Sunderland skipper Lee Cattermole has opened up about the injury problems that have dogged him for the past three seasons - and how he has overcome them.
The 29-year-old missed six months last term with a serious hip injury as Sunderland dropped out of the Premier League but he is back to his best now after surgery to cure the problem.
And Cattermole, now pain-free, believes he is a better player now than he was five years ago having learned to understand his body and to ensure he is in peak condition for matchday.
"You have to understand your body, that’s the biggest thing for me. " Cattermole told the club website.
"I’ve had a lot of injuries so you start to become aware of what you need to do to maintain or improve your fitness, or give yourself the best possible chance of performing.
"That comes with experience and maturity, I’m a much better player now than what I was five years ago.
"Some might say I had more energy in me and I’m still enjoying it, which is great.
"I’m enjoying it more in the last seven or eight weeks than in the last couple of years in terms of how I’ve felt being out on the training pitch like wanting to stay out there and work on my game to improve.
"That comes down to being in good shape. No one likes to miss games or training. I had a serious operation which is quite rare, really.
"For me to see the benefits from it - which I didn’t know would come - I haven’t had any pain or symptoms from the past, which is great.
"That’s where the buzz comes from. I’ve played for two or three years in the Premier League where I’ve been really struggling.
"I’m excited now to say, 'let’s get five or 10 games in' but I have to take it one game at a time and keep doing the stuff I did in the summer."
Sunderland have signed 10 new players this summer, including four loan deals and Cattermole is helping them settle in, with the skipper aiming to lead from the front with his performances on the pitch.
"We’ve got a lot of new players here and they have to understand what the club’s about," added the former Middlesbrough and Wigan midfielder.
"The more we can get the lads understanding the club and what we think it stands for and how we have seen it be successful, it will only help.
"That’s part of being a captain and just helping the lads as best you can. If you lead by example that’s great because you are performing well.
"First and foremost, you’ve got to perform, there’s no point encouraging boys off the pitch then having a nightmare yourself! That’s one thing I’m trying to do at the minute."
Sunderland, 19th in the Championship after five games, were beaten 3-0 by Barnsley in the final game before the international break and Cattermole admits the team is yet to reach the standards they set themselves.
"We’re talking already as a group that we haven’t played anywhere near as good as we know we’re capable of," he added ahead of the visit of Sheffield United on Saturday afternoon.
"It’s going to be a tough season and we have to take it a game at a time, keep our feet on the ground.
"There’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of games to come. We have to forget about our last game and move on."