peaks), data related to the actual training itself (for example, resistance settings or running data), and data from the actual games, such as distance and speeds traveled, via Duetsche Football League (DFL) sports analytics.

This dataset is actionable in multiple ways:

  1. Players are appropriated into different coloured “zones” to designate an individual’s injury risk, with ‘red’ being high risk for example.
  2. Player’s ongoing training schedules and programs can be modified and further personalised. Dr Broich often talks about a concept known as “micro-periodisation”, in which training variables are systematically manipulated over a course of days or weeks to reach longer-term goals and outputs.
  3. Plus, the more data collection that happens, the more information that becomes available about how players react to certain things, and how these can then be modified, adapted, or improved upon. It’s a virtuous cycle.

To quote Dr Broich: “At FC Bayern, the importance of well-planned and scientifically proven fitness has been very high for a long time”

A holistic approach

When I hear the general layperson speak on health and fitness, there tends to be a singular focus on the training side. However, the research overwhelmingly speaks to the importance of appropriate sleep, nutrition, and mitigating stress factors as critical variables for, not only overall health, but for developing fitness as well.

Accordingly, the club follows this research and emphasises on all aspects of fitness to create a holistic, research-driven approach. That approach is reinforced and augmented when top players at the club — specifically Robert “the body” Lewandowski in the case of Bayern — are fully committed to the approach as well, with Pep Guardiola once stating that Lewandowski was the most committed player he’s ever managed.

That commitment, in addition to full discipline in the weight room and to his conditioning, is exemplified by the hiring of a sleep coach to optimise his recovery. Not to mention his wife, Anna, was a bronze medalist in the 2009 Karate World Cup, and takes on the role of his full-time nutritionist. That type of self-agency over one’s longevity is a club and fitness coach’s best friend.

Now that we’ve peeled back some of the layers of Bayern Munich’s fitness methods and cultural buy-in, how did their players get absolutely jacked over lockdown?

The equation isn’t all that complicated

Once the spectre of a potential shutdown emerged, Dr Broich and his team, along with the training department, as well as input from the coaching staff, set out a plan for maintaining fitness levels.

This included delivering all the necessary equipment to players’ homes, setting up the proper communication channels, and then creating optimal training programs. Training sessions were often done as a team in “cyber meetings” with Dr Broich and manager Hansi Flick conducting them from the club headquarters.

These sessions and their intensity became something of legend at the club, with Thomas Muller commenting that at times the players “would have liked to have launched our dear professor into outer space,” while “brutal” became the buzzword frequently used among the players.

These training sessions — likely built on the principles of progressive overload, meaning you incrementally increase intensity over time — in combination with proper sleep, nutrition, and low stress levels led to significant muscular growth. It’s a tried and tested equation that has been true for centuries and will continue to be true.

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Further, in the case of Bayern Munich and footballers in general, the lockdown was unique in that it was, for many players, the longest period they’ve gone without the exertion of playing football, which leads to a heavy caloric deficit. With that deficit gone and nutrition really dialled in, the players could now train and build muscle much more significantly.

The equation isn’t complicated but the planning, discipline, and execution of it is a testament to Bayern Munich. Defender Jerome Boateng echoed that sentiment:

“Big praise for Holger Broich and the entire coaching staff for how they planned it all during the break with the cyber training. I believe it was the key that we started as soon as it was possible. Holger Broich built it up superbly. We are in very good physical shape.

“That is important, especially in the Champions League with its tournament format, that you can raise your level towards the end when the opponent starts to tire.”

Those words were prophetic in nature as Bayern Munich ran riot in the Champions League, often overwhelming opponents with their sheer fitness levels as they cantered to European supremacy.

Despite lifting the much-coveted ‘Big Ears’ aloft in Portugal at the end of August, I’m sure Dr Broich and his staff were already at work planning the schedule for the short turnaround to the 2020/21 season, and you’d expect nothing less from them.

Dr Rajpal Brar, DPT, is a physiotherapist, movement and mindfulness coach. He runs the LA-based wellness and athletic development/performance clinic 3CB Performance, and you can subscribe to his Youtube channel (which posts analyses of Lionel Messi and more) by going here.