Just like any other workout program, football training must work towards specific aims and objectives. Every football workout should start with a warmup, and finish with a cool down stretch.
There are four key considerations in a football workout, which are common to all specific training routines, and these are known as the FITT rules – Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type.
Frequency refers to how regular the training sessions are. You should always allow enough time for full recovery between training sessions. Intensity refers to how hard you train. To progress, to become fitter and stronger, then the rules of overload and progression apply, i.e. aiming to increase intensity / weight in each session to promote growth and development. Time simple refers to how long a training session should last – either short and intensive, or longer and more relaxed (such as longer distance running, cycling or swimming). Type refers to specific training methods and the variety of training done. These four FITT rules should always be specified in a training program to avoid hitting a plateau, or over training, which are both detrimental to development.
Developing a football training program requires balancing the volume (endurance training) and intensity (strength training) of the workout to get results. Football training programs should focus on the four key fitness areas: Stamina, Strength, Suppleness and Speed – these are also referred to as the four S’s.
Avoid Injury – Most football injuries actually occur during training, and the biggest cause of injury is trying to do too much, too quickly, and too soon after a previous workout. Overtraining leads to injury and can set development back by weeks or even months.
Off Season Football Fitness
It is important for both professional and amateur footballers to maintain a fitness routine during the off-season. Some people refer to off-season training as the pre-pre-season training. The best way to train during the off season is to perform two or three short but intensive interval training sessions each week.
Recommended Football Fitness Training Routine
For best results in the pitch, adopt a high intensity interval training routine. A proven method for short but intensive workouts is the 4×4 minute workout, which consists of four intervals of 4 minutes, each interval having a short intensive period of 30 seconds to 1 minute, followed by 3 minutes recovery.
If you have access to a football pitch, then training should be done on the pitch. There are several football pitch circuits that can be done to allow for a varied training program.
NB. Not all pitches are the same size, so giving distances not needed. However, it should be noted that the official Football Association Rules state that the length of a pitch must be between 100 yards (90m) and 130 yards (120m) and the width not less than 50 yards (45m) and not more than 100 yards (90m).
Football Pitch Circuit 1:
The most basic, but also very intensive, circuit training routine for football are sprints across the width of the pitch. After warming up, sprint the width of the football pitch, with shorter recovery times between each sprint. Start with 30 seconds recovery before sprinting back, then reduce recovery to 15 secs, 10 secs, 5 secs and finally 0 secs, i.e. sprint back immediately.
Football Pitch Circuit 2:
A popular group exercise is varied pace running. This simply involves running around the edge of the pitch, but ensuring that the time taken for each edge is the same, therefore creating a varied pace.
For the average sized pitch, 15 seconds on each side provides a good intensive workout. The lengths of the pitch provide the intensity and the width of the pitch behind the goal line provide the recovery. With most pitches the widths are run at half the speed as the lengths.
With 15 second intervals, one lap can be completed in 1 minute, which makes keeping time easier. However on a larger pitch 20 second intervals may be required. To progress increase the number of laps
Football Pitch Circuit 3:
To start to work on muscular endurance, bodyweight exercises need to be included. A good circuit is to perform different exercises at each corner, for example press-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges, and use variable running pattern between circuits similar to the varied pace running above.
For example, start in the first corner with 20 press-ups, then dribble a ball the length of the pitch to the second station (corner) and perform 20 sit-ups. Then sprint the width behind the goal to the third corner to perform 20 lunges.
Jog the length of the pitch to the final corner and perform 20 squats. Finally “cruise” the width back to the starting point. Cruising involves either skipping, side stepping, running backwards, or jogging with knee / heel raises. Once back at the first corner, the circuit is repeated.
Strength Training For Football
Footballers should concentrate on compound weight training exercises, which includes squats, lunges, deadlifts, cleans, shoulder presses and bench presses. These are the basic weight training exercises for athletes.
It is important to train the muscles in unison rather than isolate movement. There are many different techniques that can be used, such as pyramid training. See the advanced weight training section for more information.
Speed Training For Football
Developing speed is essential for all players at all levels. Sprint drills are the only way to develop speed, however variations to the basic width sprints can improve performance further.
Footballers have to constantly change direction and turn with the ball, and to do this, speed training must cannot be done in a straight line. The most simply method is zig zag running. This is best done by places cones in a zig zag along the width of a pitch, at varied distances, and then players spring the width as fas as possible around the cones.
This helps strengthen and condition the supporting muscles in the ankles and hips which allow for a quick change of direction.
To develop speed over the short distance, shuttle runs are perfect. These simple involve sprinting 20 yards (half a pitch width). The easiest way to perform this exercise is to start in the centre of a pitch and sprint to one edge, rest for a short period, and then sprint the full width, rest, then return to the centre. This provides a varied distance shuttle run workout.
Cool down and Stretch
All workouts should be followed by a cool down and stretch. Stretching is essential to help prevent injury and also to loosen the joints and ligaments to make them more flexible, and allow them to better withstand the vigour of an intensive game of football.
All of the above football fitness workouts can be performed in teams / groups or alone in a park. If you wish to excel in your game, then improving your fitness levels is essential to ensure that you have an advantage on the pitch.
Superior fitness will usually ensure team selection, so the harder you work, the greater the rewards. These football training routines are done at all levels, from school clubs to Premier League Football. Whether it is David Beckham, Manchester United, or a local pub team, soccer fitness is essential to make it to the top of the game.
Soccer Fitness Training from the US Team
Since 2006 FIFA has played a larger role in the physical fitness of soccer players that enter the FIFA World CUP tournament. The emphasis is on injury prevention by ensuring, or at least encouraging, players and their coaches to follow safer training methods.
In 2010 the head coach of the USA international team was Bob Bradley. The US team trains at Princetown University campus where Bob Bradley has many connections. Bob Bradley is very confident that American soccer can compete with the highest ranking teams around the World.
Under Bob Bradley’s command the US Soccer training sessions have become very competitive. A common feature in the training camps is that all the players are very keen to out perform their team-mates. There is a lot of competition to get picked to play on the team, so each player works very hard on his personal fitness as well as his ball skills and team skills to prove that they are the best and deserve their place.
Training camp is about getting in shape. Bob Bradley says that training camp is as much about players, proving they have the right attitude to play in the World Cup, as having the required skills and fitness.
The US team use a range of technology to monitor their training. All players have heart rate and recovery time monitored during training to allow the coaches to concentrate on working to build maximum fitness. Only by pushing players beyond their comfort levels can fitness levels be increased. Lung capacity is also measured to monitor players improvements and also act as a fitness test.
The players take recovery very seriously too. As well as strict nutrition to ensure maximum energy levels are maintain and also that their is a constant supply of high quality protein, post workout ice baths are used by the US soccer team to aid muscle recovery.
Typical Pitch Fitness Drills
There are many fitness drills performed by soccer teams and rarely does any team share exactly how they train. Like any major sport soccer is very competitive and coaches do not want rival teams to learn their training secrets.
So what we share here is are the training routines that have been seen in the public training sessions, they are certainly not a complete guide to American soccer training. However, they do at least form the foundation of any soccer workout.
Soccer fitness training is really a combination of cardiovasculr and muscular endurance. Unlikes NFL there is not so much need for pure strength, although larger players can often be more formidable opponents on the pitch. Although some players such as David Beckham and Christiano Ronaldo are in excellent physical shape with define muscles, this is through personal choice and not a requirement for the game.
- Shuttle runs / sprints
- Sprints with ball
- High knees
- Butt kickers
- Hip Roles
- High Straight Leg Swinging Kicks
- Side steps
- Power skipping
- Static stretching routines
- 30 minute 5 aside matches
Weight Training / Gym Workouts
Designed for injury prevention as well as performance enhancement. The focus is on building power and agility. Soccer players train in the gym 3 to 4 times per week to work on muscle endurance. Training sessions are split between heavy lifting and high intensity cardio training.
- Pull Ups
- Bench Press
- Shoulder press
- Plyometric Exercises
The US Team consume protein shakes as well as Gatorade drinks for maximum nutrition efficiency. Gatorade provides the glucose needed to fuel muscles and the protein is essential to help repair and develop new muscle tissue.
Bodybuilders will consume more protein and less carbohydrates to increase fat burning and muscle gain, but soccer players need the extra carbohydrates as they train for many hours and burn off a lot of fat. As soon as glycogen reserves in the muscles are depleted muscles cannot function properly.
College Soccer Conditioning
Most American soccer players, like the NFL players, go through the College Soccer system. Here is the Oakton Community College warm up and fitness drills. This video shows most of the US Soccer training drills, and comes with a rock sounds track from AC/DC, Shoot To Thrill.
The best way to get involved in soccer is to find your local team and see what opportunities there are for training. In the USA soccer is still a growing sport, with many school and college teams.
Soccer Speed and Strength Training from German with Miroslav Klose
Germany’s speed in the counter attack again England and Argentina in the 2010 Word Cup was exceptional. Miroslav Klose was Germany’s top scorer in the 2010 World Cup. How did Klose and the German team develop such a high level of fitness and speed? Apart from their style of play, which is much more free flowing, giving them the opportunities for counter offences, they train to be quick. Fitness training is of the highest priority as even the best skilled players are only as good as their fitness level.
Soccer Speed and Strength Training
To build speed it is vital that players perform intensive interval sprints as part of their workouts. The best way to perform these is simply by running the length of a football pitch at full speed and then doing a recovery jog back.
A football / soccer circuit training workout should always incorporate pure speed training. Every player needs to be able to run the length of the pitch at high speed. If only the strikers are quick then they receive no support from midfield on an attack. If the defence are slow then they risk a counter attack against themselves. So all players must be quick.
Soccer really is an intensive interval workout. Play involves periods of moderate activity in passing the ball to short periods of great intensity.
The Importance of Strength Training in Soccer
Strength training is also equally important. Soccer is a physical game and keeping possession of the ball requires more than just skill. Strikers need to be dominant and have the strength to push their way through defenders who will try to steer them away from the goal. Although you cannot tackle a soccer player you can muscle them out of the way so long as you are not directly pushing or pulling them. Likewise defenders need to be able to stand their ground against a strong attack.
The best form of weight training for any vigorous sport is compound weight training exercises with free weights. By working the whole body and working several muscle groups together, you condition the body and help to reduce injury.
Football is very hard on the body and it is important to do strength training to not only make you a more solid player, but also to help strengthen the joints and tendons so that you are less likely to become injured while playing. For this soccer players concentrate on the basic compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, lat pull downs and rows, shoulder press and curls. Core training and stability exercises are also important.
The fine details of any football team’s workouts are kept a closely guarded secret by the training manager, but from experience we can assume that the Germans have been working very hard to ensure that they are in the top physical shape for the World Cup. The German team even suggested that the English team looked tired and out of shape, having been over worked in the run up to the World Cup.
Nutrition and Diet
As with all sports and athletics, good diet and nutrition plays a vital role in helping player reach peak performance. FIFA provide some good advice on nutrition and emphasise that healthy eating will enhance your game at all levels, from playing for fun, playing in amateur leagues to playing at the elite level.
What you eat and drink must firstly provide you with enough energy for training. Water consumption is vital to prevent dehydration. A good balanced diet with rich, lean proteins (fish, eggs, lean meats, pulses), plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits and healthy fats is essential for fitness.
FIFA advice that supplements are often best avoided in football / soccer. You are not working your muscles with enough weight to warrant taking supplements. Healthy diet and plenty of carbohydrate is more important than taking supplements.
However, Manchester United’s head of sports science, Tony Strudwick says that some players take glutamine and creatine, but he also emphasises the importance of fruits and vegetables to get good carbohydrates.
References and Further Reading
- Cristiano Ronaldo Soccer Workout and Diet
- David Beckham’s Football Fitness Workout
- UEFA Training Ground – Training Features
- FIFA Football Development – What to eat and drink – winners’ strategies
- Manchester United: Fuel for football by Tony Strudwick
Photo of footballers by Paolo Camera