Training in football

Besides technical and tactical training, fitness plays a major role in the training schedule (depending on the time during the season, the level of play etc).

The following will describe basic guidelines to train for physical capacities such as aerobic- and anaerobic endurance, speed, agility/change of direction, and strength and power training.


Aerobic endurance training in football

Obviously, players need to be able to run at a high intensity for the entire period of a game and therefore training for aerobic endurance is essential.

Generally, we don’t want to comment on the “classical” debate “interval training vs. small-sided games (SSG)” (20) – see references below as we believe BOTH training modalities have its place - depending on the level of play of the team, staff involved, time and equipment available and coaching philosophy.

Besides interval training and SSG additional four possibilities to train for aerobic endurance can be added (15). Therefore coaches and S&C staff have a total of six modalities:

a)    Interval training
b)    Small-Sided Game
c)    Game simulations
d)    Football specific circuits
e)    Repeated sprint
 f)    Speed and agility


A) Interval training

The beneficial aspects from interval training on aerobic endurance were reported in adult amateur (20), professional (69) and junior elite soccer players (8, 24, 27, 30, 59-61).

The running consisted of 4 x 4 sets at 90-95% (24, 30) of maximal heart rate with a 3 min jog in between, twice (8, 20, 24, 30, 60) or 3-4 (59) times per week for 4- (30), 5- (59), 6- (20), 7- (8), 8- (24, 30, 60) weeks. Changes were seen in  a) VO2max,  b) lactate threshold,  c) running economy,  d) distance covered (6.4-20%) in a match,  e) number of sprints (100%),  f) number of involvements with the ball (+24%),  g) work intensity,  h) 200-2400m-tests (4.2-7.9%) (29).

B) Small-Sided-Games (SSG)

SSG has many advantages over other conditioning formats (football specific movement, technical training, possible tactical improvements and it consist of high motivational factors to train) (37).

Results show improvements in aerobic endurance (26, 40), VO2max (13, 32), running velocity at lactate threshold (30), Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test level 2 performance (32), repeated sprint ability (32) and also change of direction performance (19).

Disadvantages of SSG are: It is harder to control the intensity (36), heart rate responses were less homogeneous (24), the activity of the players were different due to position, the opponents and/or their motivation (62), lower when goalies were included (2) AND fitter player covered more distance during SSG (18), which shows that SSG must not be the one-and-only conditioning solution.

C) Game simulations

To our knowledge, modeling of football matches have occurred throughout the literature (53, 65), however it seems there has not been an attempt to use it as a training tool to improve aerobic endurance in football.


D) Football circuits

Aerobic endurance was trained utilizing a football circuit in youth (13, 44) professional football players (28) in which player had to dribble a ball.


The duration and intensity was set to 4 minutes at 90-95% of maximal heart rate. Four sets with 3 minutes of recovery jog at 70% of maximal heart rate were performed. Improvements were seen in VO2max after a total of 20 training sessions (two training sessions/week for ten weeks).


E) Repeated sprinting

Repeated sprint ability is a very important part of the game, its development affected by age, position and playing time (11, 46). Generally repeated sprinting is characterized by several sprints (such as 6 x 40m) interspersed with a brief (5-120 seconds and therefore incomplete) recovery period.


Such activity was moderately (6) correlated with aerobic endurance (16, 44, 49, 58) and reported to be similar to metabolic responses in a football match (8).

Several studies reported improvements in aerobic endurance through repeated sprint training (9, 12, 17, 22, 35, 39, 54, 64).

Repeates sprint ability was also investigated in youth football showing possible connection to trainability of aerobic endurance in youth footballers (64).

Note: The majority of literature on repeated sprint ability was on a mixed population and not necessarily on high profile football players (64)

F) Speed and agility

To the best of our knowledge,  we have only found one study that investigated speed and agility training and its effect on aerobic endurance (10). The authors presented a moderate impact in professional handball players.



The following table presents how the different modalities train each other (15):

Training mode
Interval RSA Simulations Speed/Agility SSG

Speed &


 ~  Yes  Yes   Yes Yes  ~/Yes
Agility  -  -  -  Yes  ~/Yes



 ~/Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes
RSA  ~   Yes Yes   Yes Yes   Yes Yes  ~/Yes
Aerobic Yes Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes



Yes  ?  ?  ?  Yes

Also, the table provides insight into senior football only (age 18 and above). Youth training will depend on maturation and consequences for different training methods apply.


Anaerobic endurance training in football

Anaerobic endurance is generally trained in repeated sprint setting. Heavily debated content within repeated sprint training are:

  • Work to rest ratio (1, 38, 51, 52)
  • Active vs. passive recovery (57)

Training intervention was 6 (17) or 10 (64) weeks with a training frequency of 1 (64), 2-3 (17) training sessions/week and a work to rest ratio of 1:4 - 1:6 for sprints of 30-80 m in length (17, 64).

Improvements were seen in 40 meter sprint time (64), repeated sprint performance (64), VO2max and also a proportional increase in type II muscle fiber type (17).

With regard to youth, training seemed to be successfully implemented after peak height velocity (PHV). Generally repeated sprint ability seemed to develop with age, training (11), however physiological foundations are developed during/after puberty, as the results in repeated sprinting in different age groups were less variable from age 15-18 (49, 58) and differences with between age groups disappeared after controlling for age at peak height velocity (45).

However, we believe that anaerobic endurance can also be trained in a “better” football specific setting.


Speed training in football

As it seems there is only limited evidence about speed training in football. A combined training regime (strength and speed) (33), as well as plyometrics in youth football players (47).


Strength training in football

Similar to aerobic endurance and depending on the competition level of the team, staff, time and equipment availability and personal philosophy, strength training might not be the highest priority in a training schedule.

However we believe that it plays a major role in injury prevention (3, 5, 34, 48) and can aid improving (football) performance (14, 33, 42, 50, 55, 56, 66) in adults (5, 14, 33, 34, 48, 55, 56, 66) and female youth players (23, 41). From a practical point of view we want to distinguish between:


  • on pitch
  • gym-based strength training

for legs, core,  and shoulder



Flexibility training in football

Flexibility (in general) training seems to be a topic that is underestimated in performance, improving performance and injury prevention.


 Flexibility can be seen/measured as Range of Motion (ROM) and it displays the degree of movement that occurs at a joint (7). As Baechle and Earle stated (53) the ROM of a particular joint is determined by a number of factors such as connective tissue structure, activity level of the player, age and gender.


Furthermore, the ROM is specific to each joint’s anatomy, the movements required at that joint and ultimately the requirements of football.

Flexibility has static and dynamic component and the relationship between the two types of flexibility is unresolved.

Static flexibility... the passive ROM about a joint and its surrounding muscles.

Dynamic flexibility...
...refers to the available ROM during active movements and therefore requires voluntary muscular actions (31).

As suggested earlier, each sport has its own specific flexibility that is related to the movements in the sport. Therefore, football requires a specific flexibility that is related to football specific movements (21, 63).


Importance of flexibility

 An increase in flexibility and therefore in ROM might support greater force production but more importantly seem to reduce injury risk (3, 4, 25, 67, 68).

Ways to improve flexibility
As flexibility is usually be improved through stretching we would like to further refer to the section stretching.




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