Coaches should be aware of the latest research in the sports science and physiology arena in order to constantly keep their team performing at their maximum potential. Research findings in the area of sports nutrition and conditioning can have a dramatic and immediate effect on a team’s performance. Effectively using this information can provide that extra edge over close opponents, especially in the latter stages of the season when games take on extra importance and overall team fatigue is a real factor.
In this review, we will look at two areas, the pre-event/pre-training warm-up and conditioning. After reviewing the research below, it will be clear that substantial gains can be made by changing the warm-up routine to eliminate static stretching and include a halftime re-warm-up, and using small-sided games to efficiently and effectively combine soccer-specific conditioning with technical/tactical training.
“Muscle Temperature and sprint performance during soccer matches – beneficial effect of re-warm-up at half-time.” Mohr, M., Krustrup, P., Nybo, L., Nielsen, J, Bangsbo, J., (2004). Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 14(3): 156-162.
Researchers from the Institute of Exercise and Sports Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark examined the effect of re-warm-up activities on sprinting speed prior to the second-half of a soccer match.
Sixteen players were divided into two groups. The first group participated in a half-time warm-up consisting of moderate-intensity running intervals (~135 bpm or 70% HRmax). The control group rested passively.
During the second-half the players who rested during halftime showed a significant 2.4% decrease in sprint speed, while the re-warm-up group did not experience any decrease in sprint speed.
Implications: A decrease in sprint performance during the second half of a soccer game may be caused by resting prior to the second half of play. Having your team participate in a re-warm-up may provide a decisive boost to team performance through the maintenance of sprinting speed.
“Pre-exercise stretching – is it time to tear up the old rule book?” O’Donovan, G., Peak Performance, 226: 5-7.
Traditional guidelines recommend stretching before exercise. However, there is increasing evidence that pre-exercise stretching does not prevent injury and is detrimental to sports performance.
Pre-exercise stretching and injuries – Several studies have shown that there is no increase in injury rates among athletes who followed the traditional guidelines of an aerobic warm-up and pre-exercise stretching as compared to those who skipped the pre-exercise stretching.
Pre-exercise stretching and performance – Studies have shown that both static and ballistic stretching prior to weight lifting exercises reduces muscular strength and decreases the muscular endurance. In addition, researchers have found that the reduction in strength can last between 60-120 minutes after stretching. Other studies, conducted on collegiate track athletes and rugby union players have shown a reduction in sprint times after static stretching.
Flexibility and performance – Cross-sectional data from studies suggest that runners are less flexible than sedentary individuals and that the least flexible runners are also the most economical. It could, therefore, be suggested that muscle and tendon tightness improves performance.
Implications: Pre-exercise stretching does not reduce injuries and is detrimental to athletic performance. The proper warm-up should consist of jogging followed by a dynamic, sport-specific routine designed to mimic the motions of the intended activity.
“Small-sided games as an alternative to interval training for soccer players.” Reilly, T., White, C. (2004). Journal of Sports Sciences, 22(6): 559.
The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of using small-sided games for training explosive power, agility, anaerobic capacity, and aerobic capacity.
The subjects were professional academy soccer players, from a Premier League club, aged 17-20 years. Experimentation was conducted twice per week for six weeks using 6 sets of 5 vs. 5 games of 4 min. duration with 3 min. rest between sets (jogging at 50-60% HRmax).
It was determined that there was no significant difference between the small-sided group and the control group using traditional conditioning training methods in any of the performance tests for explosive power, agility, anaerobic capacity, or aerobic capacity.
Implications: Small-sided games are a better alternative to traditional physical training without the ball because it incorporates a sport-specific element to conditioning and increases motivation among the participants while maintaining the same training effect.
“Aerobic endurance training improves soccer performance.” Helgerud, J., Engen, L., Wisloff, U., and Hoff, J. (2001). Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(11): 1925-1931.
The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of aerobic training through small-sided games on performance during soccer match and soccer-specific tests.
Elite male junior soccer players, aged 17-19 years, participated aerobic interval training consisting of 4 x 4 min. at 90-95% HRmax with 3 min. of active recovery (jogging) twice per week for 8 weeks.
The following improvements were made by the experimental group:
a) Maximal oxygen uptake increased
b) Lactate threshold increased
c) Running economy improved
d) Distance covered during a match increased
e) Number of sprints during a match increased
f) Number of involvements with the ball increased
g) The average work intensity (%HRmax) during a soccer match was enhanced.
No changes were found in maximal vertical jumping height, strength, speed, kicking velocity, kicking precision, or passing accuracy. The control group showed no changes in any tested parameters.
Implications: Aerobic interval training is an effective means to improve team conditioning. The suggested protocol of 4 x 4 min high intensity running with 3 min jogging recovery is an effective exercise for improving many soccer-specific parameters.
“Suitability of soccer training drills for endurance training.” Little, T., Williams, A. (2006). The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(2): 316-319.
This study aimed to investigate the variability and reliability of exercise intensity among individual players during small-sided soccer games. Heart rates of 23 professional soccer players were monitored during a variety of games from 2 vs. 2 to 8 vs. 8 (normal scoring and possession games). The format and structure for the games range from 4 x 2 min, 2-min rest for the 2 vs. 2 game to 3 x 10 min., 1.5-min rest for the 8 vs. 8 game.
It was found that the variation across the players was less that 3% for all drills and there was no significant difference during repetition of the games. Several games produced exercises intensities in the 87-91% HRmax range which is suitable for aerobic endurance training. Additionally, the 2 vs. 2, 3 vs. 3, 4 vs. 4, and 6 vs. 6 games produced exercise intensities in the 90-95% HRmax range which is suitable for improving VO2max. The 5 vs. 5, 6 vs. 6 and 8 vs. 8 games produced exercise intensities in the 85-90% HRmax range which is suitable for improving lactate threshold.
Implications: Small-sided games ranging from 2 vs. 2 up to 8 vs. 8 are an excellent exercise for team training of aerobic endurance.
“A comparison of small games training versus interval training for improved aerobic fitness and prolonged, high-intensity, intermittent running performance.” Coutts, A., Sirotic, A. AAESS: Exercise and Sports Science Conference 2004: From Research to Practice, Brisbane, Australia, ISSN 1876674768, Central Queensland University, 2004.
The purpose of this study was to compare the physiological effects of small-sided games and interval training for improving conditioning in team sport athletes.
12 female athletes were divided into two groups – interval running or small-sided games. Both groups completed regular training and an additional 3 sessions per week of specialized training depending on their respective group. The interval running consisted of 5-7 repetitions of 4 min intervals of continuous running at an intensity of 85-95% HRmax with 3 min recovery between repetitions. The small-sided games consisted of a 5-7 repetitions of a modified touch football game with 3 min recovery between games.
Physiological tests on the athletes were conducted pre- and post-experiment. The tests included VO2max, running velocity at lactate threshold, and 30-min game simulation on a treadmill. The treadmill test was designed to allow measurement of total distance covered, distance covered during high-intensity activity, and distance covered during 4 x 6-sec repeated sprints.
The results showed no difference between the small-sided games group and the interval running group in any of the physiological tests. For both groups, the post-experiment measurement of VO2max increased significantly from the pre-experiment measurements. Consequently, the treadmill running tests also showed performance improvement between pre- and post- measurements.
However, using the Daily Analysis of Life-Demands for Athletes (DALDA) monitoring tool the interval running group did record a higher stress disturbance due to training than the small-sided games group.
Implications: The use of small-sided games for sport-specific conditioning is at least equal to interval running for improving running performance during team sports. Interval running may introduce a higher level of training stress which could have a detrimental impact on performance and lead more quickly to a condition of overtraining.