Fitness Specifics as they apply to field-based team sports
Although we focus on creating fitness programs specific to soccer, it is important to realize that the specificity is not about the sport, but instead about the demands of the sport. Soccer is a field game played with few stoppages in play where athletes typically perform short high intensity bursts separated by brief periods of rest. Success often depents on 2 factors:
How fast the athlete can recover between burts
How long the athlete can maintain performing the high intensity actions without succumbing to fatigue.
Other sports, such as basketball and hockey have similar requirements; thus, the principles in our programming philosphy apply to those and other sports.
What is Individualized Team Fitness Training?
Simply stated, individualized team fitness training is performing team training activites, but changing the requirements for individuals based on their current fitness status. Strength coaches do this all of the time (it would be strange for a strength coach to ask all players on a team to lift the same weight for an activity, especially if the goal weight was near to each individuals maxumum strength).
On the field, however, it is quite common for coaches to plan a ftiness session where all players complete the same task. For example, the coach might want to work on repeated sprint ability, and have the team perform a series of wind sprints. The problem with this 'one size fits all' approach is that some players are over challenged, and others are under challenged.
What is the focus of the training?
There has been considerable reserach on the demands of the soccer player in terms of physical performance. Although most research has been done on professional teams, the general findings apply to all ages. In general, players on pro teams cover anywhere from 9-12 km during a 90 minute match, using a variety of running speeds. Because the speeds used depend on the situation, and because tactially there are times when a player should not be moving, it would not be appropriate to assume that more distance is better. However, these data do give inslight into the volume expected during matches.
Research has also shown that teams that win tend to cover more distance using high speed running and sprinting than their less succesful counterparts during the last 15 minutes of the match. This statement is important, as it defines that it is not only the ability to perform repeats of high intesity running that is important, but it is also teh ability to continue peforming the high intensity actions after 75 minutes, or between 6-9 km of distance.
Because of these factors, our philophy is that all fitness traingin shoudl be performed at high intensity, with some recovery time. The objective is for the athletes to be able to maintain their workrate even after performing multiple sets of sprint work.
Muscle Energy fo Performance
VO2, or volume of oxygen, is a measure used by sports scientists and exercise physiologists to quantify cardiovascular fitness. VO2 is typically measured by having an athlete exercise to exhastion while their inhaled and exhaled oxygen are measured. Simply stated, VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can process. As you gain fitness, your lungs and heart get stronger so they can deliver oxygen to the muscles performing the work. Your muscles also adapt and become better at using the oxygen being delivered by the blood.
When exercise is completed at a low intensity level, the energy needed for muscular action comes primarily form the aerobic (oxygen) system. Chemical reactions occur in the muscles to change nutrients to energy, and during these reactions, waste products, such as lactic acid, are created. When exercise intensity is low, the blood is capable of removing the lactic acid, allowing exercise to continue, sometimes for very long periods.
As intensity rises, lactate production arises until the body is no longer capable of removing the waste products at the rate they are created, At this intensity level, the muscles start to rely on anaerobic meatbolism, producing energy without oxygen. This intensity level is also know as the ventilatory threshold, and is signified by rapid breathing.
VO2 vs Ventilatory Threshold
It is possible to increase VO2 max with training. However, the maximal VO2 that can be attained depends on individual genetics. It is much easier, however, to change ventilatory threshold as this inensity level could be anywhere between 0 intensity and intensity at VO2 max. The more fit an athlete is, the higher their ventiatory threshold - the higher the ventilatory threshold, the higher the intensity that can be worked at while still relying on oxygen. Remember, when the muscles rely on oxygen for energy, they can work for a long time (aerobic metabolism = longer duration exercise).
The convenient thing about ventilatroy threshold is that it can be expressed as a running speed, known as the Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS). This is the maximum speed an individual can run for a long period of time. If an athlete's MAS is high, they can run at a higher speed while using oxygen as the energy source. For example, say you have two athletes, athlete A with a VO2 max of 58 ml/kg/min and athlete B with a VO2 max 53 ml/kg/min, it woudl be easy to say that athlete A is more fit than athlete B. However, it is possible that their ventilatory thresholds are equal. In this case both athletes will start using anaerobic metabolism at roughly the same speed, meaning that they are pretty much equivalant.
The bottom line is that training to improve ventilatory threshold will offer your athletes performance gains, but the bonus is that when you train to increase ventilatory threshold, you also increase your VO2 max!
How is Ventilatory Threshold Improved?
Scientific research has fimly established that to increase ventilatory threhold, which is practical terms is the MAS, athletes should perform High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), HIgh intensity interval training is exactly as it sounds - intervals of high intensity activity separated by intervals of recovery. The length of the work and rest period and the activities performed can be manipulated by the coach to acheive optimal benefits. Typically, 10s, 20s, 30s, 60s, 2 min, and 4 min interals are used, with recovery periods equal to or longer than the work periods.
The goal of HIIT is twofold:
Train the athlete to be able to maintain performance after repeated sprints (endurance)
Train the athlete to recover faster so that the next sprint can be performed with less rest.
Goal number 1 is to enhance endurance, and goal number 2 is to optimize the recovery systems.
Why is this individualized?
It is doubtful that within a team setting, all players will have identical MAS. This is due to individual differences, and due to positional demands (a wide midfielder has different physical requirements than a center back, for example). If the coach puts a team through a fitenss session requiring HIIT, but has all ahtletes perform the same task, it is probable that the less fit players will be overloaded because they are not capable of the required task. For others, the task may be apporpriate, while for a third group, the task may be too easy.
Consider asking the players to complete 120 yard sprints. Say that you were going to have the players complete 12 sprints, and you wanted them to complete this in 22s. This translates into a required average velocity of 5.45 yards/s. Now let's say that the player's on the team had MAS between 5.0 and 6.0 yards/s. You can easily see that the players with MAS below 5.45 yards/s would be completing an anaerobic activity, while those with MAS greater than 5.45 yards/s would be completing an aerobic activity. Even though all are completing the same activity, the metabolic systems being stressed, and thus the training effect, will differ across the team.
How is this individualized?
Fortunately, individualization of prescription is not difficult if you have the correct information and can do a little math. And it can be done on your own with little to no cost, or we can help you. The information you need on each player is their MAS, and their Maximal Sprint Speed (MSS). Check our Creating Prescriptions page for more details on how to obtain and use this info.