Fitness, Science

UOIT Ridgeback’s Women’s Soccer Fitness Coach Tip of the Day – Day 21 – Speed Competitions

The Canadian University Soccer season is here, and this year marks my 3rd season as Assistant Coach and Fitness Coach with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks Women’s Varsity Soccer Team.  This season, I will be blogging every day with a ‘Tip of the Day’ – a small piece of information about the testing, training, monitoring, or performance analysis I am doing with the team.

Today’s Tip of the Day is about speed training.  In the last 1-2 days of training prior to a match (which is typically on the weekend), the amount and type of running players do in training can have an important impact on their match performance.  In general, the physical work done in the last 2 days of training should be more anaerobic, focusing on short and intense runs and sprints, with a lot of recovery in between repetitions.  The rationale for doing speed training in the days leading up to a match is that it is less tiring to the muscles, and so will not exhaust players’ energy stores prior to competition.

One of the challenges with designing and implementing speed training sessions is that, in order for the running to have an effect, the players must be running/sprinting as fast as they possibly can.  I have found that it can be difficult to motivate players to constantly run at their maximum speed in training.  One tactic I have used in my sessions that has worked with great effect is to set up exercises where players are competing against one another.  Have one group of players take pinnies and tuck them into the back of their short, making a “tail”.  The other group will not have a “tail”, but rather will be “chasers”.  In the speed exercises, both players will perform a 10-30 metre sprint, but the chaser will start a few metres behind the tail, and must catch up and pull out the tail before the run is finished.  Use s specific number of push-ups as “punishment” for the loser of the exercise (either the “chaser” who did not catch the “tail”, or the “tail” who got their tail pulled).  The combination of forced competition, plus the “fear” of doing push-ups as punishment, is a great way to ensure players work to their maximum capacity in every repetition.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

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Fitness, Science

UOIT Ridgeback’s Women’s Soccer Fitness Coach Tip of the Day – Day 20 – Warm-Up

The Canadian University Soccer season is here, and this year marks my 3rd season as Assistant Coach and Fitness Coach with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks Women’s Varsity Soccer Team.  This season, I will be blogging every day with a ‘Tip of the Day’ – a small piece of information about the testing, training, monitoring, or performance analysis I am doing with the team.

Today’s Tip of the Day is about warm-ups.  The science (and art) or warming up has undergone many changes in the last 10-15 years (since I last played university soccer).  Back then, a “warm-up” comprised a few laps of the field, followed by a few static stretches.  The whole thing might have taken 10 minutes in total.  Now, warm-ups have become an integral part of optimizing an athlete’s performance in training and games.  Warm-up too quickly, or without the right types of exercises or intensity, and you may be prone to injury or at the least a decrease in performance.  Warm-up too much, and over-training or possibly even heat illness may occur. 

Design of a comprehensive warm-up protocol is one of the key responsibilities of a fitness coach in elite level soccer.  A good warm-up should include the following 4 components:

  1. Movement and running, done in many different directions (forwards, backwards, sideways).  This is done to elevate the heart rate, increase blood flow to working muscles, and to perform movement patterns which must be done in training and games.  Speed and intensity of the movements can get progressively faster, but should be sub-maximal.  This component should take between 5 and 10 minutes.
  2. Dynamic flexibility exercises, done with all of the major muscle groups.  Stretching muscles while moving takes them through a full range of motion at speeds that are realistic to those used in training and games.  This can have the duel effect of reducing the chance of injury, while at the same time improving performance of sprinting and running activities.  This component should take between 2 and 5 minutes.
  3. Strength exercises, to specifically target the core, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexor muscles.  Recent studies have shown that by performing strength exercises with these important muscles, injury rates can be significantly decreased.  Muscles that have just been activated are likely to contract with more force and perform better than muscles which remain passive, to adding strength exercises into the warm-up routine in a quick and effective solution.  This component should take 2-3 minutes.
  4. Speed and plyometric exercises, done with a combination of jumping and short sprint movements.  Just prior to the start of training or games, these exercises can be very effective at preparing the central nervous system (the connection between brain and muscle) for optimal function.  This component should take only a minute as it requires only 4-6 short and intense bursts of speed and/or jumps.

I have used slightly different variations of this 10-20 minute protocol, in both training and games, in all the high level soccer environments in which I have worked.  Of course, after this physical protocol, players must use the ball, for technical exercise and/or small-sided games, prior to the start of competition. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness, Science

UOIT Ridgeback’s Women’s Soccer Fitness Coach Tip of the Day – Day 19 – Hamstring Strength

The Canadian University Soccer season is here, and this year marks my 3rd season as Assistant Coach and Fitness Coach with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks Women’s Varsity Soccer Team.  This season, I will be blogging every day with a ‘Tip of the Day’ – a small piece of information about the testing, training, monitoring, or performance analysis I am doing with the team.

Today’s Tip of the Day is about hamstring strength, and is a continuation from my previous post about hamstring flexibility.  Because the hamstring muscles contract both concentrically (to powerfully extend the hip) and eccentrically (to slow down the knee as it extends in stride) during running, they must be trained to perform these functions for optimal on-field performance.  A concentric contraction involves contracting the muscle as it shortens.  In the case of the hamstrings, they get shorter as the hip extends (straightens) and as the knee flexes (bends). below are videos of 2 good concentric hamstring exercises that are functional and sport-specific to soccer:

Bulgarian Lunge (for hip extension):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMZzHbMjG_I&list=UUJXrOk-fEEmfJ31eB0j0jhQ

Bench Pop-Ups (for knee flexion): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dw0Bkm3hU8w&list=UUJXrOk-fEEmfJ31eB0j0jhQ

An eccentric contraction involves the muscle contracting while it lengthens.  The hamstring muscles contract eccentrically, mainly to slow the knee joint down as the leg decelerates.  Here is a great hamstring exercise that can be used eccentrically:

Stability Ball Hamstring Curl (eccentric contraction): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpadDkpXkZo&list=UUJXrOk-fEEmfJ31eB0j0jhQ

Incorporating these hamstring exercises into the strength routine for soccer players will help to improve strength, stability, power and speed, while also minimizing the risk of injuries, both to the hamstrings as well as to the knee joint.  I have used them and had great results with soccer players of many different ages and levels of ability.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness, Science

UOIT Ridgeback’s Women’s Soccer Fitness Coach Tip of the Day – Day 18 – Hamstring Flexibility

The Canadian University Soccer season is here, and this year marks my 3rd season as Assistant Coach and Fitness Coach with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks Women’s Varsity Soccer Team.  This season, I will be blogging every day with a ‘Tip of the Day’ – a small piece of information about the testing, training, monitoring, or performance analysis I am doing with the team.

Today’s Tip of the Day is about hamstring flexibility.  The hamstring muscles are very important in soccer, and in many other sports, because they are one of the main muscle groups involved in force production during sprinting and jumping.  In order for optimal power to be produced in the hamstring muscles, as well as to reduce the chances of injury, the muscles must be strong but also flexible.  A hamstring with a greater range of motion will allow for a greater angle of movement across the hip and knee joints when stretching and contracting.  This greater angle will allow for greater acceleration of the leg as an athlete runs or jumps, thereby improving force production.  

In my work, I typically use a Functional Movement Screen (which includes a test called the ‘Active Straight Leg Raise’) to assess hamstring flexibility in athletes.  Once this assessment has been made, individuals requiring extra hamstring mobility and flexibility training can be prescribed specific exercises.  One of my favorite exercises to use is a version of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching that can be done individually, without requiring a partner.  Below is a video of the exercise.  In general, 4-6 weeks of this exercise (2 sets of 5-10 repetitions per leg) in combination with proper warm-ups, cool-downs and other strengthening exercises should improve athletes” scores on the Active Straight Leg Raise test, as well as improve the mobility and overall function of the hamstring muscles in sport performance.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness, Science

UOIT Ridgeback’s Women’s Soccer Fitness Coach Tip of the Day – Day 17 – “90’s”

The Canadian University Soccer season is here, and this year marks my 3rd season as Assistant Coach and Fitness Coach with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks Women’s Varsity Soccer Team.  This season, I will be blogging every day with a ‘Tip of the Day’ – a small piece of information about the testing, training, monitoring, or performance analysis I am doing with the team.

Today’s Tip of the Day has to do with aerobic endurance training.  While I do like to do a lot of energy system training (both aerobic and anaerobic) with the ball, the reality is that there are some forms of running training that are able to target the aerobic system better than soccer drills or small-sided games.  In particular, aerobic interval training is very efficient when carried out with running training, because the workload (volume, and intensity of training) can easily be calculated through time and distance covered, without the use of expensive equipment like GPS.  When performing aerobic interval training for soccer players, the work-to-rest ratio (or WRR – ratio of time spent working vs. time spent resting) is of primary importance.  If the WRR is too large, players will not receive enough of an aerobic stimulus to produce improvements in performance (they will rest too much).  Conversely, if the WRR is too small, the players will get too tired, and thus will not be able to perform the running at a high enough intensity (speed) to produce improvements.  In general, I have found that WRR’s ranging from 1:2, 1:1, and 2:1 work best.  The time of the work periods can range from a minimum of 15 seconds, to a maximum of 4 minutes.  Work periods longer than 4 minutes typically will result in running speeds that are a bit too slow to produce improvements in high intensity running ability on the pitch.

One particular running workout that I like, and which I first participated in as a university varsity player almost 15 years ago, is called “90’s”.  The basic premise of “90’s” is as follows:

  • Run the perimeter of a regular size soccer field, as fast as possible, but taking no longer than 90 seconds (typically, fit players should be able to cover the distance in approximately 60 seconds)
  • Coach has a stopwatch and starts timing the moment players start running
  • As soon as the stopwatch reaches 90 seconds, the players must repeat the running interval
  • For university players, starting with 3 or 4 repetitions, and progressing to 6-8 repetitions, is an acceptable load
  • If the 60-second work period is maintained, “90’s” becomes a running interval workout with a WRR of 2:1 (work for 60 seconds, rest for 30 seconds)        

Running “90’s” at the conclusion of a practice as an aerobic interval workout has been a successful strategy for me in many different high performance environments.  The workout has just the right intensity and work-to-rest ratio to get good results in a short amount of time.  Coaches and fitness coaches should consider using this workout once per week with their teams to help improve aerobic endurance and high intensity running ability.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness, Science

UOIT Ridgeback’s Women’s Soccer Fitness Coach Tip of the Day – Day 16 – Recovery Run

The Canadian University Soccer season is here, and this year marks my 3rd season as Assistant Coach and Fitness Coach with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks Women’s Varsity Soccer Team.  This season, I will be blogging every day with a ‘Tip of the Day’ – a small piece of information about the testing, training, monitoring, or performance analysis I am doing with the team.

Today’s Tip of the Day has to do with recovery and regeneration.  Because the university soccer season is so short, there are several weeks where players will play 2 full 90-minute games over a weekend (1 on Saturday, 1 on Sunday).  For fitness coaches, this type of schedule presents problems.  Several studies have shown that, even when players do all the right things (get lots of rest, use ice baths, eat a high carbohydrate diet, etc..) it can take between 3-6 days to fully recover from the physical and physiological stress of a 90-minute game.  Playing 2 full 90-minute games back to back. then, means that players have participated in the entire 2nd game while in “recovery mode”, and that their true recovery may then be pushed back to over 1 week (up to 10 days). 

While the stress and muscle damage from playing back to back games may not be avoidable, there are measures players can take to limit and reduce these symptoms, and their negative consequences.  One useful strategy is to do a recovery run on the day after back-to-back games.  Many players will want to take this day off, however, studies have shown that by performing 30-60 minutes of low intensity aerobic activity (running, or biking, for example) in the 24 hours post-competition, athletes can significantly reduce the build-up of lactic acid and other painful by-products of exercise in their muscles.  For soccer players, I prefer using running to biking or other aerobic activity, because the game is played while running.  Below is my preferred recovery run protocol:

  • Start by walking at a brisk pace for 5 minutes
  • Next, jog very slowly for 10 minutes (consider this pace 40% of maximum speed, and in 10 minutes it should amount to about 1-1.25 kilometres)
  • Next, jog at a slow pace for 20 minutes (consider this pace 50-55% of maximum speed, and in 20 minutes it should amount to about 3 kilometres)
  • Finally, perform a set of mobility and stretching exercises for the lower body muscles (start from the calves, and work upwards to the lower back muscles)

Recovery runs like the one described above are a critical component of our training regimen, and they help to ensure that our players are as healthy as possible following back-to-back games.  Coaches and fitness coaches of soccer players with schedules that include back-to-back games should look to include a recovery run into their protocols to maximize their players’ long term performance.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Nutrition

UOIT Ridgeback’s Women’s Soccer Fitness Coach Tip of the Day – Day 15 – Bananas

The Canadian University Soccer season is here, and this year marks my 3rd season as Assistant Coach and Fitness Coach with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks Women’s Varsity Soccer Team.  This season, I will be blogging every day with a ‘Tip of the Day’ – a small piece of information about the testing, training, monitoring, or performance analysis I am doing with the team.

Today’s Tip of the Day is about hip pre-game snacking.  In general, soccer players need two things from their pre-game snacks:

  1. Carbohydrates to provide some energy for muscular work
  2. Electrolytes (sodium and/or potassium) which are essential for optimal muscle contraction 

Foods chosen as snacks before a game should also be convenient and easy to eat in a short amount of time.  Based on these criteria, one food stands out above all others as the perfect pre-game snack: bananas.  Bananas contain natural sugars (simple carbohydrates) that are useful to provide the body with energy prior to soccer training and games.  They are also high in potassium, one of the key electrolytes involved in muscle contraction.  Of course, bananas taste great, and 1 banana can easily be eaten in a few minutes, so they are very convenient to have in locker rooms and even when traveling.  I typically provide each player a banana to eat 30-60 minutes prior to kick-off.  Other coaches and fitness coaches are advised to do the same.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.