|Pre-season periodization – How much is too much?
The dawn of another outdoor soccer season is approaching, and with it comes the need for youth soccer coaches to begin planning their teams’ pre-season training period.
Typically, although many teams will resume practicing soon after the start of the new year in January, the pre-season period – during which the frequency (number of training sessions per week), volume (amount of time per training session) and intensity (how hard players train in practice) are all significantly increased – will start around 8 weeks prior to the start of the competitive season. Since the typical Canadian outdoor competitive soccer season starts in the month of May, this 8 week pre-season training period will most likely begin sometime in late March or early April.
Most coaches probably understand the importance of a pre-season training period, and how – if it is planned appropriately – it can be of great benefit to their team throughout the duration of the competitive season. A challenge that can come up for coaches when putting together their pre-season, however, is how exactly to plan and implement the physical part of their training regime.
Regarding physical fitness, if the ultimate aim of the pre-season is to get players at or close to their peak level of physical conditioning, then the relationship between frequency, volume, and intensity of training must be carefully thought out during this time period.
Get it right and your team will improve their physical fitness, reduce their risk of injury, and likely out-perform their competition. Get it wrong, however, and you are setting your team up for decreased physical performance, in addition to a significantly increased risk of injury.
So what does an ideal pre-season physical training plan look like? And how exactly should a coach go about planning the specific amounts of frequency, volume, and intensity of their training sessions?
At the top of the list of priorities must be the development of “aerobic” fitness and, more specifically, the ability of the aerobic energy system to help players improve their recovery in between the frequent bouts of sprinting and high speed running they must perform in games. There is considerable evidence (including some recent studies we have published at Soccer Fitness Inc.) demonstrating that improvements in aerobic endurance can be made in 4-6 weeks, with as little as 2 high intensity training sessions per week.
Thus, the first component of training that should be included into a pre-season training plan is a minimum of two training sessions per week which include some form of aerobic endurance training. Considerable evidence also exists indicating that a volume of training of between 20-30 minutes, and a relative intensity of training between 70-80 percent of maximal oxygen uptake in each workout, is sufficient to elicit improvements in aerobic fitness over the course of a 4-6 week, 2 training sessions per-week training program. Small progressions with slight increases in intensity can be made each week, with the best and most effective changes being those which increase work time and/or decrease rest time.
Because the sport of soccer is played with frequent, intermittent bouts of high intensity activity, interspersed with rest periods and/or periods of lower intensity activity, the type of aerobic training that is most specific – and thus most suited – to this activity pattern in high intensity aerobic interval training. And finally, because the most specific way to perform high intensity aerobic interval training for soccer players is to actually have them play soccer, the use of conditioned, controlled small-sided games is the ideal way for coaches to train the aerobic energy system and develop aerobic fitness in soccer.
Below is an example of simple weekly progressions of small-sided soccer games that can be used in the aerobic phase of the pre-season periodization plan:
• Week 1:
• Session 1: 4v4: 3 sets of 3 minutes game with 3 minutes rest
• Session 2: 2v2: 4 sets of 2 minutes game with 2 minutes rest
• Week 2:
• Session 1: 4v4: 3 sets of 4 minutes game with 4 minutes rest
• Session 2: 2v2: 4 sets of 2.5 minutes game with 2.5 minutes rest
• Week 3:
• Session 1: 4v4: 4 sets of 4 minutes game with 4 minutes rest
• Session 2: 2v2: 5 sets of 3 minutes game with 3 minutes rest
• Week 4:
• Session 1: 4v4: 4 sets of 4 minutes game with 3 minutes rest
• Session 2: 2v2: 5 sets of 3 minutes game with 2.5 minutes rest
The second priority/component of soccer-specific fitness that must be developed during the pre-season is speed and power, or “anaerobic” fitness. Improving these physical abilities will allow players to improve the quality of the frequent, intermittent bouts of high intensity activity they must perform in games – that is, they will be able to run faster and jump higher throughout a game.
Including speed and power development into the pre-season plan can be tricky, because they engage a different energy system – the anaerobic system – than aerobic interval training does. This can mean that, if both types of training are performed during the same time period, improvements in one energy system may minimize or even counteract improvements made in the other one.
Thus, if coaches have 8 weeks to devote to pre-season training, it might make sense to begin with 3-4 weeks of aerobic energy system training, and then progress to 3-4 weeks of anaerobic energy system training.
Research into the effectiveness of different methods of anaerobic training (also including some recent studies we have published at Soccer Fitness Inc.) has indicated that improvements in speed and power can be made with 2-3 training sessions per week, and with volume ranging from a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 50 sprints or high intensity activities per training session.
Accumulating sufficient rest in between each high intensity activity of an anaerobic energy system training session is also important, because insufficient rest not allow the body’s energy stores to recover and produce enough speed and power in subsequent repetitions. An optima work-to-rest ratio for the development of anaerobic fitness is between 1:6 and 1:10 (that is, for each second of work, there must be at least 6-10 seconds of rest).
Since the high speed, high intensity “anaerobic” movements in soccer are performed in a variety of ways (from forwards, backwards, and lateral running, to jumping, tackling, striking and heading movements), the best and most specific way to train to improve the quality (speed and power) of these movements is also to use some form of soccer drill or small-sided game.
Thus, coaches should try to design soccer drills or small-sided games for the anaerobic phase of their periodization that include 10-50 short sprints, jumps, or other high intensity activities, while being mindful of the rest between repetitions and keeping the work-to-rest ratios within the 1:6 to 1:10 range. Small progressions with slight increases in intensity can also be made each week, but with anaerobic training the best and most effective changes are those which increase the number of repetitions.
Below is an example of simple weekly progressions of small-sided games that can be used in the anaerobic phase of the pre-season periodization plan:
• Week 1:
• Session 1: 1v1 to goal: 10 repetitions of 5-10 seconds, work-to-rest ratio = 1:8
• Session 2: 1v1 counter-attack game: 3 sets of 6 repetitions of 3-6 seconds, work-to-rest ratio = 1:8
• Week 2:
• Session 1: 1v1 to goal: 11 repetitions of 5-10 seconds, work-to-rest ratio = 1:8
• Session 2: 1v1 counter-attack game: 3 sets of 8 repetitions of 3-6 seconds, work-to-rest ratio = 1:8
• Week 3:
• Session 1: 1v1 to goal: 12 repetitions of 5-10 seconds, work-to-rest ratio = 1:8
• Session 2: 1v1 counter-attack game: 3 sets of 10 repetitions of 3-6 seconds, work-to-rest ratio = 1:8
• Week 4:
• Session 1: 1v1 to goal: 14 repetitions of 5-10 seconds, work-to-rest ratio = 1:8
• Session 2: 1v1 counter-attack game: 4 sets of 8 repetitions of 3-6 seconds, work-to-rest ratio = 1:8
Planning and executing a successful pre-season periodization will always be a challenge to soccer coaches and fitness coaches. Ultimately, understanding the basic scientific principles behind aerobic and anaerobic energy system training, as well as the optimal combinations of frequency, volume and intensity of training for these systems, will help soccer coaches and fitness coaches to design training sessions that can elicit optimal performance on the pitch.
Richard Bucciarelli is the Owner and President of Soccer Fitness Inc., a company that provides soccer-specific strength and conditioning testing, training, and coach education to soccer players, coaches and teams in Toronto. For more information about Richard and Soccer Fitness,it www.soccerfitness.ca