Fitness training for football

One of the first things that comes to mind whenever anyone mentions the words aerobic or fitness training are miles and miles of endless running. As the majority of activity in football is aerobic, the training and testing of aerobic fitness is a crucial part of any footballers training programme.  However, methods other than endless miles of running may be more beneficial to football players; particularly those of a higher standard. A variety of methods have been used in a number of scientific research papers; some of which will be outlined below.

Click here to read why football match-play alone may not be good enough for improving your player's fitness levels.

Conventional Endurance Running: The majority of research focusing on the development of aerobic fitness has used people who had previously not participated in exercise. The onset of sub-maximal exercise training over a prolonged period of time resulted in a number of changes that improved the delivery and usage of oxygen in working muscles. These changes combined with a reduction in heart rate at the same exercise intensity and an increase in blood volume, have caused improvements in maximal aerobic capacity following training. However, the problem with designing training programmes for footballers based on the results of such studies is that footballers are not people who are inactive. Elite players may cover up to 12 km in a match; therefore the training of these players relies upon some different training regimes. Support for alternative methods of training can be found in research that finds no extra benefit to aerobic capacity despite increases in sub-maximal training volume (1).

High Intensity Interval Training: Due to the lack of application of conventional endurance training to football, high intensity interval training has been used as a method of improving performance. High intensity interval training is defined as a systematic cycling of repeated short to moderate duration bouts of exercise (i.e., anywhere between 10 s and 5 min), at an intensity that exceeds anaerobic threshold, that are also interspersed with low intensity activity (or inactivity) allowing for partial but not full recovery. In simple terms, this is a repetition of a short duration exercise such as sprints that are separated by limited or no activity. Although the mechanisms of improved running performance remain unclear, the repeated stressing of the metabolic systems, to an extent greater than that required during a match, causes adaptive processes to develop that enhance exercise performance. Here at we regularly use interval training as a method of conditioning - more specific information is available on request.

Click here for a case study on how interval training can be used to improve your player's fitness levels.

Small Sided Games: Sports-specific conditioning is an important part of all training programmes, and nothing is more sports specific than the use of match-play to develop aerobic capacity. Although normal match-play is not considered a high enough intensity to improve fitness, small sided games are often used as an alternative to interval training, especially in younger players, and can be thought of as miniaturised football games. Modifying pitch-size, the number of participants and the duration of match play can intensify the demands of a game above that normally experienced; consequently different training responses can be emphasised.  Common approaches are 4 v 4 or 2 v 2 games, however, there are an infinite number of protocols that can be developed  - please refer to the useful exercise and drills section of this website for an example of a very effective small sided game.  Careful modification of variables in small sided games can produce a consistent aerobic training stimulus which results in improvements in aerobic capacity (2). Here at we regularly use small sided games as a method of conditioning - more specific information is available on request.

Match Simulations: Match simulations are repeated circuits of football-specific movements that replicate the exercise demands of match-play.  Although predominantly used in scientific research to ensure experimental control and overcome the variability that exists between consecutive matches, evidence does exist to suggest that simulated match-play can provide a stimulus for aerobic conditioning. Here at we regularly use simulated match-play as a method of conditioning as it is another variation of exercise that can improve aerobic fitness - more specific information of the simulations we use is available on request.


Here at we use all of the methods mentioned above to provide players with a constant and varied stimulus that provides adaptations that are beneficial to performance.  Please contact us for specific details.


Additional Reading

1. Londeree, B. R. (1997). "Effect of training on lactate/ventilatory thresholds: A meta-analysis." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 29: 837-843.

2. Hill-Haas, S., G. Roswell, A. J. Coutts and B. Dawson (2008). "The reproducibility of physiological responses and performance profiles of youth soccer players in small sided games." International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 3: 393-396.