Danny Swanson admits he’s still getting used to the “army camp” training schedule at Hearts, but the midfielder believes that all the extra work undertaken at Riccarton is proving to be of huge benefit.
Having noted that Scottish football was well behind leading European nations in terms of its approach to sports science and player preparation, director of football Craig Levein and head coach Robbie Neilson moved to make things more professional when they took office at Hearts in summer 2014.
Among other things, triple sessions twice a week were introduced to try and ensure optimum performance levels. Swanson, who is still working his way towards full fitness after arriving at the club two months ago, admits life at Hearts has been an eye-opener, but the 28-year-old has embraced the philosophy of hard work which is underpinning the team’s surge to second place in the Premiership.
“I still feel like I’m playing catch up to be honest but if I’m going to get fit it’s definitely going to be here because it’s like an army camp,” he said. “I mean that in a good way, it’s not just running but it’s hard work. We do triple sessions twice a week, which is something I’m new to, but the boys told me what to expect when I got here.
“In the morning you come in and there’s a calendar up saying what training you’re getting so you know what to expect. After the morning session you go to the gym and then you train again. I’ve never done that before, training after the gym, but I’m getting used to it now. The first few times I couldn’t feel my legs in the afternoon. I really couldn’t. I remember after the first one I did I was hobbling about but now I’m handling it a lot better and enjoying it.”
Swanson, formerly of Berwick Rangers, Dundee United, Peterborough, Coventry City and St Johnstone, explained that Hearts’ approach, which means sometimes he doesn’t arrive home until 5pm, it is the most intense he has encountered in his football career.
“At Peterborough we had a few double sessions now and again but at Coventry it was just single sessions and then go to the gym if you want,” he said. “At Peterborough, because the gym was so far away, not many of the boys would go so we’d just head home and that would be it. We’d spend time with our families, or play the X-Box and generally get bored.
“Coventry’s training facilities are really good with the gym right next door to the changing room so we’d stay back longer and sometimes go back out and work on our finishing. Different managers have different approaches and the gaffer here has got something he wants to do and he’s sticking by it because it has worked well for him so far. Why change it?”
Swanson explained how the strong work ethic at Hearts ensures that all the players are on board and don’t need anyone acting as a drill sergeant to cajole them through the day.
“To be fair there’s not really anyone shouting because the squad is good for getting on with it,” he said. “In England there were guys I worked with who would have just tossed that work off but the structure here is based around getting boys in who want to work and want to play. We’ve not got a problem with boys not training so there’s no need for anybody to shout because we all just get the work done.
“Another good thing about it is that we’re together, we spend a lot of time in the changing room so there’s a lot of banter and I think that definitely helps team spirit. That has obviously shown with us sitting second in the league.”
Swanson has always made an effort to look after himself since becoming a full-time footballer in 2008, but he insists he is already becoming a more rounded athlete as a result of arriving at Hearts. “I feel stronger now,” he said. “I’ve always been ok with my diet but they’ve got me on a nutrition plan which has changed everything completely. I’ve noticed that I needed to eat more and I know I’m eating the right things now. Coupled with that and working hard in training I feel my fitness is really getting there. I’ve always been pretty professional anyway but here it’s a bit more drilled into you, which is helping massively.”
Swanson, who only entered the full-time ranks after he turned 21, will never complain about the extra workload because he knows from experience that life could be a lot more gruelling. “It’s hard work but I’ve done 9-5 jobs before and it’s nothing like that, I can tell you,” he said. “I was a plumber before football and while I’m talking about 9-5 it was more like 7am to 6pm. It was brutal, I hated it. These hard sessions are nothing compared to that. You’ve still got boys who have never worked a day in their lives and don’t have a clue how lucky they are. I think it makes me appreciate my life as a footballer a lot more. Boys who I’ve played with, like Dwight Gayle [now at Crystal Palace] who was working before he played, always said the same thing and look at him now. We don’t want to go back to that in a hurry so you work hard to make a go of your career.
“The fact it’s working makes it impossible to complain about. If things aren’t going well and you’re not seeing results on the pitch then that’s when boys start thinking ‘what are we doing?’ But it’s working so we know it’ll keep happening.”