How To Train Stamina In A Football Specific Way
In terms of stamina training for football, it’s important to train for the pace of the game rather than the length of the game. A game is 90 minutes long, so it goes without saying that you need an appropriate level of endurance, but being able to run for 90 minutes is not necessarily a match for the demands of 90 minutes of football.
Running and reacting faster than your opponents will always have more impact than simply running further. In fact, the ability to repeat bursts of speed is a strong differentiator between Premier League and Championship players. Maximum velocity work also has an important role to play in conditioning the hamstrings to not only unlock greater levels of speed but also become more resilient to injury.
Football is an intermittent sport. It’s all about repeated bouts of short duration exercise interspersed with long periods of active and passive recovery. There will be intense actions, then the ball might go out for a throw-in and you get 5 seconds of standing still or walking to a position.
In those periods of intense action you’re not simply running in straight lines, you’re running in curves, rapidly accelerating and decelerating into short sprints and quick turns (a midfielder can make up to 1000 turns in a game) and there will be jumping, kicking and tackling…it’s far from a 90-minute steady run.
In football, the brief periods of intense action are essential to the outcome of the game. Generally, low intensity actions won’t affect the final score, but brief, high intensity actions will.
Sport Specific Training
In terms of football fitness, training using long distance running will bring little benefit other than perhaps aiding recovery between those periods of intense action. The average length of a sprint in football is 17 metres, with players in fullback positions perhaps sprinting up to 30 metres to assist with overlaps for example. This indicates that your main focus in training should be on producing repeated short bursts of sprint speed.
One way to do this is to work on increasing your top speed, so that it becomes easier to repeat absolute speeds. For example, if your top speed is 9 metres per second, then sprinting 7 metres per second in repeated bouts with quick changes of direction should be possible.
If you think of it in weight training terms, being able to bench press 100kgs will make it easier to increase the number of reps you can produce with 80kgs and the same training principle applies to running.
Introduce The Ball
The ball should only be introduced into pace training once you’ve successfully increased your top speed and improved your ability to produce repeated high intensity efforts. This could be done by keeping a ball at your feet in only some of your runs and adding in a passing and shooting element too.
For example, you could make a quick change of direction, sprint towards the goal, take a shot (partner setting up the ball) and then continue with your next high intensity effort.
It’s important to strike a balance between physical training and technical training, ensuring that one doesn’t negatively impact the other. Physical training will improve the efficiency of the phosphagen and glycolytic energy systems, but if you reach a point of fatigue, your technical ability might suffer, leading to bad habits creeping in.
Practice makes perfect, but if you practice doing something badly, you get better and better at doing that something badly. Train to increase your top speed and to produce repeated efforts of speed and only introduce the ball if it’s not going to limit what you gain from the drills.
Are 5km Runs A Good Training Strategy?
5km runs predominately challenge the aerobic energy system, which of course is an important element of football fitness. This however does not make the 5km test a good choice for footballers when it comes to indicating levels of performance. As outlined above, football is multi-directional in nature and demands the ability to repeat intermittent bouts of high-speed running over short distances without a significant drop off in the speed of those runs across the 90+ minutes of a match.
Given that a 5km run is not multi-directional, is steady state and taxes predominately only one energy system, it’s effectiveness in predicting football performance is extremely limited. i.e. you could get a great 5km test score, but that doesn’t indicate that you’re going to be able to have more impact in a match than a player with a lower test score.
As previously mentioned, what is a key indicator of football performance however is the ability to repeat high intensity efforts, for this reason the yo-yo intermittent recovery test level 2 (Yo-Yo IRTL2) is a far more appropriate stamina-based fitness test for footballers. If you score poorly in this test, it is a good indicator that you’re going to struggle to have your desired impact at elite level.