ESSENDON coach James Hird wants his players to increase their aerobic capacity for 2013 but says the club won't be significantly altering its program towards reducing the number of soft-tissue injuries.
The Bombers lost as much as an entire team's worth of players to hamstring, quad and calf injuries throughout 2012, which prompted a review of fitness loads and injury issues.
Captain Jobe Watson said he expected the club to tinker with its pre-season approach, while the spate of injuries prompted speculation that high-performance manager Dean Robinson - who oversees the fitness program - would be sacked. But Robinson retained his job and Hird said on Friday the Bombers were unlikely to make drastic changes to their pre-season campaign when it came to eliminating injuries. ''We've changed a few things, but we won't change a lot,'' he said. ''Our players coming into a third pre-season, I think it's really important that they continue to get their conditioning right, so we won't change too much.''
The biggest change for Essendon will be splitting its group. As most of the players ran time-trials at Princes Park on Friday, Watson and high-profile recruit Brendon Goddard were en route to Colorado to take part in an altitude training program.
Watson, Goddard and eight other midfielders, plus key-position player Michael Hurley, will train at altitude for about a fortnight as Essendon looks to get more running power into its key group.
''It's the first time we've tested the waters with altitude training and it's something that's very exciting for us,'' Hird said. ''The first couple of years we really wanted to get the game plan bedded down, the way we want to play, and this pre-season is probably a bit more about the fitness levels of our players.''
Hird said the decision to send the players overseas was not made in response to the Bombers' disappointing end to 2012. More, he said, Essendon was weighing up whether to commit to altitude programs for its entire group.
Brent Stanton, one of those to depart for Colorado on Saturday, was fastest in a two-kilometre trial on Friday, with forward Stewart Crameri and youngster Ariel Steinberg next quickest.