Include interval training in planning your soccer workouts

In the past, I have stressed the importance of endurance and discussed how to manipulate training for soccer to improve endurance.

I have stressed a good aerobic capacity as a factor that separates successful from unsuccessful teams. I have also suggested that training on the ball can increase performance.

But it is not unusual for someone to question how short-term, high-intensity training (interval training) will improve endurance. The question goes sort of like this: If you want to improve endurance, shouldnt you just go out and run for a long time? Running short intervals just cant seem to improve endurance.

Well, not only does interval training improve aerobic capacity, but in some studies, interval training is better than continuous running at improving endurance. And interval training is also a pretty efficient use of time. Consider the following research studies:

  • From McMaster University in Canada: cyclists substituted three days a week of regular riding with three days of intervals. The program started with four 30-second all-out intervals and four minutes of rest. Over the seven weeks of the project, the number of bouts increased to 10 with the rest gradually dropping to 2.5 minutes. The duration of each session was 14 minutes at the start and increased to 30 minutes at the end. Endurance capacity (measured by VO2max) increased by 9 percent with this relatively small amount of work.

  • From Japans National Institute of Fitness and Sport: six weeks of interval cycling led to a greater increase in VO2max (+15 percent) than did continuous cycling (+9 percent). The interval group performed eight all-out workouts six days a week on the cycle ergometer: 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of recovery. These workouts lasted 20 minutes.

  • From South Africa: Over a four-week period, cyclists replace 15 percent of their endurance training time with six interval training sessions (six to eight five-minute rides at 80 percent of capacity separated by 60 seconds of recovery). Their 40-kilometer time trial improved by two minutes easily the difference between a trophy and no trophy.

  • From Greensboro, N.C.: Eight weeks of high-intensity training led to a 63-second reduction in 10K running time and less lactic acid production (that heavy, painful feeling in your legs when run hard).

    It is interesting that cutting back on exercise volume and raising exercise intensity can improve both aerobic capacity and performance. How does this happen? When the enzymes of the muscles are measured, those that push the use of oxygen increase markedly. Your body produces more capillaries in the muscles, decreasing the distance oxygen has to travel to get to cells. In addition, the hard work teaches the heart to pump more blood with each beat, especially during the recovery period. So more oxygen is pumped and the extra oxygen is used by the muscles at a faster rate. This is good.

    We hear repeatedly that distance running for soccer is a no-no. Then, it is a good thing to do intervals all the time, right? No to this one too. Interval training is only a part of a training program, not the whole program.

    Plan the year out. After one season ends and you take a break from the game for a while, a preparatory period of endurance running comes first, then gradually reduce the running volume (distance) and increase the intensity meaning that you gradually replace endurance days with interval days.

    When you get to formal preseason training, the length of the runs decreases further and the intensity increases to mimic the running of the game.

    Focusing training on one method, like intervals, can lead to injury and overtraining. The most effective models of training involve distance running (high volume, low intensity) slowly giving way to intervals (lower volume, higher intensity) before leading into game-specific training.

    Planning helps your body ease into the game. Using the game alone for fitness prepares you only for that level of play. Play a team that has better fitness, and you will not have the reserve to call on when you need to work harder.

    Remember, get in shape to play the game, dont play the game to get in shape.

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