How to Increase Your Stamina for Football
There are a lot of misconceptions about the best way to increase fitness as a footballer. To be most effective, your training should resemble the demands of your sport.
Going for a run might seem to be a great way to enhance your cardiovascular fitness but it’s definitely not the best bang for your buck.
Let’s first look at the multi-directional nature of football
The number of different movement patterns a top-class player will use in a single match is estimated to be well over 100.
Changes in movement patters include:
- Change of direction
- Change in pace
- Change of footwork
That’s just movement patterns, not the number of times a different movement is performed...
Interestingly research has revealed how approximately 450 of the movements which are performed involve a change in direction of over 120 degrees – that’s about 50% of all turns made by a player in one match.
This is a clear signal that you must work on conditioning the joints and muscles involved in performing these movement patterns.
Research has also shown that players change movement pattern over 11 times every minute. This puts huge demands on the ankle, knee and hip joints. It’s imperative that you appreciate the importance of conditioning these joints and the supporting muscles, to withstand this range of twists and turns in a game.
Running in a straight line just won’t achieve that result. It’s also going to take more than running to achieve the strengthening and preparation of your joints and muscles for a game situation, this is where your strength training really pays dividends.
There are 4 key movement elements that you make on the pitch, all of which need to be considered when designing an optimal training programme (1):
- Most runs you make are between 5 and 30m; the most common distance is about 10m. To some of you this will appear very short, but doing 100m sprints to improve your speed for football just isn’t going to be effective. It’s not about top speed, it’s about effective speed.
- Runs are usually made without the ball, although ball contact often occurs at the beginning or end of a run. Depending on your position, on average you’ll be making a 2-3 second all-out sprint about once every 90 seconds and making/receiving passes about 30 times during a match. The total distance covered is usually anywhere between 8-12km. However, looking at the total distance covered by players does not give a true or significant insight into the preparation that’s required. Average distance covered at maximum effective speed, the numbers of changes in direction and how often you have to speed up or slowdown is of much more significance.
- Movements involve turning quickly, dodging, twisting, weaving, jumping, leaping, and accelerating from stationary or near-stationary positions. You can make up to 1000 changes of direction over the course of a match!
- Exercise intensity during a game ranges from walking to jogging to sprinting. On average 25% of your time is spent walking, 37% by jogging, 20% by submaximal running, 11% by sprinting and 7% by moving backwards.
These movements are all required to be performed at high speed and with power over the duration of the match. Your training needs to address all of these demands for you to optimise your performance on the pitch.
It’s not enough to just have good cardiovascular fitness to be able to last for 90 minutes. This is why it’s much more important to train for the pace of a game, rather than the length. Hopefully you’re starting to see why going for a run might not be the best way to spend your time.
As we’ve discussed, in a match you will be exercising at a variety of different intensities (1). This means that you will be using all 3 energy systems: ATP-PC system (very high intensity), anaerobic system (high intensity) and aerobic system (low intensity). You need to be able to perform well within all of these exercise systems. When you go for a long run, you’ll primarily be using aerobic system, which means its carry over to a match is very limited.
Muscle fibres and energy sources
There are two main types of muscle fibres: type 1 (slow-twitch) and type 2 (fast-twitch). Slow-twitch muscle fibres contract at a slower speed and use mainly fat as fuel. They're used in endurance activities, like going for a long run at a steady pace.
Fast-twitch muscle fibres on the other hand contract quickly and provide explosive power to be able to move quickly - they use glycogen (stored carbohydrate) as fuel. To be able to keep up with the demands in a game you have to be able to effectively use type 2 muscle fibres, which won’t be improved by going for a long-distance run.
Genetically, every player has different levels of slow and fast twitch muscle fibres, if you consider yourself quite a speedy player then it’s likely that you’re made up of predominately fast twitch fibres or you are successfully recruiting these fibres to be able to perform explosive movements. If you’re lacking pace however you can become faster with the right training.
An important factor to consider when planning your training is the time that it takes. Too much time spent training means less time recovering. A long run is likely to take 45-60 minutes, possibly even longer, whereas a football-specific session could be less time and much more effective. Quick, repeated movements will translate much better to a match than a run.
There are however a couple occasions when going for a long-distance run can be an appropriate choice: firstly, when you’re injured and need to get the injured region used to bearing weight again, and secondly for mental wellbeing - to relieve stress for example.
Injuries: When you’re injured you have to build up gradually to a return to football-specific training, whilst aiming to maintain cardiovascular fitness. Going for steady state runs, depending on the nature and severity of the injury, is definitely a viable option. It’s important to emphasise the need for a thorough warm up and cool down before these sessions to avoid re-injury.
Mental wellbeing: Being able to perform on the pitch requires you to be both physically and mentally prepared. If you’re feeling stressed this will impact your performance significantly and increase your risk of injury (3). If you find that going for a long-distance run helps you to relax then it is definitely something you can occasionally include as part of your training plan.
To sum up, let’s look at the training needs of a Premier League footballer vs an elite marathon runner.
Premier League Footballer
- Use of all 3 energy systems
- Ability to perform at different exercise intensities
- Need to be able to change direction quickly
- High speed movements
- Utilisation of type 2 muscle fibres
- Ability to perform short distance sprints
- Variety of different movement patterns
Elite marathon runner
- Aerobic system only
- Ability to perform at single low intensity
- No need to change direction quickly
- Low speed movements
- Utilisation of type 1 muscle fibres
- Ability to perform long duration running
- Single movement pattern
As you can see, your fitness needs as a footballer are very different from that of an elite marathon runner. If you don’t want to be a marathon runner, there’s no need to train like one!
Take home message?
Train for the PACE of the game. Not the duration.
Below are two example football stamina exercises...
The first one is focused on repeating 100% intensity bursts with short, 10 second rest intervals (speed repeatability stamina).
The second is focused on maintaining a slightly longer distance/duration effort where the intensity and movement patterns vary throughout the continuous working time (multi-speed/sprint stamina). You're looking to maintain this work for a longer period of time without a dip in intensity, but rest intervals would be longer between sets.
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