Endurance Soccer Training... Building Peak Aerobic Fitness

You could argue that endurance soccer training is the most important element of your conditioning program...

And, just as strength training for soccer consists of more than just lifting weights, soccer endurance training involves more than just running continuously.

Running - at any intensity - for 90 minutes, requires a high level of stamina.

Couple that with the fact that much of that running consists of high intensity sprints, jumps, challenges and tackles, and you can see why endurance soccer training becomes the foundation of any fitness regime.

Here's a break down of how an outfield player might spend his or her 90 minutes on the field of play:

Endurance soccer training statsAdapted from Umbro Conditioning for Football, 1997.

Soccer player running

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We can group the walking, jogging and running activities under aerobic or cardiorespiratory activities.

It's these types of activities that require high levels of cardiovascular endurance. And you can see form the diagram above just how predominant they are in the game of soccer. But the importance of endurance soccer training doesn't end there...

To repeat short bouts of high-intensity activities over 90 minutes - like sprinting, kicking and jumping - also requires a good aerobic base.

The ability of a soccer player to sprint as fast and as often in the final 10 minutes of match as in the first 10 minutes, is a reflection of his or her aerobic endurance.

Endurance Soccer Training Guidelines

There are a few key principles (called the principles of training) that are particularly relevant to aerobic endurance conditioning...

  • Specific
    The mode of training you perform should be specific to your sport. So, as an obvious example, soccer players run. Cycling or swimming will develop aerobic endurance but not in the same precise manner that jogging will.

  • Overload
    An endurance soccer training session must be strenuous enough to overload the aerobic system. By overload I simply enough intensity to take your body out of its comfort zone. The caveat is that you don't try and follow a "no pain - no gain" mentality!

  • Progression
    As your body adapts to vigorous training it will soon fall into a comfort zone again. To continue improving you must progress the intensity (or duration) to bring about more overload and so more adaptation.

  • Recovery
    Over-training is not a past time reserved only for the elite. It is easy to do too much and try to progress too quickly. Listen to your body. Be flexible with your plan and take a day off if needs be. Or lighten the intensity for a week to boost your energy levels.

In early pre-season, light endurance soccer training might feature 5 or 6 days of the week for pros. Three is ample.

As the season start draws closer, a program might consist of 3 higher intensity interval sessions (see below) per week.

Each endurance session should last between 20 and 45 minutes. After 45 minutes returns are diminished and it begins to impact on other training modalities.

Continuous and Interval Endurance Soccer Training

Aerobic endurance sessions can be split into 2 broad groups...

  • Continuous training - running at a moderate intensity continuously, without rest periods

  • Interval training - higher intensity for shorter bouts separated by rest periods

First question...

Which of these 2 types of aerobic endurance training is more specific to soccer?

Yep... interval training. Soccer is played in short bursts.

That doesn't make continuous training obsolete though. It is the best from of conditioning for early pre-season when players return form the off-season break. It is also used for active recovery sessions - maybe the day after a particularly tough game.

Fartlek training offers a nice variation and is great for group training...

It consists of running, jogging and walking intermittently. For example a player could cruise for 30 seconds followed by a light jog for 60 seconds, followed by a three quarter sprint for 10 seconds.

This cycle is repeated for the duration of the session - 20 to 30 minutes on averageThere is any number of combinations for fartlek training. It's a good introduction to the training season and adds variety to the often monotonous, continuous endurance training.

Interval training becomes more important in the latter stages of pre-season preparation. Here's an example session...

Pam knows she can run 2 miles continuously in about 12 minutes.

Switching to interval training she breaks the distance up into four, half-mile sections.

Pam knows she can run a quicker pace over just half a mile. So, she sets herself a target time of 21/2 minutes for each half-mile run.

Interval Training Session
4 X1/2 mile in 2.5 mins

If Pam completes this whole session she will have run a total of 2 miles in 10 minutes, not something she could do running continuously for 2 miles.

Interval endurance sessions, being more intense, tend to be shorter in time than continuous runs. During the in-season a competitive game acts as an interval endurance session.

Usually that is enough to maintain the aerobic conditioning built up during pre-season preparation. One extra session per week is fine also.

Anaerobic Endurance Soccer Training

Moving away from aerobic endurance there is another type of endurance very important to you, as a soccer player...

It's called anaerobic endurance. Your ability to maintain short bursts of power or repeat high-intensity movements in quick succession is a measure of your anaerobic endurance.

If you take time to train for improved speed endurance it can have a dramatic effect on your game. It's tough. In fact it's by far the toughest form of training I have had the good fortune to complete!

If you've never enjoyed the effects of sudden and significant amounts of lactic acid running through your blood stream, you are in for a treat!

But in comparison it makes a competitive game feel easy. It does wonders for your confidence. And your touch and skill improves as a bonus...

There is nothing more difficult than trying to control a difficult ball and make an accurate pass when you are gasping for breath. With this type of training you rarely struggling making the rest of the game that much more enjoyable.

Soccer player running

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