Jens Bangsbo is one of the most respected names in sports science. He is the author of Fitness Training in Soccer: A Scientific Approach and the inventor of the famous YOYO fitness tests. In the videos below Jens demonstrates a number of drills and practices that can be used to improve the aerobic conditioning of soccer players. Traditionally soccer conditioning was carried out by performing running exercises. However, small sided games offer several potential benefits:
The players improve their tactical and technical skills.
Other physical elements are trained. For instance, small sided games produce many accelerations and decelerations. These are high stress actions that occur frequently in real matches. If players have not been sufficiently exposed to this type of work in training there is an elevated risk of injury.
The work is intermittent in small sided games by which we mean they combine periods of moderate intensity with periods of very high intensity. The ability to handle abrupt changes in aerobic demands may be better trained in small sided games than in isolated running exercises.
When Jens talks about moderate intensity aerobic exercise he is referring to intensities around 75-85% of maximum heart rate (MHR). For high intensity aerobic exercise he is referring to intensities between 85-95%of maximum heart rate. A general rule for calculating maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age.
Jens differs from many when performing high intensity aerobic training in that he prefers shorter intervals. Most academic research has been performed using work intervals in the 3 – 6 minute range. The recovery period is usually half of the work period. However, Jens prefers short intervals, many times around 2 minutes. His reasoning is that the intensity of work is higher in these very short intervals and that this translates into a better quality of play. This may produce superior fitness effects because the higher intensity produces more adaptations in the muscle (which has to be able to utilize the oxygen pumped to it) even though average heart rates might be slightly lower throughout the exercise (as it takes a while for heart rates to get up into the desired range).
This is a typical example of a high intensity practice used by Jens
Recovery between the drills is important and the recovery times should be respected. If the work to recovery is too high in this type of work then in the latter repetitions the players will be exhausted and the intensity and quality of play will be much lower than desired. Typically, the work to rest ratio is around 2:1 in this type of work. Recovery between repetitions should be active. Research suggest that a heart rate around 70% of maximum heart rate in the recovery leads to the optimal removal of waste products from the muscle. This leads to better quality in later repetitions.
In this video Javier Perez Assistant Manager at NYCFC demonstrates a typical recovery exercise between drills.
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
This type of training is very intense and the total work period does not need to be high. A standard prescription is 4 x 4 minutes work with 2 to 3 minutes recovery and this should be very effective. How effective? Helgerud et al demonstrated that one single session as described above increases a players VO2 max (basically their aerobic capacity) by about 0.5%. Similar results have been repeated in multiple other studies. Repeated over the course of a season this will obviously have a profound effect on aerobic fitness.
High intensity aerobic training could be used twice a week for post pubescent players playing one game per week although the sessions should not be on concurrent days.
In this type of training it is important to try to get the players to perform at the desired intensities. For players 15 and older this should ideally be in the 90-95% of MHR range. If the coach is having difficulty in maintaining the desired intensity a few tips can help:
Keep a ready supply of balls handy to play another in as soon as one goes out of play.
Make the field area larger.
Reduce the number of touches.
Think about playing man for man.
In Part 2 of the back to back practice Jens manipulates the rules to make sure the players reach the desired intensities.
A question that arises in such training is how to progress it over time.
If we accept the overload principle – that training needs to overload the system to provoke adaptations which improve physical fitness – then how does the overload principle apply if the work intervals stay fixed over time? Would it not make sense to increase the work periods progressively? Here opinions differ. Jens prefers to keep the work periods constant because if the players work as hard then as they get fitter the volume of work will naturally rise. The work period is the same but the quality and intensity increase over time. Other commentators believe that as well as the intensity naturally rising, the work periods should increase in a slow, controlled fashion as well.
For a thorough discussion of this, and how they might think about doing it, readers should consult the work of Raymond Verheijen in the references below.
For more aerobic fitness videos from Jens see here:
Recommended resources for soccer/football fitness training:
1/ Dave Tenney Fitness in Football http://fitnessinfootball.com/
A great review of where we stand in terms of research and our knowledge about how to condition the modern soccer player
Ex Real Madrid fitness coach presents his theories concerning tactical and physical periodization along with a library of suggested exercises.
3/ Raymond Verheijen The Original Guide To Football Periodization
This is not a conditioning book per se as Raymond now eschews sports science terminology but it is a great presentation of a periodized model to develop soccer fitness and minimize injuries.
4/ Jens Bangsbo: Fitness Training in Soccer: A Scientific Approach
5/ Tony Strudwick: Soccer Science
A great review of the whole fitness landscape by the Manchester United conditioning coach through the glorious Ferguson era.
Very up to date review of the evolving science behind fitness training and how to apply it to soccer