Soccer is an aerobic sport, isn’t it?

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ENERGY SYSTEM DEMANDS OF THE SPORT OF SOCCER

We all realize that in order to be successful in the game of soccer, high levels of physical condition are required. Games are long and substitutions and breaks are few and far between. Teams that are physically conditioned often “wear down” opponents as the game progresses.

Unlike the game of American Football where there are short bursts of activity (4-6 seconds) followed by 30-40 second rest intervals, some soccer position players are often required to keep moving almost constantly.

This gives the impression of great “aerobic” demand. Many coaches take this assumption and literally “run with it” by emphasizing aerobic-type conditioning almost exclusively. I ran across an interesting breakdown of soccer performance during an elite 90-minute soccer match. It was found that during these 90 minutes players spent 17% (15 min.) standing, 42% (38 min.) walking, 16% (14 min.) jogging, 25% (22 min.) running with less than 2 minutes of this sprinting.

Another source found the following: o the Soccer field, it has been shown that the percentage emphasis on aerobic metabolism is as low as 0%-20%1 (with the 20% being halfbacks or link players). This would mean that a greater than 80% emphasis can be placed on the Anaerobic system. This information allows the strength and conditioning professional to intelligently plan a well-rounded running conditioning program.

I should note that I do believe in performing some non-stop work in the form of fartleks (see below) but even when performing aerobic-natured sessions, I like to use aerobic intervals of higher and lower intensities.

I just think it is much more specific to the nature of the sport.- since rarely are the athletes allowed to come to a complete stop in order to rest.

UNDERSTANDING THE AEROBIC VS. ANAEROBIC DEBATE

Without getting too scientific let’s examine the two energy systems.

This anaerobic system can be broken down into two sub-categories, the Phosphagen or ATP-CP and the lactic anaerobic category.

Phosphagen can support high intensity activity for approximately 0-10 seconds while Lactic Acid metabolism can support high intensity activity for 10 seconds to 1.5 – 2 minutes maximum.

The aerobic system can support moderate levels of work for long periods of time and low levels of work almost indefinitely.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN WHEN CONDITIONING SOCCER ATHLETES?

The concept of “Interval Training” has given coaches a means of incorporating all the necessary energy system components vital to soccer performance and customizes conditioning workouts.

Interval Training involves repeated bouts of exercise (low, moderate, or high intensity) with specified rest periods. It is possible to train components of both Aerobic and Anaerobic systems in one workout using interval work. It is wise to incorporate all 3 types of running (low, moderate, and high (sprint)) in these workouts, as this will specifically tax those energy components mentioned earlier.

The following tables highlight some ideas to help coaches formulate a sound soccer running conditioning program:

Table 1: Intensity and Work:Rest Ratios

Distance Intensity Work:Rest Ratio Energy System
20-60 Yards Sprint *1:3-6 Phosphagen
100-400 Yards Stride – Moderate 1:1 Lactic Acid
More than 2 Minutes Jog N/A Aerobic

Table 2: Soccer Workouts that incorporate both anerobic and aerobic components

Workout #1 Workout #2
Warm-Up & Stretch Warm-Up & Stretch
10 X 100 YARD STRIDERS W/ 1:1 WORK: REST RATIO 10 X ¹200 YARD GASSERS (STRIDERS) WITH 1:1 RATIO
15 X 30 YARD SPRINTS WITH 1:5 RATIO 10 X 20 YARD SPRINT/BACKPEDAL DRILL WITH 1:5 RATIO
10 X 20 YARD AGILITY RUN WITH 1:5 RATIO 10 MIN. OF FAST-SLOW RUNNING AROUND FIELD (1 MIN INTERVALS)
10 MIN. 110 YARD · FARTLEKS (STRIDE 30/HARD RUN 40/STRIDE 30/WALK 10, CONTINUOUS)

When interval training the athlete’s heart rate will stay relatively high (up to 95% of Max heart rate). The rest intervals will allow this rate to decrease but usually not more than 20-30%.

This means that if the above workouts take approximately 20+ minutes to complete and the athlete’s heart rate DOES NOT drop below “aerobic” guidelines (65-70% of Max heart rate), we will obtain both aerobic and anaerobic training effects.

It is also beneficial to use soccer drills as part of the players conditioning regimen (using the same intensities and work: rest ratios).

1 Scientific Basis of Athletic Conditioning, Fisher, G. and Jensen, C, Lea & Febiger, 1989

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