Training players' anaerobic endurance

Time-motion analysis (TMA) revealed that football requires players to repeatedly produce maximal or near maximal sprints of short duration with brief recovery, which will highly tax the anaerobic endurance (for further explanation please see our section: testing --> anaerobic endurance) and result in temporary fatigue (9) - see references below.

As a result anaerobic endurance performance seems to be crucial physical attribute/characteristics in football.

Anaerobic endurance in football

Anaerobic endurance is generally trained with repeated-sprinting and therefore coaches also refer to it as repeated-sprint ability (RSA).

Debated content within repeated-sprint training were a) the work to rest ratio (2, 5, 11, 12), as it would be plausible to mimic a football match and furthermore b) the effect of active versus passive recovery (13).

As an initial suggestion and possible solution for the “debate” about the work-to-rest ratio is that the 1:6 exercise to rest ratio (5) resulted in a fatigue rate that is close to a match simulation and therefore might mimic an actual football match (1). Furthermore, it seems that the mode of recovery (active vs. passive) including the time will affect recovery. The 1:10 ratio was seen to result in a complete recovery for 15 meter sprints, which are typical in football, however resulted in an incomplete recovery for 30 and 50 meter sprints (2).

Anaerobic endurance development in youth

Additional information for youth coaches might be regarding the development of repeated-sprint ability, which was reported to be age-based (U14 < U16 < U18) (8).  Significant differences were still present between age groups after controlling for body mass and fat free mass (8). However the discrepancies disappeared when controlling for maturation suggesting that repeated-sprint ability is a quality influenced by maturation. In contrast, repeated-sprint performance improved from the U11 to U15 age groups and then plateaued (10).

As a result it seems that there is more research needed with regards to the development of repeated-sprint performance development to further determine if a) the development is based on age vs. maturation and as a consequence b) when training can be implemented effectively.

General (sport science) guidelines to train anaerobic endurance utilizing repeated-sprinting

Intensity in repeated-sprint training is maximal. However, the load on the anaerobic system will depend on the number of sprints and the “duration” (which is determined by the repeated sprint distance) and the recovery time between sprints.


Used protocols throughout the literature were 5-6 x 15-20 m (3), 6 x 30 m, 6 x 40 (4, 7), 10 x 40 m (15) and 12 x 20 m (7) and included a) a recovery between sprints of 23 (3), 30 seconds (as active recovery (10, 14) in which players jogged with an average pace of ~2 m/s (3, 10, 14)) or b) 23 seconds of passive recovery (3) or c) relative recovery (here passive recovery --> standing), determined by a a work-to-rest ratio of 1:4 - 1:6 for sprints of 30-80 m in length (4).


Training frequency per week
Once (3, 15), 2-3 (4), or 3 (6) training sessions per week are reported. We believe that the decision about the amount of training session per week must be determined from a coaching philosophy point of view as well as a sport science.

For example: Pre-season with its schedule and purpose will allow a micro-cycle training schedule with up to 3 sessions, while this approach would be unrealistic and non-sense in an in-season schedule in which 3 games are played. We feel that 2 sessions during pre-season should apply sufficient stimuli to develop, while 1 session during in-season might maintain anaerobic endurance.

Furthermore, it is also important to distinguish between the level of play, as players at a higher level can tolerate more trianing compared to lower level/amateur players and the time of the season in this context and we believe that amateur (or lower level players) will increase their anaerobic endurance capacity quicker than professional players. However, they will also be more prone to injury as well.

Total duration of training intervention
Six (4), 7 (6), 10 (3) and 13 weeks (however, pre-season intervention) (15) were used for length of training interventions.

Similar to the training frequency per week, the duration seems debatable due to philosophy and schedules. Already a 6-week intervention might be impractical for most football teams, however from our experience we also believe that 4 weeks is enough to increase anaerobic performance.

Progression of football training
In order to have an efficient training, which could be defined as  learning/adaptation to training, progression needs to occur (especially during pre-season). Progression in training can be ensured utilizing monitoring (Monitoring was explained in more depth in our section "Injury prevention").    
Generally, the players should be accustomized to an increasing load until certain criteria/threshold/benchmark is met. From this point onwards, training load per session (such as the total load, or specific load such as duration, or distances etc.) and the frequency per week can be reduced to maintain the fitness level.

Effect of training

Effect of repeated sprint session were seen in improvements in countermovement jump performance (3), 30-(3, 6), 40-(15) and 250 m sprint time (6), repeated sprint performance (4, 6, 15), VO2max (6), and a proportional increase in type II muscle fiber type (4).


Training anaerobic endurance incorporating technical and tactical aspects of the game

From a practical point of view it depends on the environment (level of play, budget, manpower etc) how much time can be spend with the players.

Therefore, training the anaerobic endurance could possibly involve not only the physiological (anaerobic system) but also some technical aspects (such as heading or finishing) and possibly some tactical aspects (such as defending with a lower amount of players compared to oppostion). As a result, depending on the set up of the exercise, it might be possible to combine multiple training goals.



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