Short, Fast Intervals will help you have energy for later in the game!
By John De Witt Head Sports Performance Coach, Houston Dynamo Academy
An excerpt from Amplified Soccer Athlete Magazine
Soccer is a series of high intensity runs, like sprinting, that are separated by some lower intensity activities, like jogging, walking, or standing. The best players are the ones that can continue to perform high intensity activities later in the game. There have been numerous studies that investigate the speed and distance covered by soccer players. In a study I worked on, we found that English professional players cover on average over 11 km per match, with up to 1200 m (3/4 mile) covered while sprinting. Others found that teams that tend to win also tend to cover more sprinting distance in the last 15 minutes of the game than those who lost.
If the solution is to run faster later in the match, then why doesn’t everyone just run faster? This is because your body relies on different energy systems when you run at different speeds, and the way you use the energy you have depends on your fitness. When you run at a moderate speed, like a speed that you can keep steady at for 5 minutes or more, your body is using the aerobic system, which relies on oxygen for energy. Your body is made to be very good at allowing aerobic exercise to carry on for a long time – the more fit you are, the faster you can run while still using the aerobic system.
When you sprint, your muscles have to develop a lot of force very quickly. During these times, you rely on anaerobic energy, which uses sugars in your blood for energy. The tradeoff for the explosive activity, however, is that 1) you use the sugars up very quickly and when you run out, you have to stop, and 2) when your muscles use the sugars for energy, they create lactic acid, and when too much lactic acid accumulates, you have to stop.
The best solution is to try to increase your fitness levels so that you can rely on oxygen as your main energy source. However, the truth is that no matter how aerobically fit you get, you will always rely on anaerobic energy when sprinting. Therefore, it is important to work on your anaerobic system endurance, also known as repeated sprinting ability.
Focus on the recovery!
When you perform sprints, lactic acid builds up. When you stop, your body recovers by eliminating the lactic acid. The faster the lactic acid is removed, the quicker you can perform your next sprint. In soccer, most of the time you can’t choose when to rest and when to start your next sprint, but instead you have to react to the game. During times when you have to start your next sprint before you are fully recovered, you will still be able to sprint, but for a shorter amount of time. Think of it like this: Imagine that the lactic acid you develop fills up a measuring cup. When the cup is full, you have to stop and rest. When you stop and rest, the cup empties, but at a certain rate. When you are more anaerobically fit, you 1) have a larger cup, and 2) your cup empties faster. If your cup isn’t empty when you start your next sprint, you can still sprint, but you have less of the cup to fill – get it?
The key to increasing your repeated sprint ability is to work on emptying your cup - in other words, work on improving your body’s ability to recover between sprints. For this the best thing to do is call High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. During HIIT training, you perform a high intensity interval, followed by a recovery interval, and then you repeat. Many scientists have shown that HIIT is the best way to improve your fitness. The good news about HIIT is that it doesn’t take long to do – you can do a complete workout in 15 min. The tradeoff is that you have to work at very high intensity and you have to maintain intensity for the training to benefit you. But you need to remember – 15 minutes of hard work once or twice a week can make a HUGE difference in your 80-90 minute game, so it is well worth the effort.
Learn more about Getting Fit by Going Fast plus a full workout plan to take to your next training by downloading the first edition of Amplified Soccer Athlete magazine available in the App and Google Play stores.