How to make the most of your soccer training sessions

You don't have to train as hard as David Beckham, but you should make training a high priority  Credit: Jamie McDonald/Allsport
As a player, did you ever go through a practice or a season wondering just what the coach was thinking about when planning the season?

As a coach, did you ever question if the way you ran the season brought out the best in your players?

Systematic manipulation of training variables (frequency, intensity and duration of training) is based on some principles should be planned out to maximize performance.

It is not uncommon for a coach to use any one of the excellent books on training games as their primary resource. However, choosing a combination of activities and when to use them requires an understanding of some basic training concepts.

Specificity of exercise
This is probably the most important concept to appreciate. This says 3 things:

First, that a specific type of exercise leads to a specific response — the heart rate response to a 400-meter sprint is different than a the rate after a basketball game.

Second, that a specific type of training leads to a specific adaptation — muscle adaptation from distance running is different from sprinting.

Finally, that a specific type of exercise leads to a specific type of fatigue — why a weight lifter fails to lift a certain amount of weight is different than why a distance runner slows down.

Therefore, to be a better soccer player play soccer — within reason.

Ramping of training
Fitness is developed, it doesn't just happen.

The slower one's fitness is improved, the higher the eventual level of performance and the longer that level of performance can be maintained.

Does this sound familiar? It's two weeks before the season and you think, "Wow, I've got to get in shape."

Will you improve? Yes. Will you be at your best? No, because the development period was so short. So, just when should one begin training? Basically, after a brief break following the end of the previous season.

This will allow for a longer buildup that will lead to better fitness for a longer period of the season. You don't want to be like those teams that flame out after a couple weeks into a long season.

Periodization of training
This is a little more complex and involves the manipulation of 3 training emphases: volume, intensity, technique.

If you remember nothing else, remember that volume of training and intensity of training are opposites - when you train long, you train at a lower intensity, but when you train intensely, it is for a short period of time.

In the early off-season, running should be directed toward endurance exercise — jogging. Make sure players have good running shoes. The distance will vary with the age of the players with older players jogging (moderate intensity) for longer distances (high volume).

After a few weeks, some 'fartlek' (speed play) can be added a couple days a week. Fartlek training inserts periodic segments of higher intensity running — pick a landmark and run to it faster, then slow back to what you think you were running before, recover, then repeat.

The total running distance is reduced a little (less volume but at a little higher intensity). Closer to camp, some interval work can be added. Interval running has a set work and rest interval. The running distances are shorter, but the speeds are higher.

For example, consider 100 yards (for men, shorter for women) in 15 seconds (a good hard stride) with 45 seconds rest — a typical 1:3 work:rest ratio common to interval training.

Again, age dictates the volume of work. I've seen college age players gradually work up to 50 over about a month. Next stop is training camp where the game work is at a higher intensity (sprints) over shorter distances (typically 10-40m) and is more specific to soccer.

Throughout the year, the player should be working on weaknesses in their game and play pick-up games whenever possible. In season, team tactics are stressed, but as the game approaches, the volume and intensity of training decrease to rest players for competition.

During the season, there is some improvement in fitness, but once the season is about 1/3 complete, the goal is to maintain fitness and this is accomplished by having 3 training sessions a week that have some intense training.

Each session need have only 1/3 of the time devoted to fitness. So a 90-minute session would have 30 minutes of hard work. Best to break this down as two 15-minute periods or three 10-minute periods. And remember, competitive games count as one of those sessions (intrasquad games don't).

One final note: These types of suggestions are best applied to older players, mostly high school and older. For younger players, training emphasizes technique and elementary tactics. The overall goal is to bring players to their best soccer-specific fitness without falling into the over-training trap.

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