Mar 6th, 2017
Category: Athletic Performance Training
Elite Soccer Performance Training – a perspective both biomechanically and metabolically
By, Mark Wine CSCS – NASM PT, CES, PES
Soccer is a sport that presents numerous physical and technical challenges. In particular, soccer requires a diverse mixture of fitness, athletic ability, and a surplus of skill. Metabolically speaking, soccer can be characterized as a discontinuous endurance sport that requires athletes to perform repeated sprints and high intensity running.
Soccer matches are made up of sprints greater than 20-30 meters in duration that require longer rest intervals to recover from. During matches, athletes do not attain this much needed rest interval time. Another viable observation during soccer matches is the level of running intensity throughout the match. The running intensity level is indeed high during the start of the match; however, the level of intensity decreases as match time increases. Players cover and sprint over less total distance through the second half of play when compared to the first half (1). This characteristic / observation showcase the importance for repeated sprint capabilities of soccer players.
One of the most challenging facets of soccer training stems from the ability to repeatedly sprint while maintaining near-maximal speed. Sprinting over-and-over again integrates both the aerobic (oxidative) and anaerobic (non-oxidative) energy systems. During soccer matches, repeated bouts of high intensity running / near sprinting taxes the aerobic system. During training, max intensity sprints tax the anaerobic energy system, which require specific rest intervals. If these rest intervals are not taken then proper sprint technique and maximal sprint abilities are not attainable. In short, training the anaerobic and aerobic system in unison is very challenging. It requires great program design and specific rest interval / exercise coupling.
Sprint training or specific on-field work is more efficient when the energy systems are worked separately. Repeated bouts of sprinting and single maximal effort sprints should be left on different days. If on the same day, anaerobic maximal effort drills should be placed before the sub-maximal repeated bouts of effort.
Repeated bouts of sprinting are vital but an ability to change direction may even be more vital for soccer players. A single soccer match can be made up of approximately 1,346 changes of direction (2). This characteristic makes soccer one of the most dynamic and multi-directional sports in the world. However, it also contributes to the number one cause of injury in soccer; twisting, turning, landing and/or doing it all in one action causes numerous amounts of injuries to soccer players. If athletes would incorporate more Strength & Conditioning (S&C) into their year round training regimen, especially at younger ages, then we might see a significantly reduced injury rate.
Change-of-direction is directly correlated to ones lower extremities unilateral strength and power, particularly the quadriceps muscular group. The power used during play is either “concentric” or “reactive”; however, reactive power is much more utilized. Reactive power typically elicits the activation of the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC). The SSC is the activation of tendons and ligaments in a spring like manner. This activation can be trained through depth jumps, hurdle jumps, repeated box jumps, counter movement lifts, and many other exercises. Unilateral reactive power is involved in agility and sprinting movements and therefore must be integrated in all S&C programs.
Soccer emphasizes sprinting, agility, power, and balance. These requirements make unilateral training essential. Unilateral training is exercises / movements that places focus on one leg or side at a time. This training helps with total body symmetry. Asymmetry within the body is most often associated with lower limb injuries. The majority of lower extremity injuries in sports happen to only one side or leg, not both. The sport of soccer involves extremely high volumes of running and sprinting (i.e. ballistic unilateral movements), which can create up to seven times more impact on the joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, and muscles. Exercises such as the Bulgarian Split Squats (i.e. Baker Squats), split squats, FMF Step Ups®, single leg box jumps, single leg RDL, and windmill can significantly increase athletic abilities while decreasing the risk of injury.
Throughout this article we have mentioned sprinting as a vast characteristic of soccer. I feel that it is important to mention that soccer consists of far more sub-maximal running actions than maximal sprinting actions. Throughout the duration of a soccer match one may sprint anywhere from 3 to 40 times, which only comprises of 2.5% of the total distance covered (3). This statistic doesn’t take away from the importance and efficacy of sprinting during training, but it is simply worth mentioning.
Soccer is indeed a unique sport. One might argue that it is the most dynamic sport in the world. Others may argue that MMA, basketball, Lacrosse, and various other sports are just as dynamic. However, it doesn’t change the fact that this sport is highly athletic and has a high rate of injury. Throughout the article I listed different metabolic and biomechanical characteristics of soccer. Use those to filter through sub-par “Soccer Specific” training programs and seek out coaches that are aware of these characteristics. After all, incorporating the right training regimen can be the difference between being injury free or injury stricken.
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