Improve Your Players’ Match Fitness

Here’s a silly question: Do you want your players to be able to run for longer and recover quicker?

Of course you do.

Developing players with excellent stamina and endurance is near the top of most coaches’ agenda, particularly during pre-season.

An important factor in the endurance of athletes is ‘VO2 Max’. But what does that actually mean?

Otherwise known as ‘aerobic endurance’ or ‘cardiovascular fitness’, VO2 max enables players to complete numerous football actions throughout a match (e.g. running, shooting, tackling etc.).

While most players will typically cover around 8-12km during a game, the majority of their aerobic energy is used to aid their recovery from high-intensity actions, like sprinting, so those with a good level of cardiovascular fitness can recover both within, and between, matches faster.

What is your players’ VO2 max?

The most accurate way of assessing a player’s fitness is through a VO2 max test in a controlled environment like a laboratory, which measures the amount of oxygen the body can take in and use while exercising. This, though, can be time-consuming and expensive, and for football, running on a treadmill is not sport-specific.

So, field-based tests, such as the Yo-Yo, 30-15 and Bleep Tests have been invented. There are some benefits to doing field testing over laboratory-based tests, for example, it’s relatively inexpensive, can be used with many players at once and can be done on the football pitch. However, on the flip side, it does estimate energy expenditure, can be easily manipulated by the players and it’s often in a straight line, so again not specific to football.

Nonetheless, regardless of how VO2 max is measured, maybe the most important thing for a coach to consider is how to train and improve it for their players.

The Conditioning Continuum

How do you improve your players’ fitness?

When conditioning and training players for games, it’s important to work across various types of activities, which are covered by the ‘conditioning continuum’. On the left, training isolates the physical quality you are trying to develop.

Moving towards the middle of the continuum, practices start to bear more resemblance to the game in terms of movement patterns etc, and then to the right-hand side, training more closely resembles the game itself.

As training progresses from isolated to integrated, decision-making increases and practices will not just work on the physical, but the technical, tactical, social and psychological returns as well.

How do you develop stamina through isolated training?

While it’s the right side of the continuum we want to reach to be able to get the most gains from our training, there are times when, in order to support performance, it is beneficial to shine a light on the isolated end of the continuum to give the players the foundation on which to build their physical performance.

So, we have created a short guide to help you enhance your players’ stamina through isolated training that will improve their Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS).

MAS is the lowest speed at which a player will achieve their VO2 max moving away from predominately using aerobic energy to anaerobic energy and can be described as their ‘aerobic power’. Research suggests there is a strong, positive correlation between aerobic power and subsequent performance, with most team sports requiring an individual to repeatedly produce and recover from high-intensity actions, which are two qualities fundamental to the game of football.

As such, if the speed at which someone achieves their VO2 max increases, so too will both these qualities. This is perhaps even more important than improving the absolute value of VO2 max, providing more ‘bang for the buck’ in training.

Click the button below to download the guide (free MiMentor account required).

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How can you develop endurance through integrated training?

Being able to combine your technical work with stamina, endurance and strength training will allow you to get more from less time on the training pitch.

It makes logical sense that we should gravitate toward the right-hand side of the conditioning continuum to maximise learning opportunities and have the biggest impact on performance.

That’s why we have developed our Conditioning For Football CPD course for coaches.

Covering six key areas of physical development, the course not only gives you examples of practices, drills and exercises you can do with your team but – more importantly – it teaches you the knowledge to be able to develop your own sessions that looks across the conditioning spectrum from isolated training, working on specific exercises, to integrated training, working as a team on fitness and technical aspects of the game.

That’s not all, on course completion, your certificate is recognised by the Football Association as continued personal development and can be used for towards your coaching badge renewal.

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