Interval training provides useful preparation for soccer players, as on the pitch the game is played in short bursts. Jogging back to defend a corner can be immediately followed by a charge downfield at full pace. During a game, players must run, sprint, slide, leap and lunge. That's where interval training comes in. It's tough, but it is essential to improving your skill and durability on the field.
A soccer match is effectively one long interval training session. Over the course of 90 minutes players have to move in every which way, in every conceivable direction and at every possible speed. As professional soccer has evolved, it has become increasingly physically demanding and explosive, with players forced to react to sudden changes in pace and direction. ProZone analysis of the 2005-2006 English Premier League season revealed that on average players covered between 10 and 12 kilometres per game. Right-sided midfielders were the most energetic, making 147 fast-paced runs, 44 of which were flat out, with just 39 seconds of recovery time between bouts of activity.
Technological advances and complex analysis systems allow soccer coaches to construct evermore efficient drills. In particular, preseason training has changed beyond recognition. Gone are the days when players would report back from the off season break to face weeks of nothing but long-distance runs in an effort to return to match fitness. Interval training is now an especially important part of the preseason training regime. Drills are designed to work simultaneously on players' aerobic fitness--essential for a lower intensity activity and endurance--and their anaerobic fitness--necessary for bouts of high-energy activity and any contact situation. As the season wears on, coaches may relax the frequency and intensity of interval training, as the players receive this conditioning through matches.
Soccer players need a high level of endurance to be effective for a full 90 minute match. As such, aerobic training is vitally important in order to allow a player's body to use it's oxygen intake efficiently. As evidenced by the work of Jan Helgerud at the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, interval training is one of the best ways to improve aerobic capacity. Helgerud's 2001 study showed that rather than jogging for long distances, short bursts of higher intensity activity interspersed with lower energy running gives the best results on the pitch. French scientist Veronique Billat suggests running close to maximum intensity for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of ambling, repeating the exercise 10 times.
For the majority of any soccer match, players will rely on their aerobic conditioning, not least to recover from bouts of high-intensity activity. It is these bursts of higher energy that call on anaerobic fitness, requiring the body to rely on lactic acid and working muscles to near maximum capacity. Anaerobic drills are shorter and more intense than aerobic exercises, and have longer recovery periods between repetitions--three to five times the length of the exercise. Interval training for anaerobic conditioning also provides an opportunity to incorporate ball work into drills. Ten- to 15-second sprints at 95 per cent to 100 per cent capacity could incorporate shooting and dribbling, followed by a light jog to recover before the next repetition.
Overtraining can be as damaging as entering a competitive match under prepared. Building up match fitness takes time, so do not to try to do too much too early. Any preseason training schedule should allow for one day a week of no interval training. If necessary, take a whole week doing solely lower intensity work.
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