Every soccer player, coach and parent recognizes that in a 90-minute game, stamina is important. The question, though, is what does stamina mean? What is fitness?
Stamina is the capacity to continue to perform work at a high level of output. It's more than the ability to run steady for a long time. Soccer fitness means moving, sprinting, changing direction and executing technical skills nearly as well at the end of the game as at the beginning.
Multiple systems of the body work together to supply the energy demands of your muscles. Think of these different systems as pipelines that delivers the fuel for your muscles to use.
In discussions about energy systems, you often hear the terms aerobic and anaerobic. They refer to whether the pipeline is using oxygen brought by your heart and lungs to produce energy. There are key differences in the two types of pipeline helping muscles generate metabolic energy:
- How fast it's available
- The intensity it can deliver
- How much the athlete has stored
- The resulting metabolic waste to deal with
Multiple Energy Systems
These systems are usually thought of as either/or propositions—aerobic OR anaerobic. Producing muscular effort only with oxygen (aerobically) or only without it (anaerobically) is true at the cellular level at a single moment in time, but it's never true for the entire human body or even the muscle cells over an extended time.
Modern exercise physiology has taught us that it's never purely one, but always some combination of both. Recent science has shown us that while the anaerobic system does work without oxygen, the aerobic system helps re-fuel the anaerobic system so it can keep going.
This means that even during anaerobic-type efforts, which are short and intense, the aerobic system helps out. When an athlete performs high-intensity work, interspersed with lower-intensity efforts, the aerobic system picks up some of the work and re-fuels the anaerobic system between bouts of exertion.
The old myth that soccer is just about aerobic stamina has been blown away. You need the capacity to produce energy through both the aerobic and anaerobic pathways. Just running for miles won't be good enough for the modern game of soccer.
The idea that soccer was primarily aerobic was based on the length of the game and the distance covered. These were traditionally thought of as being aerobic.
If we look at an analysis of elite soccer, we find that the bulk of the 90 minutes is spent in low- to medium-intensity movements like walking and jogging.
The aerobic system is clearly important, but as mentioned earlier, we know that it helps re-fuel the anaerobic system as well.
To build your aerobic capacity, you want a combination of long steady state and interval training.
- 1-2 days/week: 20-40 minutes of steady heart rate, ~120-130
- 1-2 days/week: high intensity intervals - 30 seconds to 4 minutes duration, 2 to 4 minutes of active rest, 4-12 sets
Although the majority of movements are low to moderate intensity, key moments of the game are not. Sprinting, jumping, changing direction, dribbling, passing and shooting are actions that occur at higher speeds and require a fast, intense energy source.
Most high-intensity activities last only 2 to4 seconds. This means that the muscles use the fuel (ATP) immediately available in the cells. Since it's so short, it doesn't produce lactic acid. This is called the alactic anaerobic system.
To build your ALACTIC capacity, you want high intensity efforts that don't last too long.
- Full-speed sprints and agility drills
- 2-10 seconds work, then 30-90 seconds of rest
- Sets/Reps: 2-3x3-5
To build the stamina needed to be effective in the last 10 minutes of each half, you need strong aerobic and alactic energy systems. Let your opponents leave one underdeveloped, while you build a complete package to gain an edge.
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