Conditioning with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team

Get better at the sports you play and the life you lead at STACK. Improve your training, nutrition and lifestyle with daily

Interval Training with the U.S. Women's Soccer Team

For nearly a quarter-century, the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team has been "the" team to beat, setting the bar for soccer excellence by winning numerous World Cup Championships and Olympic gold medals.

Now, with retiring soccer legends Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy passing the torch to young up-and-comers like Cat Reddick and Abby Wambach, the future of U.S. women's soccer is as bright as ever.

In addition to the departure of several marquee players, head coach April Heinrichs recently resigned from her post. A major figure in U.S. women's soccer, Heinrichs will be greatly missed.

As a player, Heinrichs was instrumental in the U.S. team's victory at the firstever Women's World Cup in 1991. And as a coach she engineered the team's gold medal performance at the 2004 Olympics. In one way or another, she has contributed to nearly every U.S. women's team victory over the past 15 years.

"I absolutely believe that conditioning had a lot to do with our success in our final game in the Olympics," Heinrichs says. "We had the oldest team in the Olympics. We had to play six games. Only one other team had to play six games. All the other teams played anywhere from three to five games. So we played more games than any other team, and also played two overtime games."

Simply put, the driving force behind Heinrichs' great success is hard work.

"Our players are on the field three to four hours a day, five to six days a week," Heinrichs explains. While on the field, the team works on improving fundamentals, skills and conditioning, something Heinrichs considers a major factor in their Gold Medal performance.

Implementing Interval Training
While the national team also takes part in some strength training (primarily upper body work and maintenance work with the legs), the special type of conditioning that gets the team in peak shape can be described as "interval training."

According to Heinrichs, a six-to 10-week program featuring a series of 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 mile intervals is ideal for that type of training. Here's a basic interval training plan, recommended by Heinrichs, which you can follow.

  • For the first two to three weeks use a 1/4 mile distance. Then, for the next two to three weeks, use a 1/2 mile distance and finally, for the last two to three weeks, a 3/4 mile distance.
  • Perform three to six repetitions at each distance per interval training session, and complete two to three sessions per week.
  • Start by running the designated distance as fast as you can. Record the time of the run, and divide the time by .8 and .9. The result is the Pace Time Range in which you must complete each interval run, so that you train at a pace that is 80 to 90 percent of your top speed for the distance.
  • Following the completion of each interval run, rest for one to one and one-half times your actual run time. For example, if you run a 1/4 mile at top speed in 90 seconds, the time in which you must complete each 1/4 mile interval training run is between 90/0.9 and 90/0.8 or 100-112.5 seconds. If you complete your first 1/4 mile run in 105 seconds, your rest time should be between 1 x 105 and 1.5 x 105 or 105-157.5 seconds.
  • The same sequence as the example above should be used for each of the various distances.

The overall success of interval training, according to Heinrichs, also depends on when during the season you do the training.

"You don't do interval training at the start of your season, you do it later," she says. The reason? An athlete needs to build a strong aerobic base before the season, and before beginning an interval training program.

You can build your aerobic base through cardiovascular training in which an elevated heart rate is sustained for 20-30 minutes. Exercises like jogging or riding a stationary bike for 20-30 minutes are great examples of cardiovascular training.

"With that [aerobic] base in place,, then you start to do more of an interval training period," Heinrichs says..

Heinrichs also believes in the importance of an athlete improving upon his or her own abilities. The pace time of a teammate should not be used as your baseline. It is important for you to set your own baselines, and work to improve on previous performances.

"The best advice for anyone is to establish your own baseline, and raise your own standard every time," she says..

Example for Pace Time Range
Step 1: Run a 1/4 mile as fast as you can
Step 2: Record your time (90 seconds)
Step 3: Divide your original time by 0.9 (90/0.9 = 100 seconds)
Step 4: Divide your original time by 0.8 (90/0.8 = 112.5 seconds)
Pace Time Range: 100-112.5 seconds

Example for Rest Time Range
Step 1: Run a 1/4 mile within your Pace Time Range
Step 2: Record your actual time (105 seconds)
Step 3: Multiply your actual time by 1 (105 x 1 = 105 seconds)
Step 4: Multiply your actual time by 1.5 (105 x 1.5 = 157.5 seconds)
Rest Time Range: 105-157.5 seconds

Who is April Heinrichs?
An accomplished player in her own right, Heinrichs was a key player on the 1991 World Cup Champion-ship Team, and was the first woman to be inducted into the Soccer Hall of Fame. Setting the standard at the University of North Carolina for future female stars like Mia Hamm and Cat Reddick, Heinrichs was a three-time All-American, won three national championships during her college career and was the first female soccer player to have her jersey retired. Now, with the completion of her final season as the head coach of the U.S. National Women's Soccer Team, she has left a lasting mark on U.S. women's soccer.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock