In a sport of marginal gains, those at the top know any little advantage can be crucial when it comes to winning or losing.
Many professional footballers are turning to personal trainers to take them to the next level, improving their physique and technique away from their clubs.
One of those making a difference to players is Armel Zola, better known as Lazola Coach. The personal trainer has an impressive client list, including Nicolas Pepe, Yannick Bolasie, Said Benrahma and the Pogba brothers, not to mention singer Fleur East.
“Sometimes players need something a little different from their training at the clubs, it can be quite dull doing the same things every day," Zola explains.
“I am here to bring something different, to help players remember that exercise can be fun, something it is easy to forget when your job means training every day.”
Zola’s unique methods have impressed many in the game, including former Brazil striker Ronaldo who praised his work on social media and the QPR academy who have brought him in to provide a different style to their training sessions.
Ronaldo posted on his Instagram “there are many ways to train” alongside Zola’s video which shows one of the coach’s high energy sessions.
“Getting praise from a football legend like Ronaldo gives me the confidence to keep working hard with my methods.”
As a youngster, Zola was a footballer at Troyes, so knows what is needed by those in the game looking to better themselves. He played for ESTAC as kid alongside future World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi.
Even professionals can find the nature of training with the club monotonous, leaving them searching for a way to ensure they continue to find fun in their career, which is where Zola steps in.
Benrahma’s fine form in recent seasons for Brentford earned him a move to West Ham, while Arsenal’s record signing Pepe is utilising Zola’s skills has he looks to finally cement a place in the team.
Recently, Paul Pogba’s two brothers, Florentin and Mathias, who are both professional players have hired Zola to help them. Additionally, former Crystal Palace midfielder Jordon Mutch trained with Zola until earning a move to Australia.
As well as those already at the top, Zola is helping aspiring footballers, including the youngsters at QPR. Zola is keen to focus on the mental side as well as the physical as part of his training, knowing that confidence is key at any level if you are to get the best out of yourself.
Around 1% of academy players will go on to become professionals, with Zola aiming to boost self-esteem for youngsters to take into every aspect of life not just football.
Allowing players to lose their inhibitions can be freeing to a younger player on the pitch, with liberating dancing part of Zola’s method when visiting QPR. The trainer even got the club’s staff involved in freestyle dancing to get his message across with some choreographed warm up.
“The esengo circle is all about expressing yourself and bringing happiness, it helps to build a strong group mentality. When everyone, included the coaches, is involved the spirit is contagious and it boosts morale within a team.”
Zola has now released a song “No Lazola, No Gain” with famous Congolese artist BM. The upbeat tune aims to get people up and moving.
“He kept saying to me ‘we need to do a song together’ but I thought I am not a singer, I can’t do this but he was very convincing. Eventually I agreed to do it and it was all very quick from start to finish."
The music is just one pillar of Zola’s ‘Vitamin Z’, his theory of the best way to have the most effective workout.
As many embark on new year fitness regimes, Zola a simple message for getting you up and on your feet to find the best results for yourself.
“Vitamin Z is a mix of craziness, hard work, fun, smiling and music in order to get the best results. Exercise has to be fun if you are to keep doing it and that is what i try to bring.
“Always be yourself and don’t try to be someone else and whatever makes you happy, just do it.”