Blog Series – Commonly Used Conditioning Methods In Soccer – By Pablo Toledo

Pablo Toledo is Rush Soccer’s Sporting Project Director and Rush’s Coach Development Department leader. 

 

Let’s recap quick the learning path we’ve covered so far in this soccer conditioning world.

We started by a macro understanding of conditioning principles and explained the concepts of Adaptability, Overcompensation, Specificity, Overload, Individuality, and Reversibility beyond the sole sport of soccer.

On our second post, we explained concepts related to stretching and flexibility and how they should be integrated to our sessions.

From that base, we moved onto the understanding of how a warm up should be designed and why.

We progressively got more specific and detailed onto our sport and we moved forward onto analyzing the physical demands that soccer imply, how and how much soccer players run, and the acyclic nature of the sport.

To facilitate the understanding, we summarized them in:

  • Slow Jog: 4 miles
  • 1/2 & 3/4s Pace: 1.4 miles
  • Sprint: 0.6 miles
  • Total: 6 miles.

 

Based on the understanding of these physical demands, we covered on our last post what the valencies or abilities that our players need to develop are in order to support them, highlighting the importance of strength endurance, speed endurance, agility, coordination, explosive strength, and added injury prevention to the pool.

Now we make one more step forward to present and evaluate the most commonly utilized training methods in the world of soccer to develop these valencies. In particular, we’ll explain the methods Repeat Sprint Ability, Intermittent, and Interval Training.

All of these methods are derived from athletic disciplines and adapted to the already mentioned nature of soccer as an acyclic sport, in which the players perform different high intensity actions with resting periods in the middle, among repetitions. All three of them, base their application on combinations of intensity and active resting periods that they consider relevant or specific of the sport.

 

 

Intermittent Training for soccer is normally applied in 1:3 ratio (work, rest) with 3/4s speed for the work passage. The distance that the players should cover is determined by the analysis of the player position, style of play, etc, as I mentioned on a previous post. This method tends to be more specific for midfielders and outside backs than for central defenders or forwards. Why? Because it is more frequent for a midfielder or an outside back to run longer distances at this pace than it is for the others, who normally (especially forwards) tend to sprint more and in shorter distances, but again this is nothing but a trend or a generalization and it depends on the positional analysis and physical estimation you make of your players. Example (and I don’t like to talk about formations but to simplify the analysis): It would be very different for a winger that plays on a 4-3-3 in attack and defends looking like a 4-1-4-1, than one that defends looking like a 4-3-3 with little counter pressing, happy to defend on a low block to counter quick.

The benefit of this method is that it works on developing endurance to the 3/4s pace (speed endurance). Like we were saying on the previous post, you don’t really focus on making everything faster but rather sustain the quality of the action across repetitions.

Practical application, example of this method: Have your players run on a straight line 40 yards at 3/4s, estimating that will take them 6-7 seconds to cover, and ask them to return jogging slowly (active recovery), having 18-21 seconds to recover (1:3 ratio) before repeating the action. Every 6 repetitions they have covered 240 yards at 3/4’s and 240 yards at a slow pace. Give them a macro pause of 2-3 minutes. Repeat 4 sets and your players will be at 960 yards covered at 3/4’s, close already to the 1.4 miles set as the goal. You would normally combine this with other activities during your training instead of just repeating sets until you reach that number.

 

Repeat Sprint Ability: This method is conceived on a very similar way as the Intermittent but for maximal speed. Here, the ratio is not 1:3 but normally 1:5 or 1:6, and the distances are shorter, 20 to 25 yards. As the intensity of the effort is higher, so is longer the recovery period. This tends to be more relevant for forwards and central defenders than for midfielders and outside backs, for the reasons mentioned above.

A practical example of this method would be: Have your players run 25 yards on a straight line at maximal speed, what you can estimate will take them 4-5 seconds, therefore jogging back slowly for 20-25 seconds before repeating the actions. 5-6 repetitions and 3 minutes macro pauses. 4-5 sets in total. This equals to covering 600-750 yards at max speed and the same at a slow pace. You’re already close to the 1056 yards (0.6 miles) that are demanded during a game.

This method is great for speed endurance, just like the previous one, working on elevating our anaerobic capacity and towards being able to sustain the quality of execution.

 

Interval Training: An extremely popular method, not only in soccer, interval training combines periods of high intensity with others of active resting. Intermittent and RSA are expressions in a way of interval training, but this last commonly includes more than just 2 speeds.

As I was saying, this method is very popular not only soccer but in various disciplines.  Fartlek, for example, is an expression of this method applied for distance running. Another that you’ve probably heard of is the now very fashionable HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) that multiple studios and gyms apply.

In soccer, I’m sure you’ve experienced (or suffered) this type of training but maybe you just didn’t know what it was called or based on. Typical applications are to run the lines of half of a field at different paces, the sidelines at 25% speed, the end line at 50% and the half line at 75%.

A lot of conditioning coaches like this method because it allows them (they think at least) to combine paces to increase the specificity of the training and represent the acyclic nature of the sport. It’s also pretty easy to estimate the distances covered and the work:rest periods using it. If a soccer field is 120 x 80 yards and you use half, following the example above you know that the players are running on every lap 120 yards at 25% speed, 80 yards at 75%, and another 80 yards at 50%. Use a stop watch and you can check if the quality of the action is getting slower after X amount of laps or time or however you want to use it.

 

 

Ok great, we’ve learnt about these three very popular methods and what’s good about them.

Now, just like in soccer there’s science and there’s art, so there is in conditioning, I just express my opinion on why I don’t like these methods nor train my teams through them (at least not on a regular basis, I might use them for a quick/simple reference to evaluate, but that’s a different story).

I mostly base my opinion on two factors.

Despite the adaptation, they’re still not specific. These methods are derived from athleticism and applied or adapted to Soccer, that’s why they use certain work:rest periods and distances that they consider represent better the efforts within the sport. However, the problem arises from the fact that athleticism is cyclic and these ratios still don’t reflect the acyclic nature of soccer. I almost never run, during a match, 40 yards on a straight line without doing any changes of pace, stops, turns, or similar, like the Intermittent method suggests, and the same happens with the 25 yards that RSA proposes. Even if I did run these on a  straight line, I would still be thinking, and that’s the second reason why I don’t like these approaches: The absence of the mental component. I don’t mean this from a psychological point view, in terms of the mentality of the player, not at all. When we are playing, the one thing that we’re always doing is thinking, so there’s no specificity in our training if there’s not a mental, decision based component integrated. Without it, it becomes irrelevant.

I’ll share the best example I have, that I took and learnt from Fernando “El Profe” Signorini and mentioned in the blog post “What I’ve learnt at the conference ‘Don’t Play Games With Soccer’ in Merida“, quoting below.

He asked two volunteers to run a 100 yards sprint. While they were doing it, he started asking them to solve basic math problems: “3… times 2… times 3… divided by 2. You can stop when you know the result”. Both volunteers got the answer right away.

Afterwards, he asked the same two volunteers to play a 1v1 to small goals, and while they were playing he repeated the math challenge.

Both volunteers couldn’t reach the answer. “We were too busy, I couldn’t focus on the math”. “You see – Fernando added – soccer is different because the mental component is there. It’s not the same level of concentration than a simple athletic task, then why do we train them based on archaic athleticism theories and methods? That doesn’t work”. 

Besides, the mental component also affects the psychological aspect of the player, because (and I take this from Cesar Luis Menotti knowing that he also learnt it from somebody else), it is not the same to feel tired than to be tired. “Have you ever seen a team winning 3-0 asking for many subs? I haven’t. They always want to play, they’re loving it. Now when they’re losing 3-0 and hardly touch the ball, everybody seems to be tired” – he said, and it is true, or with a remarkable story he exemplified: “Imagine a hard worker construction man comes back home after a killer 14 hours shift. He’s demolished, opens the door to his apartment and says ‘no honey, thanks but no dinner, I just want to shower and go to bed, I’m dead tired‘, so he lays down in bed like he was ran over by a train while his wife and two kids eat dinner. Then suddenly an alarm goes off and somebody screams ‘FIRE FIRE! WE GOTTA GET OUT!!’, so he stands up at lightning speed, grabs his wife and kids, and carries them all downstairs and outside the building in seconds. Was he really tired when he got home? Or he was feeling tired?

That’s the mental component.

When you train with intervals, and intermittent methods, or RSA, you see it many times in your players almost feeling tired and getting annoyed. Now when they play football, many times they run even more than what you’re demanding in these activities and they do it happily and self motivated.

 

You might be thinking now: ‘Then Pablo, if we don’t train them based on these methods, what do you suggest that we do?”

That’s what we will cover on our next post. Hope this made sense coach!