Fitness, Injuries, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #9: Friday, November 6th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss problems associated with the North American College and University soccer schedules, including accumulation of fatigue and higher injury rates due to competitive schedules that force players to play two or even three 90+ minute matches per week.

I Hope you enjoy it, and as always, please feel free to post thoughts/comments!

Fitness, Science

How Canadian College And University Soccer Is Hurting Young Soccer Players – And What Can Be Done About It

It’s hard to believe, but we are now in the first week of November, 2015.  For college and university soccer players, if you’re lucky enough to still be playing by this time of year, it means you have progressed deep into the play-offs and are very close to qualifying for the National Championships, which are typically finished by November 15th.  In college and university soccer, the play-offs and National Championships are microcosms of the competitive season, with multiple 90+ minute matches scheduled over a very short period of time, including several instances of back-to-back matches, as well as periods of time with 3 games played over just 4 days.  As an example, take a look at this year’s CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletics Association) and CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) men’s National Championship tournament schedules:

  • CCAA Men’s Soccer:
    • Match 1: Wednesday, November 11th
    • Match 2 (Semi-Finals): Friday, November 13th
    • Match 3 (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Saturday, November 14th
  • CIS Men’s Soccer:
    • Match 1: Thursday, November 12th
    • Match 2 (Semi-Finals): Saturday, November 14th
    • Match 3: (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Sunday, November 15th

Of course, in order to get to the National Championships, teams need to have qualified from the play-offs, which are scheduled in a very similar way.  Typically, the first play-off matches in college and university soccer begin between 3-6 days after the conclusion of the regular season.  In Ontario, the play-offs finish with the OCAA (Ontario Collegiate Athletic Association) Championships, and the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) Final Four, both of which comprise multiple 90+ minute matches played over a 2-3 day timespan.  Below is a summary of these schedules for men’s soccer in 2015:

  • OCAA Men’s Soccer Championships:
    • Match 1 (Quarter-Finals): Thursday, October 29th
    • Match 2 (Semi-Finals): Friday, October 30th
    • Match 3 (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Saturday, October 31st
  • OUA Men’s Soccer Final Four:
    • Match 1 (Semi-Finals): Saturday, November 7th
    • Match 2 (Bronze and Gold Medal Matches): Sunday, November 8th

Working backwards even further, it is critical to note that, in order to qualify for the play-offs in Ontario college and university soccer, teams must endure the OCAA and OUA competitive seasons, both of which pack two and sometimes even three 90 minute matches per week, every week, from the beginning of September until the end of October.  Here is what the 2015 OCAA and OUA competitive schedules looked like:

  • OCAA Men’s Soccer competitive season:
    • 10 matches played from Saturday, September 12th to Saturday, October 24th
    • Total of 10 matches in 6 weeks = 1.6 matches per week
  • OUA Men’s Soccer competitive season:
    • 16 matches played from Saturday, August 29th to Saturday, October 24th
    • Total of 16 matches in 8 weeks = 2.0 matches per week

I cannot help but wonder why, in the year 2015, we are still subjecting young student-athletes to this type of competitive schedule.  Virtually all of the scientific research done on the intensity and loading in soccer has indicated that a minimum of 24-48 hours is needed in order for players to optimally recover from a 90 minute match.    Furthermore, most if not all of the world’s leading authorities in soccer-specific sports science have recommended that players do not play more than one match per week in their competitive seasons.  This is because when players do play more than one 90+ minute match per week, they will experience both a significant decrease in muscular strength, speed, power, and endurance, as well as a significantly increased risk of over-training and injury due to inadequate repair and recovery from muscle damage caused during the match.  Compounding the problem for college and university soccer is that the great majority of the players are in school between the ages of 18-22, and their bodies are not fully physically and physiologically developed and thus are at an even greater risk of injury.

Several of the world’s most prominent soccer coaches and fitness coaches, including Jens Bangsbo of the University of Copenhagen, Raymond Verheijen of the World Football Academy, and Jurgen Klinsmann, current Head Coach of the United States Men’s National Soccer Team, have been critical of college and professional competitive leagues that require players to play more than one 90+ minute match per week.  In fact, Klinsmann was one of the harshest critics of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) soccer schedule (which also comprises an average of 2 matches per week), criticism which eventually led to a proposed change to a full academic year schedule (September to May) that will likely take effect as early as the 2016-2017 season.  If the rest of the world (including the Americans, who are traditionally resistant to change) has been able to structure their competitive soccer seasons so that they average a maximum of 1 match per week, there is no reason for Canada not to follow suit.

Competing in college and university soccer in Canada is a unique and rewarding experience.  For the great majority of young players who do not advance into the Canadian National Teams and/or into professional soccer, competing at the college and/or university level represents the highest competitive level they will reach in their careers.  If the CCAA and CIS are truly concerned with the long-term development and overall health of the young soccer players competing in their leagues, they should seriously consider revising their competitive schedules, to lengthen the season and/or to decrease the total number of matches played to a maximum of 1 match per week.

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

Announcements, Fitness

Tell Us: What’s Your Gol?

Fall is here, and with it comes the start of another off season of fitness training (and hopefully some high speed/high incline treadmill training as well)!  Something else that has arrived this season is the new and improved Soccer Fitness Gols mobile fitness app. To help kick-start the full launch of the new Soccer Fitness Gols app, we are asking the Soccer Fitness Gols community to tell us what your fitness “gols” are, and, more importantly, why you’ve set these goals. If you’ve got a personal fitness objective, regardless if you’re a competitive athlete or a parent who last played the game several years ago, we want to hear about it. Please post a brief video describing your goal and tag us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (#whatsyourgol). In your video, please also send a shout out to 3 people you know to encourage them to do the same. As an example, I’ve posted a video on Youtube, made by one of our athletes, Evan Tanos, in the link below.

Now it’s your turn.  Make your video and tell us: What’s Your Gol? today!

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Speed Training – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You (Part 3)

I have been working as a fitness coach with elite level soccer players for 15 years.  In that time, the one physical ability that seems to always have been of the highest importance to players, parents, and coaches alike, is running speed. Unfortunately, running speed – and how to train/improve it correctly – is probably also the most misunderstood physical ability in soccer.  This 3-part article will provide a detailed summary of running speed and how to train to improve it.  In Part 1 two weeks ago, I provided  a definition of running speed, list the phases of a sprint in sports, and discuss what the scientific literature has to say about different methods of speed training.  Last week, in Part 2, I discussed the physiology of speed training, including best practices to maximize training effect while minimizing training volume.  Finally, this week in Part 3, I will shift focus to the biomechanics and specific coordination aspects of training for running speed.

You may recall that in Part 1 I identified 4 main phases of a sprint.  They are:

  1. The start phase: the phase where the athlete begins sprinting (could be from a static start or a “flying” start)
  2. The initial acceleration phase: the first 5-10 metres of the sprint
  3. The carry-over to constant-speed phase: the period from the 15 to 30 metre point of a sprint, when the player reaches top speed
  4. The deceleration phase: where the player begins to slow down/stop

In this discussion of the biomechanics and coordination training of speed for soccer, I will present information as it applies to each of these 4 phases.

1. The Start Phase:

Recall that, in the definition of this phase above, it may begin from a static start (no movement) or from a “flying start” (athlete already moving, and then speeds up).  Typically, in soccer, players begin sprinting while already in motion (the “flying” start).  They may start from a walking or slow running start, or they may speed up into a full sprint after already having been running at a moderate or high speed.  In any event, the optimal mechanics to maximize force production during the start of a sprint do not change very much, regardless of how the athlete begins running.  In general, the following coaching points should be used when training soccer players for the start phase of a sprint:

  • stay as low as possible.  This allows for optimal range of motion of the powerful hip and thigh muscles (glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip flexors), so that the propulsive forces from these muscles can be maximized.  For a good visual, think of a sprinter in a track and field event, starting out of the blocks.  Of course, in soccer and other sports you must start from an upright position, but getting low at the start mimics this type of starting position.  Another useful hint to achieve a good initial low position is to tell players to think of “falling forwards”.  Right before their nose hits the ground, they should begin moving and start the sprint, thus allowing themselves to get into a low position and stay there for the first few strides.
  • widen the stance slightly and point the toes slightly outwards.  This widens the “base of support”, which allows for more balance, and thus more force production.  For a good visual, think of the initial stance a sumo wrestler takes prior to starting a wrestling match.
  • Keep the head down, and exaggerate the knee lift, and the arm swing movements.  Try to lift the knees so high that they almost contact the chin (don;t actually do this, just keep the head down and the knees up!).  At the start of a sprint, as in any other phase of a sprint, the general rule is that a longer stride will be faster than a shorter stride.  The more the knees come up at the start, the longer the stride will be.  An arm swing that is also longer will help to add range of motion in the hips.

2. The Initial Acceleration Phase:

In this phase, the optimal mechanics to maximize force production do not differ very much from those in the start phase (aside from a few exceptions).  In soccer, the average distance of a sprint often falls within this range (5-10 metres) so the way players run in this phase is critical to their match performance.  Below is a summary of the coaching points for the initial acceleration phase:

  • continue to stay as low as possible, but bend both at the hip and the knee.  A common mistake that players will make when they are told to “stay low” is to bend only at the hip, while keeping the knees relatively straight.  This forward leaning posture makes it very difficult to raise the knees, and will end up shortening the running stride.  Typically, I will ask the athletes I work with to start by running with their trunk at a 45-degree angle to the ground, and gradually increase that angle to 90-degrees (trunk perpendicular to the ground) by the 10 metre mark.
  • gradually narrow the width of the feet and “base of support”.  Recall that, in the start phase, a wider stance allows for greater initial balance and thus, power production.  In conjunction with the angle of the trunk to the ground starting at 45-degrees and progressing to 90-degrees, so too should the width of the “base of support” start wide, and progress to being much more narrow.  This is because after that start phase, the feet must contact the ground closer to underneath the centre of mass, in order to maintain stability as posture becomes more upright.
  • focus on contacting the ground on the balls of the feet, or “big toes.”  This type of foot contact is important to bring the powerful muscles of the lower leg (gastrocnemeus, soleus) into play to maximize propulsive forces.  Sprinting on a flat foot or even worse, on the heels, significantly limits the force production of these muscles.  The toes should also progress from an outward pointing stance at the start phase, to a forward pointing stance at the end of the initial acceleration phase.

The Carry-Over to Constant-Speed Phase:

In soccer, there are also several times during a match that players must make runs that progress into this phase (at distances greater than 10 metres).  This phase is also the point at which some more pronounced changes in running mechanics must occur in order to maintain optimal production of propulsive forces (and avoid slowing down).  The best way to train soccer players to perform during the carry-over to constant-speed phase is to focus on the following areas:

  • maintain an upright posture, with the trunk perpendicular to the ground.  This position maximizes hip flexion (raising the knee) and thus allows for the maximum length of the running stride.  For a good visual, imagine how hard it is to lift the knee while bending forwards, versus how easy it is to lift the knee while in an upright position.  Staying perpendicular requires the hips and pelvis to be pushed slightly forwards, with contraction of the core and abdominal muscles.
  • flex the hips (raise the knees) to the point at which they are in line with the hip.  While this happens, the ankle should be very close to directly underneath the knee.  All of these mechanical adjustments must be made in order to allow the hip to move with the greatest amount of range of motion while flexing and extending, and also so that the powerful muscles of the hip, knee and ankle can contract with extension with maximum force as the foot drives into the ground. For a visual of how this powerful hip, knee, and ankle extension should look, think of a cat, pawing at something on the ground (the hip/knee/ankle extension should look just like this powerful pawing movement, and this movement ends with the ball of the feet, or “big toe” on the ground).
  • keep the shoulder muscles relaxed, with a loose-swinging arm action.  The thumb of the front hand should move in front of the chin, and the thumb of the back hand should move behind the hip (“back pocket”).  A relaxed arm action allows for optima range of motion and power production in the hips, because the movement of each arm is directly coordinated to the movement of the opposite leg (for example, right arm and left leg, and vice versa).  To train the relaxed arm swing, I have athletes imagine they are “whipping” the hands back to the “back pocket.”  There is a natural stretch reflex that occurs in the muscles in the front of the arm, whereby when they are stretched, they contract and move forward.

The Deceleration Phase

In soccer, almost all sprints have a deceleration phase (where the player slows down), and this deceleration typically does not happen very gradually.  As a matter of fact, decelerations from sprints in soccer are a critical component to optimal performance, as many of the key movements in games (striking/shooting, dribbling or defending in 1 vs. 1 situations, landing from jumps) involve rapid decelerations followed by just as rapid accelerations.  Thus, coaching deceleration technique from sprints in soccer is vital to optimal performance of sprinting in soccer.  Below is a summary of the best advice to give players regarding the deceleration phase:

  • take small steps to slow down.  This may sound self-explanatory, however, if you don’t explain it to your players, they may not do it and the result will be a much slower deceleration and change of direction.  Small steps allow for the feet to be placed under the body’s centre of mass while running sped decreases, which increases balance and stability and thus, increases the eccentric strength of the muscles hat slow the body down (primarily the quadriceps and hamstrings).
  • Bend at the knee to slow down.  Trying to slow down or to change direction with a straight knee in soccer is asking for trouble.  bending at the knee allows for the strong muscles in the front of the leg (quadriceps) to maximize their eccentric strength, and thus the braking forces they produce.
  • stay relatively narrow and keep the toes pointing forwards while decelerating.  A narrow stance and “base of support” with the toes pointing forwards (rather than outwards) will allow decelerations to occur as quickly as possible.  The only way to maintain balance as speed decreases is for the feet to be placed under the hips, and thus a narrow stance allows for better balance and better ability to decelerate.

In conclusion, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, training for speed in soccer is a complicated process, with a variety of different factors that must be taken into consideration when planning a training program.  Coaches and fitness coaches who wish to improve their players’ speed must have a strong working knowledge of the different phases of a sprint and how to train for them, including both the physiological, as well as the biomechanical aspects of sped training.  With the right knowledge, experience, and attention to detail, coaches and fitness coaches can train their players to improve their running speed, which will likely have a direct positive impact on their overall match play.

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

Fitness, Nutrition, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #7: Friday, October 23rd, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss electrolyte replenishment in soccer, and how to ensure that players get the right amount of electrolytes to prevent dehydration and optimize performance.

I Hope you enjoy it, and as always, please feel free to post thoughts/comments!

Fitness, Science

Speed Training – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You (Part 2)

I have been working as a fitness coach with elite level soccer players for 15 years.  In that time, the one physical ability that seems to always have been of the highest importance to players, parents, and coaches alike, is running speed. Unfortunately, running speed – and how to train/improve it correctly – is probably also the most misunderstood physical ability in soccer.  This 3-part article will provide a detailed summary of running speed and how to train to improve it.  In Part 1 last week, I provided  a definition of running speed, list the phases of a sprint in sports, and discuss what the scientific literature has to say about different methods of speed training.  This week, in Part 2, I will discuss the physiology of speed training, including best practices to maximize training effect while minimizing training volume.  Finally in Part 3, I will shift focus to the biomechanics and specific coordination aspects of running speed.

Running fast and sprinting is, by definition, an anaerobic activity.  This means that the intensity of the exercise (running/sprinting) is so high that the body cannot deliver energy to the muscles through the use and metabolism of oxygen (the aerobic system) and as a result, the anaerobic energy system must produce the energy needed to perform the runs/sprints.  The primary anaerobic energy system used in sprinting in soccer is the anaerobic a-lactic system, because this system provides energy for high intensity work lasting from 0-10 seconds (basically the average duration of a sprint in soccer).  The system is termed “a-lactic” because there is enough rest between sprints/high intensity runs to avoid the production of lactic acid, which is a painful by-product of high intensity exercise and not something that soccer players want to deal with.

The actual sources of energy in the anaerobic a-lactic system are 2 different high-energy compounds, adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) and creatine phosphate (CP) located within the exercising muscles.  Without getting into all of the details, it is important to know that as soccer players begin training or playing, they will start to perform high intensity runs and sprints, and when this happens, they will start to deplete the stores of ATP and CP in their muscles.  When muscular ATP and CP stores get too low, muscular strength and power decrease significantly, and the only way to recover this strength and power is to rest, in order to allow the body to replenish its ATP and CP stores.  Interestingly, the recovery of muscular ATP and CP is dependent not on the anaerobic system, but rather on the aerobic system.  This means that soccer players who have a high aerobic capacity (better endurance) will be able to replenish their stores of muscular ATP and CP faster, and thus they will be able to recover better between fast runs and sprints, and eventually to perform more runs and sprints throughout a training session or match.

While the information presented above may seem complicated, having a good understanding of the physiology of sprinting in soccer is essential for proper speed training to be planned and executed.  The most common mistake made by coaches and fitness coaches conducting “speed” training sessions with their players is that they do not allow the players enough rest between repetitions to facilitate the replenishment of muscular ATP and CP stores.  When this type of “speed” training (with insufficient rest periods) is used, the athletes end up running at significantly lower speeds than their maximal capacity because, as mentioned previously, when muscular ATP and CP stores get too low, muscular strength and power decrease.  Thus, the end effect of not giving players enough rest between sprints in training is that they actually end up training to be slower, not faster.

So how much rest between sprints is enough?  The easiest way to explain planning rest periods between high intensity running and sprinting is to us a “work-to-rest ratio’” which describes the ratio of time spent “working” (running) to time spent “resting.”  In general, optimal recovery of muscular ATP and CP can occur with a minimum work-to-rest-ratio of 1:6.  This means that if a sprint lasts 2 seconds, then 2 x 6 = 12 seconds of recovery is necessary before the next sprint; if a sprint lasts 5 seconds, then 5 x 6 = 30 seconds of recovery is needed, etc.  Bangsbo et. al. (2006) provided a good review of the best way to structure speed training session, including optimal work-to-rest-ratios, as part of a weekly periodization plan for a professional soccer team.

Ultimately, improving running speed in soccer can only occur if players train by running/sprinting at or very close to their maximal capacity.  Training at or near maximal capacity, in turn, can only occur if players are given enough recovery between repetitions of runs/sprints to allow for replenishment of muscular ATP and CP stores.  Coaches and fitness coaches who wish to improve their players’ running speed must have a good understanding of the physiology of speed in soccer, and plan the work-to-rest ratios in their training accordingly.

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

Fitness, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #6: Friday, October 16th, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the difference between subjective and objective training methods, and how they can affect both the physical, as well as technical/tactical development in soccer players.

I Hope you enjoy it, and as always, please feel free to post thoughts/comments!

Fitness, Science

Speed Training – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You (Part 1)

I have been working as a fitness coach with elite level soccer players for 15 years.  In that time, the one physical ability that seems to always have been of the highest importance to players, parents, and coaches alike, is running speed. Unfortunately, running speed – and how to train/improve it correctly – is probably also the most misunderstood physical ability in soccer.  This 3-part article will provide a detailed summary of running speed and how to train to improve it.  In Part 1, I will provide a definition of running speed, list the phases of a sprint in sports, and discuss what the scientific literature has to say about different methods of speed training.  Next week, in Part 2, I will discuss the physiology of speed training, and finally in Part 3, I will shift focus to the biomechanics and specific coordination aspects of running speed.

Running Speed: Definition:

Running speed is the product of stride length and stride frequency.  Stride length refers to how long the running stride is, whereas stride frequency refers to how quickly the legs move over a given distance.  In general, an improvement in stride length and/or stride frequency should result in an improvement in running speed.

Improving Stride Length:

Stride length can be improved by making muscles bigger/stronger (strength training) and also by making them more powerful (power training).  Strength training exercises like squats, lunges, and dead lifts, are simple and effective ways to make the muscles bigger and stronger, and numerous studies have demonstrated that resistance training programs that include these exercises can improve running speed in soccer players (Silva et. al., 2015).  Power training includes explosive lifting exercises (like power cleans or hang cleans); plyometrics (jumping and bounding exercises aimed at speeding up the time the foot is in contact with the ground); and also resisted running exercises (sled pulls, elastic loading devices, or incline running).  Combining explosive lifting with plyometric training and resisted sprinting has been shown to be effective at improving both speed and jump height in post-adolescent soccer players (Lloyd et. al., 2015).  Sled pulls have also been shown to be effective at improving short distance sprint speed in soccer players (Martinez-Valencia et. al., 2015).  At Soccer Fitness, we have used high speed/high incline treadmill running to improve stride length.  In one of our recent studies we were able to demonstrate an improvement in 10, 20, and 35 metre sprint times in elite female soccer players following a high speed/high incline running treadmill repeated sprint training protocol (Bucciarelli et. al., 2014).

Improving Stride Frequency:

Stride frequency, as opposed to stride length, is a bit more difficult to train for.  Training to improve stride frequency must involve some type of assistance provided to the runner in order to make the legs move more quickly that they can voluntarily (commonly termed “over-speed training.”).  Typical/traditional methods of over-speed training have involved downhill running (which uses the force of gravity to assist the runner) or elastic loading devices attached to a training partner (which use the force generated by the partner, as well as the stretch in the elastic loading device, to assist the runner).  Assisted sprint training using an elastic loading device has been shown to improve short-distance (5-10 metres) running speed in elite level soccer players (Upton, 2011).  At Soccer Fitness, we have used a high speed running treadmill with an un-weighting harness as a means of over-speed training, and we recently finished a study that demonstrated a significant improvement in 10 metre running speed following a training protocol with this equipment (Bucciarelli et. al., 2015).

Phases of Sprinting and Application to Training:

Thus, a combination of strength training and power training (to improve stride length), and over-speed training (to improve stride frequency) can be used to improve running speed in soccer players.  But what actual part of a sprint in soccer is affected by what specific types of training?  To answer this question, an understanding of the different phases sprinting. is required.  There are 4 phases of a sprint in soccer, as well as in any other sport:

  1. The start phase: the phase where the athlete begins sprinting (could be from a static start or a “flying” start)
  2. The initial acceleration phase: the first 5-10 metres of the sprint
  3. The carry-over to constant-speed phase: the period from the 15 to 30 metre point of a sprint, when the player reaches top speed
  4. The deceleration phase: where the player begins to slow down/stop (this phase will not be discussed in this article).

The application of different types of speed training with the goal of improving these different phases of sprinting in soccer is where most coaches and fitness coaches make errors.  This is typically because of a failure to understand which specific phase of sprinting is affected by which specific type of training.  Strength training, and some types of power training (including explosive lifting, plyometric training, and resisted sprinting with sleds) are basically only effective at improving running speed in the start and initial acceleration phases of sprinting.  In the start and initial acceleration phases, athletes are in a very low position, and the types of exercises that mimic this low position and add resistance to it (squats, power cleans, sled pulls) are the most effective at inducing improvements in the execution of movement from the position.  Incline running, on the other hand, can be effective at improving the carry-over to constant-speed phase of sprinting, because this phase requires athletes to be in an upright position, with maximal range of motion in the hips and knees.  When an athlete sprints up a hill or on an incline treadmill, they can maintain an upright posture, with the added resistance to the running movement coming from the incline itself.  Over time, this leads to athletes developing the ability to overcome resistance while running in an upright posture, which translates a lot better into the carry-over to constant-speed phase of sprinting, an improvement which is impossible to achieve when adding resistance to an athlete in a low position.  The absence of evidence linking strength training, explosive lifting, or sled pulls to improvements in longer-distance sprints (past the initial acceleration phase) supports the argument that these training methods are not likely to cause improvements in that phase of sprinting.

Summary:

Coaches and fitness coaches of elite level soccer players should always try to use a science-based approach when devising speed training workouts for their athletes.  In order to improve soccer players’ speed through all phases of a sprint. a wide range of exercises and training methods must be selected.  Each of these exercises and training methods should be undertaken with a full understanding of which particular phase(s) of sprinting they will affect and (hopefully) improve.  Failure to include exercises that focus on specific phases of a sprint will likely result in a lack of improvement in running speed during that particular phase.

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

Fitness, Matches, Science

Specificity – the Most Important Rule in Soccer Fitness Training (Part 2)

Last week, in Part 1 of this article, I discussed the principle of specificity as it relates to fitness training for soccer players, and also presented a brief chart with examples of how to train the main athletic qualities in soccer, in a soccer-specific way.  This week, in part 2, I will be following up with detailed explanations of these different soccer-specific exercises. Here they are:

  1. Speed Training:

SpeedCrossingAndFinishing

  • Coach starts the exercise by serving a ball in to inside forward player (grey line)
  • Outside forward player makes a curved run underneath the inside forward, and receives a short lay-off pass (black lines)
  • Wide midfield player makes a 20 metre sprint down the sideline, to receive a long pass from the outside forward, while the inside forward travels horizontally across the pitch (red lines)
  • Wide midfield player crosses the ball to both forward players, who each make a 10 metre sprint (one to the near post, the other to the far post) and try to finish on goal

This exercise requires players to perform repeated bouts of maximal sprints (in the case of the wide players, 20 metres, and in the case of the forward players, 10 metres.  If sufficient rest is given to players between each repetition (about 30 seconds between each sprint) then all of the sprints will be performed at maximum speed.  Of course, there is a lot of specificity and relevance to the sport in this exercise, because players are performing the exact type of running and movements they are required to do in an actual match.

  1. Power Training:

PowerJumpHeaders

  • Divide players into groups of 2, with 1 ball between 2 players
  • 1 player is designated as “server” and the other as “header”
  • Server serves the ball by throwing it into the air, in front of the header
  • The header must perform an explosive jump, as high as possible, and try to head the ball back to the server at the highest point
  • A hurdle can be used under the header, to encourage a higher/more powerful jump

This very simple exercise requires players to perform repeated bouts of maximal intensity jumps, in a soccer-specific way that includes the ball.  Like with speed training, power or jump training must give players sufficient rest in between repetitions.  In this case, about 5-6 seconds of rest between each jump is enough.  One player can do 5-10 headers, before switching to become a server.  3 sets for each player as both server and header work well to develop power without over-using the muscles.

  1. Strength Training:

Strength1Vs.1

  • Coach starts the exercise by serving a ball centrally, for 2 players to chase
  • The player who arrives at and secures the ball first must then try to score in one of the small goals near the start area
  • The player who arrives second becomes a defender, with the objective of winning the ball and playing it back to the coach
  • All movements, including the sprint to the ball, and 1 vs. 1 play, must be done at maximal intensity

While it may seem a bit unconventional to think of 1 versus 1 training as “strength training”, a closer look at the movements and intensities involved in this exercise presents a clearer picture for the rationale for its use to improve soccer-specific muscular strength.  Performing a short sprint to a ball requires maximal acceleration immediately followed by a quick and powerful deceleration – to slow down, either to secure and protect the ball (if the player arrives first) or to defend and prevent forward play (if the player arrives second).  These decelerations require very high eccentric strength in all of the major leg muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.  When performed repeatedly over the course of multiple repetitions, high speed eccentric contractions will help to strengthen these lower body muscles and prepare them for the exact movements needed in match play.  Once again, rest periods between repetitions are critical for this exercise, in order to allow for enough recovery for all players involved.  Most of the plays in this exercise should last between 5-10 seconds, so 1-2 minutes of rest between each repetition is sufficient.  Players can perform between 8-12 repetitions of this exercise.

  1. Endurance Training:

EnduranceTraining4Vs.4

  • Players are divided into small teams of 4 players
  • Play 4 versus 4, on a small field, 30 metres long x 20 metres wide
  • Balls are placed all around the field, so that if the ball goes out of play, the game can be re-started very quickly
  • Other conditions may be put on the game (for example, all players must be over the half line to score, or simply by minimizing the number of touches allowed per player)

This exercise, as well as other variations of small-sided soccer games, represents the best and most effective way to develop soccer-specific endurance.   Small-sided games are effective at improving endurance as long as they are played at a high intensity.  Coaches can ensure that the intensity is high by following the recommendations mentioned above.  Prevent breaks in play by playing a new ball in immediately after a ball in played out.  If the pace of the game starts to slow down, add a condition like minimizing touches to help speed it up.  A simple protocol to work with is to play for 4 repetitions of 4 minute games, with a 3 minute rest period between each game.

The exercises described in this article represent just a few ways to incorporate the principle of specificity into soccer fitness training.  Coaches and fitness coaches working with soccer players must strive to plan fitness exercises and training sessions that are as specific and relevant to the sport as possible, as this is the only way to ensure that improvements made during training will translate into improvements in match play.

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

Fitness, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #4: Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss lower leg elevation as a way to enhance recovery and improve performance post-training and games.

I Hope you enjoy it, and as always, please feel free to post thoughts/comments!

Fitness

What’s Your Gol?

To mark the full launch of the Soccer Fitness Gols app on the App Store and Google Play, we are asking our community to share your fitness gols and, most importantly, why you’ve set them.

Please post a brief video describing your goal and tag us on Facebook and Twitter (#whatsyourgol).  In your video, please also send a shout out to 3 people you know to encourage them to do the same.

You can check out my personal video on our Facebook page.

app tile - Google-Play

Fitness, Matches, Science

Specificity – the Most Important Rule in Soccer Fitness Training (Part I)

This summer I took a trip to Montreal, to watch both a Women’s World Cup match, as well as a Major League Soccer match between the Montreal Impact and Orlando City FC.  During this time I also got to visit and catch up with an old friend, Palo Pacione, who is the Fitness Coach of the Impact.  We discussed our work, some of the ups and downs we have both experienced in our careers, and also how the role of a soccer fitness coach has changed and developed over the past 10-15 years, since the two of us got started in this industry.  During our discussion, one issue that continually came up was our shared opinion that the most important role a fitness coach can have in soccer is the work done with the players on the field, during training.  As we looked back on some of the experiences we have had at higher levels in the game, including the Canadian National Men’s and Women’s Teams, and both Canadian as well as international professional soccer teams and academies, we both recognized that the most important contributions we have made to players and teams at these levels came not from the work we did in the weight room, but rather from the soccer-specific work we did with them on the pitch.

As a sports scientist, I am inclined to consider the above-mentioned realization in the context of the principles of training, which provide fitness coaches with a framework from which they can develop their training strategy and tactics.  In doing so, I have come to see that the reason the most impactful and rewarding work soccer fitness coaches do occurs during training on the pitch is because of the most important of all of the principles of training – the principle of specificity.  The principle of specificity states that sports training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport for which the individual is training in order to produce a training effect.  Put another way, specificity refers to the development of any particular athletic quality, in the exact, specific manner in which it occurs in a particular sport.  In soccer, then, the principle of specificity dictates that the best way to develop the specific athletic qualities needed for soccer is to train them in the specific manner in which they occur in the sport, on the pitch.

To understand how the principle of specificity would affect training in soccer, the first step must be to identify what specific athletic qualities are central to performance in soccer, and then to determine how these athletic qualities occur in a match.  Below is a chart that lists the necessary athletic qualities in soccer, and how they are manifest in the sport:

ATHLETIC QUALITY MANIFESTS ITSELF IN SOCCER AS
Speed –          Short sprints (0-5 metres) to outrun opponents into space or to get to the ball

–          Long sprints (10-30 metres); usually recovery runs or overlapping runs

–          Multi-directional running (backwards, sideways, and diagonal)

Power –          Jumping to head the ball

–          (for goalkeepers) Jumping to catch/parry the ball

–          Shooting / ball striking

Strength –          (general) All soccer actions including running, jumping, kicking

–          (specific) Shielding, challenging for the ball on the ground or in the air

–          (specific) decelerating / slowing down from sprints and fast movements

Endurance –          Aerobic capacity (to be able to cover a specific total distance during a match)

–          High intensity running ability (to be able to perform a specific amount of high intensity – fast – running during a match)

–          Recovery (ability to recover in between bursts of high intensity running)

Flexibility –          Prevention of muscle injury when performing soccer actions such as running, jumping, kicking, and challenging for the ball

After determining the necessary athletic qualities in soccer and how they are manifest in the sport, the final step for soccer fitness coaches must be to determine what types of exercises or training will help to reproduce these athletic qualities in the same manner in which they occur in the sport.  When considering all of the specific details relating to the manifestation of each of the five athletic qualities in soccer, it is difficult – or maybe even impossible – to imagine a training program in which the execution of these athletic qualities would remain specific without having players on the pitch, actually playing soccer.  Thus, the only way for soccer fitness coaches to apply the principle of specificity to the physical training of soccer players is to come up with exercises and training sessions that are done on the pitch, with the ball, and preferably while actually playing soccer.  Below is a chart which briefly describes one practical example of how to use the principle of specificity to train for each of the 5 athletic qualities in soccer.  In Part II of this article (next week) I will provide detailed examples and descriptions of each of these 5 practical training sessions.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and would love to hear your thoughts/comments.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

ATHLETIC QUALITY PRACTICAL TRAINING EXAMPLE
Speed –          Crossing and finishing exercise, where wide players must make long sprints (10-20 metres) to receive a through ball, and then cross to forward players who must make short sprints (5-10 metres) to finish on goal
Power –          Technical exercise, involving repeated bouts of maximal jumps to head the ball
Strength –          1 vs. 1 exercise, done in a small/restricted space, to facilitate multiple decelerations and challenges for the ball
Endurance –          Small-sided soccer game, played at a high intensity for a specific amount of time, with a work-to-rest ratio of 1:1
Flexibility –          Soccer-specific warm-up exercises, following the FIFA 11+ program, that include flexibility and mobility exercises for soccer-specific muscles
Fitness, For Parents, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #3: Friday, September 25th, 2015

Hi everyone,

I’m excited to welcome you to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the importance of keeping the airway warm while training and playing as temperatures get colder throughout the Fall season.

I Hope you enjoy it, and as always, please feel free to post thoughts/comments!

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Soccer Fitness Video Blog #2 – Friday, September 18th, 2015

Hi everyone,

I’m excited to welcome you to the next edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog. In this Blog, I will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness. In this edition, I discuss the importance of strengthening of the glute medius, which is a hip external rotator, and I provide some practical examples that can be done on the pitch after training.

I Hope you enjoy it, and as always, please post thoughts/comments!

Fitness, Science

Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog #1: Friday, September 11th, 2015

Hi Everyone,

I’m excited to welcome you to the very first edition of the Soccer Fitness Gols Video Blog.  In this Blog, we will be providing weekly video content relating to all things soccer and fitness.  In this first edition, I am discussing the importance of single leg strength exercises for soccer players, and providing some practical examples that can be done on the pitch after training.  I hope you enjoy it!

Fitness, Science

Article “Dispelling the Myths of Soccer Fitness” Posted by www.socceranywhere.com

It’s the middle of August, and for university soccer teams across the country – and also across the continent – that means the start of pre-season training.  Typically, pre-season schedules involve two, and sometimes even 3 training sessions per day, for 2-3 weeks, with other inter-squad and exhibition games mixed in, and very few if any days off.  I’ve personally been a part of about one dozen pre-seasons, first as a university player, and then as an assistant coach and fitness coach with several different college and university teams.  For university players, one of the most common themes of this very demanding time of year is invariably going to be fatigue, which can simply decrease performance or, even worse, lead to injuries.  Unfortunately, as two-/ three-a-day pre-season training schedules have become the norm in university soccer, players must basically resign themselves to the fact that they are going to be in constant pain for this time period, and that they will be lucky to get out of it without picking up an over-use injury.

With almost perfect timing, an excellent article and interview of Raymond Verheijen was posted by http://www.socceranywhere.com on Thursday of last week.  Verheijen is a professional coach and fitness coach from the Netherlands, and a world-renowned expert in periodization of fitness training in soccer, who has worked with numerous professional clubs and national teams in the past 20 years.  One of the main things he advocates regarding fitness training for soccer is for coaches to use a science-based, or objective, approach to planning their training.  In discussing the dangers of over-training, he had the following to say:

“Overtraining has to do with fatigue. To understand what is important you must understand the characteristics of football in the context of developing players. At a higher level of the game you find that there is less space and less time – you must execute the same football actions in a shorter period of time with greater speed. What this means is that football is an intensity game, it’s a speed of action game, and not an endurance game. If it was an endurance game then more would be better – we would train teams longer. As it is an intensity sport, less is more. Training smarter with a higher intensity is more effective. This is not an opinion to be debated, it is objective fact. If speed of action is your objective then your worst enemy is fatigue. If you are still tired from your last training session then you will start with a lower than 100% speed of action. You will not stretch any boundaries or reach 101%. Fatigue within a training session is normal, but fatigue as a result of the previous session is your worst enemy. Between training sessions players should get rid of all of the fatigue so that they start at 100% at the next session. Only then can you improve yourself, from the perspective of performance.”

It will be very interesting to see how long it takes (if ever) for this kind of objective approach to catch on in university soccer. I suspect that the first few coaches and schools who start to lower their training volume and focus exclusively on intensity may be seen as being “too soft” and “not fit enough for the college/university environment.”  If improved player performance is the ultimate goal, however, then a pre-season training plan based on objective facts is the only way to achieve it.  Below is a link to the full article/interview:

http://socceranywhere.com/raymond-verheijen-soccer-fitness/

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

Fitness, Science

The “You Have to be Big and Strong to Play in This League” Myth

Yesterday afternoon I worked as a Guest Coach at the 2nd 2015 TFC II Soccer Camp, run by International FC Academy (IFC) in Vaughan.  Each 1-day edition of the Camps feature a guest player either from TFC’s senior team, or the TFC II USL-Pro team.  Yesterday the guest player was 20 year old attacking midfielder Marky Delgado, recent TFC senior team signing who is also a member of the United States Men’s National Team.  These camps have been a very rewarding and positive experience for me, and the players who attend receive access both to high level coaching and training from the IFC staff, as well as the opportunity to learn and ask questions of the star TFC players.  During today’s question/answer portion of the Camp with Marky Delgado, one great question that came from one of the younger players was “what is your best strength, and what is your biggest weakness?”

Delgado noted that his best strength, in his opinion, was distribution from midfield, and he added that it has been this ability which has helped him earn a place in the starting line-up for TFC since arriving last month.  When asked to explain his biggest weakness, he simply responded “strength”, and he added “you need to be big and strong to play in the MLS.”  I have heard this type of comment many times before, most notably during the two years I spent as Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the TFC Academy, in 2012-2013.  At times, it seemed as if some coaches, despite all of the advances in sports science and performance training, and also despite all of the science-based work I was doing with the players, were only concerned with how “big and strong” the young academy players were.  It was almost as if there was some kind of arbitrary “big and strong” threshold that a young player needed to reach, without which he would never become a professional player or make it into the first team, no matter how talented he was.

The problem with this line of thinking when it comes to youth development and professional soccer is that it is a complete fallacy.  Of course, muscular strength and power, particularly leg strength and power, plays a role in soccer players’ performance, and numerous studies have demonstrated that higher level soccer players have greater lower body strength than lower level soccer players.  But muscular “size” and, to a lesser extent, muscular strength, is not the best measuring stick for predicting the physical performance of a professional soccer player.  In fact, it isn’t even in the top 5, as it lags behind acceleration, speed, agility, repeated sprint ability, and jump height, just to name a few.  The physical ability with the best predictive value of performance in soccer is probably also the most misunderstood physical ability in the sport: high intensity running ability.  Simply put, high intensity running ability is defined as a player’s ability to perform “high intensity” – or fast – running during a game.  As a general rule, the more high intensity running a player can do in a game, the better he will play.  Over 15 years’ worth of research has clearly identified high intensity running ability (which can easily be measured through on-field tests like the Yo-Yo Test or the 30-15 IFT Test) as the best predictor of performance in soccer.  And high intensity running ability has absolutely nothing to do with how big or strong a soccer player is.

To illustrate this point, first think about the context in which the “big and strong” comment was made – that is, when Marky Delgado said “you have to be big and strong to play in the MLS.”  Major League Soccer is a league which seems to be renowned for having players who are “big and strong”.  The size and muscularity of the players in MLS is clearly visible and is also clearly more prominent than in the players in the top European leagues.  While there has as yet not been any research quantifying the distances covered and amount of high intensity running done in MLS, several recent studies have indicated that the leagues with the highest amounts of distance covered and high intensity running are the ones with the best players in the world (for example, the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A).  Since there is no comparative data available, I can at least make a “common sense” argument that it is probable that the players in MLS cover less total distance and do less high intensity running than those in Europe’s top leagues.  Thus, MLS players may be “bigger and stronger” than players in the top European leagues, but they are likely not doing as much high intensity running, and are thus likely not playing the game at the same high physical standard.

Delgado’s comment that “you need to be big and strong to play in the MLS” can be further refuted by examining the star player on his own team.  Designated Player Sebastian Giovinco, who is listed on TFC’s roster as 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 135 pounds, is small not just by MLS standards, but by those of any senior men’s professional team, anywhere in the world.  In fact, at 135 pounds he is almost 40 pounds lighter than the team’s average weight of 173 pounds.  Yet nobody in TFC or MLS has suggested that Giovinco needs to be “bigger and stronger” to play in the league.  At week’s end, Giovinco’s 16 goals and 11 assists have kept him as both TFC’s biggest offensive threat, as well as 2nd overall in the league in goals scored and tied for 3rd in assists.  In addition to his obviously excellent technical ability and positioning, Giovinco is excelling physically in MLS not because he is “big and string”, but because he is fast, agile, and well conditioned to be able to perform high intensity runs for the duration of every 90+ minute match.  And he is TFC’s smallest and lightest player. Interestingly, the second smallest/lightest player on TFC’s roster, at 5 feet 9 inches and 146 pounds, is Marky Delgado.

None of this is meant as a knock on Delgado, or on the inspiring message he gave to the aspiring young soccer players at the TFC camp yesterday afternoon.  I am only commenting on the need for a shift in the paradigm of how we go about measuring players’ physical ability and their potential to play professional soccer.  What is needed is a science-based approach, where coaches, fitness coaches, and sports-scientists work together to determine the best. most valid, and most reliable standardized, objective measurements of players’ abilities.  If a starting player for Toronto FC and an up-and-coming talent with the U.S. Men’s National Team believes he needs to be bigger and stronger to be competitive in Major League Soccer, then he (as well as his coaches) may be adjusting his training and spending more time on training for muscular size and strength at the expense of more important physical abilities like speed and high intensity running ability.  More importantly, if the prevailing attitude of coaches and fitness coaches in Toronto specifically, as well as in Canada in general, is that players who are not “big and strong” cannot be successful at the professional level, we may be excluding young, talented and potentially impact-full players from our higher levels of play (including youth professional academy and/or National Teams) for the wrong reasons.  Based on the most recent performances of Toronto FC in MLS, as well as our Canadian Men’s and Women’s National Teams in major senior international competitions, I do not think we can afford to make these kinds of mistakes in player identification.  I say It’s time to put an end to the “you need to be big and strong to play in this league” myth once and for all.

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

Fitness, Science

The Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test – Reliability and Validity

In my most recent class, we were asked to write a small report explaining the concepts of reliability and validity as they relate to research methods, and subsequently to provide a sports science-related example of these two concepts.  For me, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to profile my favourite soccer-specific fitness test, the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test. below is the short paper.

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

The Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test, created by researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, is a test of aerobic and anaerobic fitness that has been proven to be both reliable and valid.  Comprising an incrementally faster 2 x 20 metre shuttle run, with a 10-second recovery period between each shuttle run, the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test has become one of the most popular on-field fitness tests in the sport of soccer, as well as in many other field sports.

The Yo-Yo test is reliable because it has been repeated thousands of times and has always been shown to have the same consistency and accuracy of measurement.  A recent study by Krustrup et. al. (2006) reported that the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test was shown to have a very high test-retest consistency among Danish Professional soccer players, when the same players were tested multiple times.  Whenever players get the same score (or close to the same score) on multiple trials of a test of physical fitness, the test can be said to be a reliable measurement tool.

The Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test has also been shown to be a valid predictor of high intensity running ability (Krustrup et. al., 2007).  High intensity running done by players (measured using time-motion analysis with global positioning satellite or GPS) was shown to be very well correlated to players’ performance on the Yo-Yo Test (Krustrup et. al., 2007).  Because high intensity running is one of the key factors that differentiates between higher and lower levels of play in soccer (as well as in other field sports), the fact that the Yo-Yo Test is a valid predictor of high intensity running ability means that the Yo-Yo Test should also be a good predictor/differentiator between levels of play amongst soccer players.

References:

Krustrup, P., Mohr, M., Amstrup, T., Rysgaard, T., Johansen, J., Steensberg, A., Pedersen, P.K., Bangsbo, J. (2006).   The yo-yo intermittent recovery test: physiological response, reliability, and validity.  Medicine in Sports and Exercise Science, 13: 1666-1672

Fitness, Nutrition, Science

Common Training and Nutritional Mistakes in Elite Level Soccer

As the final assignment in my Advanced Exercise Physiology class, I had to write an 8-10 page paper about common training and nutritional “mistakes” in the sport or exercise of my choice.  Of course, for me there was only ever one sport of choice!

Below is the entire paper, including references.  I’d love to know your thoughts.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness training and nutrition in elite level soccer are both topics that should be of primary importance to coaches and fitness coaches wishing to optimize players’ development and performance.  If elite level soccer players are not presented with adequate and optimal training loads, their bodies’ physiological systems (including the cardiovascular system, neuro-endocrine system, and musculoskeletal system) will not undergo any performance-enhancing changes or adaptations.  Thus, all aspects of physical fitness training in elite level soccer, including time/duration, intensity or training load, type or specificity of exercise, as well as recovery and rest periods, must be comprehensively planned and executed in order for beneficial changes to performance to occur.  Similarly, nutrition and hydration in elite level soccer must be optimized to allow players to maximize performance and minimize the damage and risks for injury that can be caused by training and playing matches.  This paper will discuss some common training and nutritional mistakes made in elite level soccer, and suggest strategies to correct these mistakes.

One common training mistake that can occur in elite level soccer is the addition of too many extra or supplemental fitness training sessions in a given period of time, commonly termed “overtraining.”  This problem can lead to an increased risk of injury, as well as decreased physical performance.  Coaches or fitness coaches must be careful that they do not overload players with extra fitness training, in order to prevent overtraining stimuli from occurring.  In one recent study done on elite level Portuguese professional soccer players, researchers from the University of Lisbon examined the effects of the addition of either one (1) or two (2) supplemental contrast training sessions per week to a professional team’s regular training schedule (Maio Alves et. al., 2010).  Results of this study indicated that,  regardless of one or two contrast training sessions per week, speed and vertical jump were improved compared to the soccer players who did not participate in the additional contrast training (Maio Alves et. al., 2010).  The implications of these findings for coaches and fitness coaches working with elite level soccer players are that, because significant improvements in speed and vertical jump were seen with only one supplemental fitness session per week, they may be able to avoid overtraining stimulus by limiting their supplemental training to one session per week instead of two or more.

Other studies have also demonstrated that it is possible to achieve improvements in physical fitness through a minimal training load.  A recent study by Buchheit at. al. (2010) demonstrated that just one training session per week over a 10-week training period (10 training sessions in total) of either repeated shuttle sprint training, or explosive strength training, was able to elicit significant improvements in maximal sprinting speed in elite level youth (under-15) soccer players.   It was noted that the repeated shuttle sprints improved the athlete’s best and mean repeated shuttle sprinting more than the explosive strength training, whereas the explosive strength training had a greater effect on countermovement jumps and hopping (Buchheit et. al., 2010).  These findings seem to reinforce the notion that significant improvements in elite level soccer players’ physical fitness can be achieved through a low or minimal training load.  Coaches and fitness coaches working with elite level players should thus plan to limit their fitness training interventions to one supplemental fitness training session per week, in order to minimize or even eliminate the risks of overtraining.

A second common training mistake in elite level soccer can occur when the wrong type of training is selected.  If, for example, coaches or fitness coaches have the goal of improving players’ running speed and power, but they choose to have players perform a lot of aerobic endurance training or long slow distance running training, they will likely not achieve the desired goal of improvements in speed and power.  In a recent study done by Mujika et. al. (2009), researchers working with professional soccer players in Spain compared the effects of a short-term (7-week) protocol of either contrast training (alternating heavy-light resistance with additional soccer-specific drills) or sprint training (2-4 sets of 4x 30m line sprints with 180 and 90 seconds of recovery, respectively) on soccer players’ short-distance (15 metre) sprinting ability.  Results of the study indicated that in the short term, contrast training is superior to linear sprint training when trying to improve 15 metre sprint performances in soccer players (Mujika et. al., 2009).  These findings should be especially valuable to soccer coaches, as they demonstrate that having players conduct some of their fitness training with the ball (“additional soccer-specific drills”) can lead to improvements in physical fitness and performance.

Because the sport of soccer requires high levels of both aerobic fitness (high intensity running ability), and anaerobic fitness (muscular strength, speed, and power), coaches and fitness coaches may often feel the need to combine aerobic and anaerobic training exercises in their fitness sessions.  The exact training loads (intensities) as well as the amount of time spent working on the different energy systems can be difficult for coaches and fitness coaches to plan for.  If too much load or too much time is spent on either the aerobic or anaerobic, improvements in one or both energy systems may be compromised.  In a recent study done by Wong et. al. (2010), professional soccer players in an experimental group participated in concurrent strength and high intensity interval training (2 times per week) in addition to their regular soccer training (a control group participated only in regular soccer training).  Results of this study indicated that the experimental group significantly increased their scores in vertical jump height, 10 metre and 30 metre sprint times, distances covered in the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test and maximal aerobic speed test, and maximal aerobic speed (Wong et. al., 2010).  Another study, done by Jasterzebski et. al. (2013) examined the effects of mixed aerobic and anaerobic training, using either “lactate training” – aerobic training – or “nonlactate training” – anaerobic training – in elite level male youth soccer players (Under-17).  The training produced no significant increase in the players’ VO2Max, however, the players did maintain VO2Max levels of an elite caliber; the starting first team players reached their peak in the middle of the season whereas the substitute players reached theirs at the end of the season (Jasterzebski et. al., 2013). In addition to the maintenance of elite caliber endurance (VO2Max), the training also significantly improved the players’ leg power and speed endurance, decreasing their 5m sprint times (Jasterzebski et. al., 2013).   If, as these results indicate, concurrent use of aerobic and anaerobic training might lead to enhancements in soccer players’ aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, then coaches and fitness coaches in elite level soccer with short pre-season training periods may be able to make the best use of their time by using a similar approach and combining aerobic and anaerobic training protocols.

Optimizing nutrition and hydration for elite level soccer players is another challenge faced by coaches and fitness coaches working in the sport.  Soccer is a sport, in which competitive matches are played at a high intensity for a minimum of 90 minutes, and often players must play more than one of these intense matches every week during the competitive season.  Throughout the week, elite level players and teams will also likely be participating in training sessions almost every day.  This combination of intense training and match loads with limited recovery serves to highlight the importance that must be placed on optimal nutrition and hydration strategies in soccer.  A primary concern regarding soccer-specific nutrition is the intake of carbohydrates, which serve as the main source of energy during soccer training and match play.  Of specific importance is the intake of carbohydrates post-training/match, as muscle glycogen – the body’s  stored form of carbohydrates – can be significantly depleted during an intense training session or game.  One common mistake made by elite level players is to ingest too few carbohydrates following training and/or match play.  A recent study by Bangsbo et. al. (2006) examined the effects of a carbohydrate-rich diet versus a normal diet on muscle glycogen resynthesis in elite professional Danish soccer players at specific times (0-42 hours) post-match play.   Results of this study indicated that the carbohydrate-rich diet resulted in significantly greater muscle glycogen resynthesis at 18- and 42-hours post match play as compared to the normal diet (Bangsbo et. al., 2006).  Because of the aforementioned high training and match loads in elite level soccer, faster muscle glycogen resynthesis can make a big difference in a soccer player’s ability to sustain the necessary levels of energy and to participate fully in all training sessions and matches.

Protein intake following training and match play is another important nutritional concern in elite level soccer.  Dietary protein helps to rebuild the damage caused to muscles and tissues following intense exercise.  Inadequate intake of protein following intense exercise will thus lead to inadequate repair of muscle and tissue damage.  In soccer, elite level players who make the mistake of not adding enough protein to their diet post-training and match play will likely be putting themselves at greater risk of injury and overtraining stimulus.  While it is important and essential for elite soccer players to consume protein throughout the day, oftentimes protein consumption immediately following a training session or game can be more difficult because of limited availability of high protein foods during this time.  A simple solution that is supported by empirical evidence is to ingest a high-protein drink such as chocolate milk.  In a recent study by Ferguson et. al. (2011), elite level cyclists were given either a chocolate milk drink, a carbohydrate drink, or a placebo drink post-exercise, and instructed to perform a 40-kilometre time trial exactly 24-hours post-exercise.  The results of this study indicated that the group given the chocolate milk drink (which contains both protein and carbohydrate) had both a significantly lower time in the time trail, as well as a significantly higher power output (measured in watts) as compared to either the carbohydrate drink or placebo drink groups (Ferguson et. al., 2011).  Although this study was done on elite level cyclists as opposed to soccer players, the results are still applicable to soccer because they indicate an improved aerobic/anaerobic capacity in athletes with adequate protein intake following intense training.  Soccer players who want to improve and optimize their post-training or match recovery should consider using chocolate milk or a similar high-protein drink during this time.

Replenishment of electrolytes during elite level soccer is another area of nutrition in which mistakes can be made.  Because electrolyte content in individual players’ sweat can vary, players who follow general guidelines may not necessarily be optimally replenishing the electrolytes they lose during match play.  Inadequate replenishment of electrolytes and low electrolyte levels in the body can lead to serious health consequences including impaired muscle function, impaired neural function, and even death.  Compounding the problem is the fact that typical sports drinks, while they do contain the electrolytes sodium and potassium, may not necessarily contain enough of these electrolytes to replace the quantities lost by elite level soccer players during match play.  One recent study which highlights this problem was done by Stone et. al. (2005).  This study examined  specific water and electrolyte needs among three different professional clubs in the English Premier League.  The findings of this study indicated that there was a large variability in “salt” (or sodium) content of players’ sweat among the three professional clubs.  The range of “salt” loss through sweat was as low as 1.8 grams (1800 milligrams), to as much as 5 grams (5000 milligrams) (Stone et. al., 2006).  As mentioned previously, typical sports drinks like Gatorade or PowerAde contain only 250 milligrams per 500 millilitre bottle, so a professional soccer player who attempts to replenish lost electrolytes by drinking one full bottle of Gatorade or PowerAde will not be adequately replenishing lost sodium during match play.  In order to address this problem, elite level players should consider adding some salt to their sports drinks when playing matches on hot days.  This way, they will add to the total electrolyte content of the sports drink and help with replenishment of this necessary nutrient.

The sport of soccer presents many unique challenges to coaches and fitness coaches, including those related to physical fitness training and to nutrition and hydration.  When planning fitness training, coaches and fitness coaches working with elite level soccer players must try to utilize exercises that present players with a high intensity, but a low training volume (possibly as low as one training session per week).  In order to maximize players’ energy system development, the use of combined aerobic and anaerobic training protocols, as well as the combination of physical fitness training with ball work, are likely to be more effective methods of training.  When considering elite soccer players’ nutrition, special attention must be given to ensuring optimal intake of carbohydrates, protein post-training/match play, and replenishment of lost electrolytes.  Taken together, a well-planned training and nutritional program will help to ensure that elite level soccer players stay healthy and perform at their best over the course of the competitive season.

References:

Bangsbo, J., Mohr, M., Krustrup, P. (2006).  Physical and metabolic demands of training and match-play in the elite footballer.  Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(7): 665-674.

Buchheit, M., Mendez-Villanueva, A., Delhomel, G., Brughelli, M., Ahmaidi, S. (2010).  Improving repeated sprint ability in young elite soccer players: repeated shuttle sprints versus explosive strength training.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(10): 2715-2722.

Ferguson-Stegal, L., McCleave, E.L., Ding, Z., Doerner, P.G., Wang, B., Liao, Y.H., Kammer, L., Liu, Y., Hwang, J., Dessard, B.M., Ivy, J.L. (2011) Postexercise carbohydrate-protein supplementation improves subsequent exercise performance and intracellular signaling for protein synthesis.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25: 1210-1224.

Jastrzębski ,Z., Rompa, P., Szutowicz, M., Radzimiński, L. (2013).  Effects of applied training loads on the aerobic capacity of young soccer players during a soccer season.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(4): 916-923.

Maio Alves, J.M., Rebelo, A.N., Abrantes, C., Sampaio, J. (2010).  Short term effects of complex and contrast training in soccer players’ vertical jump, sprint, and agility abilities.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(4): 936-941.

Mujika, I., Santisteban, J., Castagna, C. (2009).  In-season effect of short-term sprint and power training programs on elite junior soccer players.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(9): 2581-2587.

Stone, M., Shirreffs, S., & Sawka, M. (2006). Water and electrolyte needs for football training and match-play.  Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(7): 699-707.

Wong, P.L., Chaouachi, A., Chamari, K., Dellal, A., Wisloff, U. (2010).  Effect of preseason concurrent muscular strength and high-intensity interval training in professional soccer players.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(3): 653-660.

Fitness, Science

Running Doesn’t Suck | T Nation

I am re-blogging a link to an excellent article, written by Max Shank and posted to http://www.t-nation.com, called “Running Deosn’t Suck.”

Of course, I agree with this statement, and I think that the article makes some very good and valid scientific arguments as to why running does not suck.

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

Running Doesn’t Suck | T Nation.

Fitness, Nutrition, Science

Does Staying Hydrated Really Improve Performance?

Recently, in my Advanced Exercise Physiology class, I was given the assignment of writing a paper about the effectiveness of hydration on both the prevention of heat illnesses, as well as improvements in physical performance.  As I went through the relevant literature, I quickly noticed that there seemed to be dozens – if not hundreds – of papers published about how hydration can prevent mild and severe heat illnesses, ranging from simple dehydration to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Finding information about the effects of optimal hydration on athletic and sports performance was a bit more difficult, but some pretty clear evidence does exist.    For example, Walsh et. al. (1994) demonstrated the performance benefits associated with remaining fully hydrated during exercise. They had subjects cycle for one hour at 70% of VO2 peak before exercising to exhaustion at 90% of VO2 peak, a task that required about 6-10 minutes to complete. When the subjects were allowed to dehydrate by only 1.8% of their body weight, they lasted slightly more than six minutes before becoming fatigued. When they remained fully hydrated by ingesting fluid at regular intervals throughout the hour of steady-state cycling, they were able to cycle for almost 10 minutes, a large and significant improvement in performance.

Similar effects have been seen with studies done on competitive runners.  Casa et. al. (2010) examined physiological and performance variables among trail distance runners when running in the heat.  Their study measured these variables among 2 groups of elite trail distance runners during both a sub-maximal and maximal race trial in the heat.  One group of runners was well hydrated, and the other was dehydrated, during both the sub-maximal and maximal trials.  The results of the study demonstrated decreased body mass and body water loss, lower core body temperature, better running economy, and faster running times over time trials, in hydrated distance runners versus dehydrated distance runners.  The researchers surmised that “even a small decrement in hydration status impaired physiologic function and performance while trail running in the heat.”

The “take-home” message for soccer coaches and fitness coaches is that proper hydration will not only prevent heat illness, but it will also allow players to maximize their physical performance.  Improvements in running economy, as well as in aerobic and anaerobic endurance, should translate directly into better soccer performance on the pitch.

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

Fitness, For Parents, Nutrition

Macro-Nutrition For Elite Soccer Players – By Andre Orlando and Richard Bucciarelli

Below is an article written by University of Guelph-Humber Internship Student Andre Orlando (who is presently completing an internship with Soccer Fitness Inc.) and edited by me.  The article discusses “macro” nutrition, or nutrition at the macro (nutrient) level, for soccer players, with an emphasis on pre-, during-, and post- training/game nutrient intake.  Any soccer player, parent, or coach should find this information useful.  Below is the article, including references.  As an aside, I have to advise any person considering making changes to their diet, to first consult with a physician and/or registered dietician.

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

Introduction:

Soccer is a unique and complicated sport that requires multiple energy systems dominating throughout the game. The games usually last 90-95 minutes, with a 15 minute break at half time. One would assume that soccer is mostly dominated by aerobic fitness and the aerobic energy system, but it is not. Soccer consists of short bursts of speed and strength followed by a long chase or battle with opponents, all of which are performed by the anaerobic energy system. Other soccer movements include quicker bursts of power to jump up and win a header or (for goalkeepers) to the side to make a save and in these movements the anaerobic ATP-CP system dominates. All of these different movements occur in several combinations lasting 90+ minutes, so they can also take a toll on the body’s aerobic energy system, which must provide the body with sufficient energy to recover.  With all three of the body’s energy systems working at once, how does one prepare for optimal performance during a game, and for optimal recovery afterwards?  An elite soccer player cannot just eat like a sprinter, or a marathon runner, or even a hockey player because the energy requirements for a soccer player can be much more diverse. A balanced diet focusing on all the essential macronutrients is very important for soccer player’s performance and recovery after a game.

Pre-game or Pre-training nutrition:

On game or training day the player will need to store up optimal energy for optimal performance. If the player eats too little they will fatigue a lot faster and performance will decrease. If a player eats too much they can feel bloated and sluggish and performance will decrease. But if the player has the right meal with at the right time they will perform optimally.

Carbohydrates are a very important macronutrient for soccer players. Once ingested, they are broken down into glucose which is used in glycolysis (anaerobic energy system) or stored as glycogen for later energy use. The recommended amount of carbohydrates for elite soccer players is 200-300g 3-4 hours before exercise or 3-5g CHO/kg of body weight (1). This will provide enough time and carbohydrates to maximize maintenance of blood glucose (1).  Protein is another important macronutrient for soccer a player that forms the building blocks for muscle tissue. The recommended amount of protein is 20-30 grams of lean protein 3-4 hours before exercise (2).  Fat, the third main macronutrient, contains a lot of energy but can cause gastric distress and bloating if consumed close to exercise. It is recommended that the consumption of fat and fiber is low during the pre game or training meal to minimize bloating and gastric distress. Also it is important to note that all pre game meals should be familiar to the athlete, and in general athletes should avoid new or exotic meals before training/playing. Lastly the meal should be accompanied by enough fluid to keep the athlete hydrated and satisfy their thirst, preferably water.

Post-game or Post-training recovery:

It is arguable that post-game nutrition is even more important than pre game nutrition. The post-training/game time period is where all the work done in training and during the game is transferred into actual physical results. The body is broken down during exercise and after exercise it needs to recover and build back up. A primary key to recovery is proper rest and nutrition.  After an intense bout of exercise, muscle glycogen is depleted and needs to be refueled.  This muscle glycogen is what the muscles use to create energy during exercise when there is no immediate access to glucose. To refuel this depleted muscle glycogen carbohydrate ingestion post-exercise are recommended.  It is recommended to consume 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight of carbohydrates to optimally replenish glycogen storages post exercise (3).  Protein is also key post exercise to optimize muscle protein synthesis. During strenuous exercise muscle tissue is damaged and needs to be repaired. Protein holds the building blocks (amino acids) for this repair of muscle tissue. To optimize muscle protein synthesis it is recommended to intake 20 grams of protein post exercise in three hour intervals up to 24 hours post exercise or until daily protein requirements are reached (4).  Fat intake is not crucial post exercise as long as the daily recommendations are met. It is very important to rehydrate the athlete and make sure they consume enough water so that they do not feel thirsty.

 

Daily Macronutrient Requirements for Soccer players

Throughout the day an elite soccer player should have multiple smaller meals, rather than three big meals. These meals should include fruits and vegetables and meet the full requirements of a soccer player’s daily recommended macronutrient intake. The daily recommended carbohydrate intake for elite soccer players on none training days is 5-7 grams per kg of body weight (5). On training and game days 7-10 grams per kg of body weight of carbohydrates is needed to provide optimal energy and maintain or replenish blood glucose and muscle glycogen storages (5).  Recommended daily protein intake for soccer players is 1.4 grams per kg per day (6). This will allow for optimal muscle protein synthesis and reduce the risk of muscle break down.  Fat consumption is very important for a soccer player as well, because it is required to transport and store fat soluble vitamins throughout the body.  Fat is also a high energy source used by endurance athletes. Fat oxidation provides more energy than any other substrate, and fat is also used for long term energy production (aerobic energy system). The recommended amount of fat is 20-25% of your daily caloric intake (7). Preferably, athletes should consume healthy fats, such as unsaturated omega-3 and 6 fats.  It is also important to note that hydration throughout the day is also very important, and any athlete should be consuming as much water as possible to maintain optimal hydration.

References

1. Potgieter, S. (2013). Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition from the American College of Sport Nutrition, the International Olympic Committee and the International Society for Sports Nutrition.South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition26(1), 6-16.

2. Boisseau, N., Vermorel, M., Rance, M., Duché, P., & Patureau-Mirand, P. (2007). Protein requirements in male adolescent soccer players.European journal of applied physiology100(1), 27-33.

3. Van Loon, L. J., Saris, W. H., Kruijshoop, M., & Wagenmakers, A. J. (2000). Maximizing postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures.The American journal of clinical nutrition72(1), 106-111.

4. Moore, D. R., Areta, J., Coffey, V. G., Stellingwerff, T., Phillips, S. M., Burke, L. M., . & Hawley, J. A. (2012). Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males.Nutr Metab (Lond)9(1), 91.

5. Burke, L. M., Cox, G. R., Cummings, N. K., & Desbrow, B. (2001). Guidelines for daily carbohydrate intake.Sports medicine31(4), 267-299.

6. Boisseau, N., Vermorel, M., Rance, M., Duché, P., & Patureau-Mirand, P. (2007). Protein requirements in male adolescent soccer players.European journal of applied physiology100(1), 27-33.

7. Burke, L. M., Kiens, B., & Ivy, J. L. (2004). Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery.Journal of sports sciences22(1), 15-30.

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Exercise-Induced Asthma (And How to Deal With It)

For me, going back to school has had both positive and negative effects on my life.  Among the positive ones has been that it has forced me to do a lot of research and to write articles/papers about various different topics related to sports science.  I recently was asked to write a report on exercise-induced asthma, a condition that is common in athletes, including youth soccer players and many of the individuals that I work with in my business.  Below is the report (plus several relevant references).  Hope you like it and find it useful!

Exercise-induced asthma is a condition in which vigorous physical activity triggers acute airway narrowing in people with heightened airway reactivity (McFadden & Gilbert, 1994).  Narrowing of the airway is commonly called “bronchospasm” as it implies spasm or constriction of the smooth muscle that lines the airway.  This constriction can make breathing difficult or in severe cases, almost impossible.  Exercise-induced asthma can also be caused by an accumulation of mucous within the airway.  In unusual circumstances, exposure to antigens, oxidant air pollutants, or respiratory viruses may increase vulnerability of the airway to the extent that episodes of airway obstruction can follow even minimal exertion (McFadden & Gilbert, 1994).

Individuals suffering from exercised-induced asthma generally report being short of breath, commonly termed “dyspnea” (Powers & Howley, 2014).  Dyspnea is the most obvious and common symptom of exercise-induced asthma.  The most common exercise situation in which dyspnea due to airway constriction occurs is when, following strenuous activity (accompanied with an increase in minute ventilation), exercise continues at a lower intensity and minute ventilation falls, which prompts a re-warming of the airway (National Asthma Education Program, 1991).

The prevalence of exercise-induced symptoms in patients with asthma has been reported to range from 40 to 90 percent (McFadden & Gilbert, 1994, Jones et. al., 1962).  Interestingly, although exercise may be a common (or commonly-occurring) trigger of airway restriction, in many cases exercise may not be the only trigger (McFadden & Gilbert, 1994).  The wide range of incidence of exercise-induced symptoms owes itself to several different factors.  Among them are the intensity of the exercise that elicits a response, which may be much higher in trained versus untrained individuals.  Second, there is a lack of standardization of the exercise tests used to detect a response.  Several different types of exercise tests are used by physicians and respirologists, with different exercise modes (bicycle, running, calisthenics) and intensities being used.  Finally, it can also be very difficult in a laboratory to standardize the environmental variables that control the magnitude of the airway obstruction (McFadden & Gilbert, 1994).

Ventilation and the heat content of inspired air can have a significant effect on the nature of the response and airway restriction in individuals with exercise-induced asthma.  As a general rule, the more strenuous the work, the greater the ventilation required to meet metabolic demands and the more intense the asthma attack.  Some studies have demonstrated that running (high intensity) limits airflow more than jogging (moderate intensity), which in turn limits airflow more than walking (low intensity) (Strauss et. al., 1978, Deal et. al., 1979).  Temperature and humidity of the inspired air is also an exacerbating factor or airway restriction.  Airway obstruction is maximized when the inspired air (and thus the temperature) is cold or dry and minimized when the air is warm and humid (Strauss et. al., 1977).

Some preventative steps can be undertaken to reduce the incidence as well as the severity of exercise-induced asthma “attacks.”  First, a long a properly conducted warm-up will help to gradually warm and raise the temperature of inspired air.  Studies have demonstrated that, when bouts of exercise are performed repeatedly within a period of 40 minutes or less, the bronchial narrowing progressively decreases. A person can thus limit the obstructive consequences of vigorous activity by first undertaking a short warm-up period (Weiler-Ravell & Godfrey, 1981).  Unfortunately, this limitation in the obstruction of the airway following progressive warm-up is only effective against the exercise stimulus (increase in ventilation / cold air) and is not effective against other irritants in the air that may also cause airway constriction (Weiler-Ravell & Godfey, 1981).

A second preventative step to attenuate and eliminate the effects of exercise-induced asthma is the use of medication.  Aerosols of β 2 -adrenergic-agonist drugs, cromolyn, and nedocromil used 10 to 15 minutes before exertion, as needed, are the most common therapies (Tullett et. al., 1985, Roberts et. al., 1985).     Both of these medications have anti-inflammatory effects.  They act by blockading chloride channels and the modulation of mast cell mediator release and eosinophil recruitment, effects which limit the inflammation and irritation that causes the airways to constrict (www.meded.ucsd.edu).    Typically, 1-2 inhalations of β 2 -adrenergic-agonists can attenuate the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma for up to 12 hours, which is more than enough time to allow individuals to complete their desired exercise session (www.meded.ucsd.edu).  Of course, individuals suffering from exercise-induced asthma can never be “cured” in the sense that the condition will always be present.  The symptoms of the disease, however, can be controlled through a combination of proper warm-up and administration of anti-inflammatory medication.

References:

Deal, E.C., McFadden, E.R., Ingram, R.H., Strauss, R.H., Jaeger, J.J. (1979).  Role of respiratory heat exchange in production of exercise-induced asthma. Journal of Applied Physiology, 46:467-475.

Jones, R.S., Buston, M.H., Wharton, M.J. (1962).  The effect of exercise on ventilatory function in the child with asthma. British Journal of Disorders of the Chest, 56:78-86.

McFadden, E.R., Gilbert, I.A.  (1994). Exercise induced asthma.  The New England Journal of Medicine, 330.19: 1362-1367.

Roberts, J.A., Thomson, N.C. (1985).  Attenuation of exercise-induced asthma by pretreatment with nedocromil sodium and minocromil. Clinical Allergy, 15: 377-381.

Strauss, R.H., McFadden, E.R., Ingram, R.H., Deal, E.C., Jaeger, J.J. (1978).  Influence of heat and humidity on the airway obstruction induced by exercise in asthma. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 61:433-440.

Strauss, R.H., McFadden, E.R., Ingram, R.H., Jaeger, J.J. Enhancement of exercise-induced asthma by cold air. New England Journal of Medicine, 297:743-747.

Tullett, W.M., Tan, K.M., Wall, R.T., Patel, K.R. (1985). Dose-response effect of sodium cromoglycate pressurized aerosol in exercise induced asthma. Thorax, 40: 41-44.

Unknown (2015).  Pharmacologic management of asthma.  Retrieved from: https://meded.ucsd.edu/isp/1998/asthma/html/medguide.html.

Weiler-Ravell, D., Godfrey, S. (1981). Do exercise-and antigen-induced asthma utilize the same pathways? Antigen provocation in patients rendered refractory to exercise-induced asthma. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 67:391-397.

Fitness, Injuries, Science

Head Injuries in Soccer

In my present Advanced Exercise Physiology class, we were asked to write a small article discussing head injuries in our sport of choice.  For me, of course, there was no choice of which sport to write about!  Below is my report.  Of note in this report is that the commonly recommended “secondary prevention” method of dealing with head injuries and concussions in sports (including in soccer) is the use of baseline and follow up cognitive testing.  I am presently in the process of arranging for this service to be offered at the Soccer Fitness Training Centre – stay tuned and enjoy the article!

Soccer is a unique sport, in that the unprotected head is used both to control and advance the ball during game play.  Not surprisingly, injuries to the head can be common in soccer, and can include contusions, fractures, eye injuries, and concussions (Kirkendall et. al., 2001).  A recent review by Al-Kashmiri & Delaney (2006) examined several different studies utilizing statistical analysis of head injuries in soccer.  Among their reported findings were:

  • Head injuries comprise 4-22% of total injuries in soccer (Powell & Barber-Foss, 1999)
  • Rates of skull fracture or internal head injury are roughly 1-2 injuries per 10,000 soccer players per year in the United States (Delaney, 2001)
  • Concussion rates among university soccer players in the United States have been reported to be 0.6 concussions/1000-athlete exposure (men) and 0.4 concussions/1000-athlete exposure (women); unfortunately, there is also widespread belief that, because many concussions or head injuries are mild and thus not sufficient enough to warrant emergency room visits, these reported numbers of concussion occurrence are greatly underestimating the true numbers of concussions among athlete populations (Boden et. al., 1998)

Prevention of head injuries in soccer has been recommended to be approached using two strategies: primary prevention, and secondary prevention (Kirkendall et. al., 2001).  Primary prevention generally comprises strategies used to prevent a head injury from occurring at all, and can include advocacy for rule changes, equipment design, supervision and proper fitting of helmets, and training/conditioning exercises.  An example of primary prevention in soccer would be the use of helmets like the “Full90” headgear created in 2005 for soccer and other field sports.  The Full90 helmets have been proven to significantly reduce the forces generated both when heading the ball, and in other head contact injuries in soccer (www.full90.com).

Secondary prevention, on the other hand, typically involves management of head injuries after they have occurred.  In soccer and several other sports, concussion testing such as the “ImPACT” or “Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing” have been used by physicians, athletic therapists, and other health and fitness practitioners.     Currently, more than 10,000 medical professionals have been trained by ImPACT on concussion management and the ImPACT Program, and it is also in use by the majority of teams in many professional sports leagues including Major League Soccer (MLS).  The value of baseline and follow-up tests like the ImPACT test is that they serve to specifically define an athlete’s cognitive abilities, with a standardized set of rules and criteria used to determine the nature, severity, and return-to-play guidelines for athlete’s head injuries.

Of course, participation in any contact sport (including soccer), carries risks of being injured, among them risks of head injuries.  Having a good system and plan including both primary and secondary prevention strategies can help to both minimize the incidence of occurrence and risks of head injuries, and also to properly manage and treat these injuries if and when they do occur.

Fitness, Science

The Science Behind Cool-Downs

These days, most coaches and players seem to have recognized the importance and need for a “cool-down” – some form of light or low intensity cardiovascular exercise – at the end of a training session or game.  Many of the coaches and even some of the younger athletes I work with are able to explain in “layman’s terms”, some reasons why cool-downs are important.  If/when I ask, I frequently hear responses such as “it gets your heart rate back to normal” or “it brings your body temperature back down.”  Because this is a topic that has always been of interest to me, I thought I would look into it a little bit more by searching for an answer to the following questions:

  1. Is there any empirical evidence to support cooling-down following intense exercise?
  2. What type of cool-down will work best for soccer?

Among the benefits of cool-downs are, as stated earlier, a slow and gradual return of both heart rate, and body temperature, back to resting levels.  Removal of lactic acid, which is a painful and toxic by-product of intense exercise including soccer, is also a critical benefit of cooling-down.  Several studies (Brooks, 1985, Brooks 1986) have demonstrated that lactic acid is oxidized (a process by which it is removed from muscles and broken down into non-toxic pyruvic acid) following exercise, rather than during exercise.  Furthermore, recent research has also shown that the removal of lactic acid from the blood (determined by measuring the blood concentration level) is enhanced by up to 25% when light exercise (about 35% of VO2Max) is performed following intense exercise, rather than when no exercise is performed (Dodd et. al., 1984).  From this information, it can be surmised that performing a cool-down following soccer is a useful way to help remove some of the lactic acid that builds up during training and match play.

But what is the best intensity at which to perform a cool-down?  A recent study set the intensity of the cool-down at a percentage of the lactate threshold (“LT” – the exercise intensity at which lactic acid accumulation begins to rise), rather than a percentage of VO2Max. They found that when subjects did their cool-down at intensities just below the lactate threshold (90-95% of the LT), blood lactic acid was removed faster than at lower (40% to 60% of the LT) intensities (Menzies et. al., 2010).  This particular study was done using trained distance runners (not soccer players) however, because soccer players do run fairly large distances during games (up to 15 kilometres) and at relatively high intensities (70-80% of VO2Max), these findings are applicable to soccer.

Based on the research I examined, it seems as though soccer players will benefit more from cool-downs that are of a moderate/high intensity (90% of the lactate threshold) rather than of a lower intensity.  The cool-down protocols in the studies I found used either running or cycling on a stationary bicycle for 10-15 minutes at the prescribed intensities.  Because soccer is played on a field, running is the better choice for cooling-down, as it can be performed immediately following the completion of a training session or game.   Hopefully this article has helped to shed some light on the science behind cool-downs, and provided coaches and players with some useful information to help them maximize their post-training/game recovery.

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

Fitness, Science

’45 Types of Fit People’ Re-Post from www.broscience.com

The website http://www.brosscience.com recently posted a very interesting series of pictures of 45 elite level athletes from a variety of sports (including soccer), wearing nothing but their underwear!

The different types of sports bodies on display, ranging from thin with extremely low body fat and muscle mass (marathon) to heavy set with huge muscle mass and relatively high body fat (weightlifting) are fascinating to see.  Among the athletes pictured are World Champions and Olympic medallists, as well as elite professional athletes from a variety of different team and individual sports.  What is most unique and impressive about these pictures is that they clearly prove that there is no such thing as having a “fit” body; the most important factor for any athlete (including soccer players) is that their bodies are able to perform optimally.

Below is a link to the post.  I really enjoyed it and I think you will as well.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

http://broscience.co/45-types-of-fit-people-how-world-class-athletes-look-like/

Fitness, Science

A Toast to Jens Bangsbo and Peter Krustrup

I recently made the decision to go back to school, and as part of my coursework I enrolled in an Advanced Exercise Physiology class.  One of our assignments for the class asked us to identify 2 prominent scientists in our preferred area of study, and to discuss their contributions to this area of study as well as to the field of exercise physiology as a whole.

Of course, I have only ever had one preferred area of study in the field of exercise physiology, the study of the science of soccer.  In this particular area, the logical choices as the most prominent sports scientists were Jens Bangsbo and Peter Krustrup.  Together, they have authored hundreds of scientific studies done on soccer players and teams, as well as several books.

Both Jens Bangsbo and Peter Krustrup have been huge sources of inspiration to me in my career.  I was thrilled to receive news earlier this year that the abstract from my latest research project involving high speed harnessed treadmill running had been accepted for an oral presentation at the 8th World Congress on Science and Football, happening in May of this year and being held at the University of Copenhagen (the school at which both Jens Bangsbo and Peter Krustrup are professors of exercise physiology).  I thought it would be fitting for me to post my school assignment, which focuses on and summarizes what I believe to be one of their most important contributions to science and soccer: the creation of the Yo-Yo Tests.  Here it is below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

The physiology of soccer is a subject that has always been of great interest to me.  I grew up playing the sport and now earn a living as a soccer-specific strength and conditioning coach, so I have always felt the need to learn as much as I can about the science – and specifically the physiology – involved in the sport.  Over the course of my ten-year career working in soccer, I have discovered that there are several prominent sports scientists conducting research on individual players and teams at all different levels of the sport.  Among them, two people stand out as being the most prolific and having done some of the most meaningful and influential research in this field: Dr. Jens Bangsbo, PhD., and Dr. Peter Krustrup, PhD.  Both of these sports scientists have conducted research at and continue to work as professors at the University of Copenhagen in Copenhagen, Denmark.  This paper will briefly summarize some of the main research done by both doctors, and how this research has contributed to the study of exercise physiology related to the sport of soccer.

Jens Bangsbo has published hundreds of scientific studies on soccer, and also authored several books.  Peter Krustrup has worked with Jens Bangsbo on a number of scientific studies, and also published many studies on his own.  For the purposes of this paper, I will be summarizing the research that Dr.’s Bangsbo and Krustrup have done together.  Among their most notable work includes the development and subsequent researching of soccer-specific versions of the Leger-Boucher test (commonly called the “beep test”), the Yo-Yo Tests, used as a means of assessing soccer players’ aerobic and anaerobic capacity.  Three different versions, or “levels” of the Yo-Yo Tests were developed by Dr.’s Bangsbo, Krustrup, and their colleagues at the University of Copenhagen: The Yo-Yo Endurance Test, the Yo-Yo Intermittent Endurance Test, and the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test.  Dr.’s Bangsbo, Krustrup and their colleagues have conducted numerous studies that have examined the effectiveness, validity, reliability, and reproducibility of all three levels of the Yo-Yo Tests (Bangsbo et. al., 2008,    Bangsbo et. al., 2006, Krustrup et. al., 2003, Krustrup et. al., 2006).

The Yo-Yo Tests developed and validated by Jens Bangsbo and Peter Krustrup are an extremely valuable addition to the field of exercise physiology as it relates to the sport of soccer.  The tests have been shown to be valid and reliable predictors of performance in soccer at various levels, including youth soccer, female soccer, adult amateur soccer, and adult professional / national team soccer.  They have become the most commonly used tests to determine the aerobic and anaerobic capacities of high level soccer players (professional and national team) in the world (Buccheit & Rabbani, 2014).  Furthermore, because of this extensive use of the Yo-Yo tests in soccer, countless other studies have been conducted using the tests, including some which have examined the physiological responses to the test in soccer players.  One recent study done by Hammouda et. al. (2013) reported significant increases in physiological markers of muscle damage (including creatine kinase, myosin ATPase, and lactate dehydrogenase), in young soccer players immediately following completion of the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test Level 1.  Studies such as this one serve to highlight the importance that the contributions that Dr.’s Bangsbo and Krustrup have made, as they demonstrate other scientists’ interest in studying all aspects of the tests which they created.

I have personally used the Yo-Yo Tests for over eight years now, during my work as Fitness Coach with the Ontario Provincial Soccer Teams, Canadian National Women’s U17 Team, the Toronto FC Academy Teams, as well as thousands of athletes training with my company, Soccer Fitness Inc.  During all of my years using the tests, I have always found them to be very useful in determining the physical fitness of the players I worked with, and also especially useful in assessing the effectiveness of the training interventions I used.  Myself and a lot of other fitness coaches working with soccer players around the world owe a debt of gratitude to Jens Bangsbo and Peter Krustrup for their contributions to the science and physiology of soccer in general, and the development of the Yo-Yo tests in particular.

Fitness, Injuries, Science

“What Happens When the ACL Tears?” – from elarasystems.com

The anterior cruciate ligament, or “ACL” is a commonly injured area of the knee in soccer, as well as in many other sports.

We were recently contacted by Elara Systems Inc., a full-service design studio based out of California that works with medical and performance specialists.  They have sent us  a recently created a new animation showing the process of an ACL tear. Given that this is one of the most common injuries in soccer and almost always forces a player out for extended recovery times, I thought it would make for an interesting post in our blog.  Below is a link to the video from the http://www.elarasystems.com website:

http://www.elarasystems.com/what-happens-when-the-acl-tears/

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

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Article – “Manchester United Youth Development Philosophy” from cantpasscantplay.com

Below is a link to an excellent article recently posted on http://www.cantpasscantplay.com, a soccer blog.  It contains an interview with Tony Strudwick, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Manchester United Football Club.  Among the points Mr. Strudwick makes are that young players need “multi-sport athleticism”, which can only be obtained by participating in other sports in addition to soccer.  This approach is certainly not unique to Manchester United (or many other European clubs, for that matter), however, often times in North America we adopt an “early specialization” model, which may force young athletes to forego the benefits of “multi-sport athleticism”.

Here is the link to the article:

http://www.cantpasscantplay.com/blog/2015/2/11/manchester-united-youth-development-philosophy

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

Fitness, Science

Article – “Core Confusion: The Truth About Squats and Dead Lifts” – by Nick Tumminello – posted on T-Nation.com

Below is a link to a very interesting article written by Nick Tumminello, posted on http://www.t-nation.com yesterday. The article discusses and challenges the notion that traditional barbell leg exercises (squats, dead lifts) provide enough of a stimulus to the “core muscles” that other core and abdominal exercises are not necessary.  The idea that squats and dead lifts are a sufficient replacement for abdominal exercises has been a relatively wide-held belief lately, however, as the article points out, this belief is mainly based on misrepresented facts and a misunderstanding of the results of some recent research into the topic.

It is refreshing to see a science-based approach that considers not only some authors’ conclusions (which can be misleading), but the actual specific results of the studies in question.  Fitness coaches working with soccer players should be interested in this topic – I know I am!

Here is the link to the article:

http://www.t-nation.com/training/core-confusion#.VOKARztBqxE.facebook

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

Fitness, Science

Our Research – Effectiveness of Treadmill vs Ground-Based Repeated Sprint Training on Speed and High Intensity Running Ability in Youth Female Soccer Players

Treadmill training works!  Below is a link to our article, which describes our recent study done at the Soccer Fitness Training Centre, comparing a high speed/high incline treadmill repeated sprint training program with a ground-based repeated sprint training program.  In only 6 weeks, and two 30-minute training sessions per week, we saw significant improvements in running speed and endurance.  Read the article below – the results speak for themselves!

Bucciarelli,Yousefian,Cresser,Rupf-Effectiveness of treadmill vs ground-based repeated sprint training on sprint time and high-intensity running ability in youth female soccer players

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

Fitness, For Parents, Science

Article – Impact of Puberty on Youth Soccer – From goalnation.com

Below is a link to a very interesting article written by Llyod Biggs (A coach and sports scientist from California) in which he interviews Paul Hart, a Strength and Conditioning Coach at UCSB and former professional soccer player from the United Kingdom.  The interview discusses Mr. Hart’s thoughts on age-appropriate fitness and physical training for youth soccer players.  Considering all of the work I have been doing in the past two years with several different Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) teams, comprising elite male and female players aged U13 and up, this interview was a great read for me.  I especially liked this closing comment from Mr. Biggs:

In the perfect world — regarding the physical fitness of youth soccer players — each player would be monitored as an individual and data collected to understand when the peak growth spurts were taking place. Fitness testing would also be tracked to allow us to see the specific strengths and weaknesses of the individual player, and specific training plans would be modelled for each individual.

Here is the link to the article:

http://goalnation.com/take-best/

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

Fitness, Science

My Favourite Lecture from the National Soccer Coaching Conference

This past weekend, January 30th to February 1st 2015, was the 5th annual National Soccer Coaching Conference at the University of Toronto.  This year’s conference featured several excellent presenters, including coaches from the CIS, Major League Soccer, and the Canadian National Teams.  In this blog post, I will be discussing the one lecture from the conference that was the most interesting to me.  Raymond Verheijen, a coach and fitness coach who has worked with several different professional clubs and national teams from all over the world (most recently with the Argentinian Men’s National Team at the 2014 World Cup) gave a lecture titled “Always Play with your Best 11”, centred around proper preiodization in top level soccer.

This tone of this lecture was serious right from the start.  One of the points Mr. Verheijen made right in the beginning of his presentation was that coaches, in their work, and in their coaching/education courses, are too comfortable, and without being mad to feel uncomfortable (by being challenged) they will never learn, develop and improve themselves.  He was also very critical of the “subjective” approach that he says most coaches take to their profession, whereby they use a philosophy and training methodology based on their own opinions (subjective) rather than based on facts (or an objective approach).

In keeping with this theme, Mr. Verheijen presented what he termed the “Philosophy of Football” – a factual based approach that explains the four “levels” or categories of the sport and orders them in priority, from the highest priority to the lowest. The levels are as follows:

  1. Football is based on communication (between individual players, between groups of players, between players and the coach, and between the entire team and the coach).  Because communication is of the highest priority, tactics in football must be the most important part of any training session.  The ability of players to understand, process, and respond to communication through tactics is the most crucial part of top level football.
  2. The successful execution of tactics in football requires all players to have good decision making abilities.  The ability to make the right decision in training and games is based on players having game insight (the ability to read the game quickly, and decide on an appropriate action based on what is seen).  All training must be planned based on specific and proven ways to improve players’ decision making abilities through improving their game insight.  Training this psychological component of the game in isolation (not in a game-related context) will not be effective at improving decision making and game insight in the game itself.
  3. Executing decisions is the third level of football.  The ability to execute any decision is based on players having good technique.  For a player to have good technical ability, he/she must be able to perform any technique under realistic game situations, which involve and require communications/tactics, game insight, and quick decision making.  Technique training to improve these abilities cannot involve isolated technique training (because this type of training will not include tactical aspects or decision making), but rather must be done in realistic game situations.
  4. Finally, in order for football to be played effectively, the game must be played at a high tempo for 90+ minutes. This high tempo demands that all players have a high fitness level in order to cope with it and still be able to perform (to communicate, make decisions, and execute techniques) at the right tempo.

When planning training, coaches must use exercises and small sided games that incorporate all of the four “levels” of football.  Mr. Veheijen was adamant that it does not make sense to train fitness, technique, or even the psychological components like decision making and game insight, in isolation.  This is because in the game, these abilities are not present in isolation.  Included in his rationale was a factual, science-based (objective) analysis of the game, and what types of training lead to the most successful performance of the game.  For me personally, it was refreshing to hear an objective approach to training, as I have always tried to make all of the fitness work I do as “soccer-specific” as possible.  Furthermore I have also always been a big believer that fitness and the fitness coach must be integrated into all aspects of a high level soccer team’s training.  I hope that many of the coaches in the audience came away from Mr. Verheijen’s presentation with a new outlook that will help them to improve the way they train their players.

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

Fitness, For Parents, Technology

Why Use the Gols Mobile Fitness App? Volume 5 – Social Connectivity

Starting tomorrow, and over the weekend of Friday, January 30th – Sunday, February 1st, we will be showcasing our mobile fitness app, Gols, at the 2015 National Soccer Coaching Conference, held at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Athletic Centre in down town Toronto.  As a lead-up to the event, I will be posting a few brief summaries of the components of our app that make it the best choice for anyone aspiring to improve their fitness in order to help them play the game, regardless of the level at which they play.

In this fifth and final instalment, I will be discussing the feature of our app that helps to motivate our users and keep things engaging throughout the exercise program: social connectivity.  Studies have shown that support from family, friends, and peers is one of the key factors influencing an individual’s ability to remain committed to an exercise program.  The advent of social media in the last 5-10 years has made making – and building on – these connections easier than ever before.

With the Gols app, we have included features that allow our users to compare, compete with, and communicate with their family, friends, and peers while progressing through their exercise programs.  Some of the key aspects of the social connectivity of our app include:

  • “Leaderboard” feature, which lets users compare their fitness assessment scores with other users to see how they stack up
  • Assessment Standards and Norms, that we have built in to all of our assessments, which are age- and gender-specific
  • Sharing through Facebook and Twitter, so that users can let their friends and the online community know about how well they are doing and whether or not they are reaching their “gols”

We are honoured and excited to be a part of the largest coaching conference in Canada, and are looking forward to seeing you all at the Soccer Fitness Gols vendor booth!

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

Fitness, For Parents, Technology

Why Use the Gols Mobile Fitness App? Volume 4 – Practical Workout Scheduling

In less than 1 week, on the weekend of Friday, January 30th – Sunday, February 1st, we will be showcasing our mobile fitness app, Gols, at the 2015 National Soccer Coaching Conference, held at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Athletic Centre in down town Toronto.  As a lead-up to the event, I will be posting a few brief summaries of the components of our app that make it the best choice for anyone aspiring to improve their fitness in order to help them play the game, regardless of the level at which they play.

In this fourth instalment, I will be discussing an aspect of our app that makes it a popular choice for all users with a busy schedule and time constraints: practical workout scheduling.  Having worked in the fitness industry for my entire adult life, I can say that almost everyone, regardless of their age, gender, profession, or level of fitness/athletic ability, cites a lack of time as one of the reasons they do not exercise more.  A second constraint which is common among most adults is that, in combination with a lack of time, they would also prefer workouts that are convenient and do not require fancy equipment and/or expensive gym memberships.  Thus a successful exercise program for busy adults must involve workouts that are convenient and practical, that do not take a lot of time to complete, and do not require access to expensive equipment or facilities.

It was with these ideas in mind that we created the Gols exercise programs.  Each of our 5 components of fitness (strength, power, speed, endurance, and flexibility) comprise 8 weeks of training, with 2 workouts per week (16 training sessions in total).  Each workout, for each of the 5 fitness components, and in each of the 8 weeks / 16 training sessions, can be completed start-to-finish in a maximum of 30 minutes.  What’s more, the exercises and running workouts require no equipment except for your smart phone, and the can be completed anywhere (even on a soccer pitch)!  The practicality of our entire exercise programming in the Gols app means that users can get the results they want with time commitment and expectations that are reasonable for even the busiest individuals.  There are no more excuses for why you cannot get in better shape.  The Gols app has you covered!

We are honoured and excited to be a part of the largest coaching conference in Canada, and are looking forward to seeing you all at the Soccer Fitness Gols vendor booth!

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

Fitness, For Parents, Technology

Why Use the Gols Mobile Fitness App? Volume 3 – Performance Tracking

In less than 1 week, on the weekend of Friday, January 30th – Sunday, February 1st, we will be showcasing our mobile fitness app, Gols, at the 2015 National Soccer Coaching Conference, held at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Athletic Centre in down town Toronto.  As a lead-up to the event, I will be posting a few brief summaries of the components of our app that make it the best choice for anyone aspiring to improve their fitness in order to help them play the game, regardless of the level at which they play.

In this third instalment, I will be discussing something we have included in our app that ties in well with everything our parent company, Soccer Fitness Inc., has been doing in soccer-specific sports science for the past 10 years: performance tracking. There is a great quote, from a former baseball player with the New York Yankees in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s named Yogi Berra, that reads as follows:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up someplace else”

I don’t think I could find a better way to sum up and explain the reason why tracking performance in a mobile fitness app is so important.  Anyone who participates in a fitness training program, whether they are an elite athlete or simply trying to shed a few pounds, needs to know how they are progressing through their program and if they are in fact on track to achieve their goals.  With the Gols app, users are assigned specific targets (or “gols”) based on their performance in our standardized fitness assessments.  After completing workouts, users receive live and instant feedback regarding these targets.  Our unique system uses technology such as GPS, to monitor and track performance, and uses the results and data generated to adjust the targets (“gols”) in subsequent workouts.  Individuals beginning the journey to better health, fitness, and on-field play using the Gols app will benefit from our performance tracking because, as the quote says, they will know exactly “where they are going,” and will never “wind up someplace else.”

Fitness, For Parents, Technology

Why Use the Gols Mobile Fitness App? Volume 2 – Customized Workouts

In less than 2 weeks, on the weekend of Friday, January 30th – Sunday, February 1st, we will be showcasing our mobile fitness app, Gols, at the 2015 National Soccer Coaching Conference, held at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Athletic Centre in down town Toronto.  As a lead-up to the event, I will be posting a few brief summaries of the components of our app that make it the best choice for anyone aspiring to improve their fitness in order to help them play the game, regardless of the level at which they play.

In this second instalment, I will be discussing one feature of our app that separates it from hundreds of other fitness apps of the market today: customized workouts.  In keeping with our philosophy at Soccer Fitness of only providing science-based programming, we have developed a unique system that truly customizes the workouts in our Gols app to each individual.  We have accomplished this objective by combining some of the latest smart phone technology (including GPS and accelerometry) with our own soccer-specific and standards-based fitness assessment protocols for each of the 5 components of fitness (strength, speed, power, endurance, and flexibility).  Users of the Gols app must perform our fitness assessments, and the data taken from these assessments is used to customize the intensities and workloads of each workout, based on each individuals’ specific physical capacity and level of fitness.

Because all workouts are customized, users will always be presented with targets – “gols” – for each individual workout that will be challenging, but not too easy or too difficult to achieve.  As users’ fitness levels improve, subsequent fitness assessments built into every program will ensure that the targets or “gols” change to reflect each individual’s increasing physical capacity.  In the long run, anyone who begins training with our Gols app – regardless of their present level of physical ability, will constantly be pushed to achieve simple, customized, realistic, and science-based goals, helping them to increase their fitness level and improve their performance of the beautiful game.

We are honoured and excited to be a part of the largest coaching conference in Canada, and are looking forward to seeing you all at the Soccer Fitness Gols vendor booth!

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

Fitness, Science

Optimal Exercise Order for Resistance Training

Happy New Year everyone!

For my first post of 2015, I will be discussing an interesting new study that examined the effects of exercise order in resistance training, and how the findings are relevant to soccer players.  Resistance training, comprising exercises done with external resistance such as weights, elastic tubing, or an individual’s own body weight, is a necessary component of any elite level soccer players’ overall training program.  The order in which resistance exercise are performed, however, is a less-researched topic and has been the source of some debate over the past few years.  Some of the leading authorities on exercise prescription (including the National Strength and Conditioning Association, NSCA; and the American Council on Exercise, ACE) have traditionally recommended starting with exercises involving the largest muscle groups and/or the most joints, and progressing to small muscle group/single-joint exercises.

A recent study done by Simao et. al (2012) that reviewed several other studies which examined the effects of resistance exercise order on a number of different factors, including neuromuscular activity, oxygen consumption, Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and chronic adaptations, revealed some interesting results.  As it turns out, the conventional approach of always starting with larger muscle groups / multi-joint exercises is not as important as it was once thought to be.  Exercises done at the beginning of a session (regardless of whether they involved large or small muscle groups) led to greater increases in strength, neuromuscular and chronic adaptations, than did exercises placed at the end of a session.  Simao et al concluded that the chief factor determining exercise order should be the movement pattern needs of the particular athlete/client.  The reasoning for this conclusion is that, if a particular exercise is critically important to a particular training goal, that exercise should be placed at the beginning of the training session, so as to maximize the results and improvement with regards to the training goal.

For soccer players, this research has some important implications.  The critical step in developing a resistance program for soccer players is to identify what the most important movement patterns are, and then to choose exercises and order the exercises based on their specificity and relevance to these movement patterns.  An example of this method would be:

  • Critical movement pattern #1: 2-legged jumping
    • exercises: barbell squat, barbell dead lift, jump squat
  • Critical movement pattern #2: running/jumping with single-leg hip/knee/ankle extension
    • exercises: barbell lunges, single-leg squats, hamstring “pop-ups”
  • Critical movement pattern #3: lateral movement/cutting movement
    • exercises: dumbbell side lunges, resisted hip external and internal rotations
  • Critical movement pattern #4: kicking (single-leg stability – plant leg, and hip flexion – kicking leg)
    • exercises: single-leg proprioception, resisted hip flexion, resisted hip adduction

Coaches and fitness coaches working with elite level soccer players should consider the critical movement patterns involved in the sport when designing resistance training programs for their athletes.  Ordering exercises based on this approach should lead to improved muscular adaptations, as well as an overall improvement in physical performance.

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

Fitness, For Parents

What Soccer Players Can Learn From Babies

I have a little nephew.  He is just over 5 months old.  I try to visit and see him as much as I can, but it can be hard to make time during the winter season, which is typically very busy for me.  Because of the time off that the Christmas break has afforded me, I have had a lot more time to spend with my nephew over the past few days.  Watching and playing with him over this time has given me a unique insight into the topic of physical activity for children.  Below is a brief summary of the two main things I have learned from my nephew, and how they can be applied to Long Term Athlete Development (LTPD) in soccer in this country.

  1. Young children want to move – as much as possible.  My little nephew wakes up early in the morning, and after he has had something to eat and done his business in his diaper, he is ready to play for several hours.  The most noticeable thing about the way he plays is that he is never comfortable being still or in one position for extended periods of time (typically longer than a few minutes).  He enjoys being picked up/held, laying on his back and/or rolling onto his stomach, crawling, being carried or “pretend walking”, and also paying in his “jumparoo” (a harnessed bungee-jumping device for infants).  If he wakes up from sleep or a nap and is forced to remain still in bed or inside a car seat for more than a few minutes, he will start to cry and will not stop until he does some kind of physical activity (crying will stop almost instantly when this happens).  The take away message from my nephew’s play habits is that young infants and children just want to move.  The more they move, the happier they are.  The fact that they are getting exercise, building strength, endurance, flexibility and coordination are all secondary positive side-effects.  Coaches working with young children should take these natural instincts and habits into account.  Come up with exercises and training sessions that allow children to move as much as they possibly can, while simultaneously limiting rests and periods of inactivity as much as possible.
  2. Young children are excellent at self-regulating their play time.  What I mean by this is, they decide when they want to start/stop a particular activity, as well as the duration, speed, intensity, and overall workload associated with any particular activity.  When my little nephew needs a break from rolling around on the floor, he cries, indicating that he needs a change in position.  Same thing happens when he is tired of “pretend walking” or being in the “jumparoo”.  If he were to be pushed into doing a particular activity longer than he wanted to, he would become so fussy that there would be no choice but to have him stop and do something else, something that he wanted to do.  I can see in his play habits a remarkable parallel to the training of young soccer players.  In an environment that is too structured, with too much of an emphasis on coach-led activities, young soccer players will get frustrated and bored.  If, in contrast, coaches allow young players to self-regulate their physical activity more (primarily through an unstructured “free play” environment) then athletes will be more engaged, both physically and mentally, and they will likely get better results from their training.

I think many, if not all, infants and young children have a natural inclination to move as much as possible, and also to self-regulate their movement and physical activity.  Coaches working with young children should try to keep these natural inclinations in mind when planning and implementing their training plans.  The result will be happier, healthier, and more well-rounded young soccer players.

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

Fitness, Nutrition

Soccer Players – Go Ahead and Eat Some Unhealthy Food This Holiday Season!

The Holiday Season is here, and if you are a youth soccer player, this means a few weeks off school, and probably off of soccer as well.  In my previous post, I commented that the winter /  Holiday break should be treated only as a break from soccer (and not from all forms of exercise) and gave some exercise reconsiderations for players to maintain their aerobic fitness during the time off.

In this post, I will be discussing the Holiday “diet.”  For professionals in the health and fitness industry, a common practice during Christmas time is to bombard the public with information and tips about how to eat healthy during the Holidays, to avoid the dreaded weight gain that typically accompanies a 2-3 week period of over-eating foods that re high in fat and sugar.  While I can see the rationale for advising the general population (non-athletes) to avoid eating unhealthy foods over the Holidays, I just don’t see the point in expecting the same of trained athletes.

Any competitive soccer season (whether it is in a club/academy, college/university, or professional environment) presents a significant amount of physical and mental stress on a player.  The Holiday break is the perfect time for well trained soccer players to recover both physically and mentally from this stress. In my opinion, one of the best ways to achieve optimal off-season recovery is to eat food that tastes good, even if it may be high in fat and/or sugar.  When I worked with the Canadian Women’s U17 National teams, we always ended stressful 10-14 day training camps with one “unhealthy” but popular meal (hamburgers and fries, pizza, cheesecake, etc..).  The players loved it and they would always return home happy and motivated to work harder in between camps.  Of course, eating a balanced diet, high in fibre, fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, and lean protein over the course of the year is advisable for any competitive athlete.  But the pleasure that comes from rewarding yourself for a hard season of training by indulging in some “comfort food” is undeniable.

If athletes are trained properly, they will likely finish the season is excellent aerobic shape, and have relatively low body fat percentages.  As mentioned above, an athlete can and should use the time off over the Holiday season to perform at least 3 days per week of some form of aerobic exercise, combined with some form of resistance or strength training.  So long as this maintenance training is done consistently, the positive outcomes of eating a few days’ worth of high fat/sugar foods outweigh any potential (and minimal) weight gain and increases in body fat percentage that may occur.  In the long run, soccer players who train hard and eat right throughout the season, but treat themselves over the Holiday break, will lead happier and healthier careers.

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

Fitness, For Parents

The ‘December Break’ Means a Break From Soccer, NOT From Exercise

At the Soccer Fitness Training Centre, the month of December is typically one of our busiest months of the year.  Part of the reason we are so busy this month is that many of the young athletes we work with are part of academies or clubs that schedule a break from training in December, and they have more free time to train with us.  This ‘December break’ is used partly to allow players to rest ad recover and also partly because of the Holiday season.  Personally, I am in favour of allowing players small breaks from soccer training (and specifically from competition), and there is plenty of scientific literature that supports the rationale for young athletes not training and competing hard year-round. The problems with the typical December break here is Canada, however, are:

  1. The total amount of time off can be too high (sometimes as much as 6 weeks)
  2. Some players (and their parents) interpret this break to mean that they should do no exercise at all

In general, a small break of 2-3 weeks is more than enough time for players to rest and recover both physically, and mentally (many adults who have taken only a week-long vacation from work would understand this point).  Extended periods of time spent being inactive (more than 2 weeks in duration) in young athletes will lead to significant decreases in their aerobic endurance and. eventually, muscle strength as well.  This loss of aerobic fitness gets compounded when training and competition resume in the new year because, although aerobic fitness can be lost in as little as 10 days, making sustained improvements typically takes a minimum of 4-6 weeks.  Thus, a soccer player who is completely inactive over the month of December will not likely return to their pre-inactivity fitness level until the middle of February, at the earliest. Players in this situation will also be more at risk for over-use and soft tissue injuries, because of the aforementioned loss of muscle strength and also resulting form having to train and play while tired.

The simple solution to the problem of the December break is to use it only as a break from soccer, not as a break from exercise.  There are several safe, convenient and fun ways for young athletes to stay active and maintain their aerobic fitness for 4-6 weeks without playing soccer.  Among them are:

  • running
  • bike riding
  • swimming
  • skating
  • weight training/circuit training
  • other sports such as tennis, volleyball, basketball, etc..

A young soccer player should find that participating in a low volume (2-3 days per week) of any of the above activities (or other sports/activities of interest) during the December break will result in adequate maintenance of aerobic endurance and muscular strength, and a more successful and injury-free return to play in the new year.

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

Fitness, Science

The Optimal Order of Exercise – And How it Applies to Soccer

The recent issue of the American Council on Exercise (ACE) “Idea” Fitness Journal summarized a very interesting research study, done by a group of researchers at Western State Colorado University earlier this year.  The team recruited 20 adult volunteers, who participated in all possible sequences (24 in total) of cardiorespiratory, resistance, flexibility, and neuromotor exercises, to see which order of exercise would deliver optimal results.

The study demonstrated a clear and significant effect of exercise order on the acute physiological and psychological responses to an exercise session.  The most important effect of training was seen with cardiorespiratory exercise.  When it was performed first, the heart rate response equated to 56% of of heart rate reserve (or “moderate-light intensity exercise”).  Conversely, when cardiorespiratory exercise was performed last, the heart rate response was much higher, at 68% of heart rate reserve (“moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise”).

What this means in layman’s terms is that, if cardiorespiratory exercise is not performed first in an exercise session, the same “relative” intensity of the exercise (workload, speed, number of repetitions, etc..) will be much harder to complete, leading to higher exercising heart rate and more difficulty in completing the exercises.  Thus, cardiorespiratory exercise must come first in any exercise session.  Strength training is recommended to be ordered after cardiorespiratory exercise, followed by flexibility and neuromotor exercise.

These findings have implications for athletes and soccer players as well.  If the goal of any training session is to improve aerobic endurance or high intensity running ability, then the “cardiovascular” component of the training session (whether it is a running workout, or a workout with the ball) must be done at the beginning of the training session.  In general, soccer coaches and fitness coaches should have athletes complete their cardiorespiratory training immediately after the warm-up, in order to achieve optimal improvements in aerobic fitness and high intensity running ability.

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

Fitness

Interview of Roy Hodgson from FIFA.com

Below is link to a recent interview of Roy Hodgson, England’s National Team Manager, from FIFA.com.  There is a lot of interesting material to be taken from this interview, but one part specifically stood out to me as a Fitness Coach.  When Hodgson was asked directly, “What challenges do England face to reach Germany’s level?” he replied:

“I think the first thing you’ve got to do is make certain that you’ve got to emulate their pace, mobility and athleticism because there’s no doubt that’s the way the game is going. At the very top level if you don’t have those qualities, it’s getting harder and harder to be the stopper, centre-half or the very slow, immobile, good-passing centre midfielder. So, first we have to emulate that and we are on the way to doing that.”

This is an interesting point, which highlights the importance of athletic ability in the development of elite soccer players.  One of the key differences in the development of youth players in Germany versus in England, is that in Germany, there is later specialization in soccer, so young athletes follow more of a ‘long-term’ developmental model, whereas in England, early specialization is more common.  It may be that these differences are one of the causes of the disparity in athletic ability of the National team players that Hodgson is commenting on.

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

http://www.fifa.com/world-match-centre/news/newsid/248/063/9/index.html

Fitness, Science

UOIT Ridgeback’s Women’s Soccer Fitness Coach Tip of the Day – Day 29 – Plyometrics

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 fitness training during the post-season.  In university soccer the competitive season is relatively short (16 games spread over only about 8 weeks or 2 months).  By the time the post-season starts, players will likely be very tired from the stress and load associated with playing an average of 2, and sometime up to 4, 90-minute games per week.  For these reasons, fitness coaches need to be extra careful about the training loads administered to players during the post-season.

One method of training I have found to be particularly useful is low-intensity plyometric training.  Plyometrics comprise jumping exercises, aimed at activating the stretch-shortening cycle in the major leg muscles.  The stretch-shortening cycle is a mechanism that functions based on the following simple principle – the quicker a muscle or group of muscles is stretched, the more powerful the resulting muscular contraction will be.  When applied to plyometric training, the stretch-shortening cycle is best activated by having athletes perform a series of repeated jumps, focusing on minimizing the time that the feet are in contact with the ground (thus speeding up the “stretch” phase of the stretch-shortening cycle).  This type of training is effective during post-season because it focuses on the neuromuscular system – helping players to speed up their feet for sprinting and jumping – without a very high training load.

Of course, if the plyometric exercises are too intense, the training load may still be too high.  The intensity of plyometric exercises can be controlled by controlling the number of jumps, and also by watching the distance or heigh of the jumps and landings.  As a general rule, a lower number of jumps and/or shorter jump and landing distances will result in less intensity and less total training load.  For the university post-season, I like to focus on very small and quick jumps, with work periods of 10-15 seconds followed by rest periods of 30-60 seconds.  Below is a video example of this type of ‘quick feet’ plyometric exercises:

And a simple workout protocol that can be used following warm-up, in the first 10-15 minutes of a post-season training session:

  • 1 x 15 seconds 2-feet forward/backward hops
  • 30 seconds rest
  • 1 x 15 seconds 2-feet side/side hops
  • 30 seconds rest
  • 1 x 10 seconds each foot of 1-foot forward/backwards hops
  • 60 seconds rest
  • 1 x 10 seconds each of 1-foot side/side hops
  • 60 seconds rest
  • 1 x 15 seconds 2-feet forward/backward hops
  • 30 seconds rest
  • 1 x 15 seconds 2-feet side/side hops

Coaches and fitness coaches of elite level soccer players should consider low-intensity plyometric workouts such as these for use during pre-season, or other periods of the season where neuromuscular training with a low training load is warranted.  I have had great results with these workouts and you will also!

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 28 – Heart Rate vs. RPE

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 a continuation of 2 previous blogs that discussed monitoring of game performance.  Previously, I had discussed the use of Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and heart rate monitors, to measure and quantify the intensity of training and games.  Today I will be discussing how to use the two different measures of intensity together.  When players report their RPE, they are answering the question “how was your workout” based on a 0-10 scale of intensity (0 being the lowest score, and 10 being the highest score).  Typically, players who are fitter will report lower RPE’s for the same relative workload than players who are less fit.

Heart rate monitors provide the most accurate measure of how hard a player has worked during a training session or game.  When considering the example given above, using heart rate monitors can ensure that the relative workload (expressed as percentage of a player’s maximum heart rate) is the same during specific training sessions, and they can also be used to check to see what the workload was during games.  As a general rule, players who have improved their fitness will report a lower RPE for a workout (training or game) at any given percentage of their maximum heart rate than they did with the same workout/workload prior to the improvement in fitness.

I have seen first hand how several players I have worked with have gradually been able to handle a higher training intensity (measured using heart rate monitors) and still report the same and/or lower RPE’s in their perceived measure of intensity.  Fitness coaches working with elite level soccer players should consider the use of use both RPE and heart rate monitors, if possible, for the most accurate measurements of intensity of training sessions and games.

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 27 – Heart Rate Monitors

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 monitoring of game performance.  Measuring players’ heart rates during games is an effective tool for determining the intensity of the game.  As a general rule, the higher the heart rate, the higher the intensity.  The most accurate way to measure heart rates in by using heart rate monitors, typically comprising a chest strap (which records the number of times an athlete’s heart beats through sensors that touch the skin) and some other electronic device (wrist watch, base station, computer, etc..) that records and tracks this information over the course of the game.  In my work as a soccer fitness coach I have used several different brands of heart rate monitors, including Suunto, Activio, and Polar.  All of these systems come with robust software programs that help to generate very specific and detailed reports about players’ heart rates, both live (during) and after training and games.

In general, if they are playing in intense, meaningful games, players’ average heart rates should be between 165-175 beats per minute (bpm) for females, and between 170-180 bpm for males.  Heart rate averages that are significantly below these standards are common signs that: a) players are not working hard/running very much in the game; b) specific playing positions are not running very much – example: centre backs; or c) the team has made tactical changes that have lowered the intensity of the game – example: defending deep and not pushing players forward.  Use of a high quality system of heart rate monitors that includes hardware and software can be expensive, but it is a worthwhile investment for elite youth and adult college and professional soccer teams competing at a high level.  I have been able to collect a lot of valuable data and generated reports that have been very helpful to the coaching staff for the higher level environments in which I have worked.

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 26 – Speed Tests

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 assessment of running speed.  In modern soccer, running speed is a key determinant of a players’ ability to make the types of plays – outrunning defenders to score goals, or conversely, outrunning attacking players to prevent scoring opportunities, for example – that lead to success in the sport.  About six years ago, I was part of a group led by Paolo Pacione (present fitness coach with Montreal Impact in MLS) and Robert Rupf (sports scientist with the Canadian Sport Centre Ontario) which was tasked with designing a soccer-specific fitness assessment protocol for all of the Ontario Provincial and National Training Centre players, comprising elite level boys and girls ranging in age from U14 to U17.  When determining which fitness assessments to select for these elite level soccer players, we decided to do some research into what types of assessments were considered the best predictors of performance in soccer, and also which tests were the most applicable to high level youth players.  We had a general idea of what physical abilities needed to be tested (speed and endurance in particular) but we wanted to determine which specific types of tests of these abilities were best suited to our environment and players.

For speed tests, we looked into the specific way that speed is used in soccer.  In a study done by Di Salvo et. al. (2009), it was found that the average distance of a sprint in elite professional (men’s) soccer was 20 metres.  Furthermore, the same study reported that the shortest sprints in professional soccer are between 5 and 10 metres, and the longest sprints are between 30-40 metres.  Armed with this data, our group decided to use a speed test protocol that includes a 10 metre sprint (to measure initial acceleration); a 20 metre sprint (to measure the speed of the average sprint distance in soccer); and a 35 metre sprint (to measure the speed of the maximum sprint distance in soccer).   I have since adopted this speed testing protocol and am still using it today to assess all the players I work with, including the UOIT Women’s varsity team.  Other fitness coaches working with soccer players should also consider these speed tests, as I have found them to be the best way to determine players’ soccer-specific running speed.

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 23 – External Rotators

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 functional movement of the hip.  In soccer, the movements at the hip are unique because they involve not only running and jumping (which happen in all sports), but also specific movements with the ball such as cutting, dribbling, passing, and shooting.  The hip joint, including the surrounding muscles and tendons, can get overused due to all the twisting and turning movements that take place.  In particular, many soccer players will have a problem with valgus knee alignment (knees pointing inwards) that can result from overuse of the hip joint and weakness of some of the surrounding muscles.

One specific muscle, the glute medius, located on the outside of the hip joint, is of particular importance, as it is the main muscle involved in external rotation of the hip (turning the hip outwards).  External rotation is very important for soccer players because it moves the knees from a valgus alignment (knees pointing inwards, which predisposes the knee to cartilage and ligament injuries) to a more straight alignment.  Weakness of the glute medius (and the corresponding lack of hip external rotation) can also lead to groin injuries, as the inside of the thigh muscles (groin or adductors)can end up compensating for the muscle weakness on the outside of the hip.

Strengthening of the glute medius to bring the hip into a more externally rotated position is a very effective strategy for soccer players, both as a means of preventing hip and knee injuries, as well as rehabilitating them.  Below is a link to a video of a simple and effective glute medius exercise, that requires only a small thera-band to perform.  I have used these exercises to great effect in several of the high performance environments in which I have worked.  Over time, athletes will see a decreased risk of injury in combination with better running and jumping performance.

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 22 – Thoracic Spine

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 mobility of the trunk and spine.  Soccer is a sport that involves frequent twists and turns, performed at high speeds while kicking, jumping and running.  Over time, the muscles surrounding the thoracic spine or “T-spine” (middle of the back, below the cervical spine and above the lumbar spine, with vertebrae’s # T-1 to T-12) can get very tight.  This muscle tightness can, in turn, limit mobility of the spine and trunk, which can effect negatively performance in a variety of ways.  Limited T-spine range of motion and muscle tightness can decrease power, strength, and also lead to hip and lower back injuries.  It can also affect the respiratory muscles, making it more difficult to breathe when tired.

Simple mobility exercises done during warm-ups can significantly improve T-spine mobility.  One of my favorite exercises to use with soccer players is the T-spine rotation, which can be done anywhere including on a soccer field, with no equipment required.  Below is a video of the exercise.  Following a 5-10 minute warm-up, have players perform 6-8 repetitions of the T-spine rotations with each side, holding each repetition for 10 seconds.  This exercise is now a standard part of the pre-training and pre-game warm-ups I use with all of my athletes.

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 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.