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Conditioning – to a lot of athletes it means a lot of running, a lot of sweating and of course pushing the limits, right? Not quite – Actually the type of conditioning that is feared by a lot of players, is nothing more than an endurance training. In fact, endurance is only one facet of the conditional abilities of an athlete. It is rather the combination of those facets that could be described as conditioning. This article will help you to undestand the role of endurance in soccer.

Conditioning or endurance training

In our blog we already dealt with “How to structure and plan a season”. Now we want to fill this planning with content. In several articles we teach you about the different aspects of an athletes conditional abilities. But before we can go there we have to speak about one of the biggest misconceptions in sports, especially among european coaches. Many times the expression ‘condition’ is erroneously equated with endurance. In fact, endurance is only one facet of the conditional abilities of an athlete. Aside from endurande these include strength, speed and depending on the interpretation, flexibility. So when players think about training that involves a lot of enduring exercises or runs, it is best to use the term endurance training rather than conditioning.

Crash course: Role of endurance in soccer

As the figure by Morris show, endurance is of great importance for the overall performance. As most often goals fall towards the end of the total playing time.

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Thus, the endurance capacity is the basis of conditional soccer performance. In professional soccer players run, according to various studies, on average, 6-8 miles per game. Of this, between 80-90% is below 9 mph so the average movement speedis quite low. These movements which for the most part take place in the aerobic zone, means that the necessary energy is obtained by the oxidation of inhaled oxygen. In this area, relatively little lactate is produced. The remaining 10-20% of the travel distance per game is completed in fast running or sprinting pace with some cases significantly more than 9 mph. Here takes place a significantly greater share of power in the anaerobic lactation area. The energy is in this case obtained from stored carbohydrates in the body. In this form of energysupply there is increased lactate production in the muscles. If the produced lactate cannot be broken down fast enough through low intensity movements, it will lead to an accumulation of lactate, resulting in the acidification of the muscles and a significant reduction in performance ability. Most likely this knowledge will especially interest coaches.

The lactate curve can be shifted by sports training, so that the players tire later and can handle sprints during the game better.

Before we adress specific endurance training it is important to understand the fundamental difference between the general (basic endurance) and the soccer-specific endurance. For the general basic stamina it is the basis for the implementation of any conditional competition- and training requirements. Well-developed basic endurance primarily causes an increase in the physical capacity and thus optimizes recovery ability. This leads also to improved injury prevention. Players tire more slowly, which may contribute to the prevention of technical and tactical mistakes. The soccer-specific endurance builds on these foundations. A well-developed specific endurance, supports the execution of many short and explosive sprints during the course of the game. Dribbling, tempo changes and powerful shots are also in this category. The soccer-specific endurance should be developed to the extent, that players are able to perform at the highest level for 90 minutes and even longer. In summary, the basic endurance is therefore a player’s endurance regardless of soccer-related movements. The soccer-specific endurance therefore includes all kinds of movements and tempo changes that distinguish the game from an endurance run.

How to train endurance in soccer

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As mentioned earlier in the article on seasonal planning, the initial preparation period starts with an increased volume of training at an even lower intensity to facilitate the re-entry into training for the players. The first part of this preparatory period, is ideally suited to the development of basic endurance, and is why you train first with the principles of the extensive endurance method. The endurance in this phase lasts per session usually 30-90 minutes at a relatively low intensity. As a guideline, a heart rate of 130-160 beats per minute is desired. The sessions can be designed fairly more soccer specific through circuit training and endurance courses including the balls. So in addition to the purely conditional also the technical aspects of training are involved. Therefore, the lower the expertise of the team, the more exercises with balls should be integrated into the conditional training.

"The less advanced your team is, the more exercises with balls should be integrated into the conditional training"

In the second half of the period of preparation, the training is designed to be intense with the aim of improving soccer-specific endurance. The intensive method has a workout duration of around 30-60 minutes at high intensity. Heart rates here range from 140-190 beats per minute, which leads to an increase in lactate production. Exercises in this phase are now chosen to be football related. So in addition to circuit training also games on a small field such as 4 on 4 should be selected as exercises. Training methods during this phase should be kept varied. Using the interval method, with a continuous change between stress and relief. In addition to simple sprints with the ball, this method can also be used in direct games of 1vs1 up to 4vs4 situations or shorthanded games with total amount of 5 players. Through targeted training in the anaerobic-lactazid area, lactate tolerance may to some extent be trained, so that the player can sprint better and “put away” for the consequent running loads, nevertheless the individual lactate levels are elevated.

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With the start of the competition period, the training is organized in conditional areas, less focused on the development and more on the preservation of endurance capacity. Cross Country runs are mainly used as part of the regeneration units and held after the match days. To watch out for, both in the preparatory and in the competition phase, is sufficient rest. In accordance with the principles of supercompensation, improving conditional abilities can only be achieved if there is adequate relief after exercise. During the competition phase, teams of the Bundesliga and other premier leauges reduce the proportion of endurance sessions usually from an average of four, to only one unit per week. The players have to be trained optimally and not only be maximised in the area of conditional abilities. Following the first competition phase, the transition phase focuses first on recovery and regeneration, so volume and intensity, especially for endurance training can be kept low. With the approach to the second half of the contest period, the transition phase increasingly resembles the first preparatory phase, with the difference being more focus on the preservation as the development of endurance capacity than before.

In summary this means:

  • Preparation Period – Development of basic endurance

    • High volume, low to medium intensity

  • Second half of preparation period – Improve soccer specific endurance

    • Constant volume at higher intensity: soccer-related exercises in the form of continuous and intensive intervals

  • Competition period – Preservation of endurance capacity

    • As part of regeneration sessions

  • Transitional period – Regeneration and moderate preservation of endurance

    • Initially low volume, low intensity – then increasing

Exercise example: Endurance training in soccer

It’s off to practice now. As we said previously one of the easiest way to train your soccer specific endurance are simple exercises like a 2 vs 2, or like in this exercise a one on one with small breaks in between. If you do not want your players to rest for too long this exercise can be used as a station for an endurance circuit training.

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If you’re interested in more soccer endurance exercises go and have a look at our database


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