Soccer is a sport which requires a unique combination of anaerobic and aerobic fitness.
That is, elite level soccer players must possess speed and jumping power, as well as aerobic endurance and recovery, similar to elite track and field athletes.
The sport also requires a significant amount of very specific movements, including accelerating/decelerating, cutting and turning, backwards and lateral movements, plus of course all of the technical movements involving the ball.
With all of these unique physical requirements, designing physical training programs for soccer players can be a difficult task. After all, focusing too much training time on speed and power training can negate improvements in aerobic fitness, and too much time spent on improving aerobic fitness can cause a decrease in speed and power.
One unique way to target the two different energy systems (anaerobic and aerobic) used in the sport simultaneously, while also providing a specific and relevant stimulus to the muscular system through soccer-specific movements, is to use on-field speed endurance training.
The aim of speed endurance training involves prolong the amount of time an athlete can maintain a very high level of exercise intensity. In soccer, this would mean prolonging the time a player can run, sprint, and change directions at high speeds, while maintaining control of movement and executing a tactical objective.
Training for speed endurance presents a challenge to the anaerobic energy system (which must provide energy to the body to allow it to maintain the high level of exercise intensity over this time-frame) and the aerobic energy system, which is responsible for helping the body recover between bouts of high intensity exercise.
In general, the total time of the work periods for speed endurance training can vary from as little as 10 seconds, to as much as 60 seconds (the longer the time of the work period, the greater the challenge to the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems, and the more recovery time needed between repetitions).
Speed endurance can be further divided into “speed endurance production training” – using a 15-30 second work periods and a work-to-rest ratio of between 1:4-1:6 – and “speed endurance maintenance training” – using a similar 15-30 second work period but a significantly smaller rest period, often with a work-to-rest ratio of 1:2-1:3.
Perhaps the most beneficial feature of speed endurance training is that the total number of repetitions of its high intensity work periods can range from as little as three, to as many as eight repetitions, meaning that the total training volume (total amount of time running/training) is very low – as little as two-three minutes. This low training volume is especially valuable to elite level soccer players, as it should significantly decrease the risks of training-related overuse injuries.
Several recent research studies, including Iaia & Bangsbo (2010), Iaia et. al. (2009), Skovgaard et. al. (2016), and Iaia et. al. (2015) have demonstrated that speed endurance training can elicit significant improvements in markers of anaerobic and aerobic fitness in running athletes and soccer players.
While some of the studies cited in this article used running workouts, others have achieved similar results with soccer-specific speed endurance training, comprising drills or small-sided soccer games. A key advantage of using soccer drills or small-sided games as a means of speed endurance training is that the work done by the payers – including shorter sprints, movements in multiple directions, decelerations and changes of direction, and of course the use of the ball – is as specific to the actual sport of soccer as possible. Theoretically, this increased specificity should lead to better improvements in overall performance on the pitch.
Some examples of soccer-specific speed endurance training sessions, utilising a 15-30 second high intensity work period with the ball, are:
- Repeated 2 x 20-30 metre shuttle run with a deceleration and one-touch pass at the end of each run
- 1 versus 1 game played over a long (30-40 metre) and narrow (10 metre) field
- 2 versus 2 game played over a short field (20 metres x 30 metres)
- “pressing exercise” involving groups of 4, 5 or 6 players applying high pressure to the team in possession of the ball, on ½ of a full size field
In order to ensure that the intensity of the work periods is high enough, specific goals/targets, as well as “punishments” can be included in these exercises and games. For example, in the first example (the shuttle run) a specific number of passes can be used as a target for the players who are performing the shuttle run. This number can get progressively higher in subsequent training sessions. In the small-sided games (1 versus 1 and 2 versus 2) the teams who fail to win or fail to generate shots on target can be “punished” with a small amount of push-ups during rest periods.
Soccer coaches and fitness coaches should strongly consider adding speed endurance training into their routines, both in pre-season, as well as during the competitive season. The combination of stimuli to both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems, plus the ability to maximise specificity by using soccer-specific exercises and games, in combination with a low training volume, make speed endurance training an excellent tool or coaches at all levels.
Of course, the examples given above are just some of literally hundreds of different ways in which soccer coaches and fitness coaches can utilise speed endurance training with their players and teams. If delivered properly, speed endurance training can maximise improvements in players’ speed and endurance, while at the same time minimising their training volume, affording coaches more time to plan and execute the rest of their technical and tactical training.
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Iaia, F.M. & Bangsbo, J. (2010). Speed endurance training is a powerful stimulus for physiological adaptations and performance improvements of athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Sports Science, 2: 11-23.
Iaia, F.M., Fiorenza, M., Perri, E., Alberti, G., Millett, G.P., Bangsbo, J. (2015). The effect of two speed endurance training regimes on performance of soccer players. PLOS ONE, September 2015, 1-16.
Iaia, F.M., Hellsten, Y., Nielsen, J.J., Fernstrom, M., Sahlin, K., Bangsbo, J. (2009). Four weeks of speed endurance training reduces energy expenditure during exercise and maintains muscle oxidative capacity despite a reduction in training volume. Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(1): 73-80.
Skovgaard, C., Almquist, N.M., Bangsbo, J. (2016). Effect of increased and maintained frequency of speed endurance training on performance and muscle adaptations in runners. Journal of Applied Physiology, 160(1): 36-42.