Maintaining Fitness Levels for the Entire Season

John De Witt
December 9, 2022

This is the time of year where for most, preseason training is continuing or ending, and regular seasons are about to start. If you have prepared well, you should be in very good shape. For the top player, ‘playing themselves into shape’ is a thing of the past, as preseason preparation is very important. Most players won’t be in their ‘top’ shape at the start of the season, but will be very close.

Researchers have been interested in the question about how well fitness has been maintained during the season. Groups of sports scientists have designed and performed experiments where they measure the fitness of teams before, during and after the season. For instance, they might study two teams who have the same game and training schedule, but one of the teams does some extra fitness-specific training, like sprint work, plyometrics, strength training, or some combination. They also study how much extra fitness training is performed, such as one time per week, multiple times per week, or during every session.

The findings vary from study to study, but the general results are:

  1. Extra fitness training is better than no fitness training
  1. If the players have a good fitness level before the season begins, as little as one extra fitness session per week is enough to maintain fitness levels, and sometimes increase fitness levels.

You have to keep in mind that all of these studies are done on teams with different situations, and that you need to determine what is best for you. The first result (extra fitness is good) makes sense. The second result is very interesting, but it is important that you take into account your specific situation.

Teams of various levels have different playing and training schedules. Some, like high school and college teams, have a very demanding schedule of two or more games per week over a short period of a few months. Club teams have schedules that depend on their league. Many play a 9-10 month schedule with a game each weekend. Occasionally these teams may play multiple games in a weekend, such as in a tournament or showcase. Professional teams have schedules that vary throughout the season, sometimes with one or more games a week, sometimes with a week off. Add to this that training schedules vary. Some train 4 or more time per week, while others may train less.

Your team’s playing and training schedule, how your team trains, and what league rules allow during games will all have an impact on how well your fitness levels are maintained during a season. If you are training 4 days per week with sessions that are difficult, your fitness level will be affected differently than if you train 2 times per week with lower intensity sessions. Add to that your status on the team. If you are a regular starter playing full matches, your fitness level maintenance will be different than if you are a nonstarter or player not receiving many minutes. In addition, if your league allows substitution and reentry, chances are your fitness level will be affected differently than if there is limited substitution with no reentry.

Now that I have laid out all these scenarios, it should be obvious that ‘one size does not fit all’. However, there are some generalities that I can give you that you can apply to your situation.

  1. Soccer is a game of high intensity action separated by brief periods of rest – Since your body adapts to the type of training performed, in order to be most fit, you have to perform high intensity intervals. Many times, team training does not allow for this because of breaks due to coaching or player rotation. If your training sessions are not allowing you to obtain a good workout consisting of high intensity work and rest, focused fitness training should be completed.
  1. Soreness and fatigue peak about 48 hours after intense activity – this statement has important implications. It simply means that if you complete a high intensity training session, it would be best not to do so within 2 days of a match. I know that schedules may not allow for this every week. I am not saying that you should not train hard within 2 days of a match – I am saying that you need to consider the level of intensity by taking into account the match schedule.
  1. 20-30 minutes of focused fitness is sufficient – providing that your training sessions are of reasonable intensity, you can get what you need by working hard for a short period of time. Sport scientists have shown this over and over – brief high intensity work is as good or better for fitness than lower intensity longer duration work.  

The focused fitness that you perform is dependent upon your team’s coaching plan. In some cases, like with the Dynamo Academy and Dash, focused fitness is a part of the training session. In other cases, you might need to do some additional work before or after training, or on an off-training day.

In my situation, because focused fitness is a part of the training session, I typically discuss with the team coach on a session-by-session basis if the fitness component should occur at the beginning or end of the session. We typically mix it up. The advantage of fitness at the start of the session is that the players become tired, and then continue training when tired, which is more game-like. The advantage of placing fitness at the end of the session is that typically I can push the players harder because when they are done they can recover. This should be something that you consider if you are doing extra fitness on your own.

One final thing to consider: There is a concept called ‘overreaching’. This occurs when a person trains too much, and their gains from fitness training slow down or stop. A related term is ‘overtraining’. The level of training that causes overreaching is different for individuals, so it isn’t possible to tell you how much training is too much for you. Some teams have player monitoring systems to help determine if a player needs to take some additional rest, but the good news is that there is a lot of research that shows that if players rate their level of fatigue, soreness, and health on a scale of 1-10, and they complete this daily, a change in scores usually indicated overtraining. This makes sense, as players know themselves well. The bottom line is with regards to additional fitness training, listen to your body. Don’t take a shortcut, but also know when to ease off.

If you feel that some focused fitness would be of benefit for you, or if you are coaching and looking for some ideas of focused fitness, here are two workouts that players I work with complete.

Workout 1 – Speed/Recovery/Explosiveness (3 bouts with 3-4 min rest between bouts)

  1. Long duration endurance – Complete 3 laps around a soccer field in 4 minutes or less. Rest 3 minutes. Repeat twice (3 reps)
  1. Plyometrics reverse pyramid – complete 4 exercises: squat jump with ball in hands; burpees, slam ball on ground, jump up and catch; push-ups with one hand on the ball. Do a round of 12 reps of each, then 10 reps, then 8 reps, all without any rest. Now rest for 2 min. Repeat the cycle with 8 reps, 10 reps, 12 reps.
  1. Short duration speed/recovery – Sprint as fast as you can for 15 s (should be about 60-80 yards); rest for 15 s, sprint the same distance, rest. 15 s work and 15 s rest – repeat 8 minutes (16 sprints)

Workout 2 – Team functional fitness – it is important for coaches to consider that this workout is not about tactics or technique – it is about work and rest, so coaching should only occur at breaks or during the games.

  1. 1 V 1 – play 1 V 1 in 12-yard x 10-yard grid. If possible, have 4 players per grid so two play while two rest. Rotate grids so each 1V1 is against different players. Play 1 min games with immediate rotation. Play for 8 minutes (each player will play 4 matches)
  1. 2 V 2 – play 2 V 2 in 24-yard x 10-yard grid (if you setup your grids correctly, you can just combine 2 1V1 grids to make your 2V2 grids). Have two goals on each end. Play 2 V 2 to goals. I like to make the goals a ball sitting on a cone, and the players score by knocking the ball off the cone with the ball they are playing with. Play 1 min and rotate – each player plays 4 matches.
  1. 3 V 3 with goalkeepers to large goal. Play 2-minute matches on a 40-yard x 30-yard field. Make sure there are plenty of balls so play is continuous. Rotate teams. Play as many rounds as you would like – I typically try to get each player at least two matches.

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