So you’ve joined a Sunday league team for the first time in ages and you’re raring to go. You’re watching Youtube compilations of
fat Ronaldo, Batistuta, and Suarez, and you’re fantasising about scoring audacious goals and injury time winners.
Fast forward to kick-off time. You’re ready to kill it. 75 minutes have past – you’ve played well.
But now you’re flagging. Knees weak, arms are heavy, vomit on your sweater and all that jazz. Basically, you’re gone.
You’ve stopped getting forward because you know you won’t have it in you to get back. Damn G. Looks like that stoppage time goal ain’t happening.
In fact the other team just scored because you were too knackered to catch up with your man. You just want this game to end now.
I’m sure everybody who’s played football before at any level has experienced the above. Let’s try and show you how to that doesn’t happen, and how we can turn you into a footballing thoroughbred like Steven Gerrard.
During his prime, Steven Gerrard was probably the best all-around footballer in the game. He had the total package – technique, goals, courage, drive, and an amazing set of lungs.
Not only did Gerrard have amazing stamina, he was famous for his explosive bursts into the opposition box, right up until the final whistle. Whether it was the 90th minute, the end of extra time, or a penalty shoot-out, Gerrard was never counted out. How many times did he bail Liverpool out during his career?
Now though I would love to write a whole article on one of the best Premier League players ever, what I’m trying to get you to identify here is the guy’s unbelievable conditioning. If you have two teams equal in talent, the better physically prepared team will win. Simple as that.
(However – I need to let you in on a little secret.
There is NO substitute for getting match fit other than playing football matches. You can be ‘fit’, but that’s very different from being ‘match fit’.
Football fitness is a very specific type of fitness, and you can do all the supplementary training in the world, but without playing football, it won’t transfer. To get match fit, you must play matches!)
Now, with that disclaimer out the way, yes, there are definitely things we can do to enhance our fitness and become supermen on the pitch.
The physical demands of football (or sawker)
Lots of research has been done on the physiological demands of football, and this research has brought to light some interesting facts from the realm of professional football.
Apparently, during top-level football games, there’s an 100% flat-out sprint every 90 seconds, and some kind of high intensity effort every 30 seconds. Not only that, but most of these sprints last 5 seconds or under. So can someone explain to me why people think that in order to get fit, you need to do jog long, arduous laps around a pitch or do roadwork like a boxer?
It’s true that you need an excellent base of stamina to compete in a football game (elite footballers typically can cover about 11 km during a match). That’s a lot of ground, and you certainly should include some jogging style running in your training.
But it really does grind my gears when people think jogging for half an hour is how to get fit for football. It’s not.
So as you can see, training for football is not totally straightforward. It requires a number of different attributes for you to perform effectively. This isn’t American football where 90% of the focus is on strength and power.
In football, the game is far more fluid and requires a lot more low intensity movements such as walking and jogging. Football is a classic example of an intermittent intensity sport. One second you’ll be jogging, the next you’ll be shuffling, then sprinting, etc. It’s not a steady-paced game where you operate on the same gear for 90 minutes (unless your name is Dimitar Berbatov).
What we must remember: The most important contribution to any game usually coincides with a high-intensity effort such as a sprint. A sprint to get on the end of a cross, a last-ditch recovery challenge, a fast dribble into the box.. this stuff all requires lung power, and the ability to keep doing it until the final whistle.
So without further ado, here are some tried and true ways to become a footballing thoroughbred, a stallion among mules.
1) Repeated Sprints
For this drill it’s best to find a 5-a-side pitch, as the length of the pitch is similar to that of a typical sprint during an 11-a-side football game.
The ability to sprint repeatedly (speed-endurance) is extremely important. Football is a very unpredictable game, and you don’t know when you will have to bust a gut and when you can take a breather.
If you can sprint immediately after a previous sprint, you have a huge advantage over your opponents. You become a potential game changer.
The drill is simply this – on the 5-a-side pitch, sprint from one goal to the other goal, then go again. Capisce?
What’s vitally important here is that the rest between each sprint is minimal – a few seconds at most. You’re working on your speed-endurance here; not sprint mechanics, not fat loss, just your ability to exert a near-maximal sprint effort repeatedly.
I advise you to do this in sets of 2 initially, taking a minute’s rest between each set. Aim for 3 to 4 sets the first session. As you become fitter, you can add a ‘rep’ to each set (so instead of 2 sprints per set, do 3).
Be warned, these can get vicious – but the beauty is in the pain.
As explained earlier, football is a sport that requires the use of different energy systems. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ll tell you the way to train these energy systems.
During a game, we walk, jog, and sprint – therefore our training should aim to mimic that.
Sprint from one goal to the other, jog the way back, then walk back again. That’s one rep.
You could do 3 or so reps as a whole set, rest and then go again.
With this type of training, you’re training all your energy systems simultaneously, and it’s a far more intelligent way to prepare for a football game then some crappy session on the treadmill.
To take it up another notch, do the above whilst dribbling a football. Not only does this increase the intensity, but it will also sharpen up your tekkers and transfer over to your match play.
From a purely conditioning perspective, boxers are probably the most finely-tuned of all athletes.
The sport requires phenomenal endurance allied with frequent bursts of power and explosiveness. I’ve dissed circuits on this site before, but if it’s purely fitness you’re after, boxing circuits will take care of you and then some – pad work, skipping, heavy bag, shadow boxing, and sparring will get you in the shape of your life. When I was doing boxing training my conditioning during 11-a-side games was unparalleled.
Note: Don’t overdo it. You’re trying to get fit for football, so one session a week should suffice.
4) Lift two times a week (or three if your body can handle it)
Keep your sessions short and intense, and don’t try to become a bodybuilder. Generally I advise you to keep the reps between 3 and 8, stay away from most machines, and train either full body, or use an upper/lower split.
There you have it folks. There is so much to talk about on this topic, but I didn’t want to make this post too long, so I’ll end it here for now.
Follow these tips and you will be sure to develop iron lungs that go right until the end, and if you have any comments or questions feel free to hit me up.