In this article, I would like to touch “pros and cons” topics in short and try to find some mistakes both sides maybe make (maybe it sounded a bit arrogant, but I am going to present just my humble opinion to you). Mr. Raymond Verheijen’s (Australian, Portuguese, Spanish… football school – or similar) philosophy on the one side and American (German, English…) philosophy on the another side. I will be talking about pro level mostly.
Mr. Raymond Verheijen is a Dutch football (read soccer) physical preparation coach who has more and more followers for a reason. He is well known like a big critic of some elite English football teams. In short, we will see that his philosophy is not bad at all. He is the creator of the “Football Conditioning” and the “Periodisation Model”.
In short, the main parts of his philosophy are:
- Only former football players could become high quality physical preparation coaches in football;
- “Load tracking” and almost every single exercise when it comes to physical preparation should be in highly football specific conditions (it means everything/any motoric ability can be improved and maintained through the football-specific drills – game related football exercises). Players train harder when exercises are competition based e.g. game orientated not isolated;
- Everything important can be improved through the “play” – we just need to change the number of players in accordance with current training period and training goal (tactics);
- There is no reason for doing “heavy gym” exercises (he means on big compound lifts mostly);
- Conditioning is football training, football training is conditioning (the total running distance is not a decisive factor);
- Football is your starting point – not Fitness.
So, we see that Mr. Raymond Verheijen has more compound approach to training (everything is highly football specific) which is not bad on one hand. I am not going to discuss now about his training load, programming, planning/periodisation model/philosophy because it would take too much space and trust me – it’s done pretty well! Ok, ok, in very short 🙂 :
Week 1 and 2
Week 3 and 4
Week 5 and 6
Explosivity Preparation Exercises (EPE) – High volume
Football Sprints (FS) with short rests (Quantity)
Football Sprints with long rests (Quality)
11v11 / 8v8 (play)
7v7 / 5v5 (play)
4v4 / 3v3 (play)
On the chart above you can see Verheijen’s basic simplified six weeks periodisation model.
Blocks of 2 weeks:
- Generally at the start of pre-season if you try to play with a high intensity you can’t maintain for very long;
- So we start with high volume (11v11/8v8) and move to high intensity (4v4,3v3);
- We go from quantity to quality;
- We must complete EPE‟s in the first two weeks of every cycle in order to prepare the body for the explosive actions to follow.
Verheijen says: “To cut a long story short, with this approach your team will be as fit as any other team & look even fitter as no accumulation of fatigue. And more importantly, you will have significantly less injuries so you can train&play more often with best players to develop strongest team. The result is players with more explosive runs for longer periods throughout the games, faster recovery, less tendency to fatigue and less injuries + more enjoyment for the player.”
At the other side, Americans like/prefer isolated work more. In short, their main parts of philosophy are:
- Work on every type of strength (“heavy gym training”/big compound lifts especially) training is among the most important things for almost any athlete (resistance training especially);
- SAQ, power and conditioning work is more isolated because of better results and easier load tracking;
- Isolated injury prevention/reduction work is imperative almost every training session;
- Testing is important part because on that way we can see someone’s progress.
So, we see that Americans have more isolated approach to training.
Let’s start with my comments on both philosophies now (I will try to be as shortest as possible)…
I am always getting mad when someone says I/we can’t be good physical preparation coach(es) in soccer because I/we didn’t practice it. Hey… common… this kind of discrimination is ridiculous in the least! I will always study more than almost any former soccer player because they mostly think that already know almost everything about soccer – it’s the something most dangerous! If we know the principles, we need to learn about soccer game a bit and that’s all. But be careful, learning principles isn’t easy at all – it requires a multi-year effort! Because it’s easy to make players just tired, but our job is to make players better!
“One of the signs of a good coach is that he can admit to mistakes and continue to make progress.” – Mike Boyle
A many years ago I became a person who has been looking at clock very often. It’s amazing how often I have been guessing the right time after a while without looking (sometimes the exact minute)! In short, “the brain experience” is a miracle – give him enough time and you will be rewarded with GUESSING and PREDICTING! Among the other things, that’s why an experience is something high valuable in any profession and life in general!
The essence is in hard working on gaining knowledge (lifelong gaining) and taking essentials about soccer game (and about most vulnerable/injury prone body points on soccer’s body). After all, maybe the most important part of physical preparation in almost any professional team sport TODAY is injury prevention/reduction and recovery, so every physical preparation coach is starting from the same point (you can’t gain that knowledge by playing soccer). Strength training = preventive training (among other things), period. Work on proprioception/balance is just one small, almost insignificant part (there is a bunch of exercises where you can “kill 2 birds with one stone” – strength and balance a bit). Pick exercises that improve your weaknesses and do it with perfect but individualized technique because: “Strength is one of the best injury prevention tools in sport, but getting injured while training not to get injured is as stupid as it sounds. What trainee wants to be injured? Any takers? I gave up the macho crap years ago. I just want results.” – Mike Boyle
“There are no hidden exercises. The secret lies in smart and simple programming.” – Jim Wendler
“Injuries in the gym have more to do with poor form and poor programming than the exercise itself. Exercises are tools. You are the carpenter. A good carpenter never blames his tools.” – Bret Contreras
“When injured, an athlete cannot gain size, strength, power or skills. So injury prevention should be a priority of every coach and athlete.” – Christian Thibaudeau
While I was reading Raymond’s texts I got the impression that soccer coaches don’t need physical preparation coaches at all. His philosophy could be carried out by the head coach only or with the assistance of another SOCCER coach(es) better said. He says that ex players have huge potential to become better coaches than those who didn’t play football (my opinion is that we need to leave head soccer coaches to do what they know the best and we need to give suggestions about the load when it comes to game related drills – and to pay attention on some another details…). But if you know what are the main tasks of physical preparation coaches in modern pro sport today (maintanance of high force level in muscles by doing high quality resistance training, injury prevention/reduction, watching and encouraging technique correction when players are under fatigue, recovery training methods, movement economy and correction of details which often requires individual work…), you realize that it’s not that simple and you (a soccer coach) can’t manage everything by yourself – because it’s the huge science by itself (requires years of learning to understand)… Moreover, athletes have become better (I mean on their bodies) by including smart unspecific workload in training (individual sports especially) – but more about that soon. Of course, every effort can be almost useless if player doesn’t have the high quality “soccer brain” in every sense.
Highly football/soccer specific conditioning is definitely something high valuable but trainers should carefully approach to this. In my opinion, it wouldn’t be smart to put players under specific conditioning nonstop. They need rest from specific work, especially during “in season” where they have a lot of highly specific load (hard trainings and games + psychological stress). Some short general (basic) exercising in nature (1 day of changing environment) when “weak” or “not important” opponent is coming up next match is something high valuable from the CNS resting standpoint. CNS is tired of specific work FROM TIME TO TIME (whatever the intensity is) and short change could make a big difference. Players train harder when exercises are competition based for sure, but it doesn’t mean that players need to train hard every training. Hard and highly specific training could make trouble with injuries for some players whose bodies can’t adapt on permanent hard work. I am sure that they love soccer the most, but they could be bored and tired by doing it nonstop and it could end up with injury (it’s more complicated than most of trainers think). “It sounds counterintuitive, but playing multiple sports helps with recovery. An athlete who plays soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball or track in the spring prevents pattern overload and stays fresh. That athlete is less likely to burn out.” – Tony Gentilcore. Of course, this is more for kids – but we agree that pattern overload exists.
“As your off-season goes on, make it a goal to get more and more specific with your conditioning. Whether it speeding up and slowing down, changing direction, or even getting some skill work in, the more specific you can make your conditioning, the better!” – Mike Robertson
Second, it’s a quite challenging to track the load by doing soccer specific drill. 11v11 / 8v8 (play) is recommended during first 2 weeks. But as I said, I think that there is high injury risk even if players don’t have highly specific tactic tasks (too early for that). Injury risk is high because players are not ready for repetitive duels yet. This is the good option only when some team has already come ready from resting period after season and off season lasts only a few weeks. Or, it’s good option if team has some specific task/modification during the play (no-contact rule for example). Carefully, soccer ball is the bait – like any other ball in general (some players could reach unwanted higher intensity pretty quick – especially when it comes to eccentric muscle force during agility and quickness)! Maybe an attacking 11v0 tactics is better option. Or defensive tactics in the “demonstration rhythm”. In general, everything should be slower in the beginning.
I am sure that coach Verheijen gives loads wisely (very well done with rest periods, tasks, number of players) but it’s not everything about the load only. Someone could overload insensibly by doing the ball work only (as I said, it’s not easy to track the load – basically it’s almost impossible to control the load). The load aside, if you make only soccer moves it could make posture, muscles, joints issues after a while (it could manifest through the compensatory movements, earlier gas out or similar because of bad economy, injuries…). When it comes to physical preparation, overall body strengthening with different joint angles including some soccer vulnerable muscle groups/joints (hams, groins, deep ABS/core, knees, ankles, hips…) is something the most important, and we can’t make highly resistant body by playing soccer only or by doing things with the ball only.
Most of things (speed, agility, quickness, aerobic and anaerobic endurance), if properly designed (it’s not easy at all – soccer coach needs to be highly knowledgeable and organized), you can improve and should be improved through the training on the best way – everything is highly SPECIFIC (but coach needs to be accurate with soccer specific drills – tasks of each player, rest periods, sets, reps, speed…). But there is one problem, you can’t improve strength through the game/training (especially strength of some critical muscles for injury free soccer – upper body, all deep muscles around hips, deep abs, glutes, hams, groins…). Remember, the optimum strength is the necessary base for everything! Don’t forget that mentioned abilities above you can maintain by playing games also, that’s why physical preparation isn’t important too much during in-season (just basic maintaining is important) especially if some team plays a lot. Players could be overloaded very easy in opposite (I am talking about players who play the most matches).
“For me training means to train in specificity. That is, to create exercises that allow me to exacerbate my principles of play.” (Mourinho, in Amieiro et al, 2006). – Definitely the best way to improve soccer skills and peaking for games, but be careful…
Actually, the original developer of the tactical periodisation approach is Portuguese professor Vitor Frade, and Mourinho is his the most famous “apprentice”. Of course, Verheijen’s philosophy is similar.
“I do not want my team to have peaks in performance. I do not want my team to swing performance. Rather than that, I prefer to keep ALWAYS high levels of performance. This is because to me there aren’t periods or games more important than others.” (Mourinho, in Amieiro et al, 2006). In my opinion, this is simply IMPOSSIBLE according to all the laws of sports training (we are talking here about the best soccer teams in the World – so competition is strongest)! I mean you can make it if your team has around 30 well-coordinated substitutes who are at the same playing level like the first 11 players… It’s crazy how many games top teams have per season and players are not machines by all means.
“We can differentiate among traditional analytical training where the different factors are trained in isolation, the integrated training, which uses the ball but where the fundamental concerns are not very different from the traditional one; and there is my way of training, which is called Tactical Periodization. It has nothing to do with the previous two even though many people could think so.” (Mourinho, J. in Gaiteiro, 2006). So well said, when it comes to technical-tactical part and some parts of physical preparation there is no better way of training!
“Everything is related to the way in which we practice. We don’t have room for physical training; for traditional endurance, strength or speed training. It’s really all about behavior! We work on our playing model, we work on our playing principles and playing sub-principles, we ensure that the players adapt to ideas that are common to all, as a means of establishing the same behavior language. We work exclusively on the match situations that interest me, we plan the week according to our thinking on recovery time, training and matches, progressiveness and alternation. We create habits with the aim of maintaining the team’s fitness, which manifests itself in ensuring we are frequently “playing well.” – Jose Mourinho. If you don’t have room for strength training, you could be in a trouble! High level of max strength = high base for top on-field performance (lower level of max strength = lower level of explosiveness which pretty sucks; during the in-season players should maintain max strength by doing heavy lifts approximately every 5 days – sessions no longer than 30-45 mins)! If you want to express a full body potential which will help a lot in being better player, you need to squat – hinge – lunge – horizontal/vertical push – horizontal/vertical pull – carry… a lot! Of course, the best players are players with the best “soccer brains” and very often just decent bodies. Give your body chance to become better! The most of the world’s best players could be even better…
But: “Some players might be able to get to the pros without spending much time in the weight room but if you want to stay there, it needs to be part of the daily routine.” – Tim DiFrancesco (a former longtime LA Lakers head S&C coach). The long-term resilience we can build only on this way! I would just add: “Of course you can reach pro level if you don’t go to the weight room, but you need weight room if you want to achieve your full body potential which will help a lot during play over time.” I bet every single player would like to achieve his/her full potential but many of them are not aware what is their full potential and what they NEED, with the aim of reaching it (lack of proper education).
“I’ve seen lifters and athletes make significant mistakes in their training, and I’ve watched them succeed regardless. They would’ve done even better had they made wiser choices, but work ethic is what matters most.” – Charles Staley
I agree that the total running distance is not a decisive factor, and the best way of conditioning building is through the specific training – game related soccer exercises (“killing a few birds with one stone” – technique/tactic, specific agility/quick decision making…). Total running distance means nothing if it’s “without brain running”. Who wants useless player who can be “everywhere” on the field? I think that’s exactly the problem with isolated work (used mostly by Americans). They have a lot of players who didn’t learn to think clearly on field because their conditioning work was isolated (they can run a lot but lack of technical/tactical skills). They aren’t properly prepared for SOCCER! They are strong but don’t have “specific soccer conditioning” and other important abilities correlated within.
Many soccer players don’t like isolated gym strength training (separated from the field) but need to realize that it’s necessary if they want to become better (that culture coaches need to make when they are young players). Isolated development of many abilities works only with kids in periods when they naturally develop some motor skills/abilities (agility/fast feet/coordination ladders for example – but it’s ok for extended “specific” warming up for adults). Many of isolated work, except strength training and strength derivatives (plyo, power), have no big REAL transfer on sports field, even in combination with ball in same exercise – predictable exercise where the tasks are previously known (it’s always almost useless when the tasks are known and predictable – especially for pro athletes). Here, I am talking about coordination, agility, speed, conditioning (I mean, of course that you can be faster when it comes to speed/agility work but after the decision has been made – more on this later). Everything should be done within highly specific soccer drills and the big role here plays soccer coach – physical preparation coaches should only give instructions about sets/reps/brakes/speed/time, help in organization and try to figure out who is tired, who moves bad – has bad movement patterns… Soccer coaches need to think about which exercise to give (according to teams needs/tactics).
Isolated injury prevention/reduction work is imperative/must-do in almost every training session. This is the BIG true! If trainer truly understand how human body/joints work (“joint by joint” approach to training) just a few smart exercises during warm up can do a lot when it comes to injury prevention/reduction. Thanks to Americans (Mike Boyle, Gray Cook…), we have a powerful tool for our players. But don’t forget strength training and SMR techniques (foam rolling for example) when it comes to injury prevention/reduction 😉 !
In a systematic review of over 26,000 subjects, it was found that strengthening-alone reduced overuse sports injuries by 50%, and acute sports injuries by 33%, whereas stretching-alone provided no protective benefit (Lauersen et al, 2014).
Testing is something important for sure but depends on what type of testing (I will not be writing about some useful medical tests here – comprehensive medical examination is something must-do before starting any preparatory period – off season). Testing with the aim of finding weak/strong links/points of individual body and compensatory movements according to this is something must-do (FMS, SFMA, Thomas t., Beighton t., joints ROM…) because the injury prevention/reduction is one of the main goals for physical preparation coaches (I mean you can’t absolutely predict and prevent injuries – it’s not that simple, but you can minimize the likelihood of non-contact injuries especially)! My opinion is that other types of testing are almost useless – especially some “specific” agility/speed/endurance tests (“T” test, “93639” test, “Illinois” agility test, “Zig-Zag” test, “Balsom” agility test, “20 yards” test, “3-Cone Shuttle Drill” Test, “Beep” test…). The best test is ability to quality play! They simply aren’t specific. Someone could improve results in this tests by doing quality training and players feel more confident which is normal, but it could means nothing for practice/game if players don’t possess good “game reading” ability (good anticipation, “high quality brain” in general). What if they practiced test by themselves and naturally became better? Maybe that tests are good only for already HIGH quality players. If they see decent improvements (it can’t be huge) it mostly means that strength/power/plyo training works (if it’s something new to players) and they are already better players (more complete athletes/players – possessing of better overall athleticism).
“For example, the athlete might have good aerobic capacity, but very poor movement efficiency (for example very inefficient change of direction that costs him time and energy).” – Mladen Jovanovic. That’s why learning a proper SAQ technique is so important in early player’s age (and strength as a base of course). It makes sense that the same athlete would be a way better during the same endurance test and play (which is more important).
“If I choose the Yo-Yo test, I might not be able to use the data to plan the training. I might not know whether the performance is limited due poor mechanics, poor aerobic capacity, poor anaerobic reserve, poor intra-test recovery and so forth. If I choose the 1500m time-trial, I might not know how the athlete might perform in COD conditioning drills, whether his performance was limited by bad pacing, and so forth.” – Mladen Jovanovic
Even a field testing with the aim of finding an individual MAS (maximal aerobic speed) is also almost useless although it’s highly precise. It’s not bad to use it from time to time but soccer players need a ball and specificity. It would be better if we find a way how to include a ball, unpredictability a bit and control load pretty well along with that. Soccer players are not track & field runners. We can modify “MAS or around MAS training” with including a lot of changing directions but it’s still mostly linear, predictable and without a ball running. It’s pretty challengeable to organize everything with a ball but for sure that’s the most effective way of working on conditioning – soccer conditioning. It doesn’t need to be over complicated (you cannot precisely control everything, experience by itself can tell you a lot), start with simple play with modified rules (and a number of players often) or/and small sided games.
Unfortunately, when it comes to technology gadgets in sport – most are useless (when it comes to certain things, you should listen to both your athletes and your intuition more). Soccer is pretty complex activity (as well as the human body of course) to predict and conclude anything with high percentage of accuracy (talking still about testing). Maybe some gadgets, when it comes to finding how much tired – ready for something (and similar) someone is, are usefull but experienced and honest players can notice/feel it almost unmistakable. For example, “BioForce HRV” helps you objectify how you feel, how your body is recovering, and helps you determine how hard you should train on any given day (it tracks your heart rate variability, which is an indicator of autonomic nervous system function and recovery). Anyway, if you can’t predict complex things you can use the proven things to reduce number of contact and especially non-contact injuries, and make moves more economical (that’s why the basic movement screens are the most usefull tests).
If you coach explosive exercises, “Coach’s Eye” fitness app is not bad because it allows you to record exercises on your phone and then play them back in frame-by-frame slow motion.
If you’re serious about training, you need to be serious about recovery. And improving the quality of your sleep can be an absolute game changer. “Sleep Pillow” app can help you if you are struggling with sleeping quality. If you like meditation, “Headspace” app is not a bad choice (the great thing about Headspace is that it only takes 10 minutes, a quiet room, and some headphones).
Americans (most of them) pay attention on separated details a lot in general – not only when it comes to testing (by using technology often) and this is the fault of the “bad science” for sure (non-practical science). This is so hard to control because it’s impossible to control everything, and more holistic approach to training (when it comes to some things) is better in my opinion (Verheijen’s approach is more holistic). The medicine is a good example when it comes to paying attention on details a loooot. Human body is soooo complex and holistic approach to medicine is even more popular today. Of course, science should carry about details but don’t forget that human body has a huge healing power by itself – stop trying to understand everything if you aren’t a scientist (we, nor scientists, will probably never understand everything) and turn on your powerful intuition more often. Remember, there is no 100% correct recipes – so save your time. Stick to the basic principles of training and think about details less because you train up to 30 players at the same time daily. Details are more reserved for 1 on 1 sessions when it comes to some things – pristine and flawless technique for example (because it’s not exact the same for each player).
Now, I would like to comment a quote found recently…
“If you put football players on a bike, they will shorten their hamstrings. If you look at a cyclist, when he steps off a bike his knees are always bent because in cycling you shorten your hamstrings while in football when you sprint and you shoot, so stretch your hamstrings. A lot of players who are on the bike regularly they will get hamstring problems. If football language was being used by fitness coaches, in other words the ability to maintain playing football for 90 minutes, then automatically you will use football exercises. The language you use determines the exercise that you use.” – Raymond Verheijen (taken from an interview).
Bike is not bad only if you have some recovery session (within first 18 hours after hard session or game – the best window for “blood cleaning”, the best immediately after game/session). Recovery means ALSO fast twitch muscle fibers recovery (predominantly used in game) by using them THE DAY AFTER game. Fast twitch muscle fibers recovery (faster CONCENTRIC moves) is the most important thing we need to pay attention on when it comes to recovery day in team sports – the first thing we need to recover after “blood cleaning” of waste (I am reading more and more that cold/ice baths/popular immersion are not as effective as people thought – hot-cold makes more sense as well as some another things; for more info check Gabe Mirkin’s website, his explanation really makes sense – otherwise, he has invented the famous RICE protocol and rejected it recently as a wrong one). “Being consistent with rest is as important as being consistent with training. One can’t thrive without the other.” – Eric Cressey. Recovery protocol on bike is perfect (but boring and not practical from the whole team standpoint) for that because there is NO eccentric muscle contractions (like going up stairs, sled work…) – good to prevent muscle soreness and injury risk because an athlete and his/her muscles are really exhausted (classic “eccentric” sports are horse-riding and skiing for example)! In any case, you could damage whole posture by riding a bike too much – because players don’t know the proper technique and bike setting up. Many trainers don’t realize that sometimes problem lays somewhere else – short hamstrings are not the cause of hams injury very often. A lot of players have APT (anterior pelvic tilt – we know what to strengthen and what to stretch in this case) and that is the real cause very often (APT = TIGHT hamstrings). In APT position, hams are too long – not short (if we know where hams are attached on pelvis). Because they are too long, they become tight and you can pull it by shooting the ball or reaching forward with straight or almost straight knee because hams become even longer on that way and injury risk is higher consequently (and, of course, it make sense that in APT position switching from ecc. to conc. muscle contraction is more risky if forces are high – and they are high very often). If any player shorten hams by riding bike often (I don’t think it’s even possible because if you deeply analyze working joints/muscles there is no any sense to think that), the problem is not bike but poor training for sure – there is nothing which should “prevent” this (not enough of hip mobility/dynamic flexibility drills during warm up, stretching, relaxation techniques, controlled and safe “full” ROM exercises…). APT can cause the problem with hams also by overloading hams during repeated hips extensions! Why? Because GLUTES are not firing fast or they are “inactive” enough to support hams – they should be the prime hip extensors! Hams become overloaded, tired and injury risk increases over time…
But think about the following when you are dealing with APT: “If we simply stretch the muscle that is tight, without reeducating the muscle that is weak, there will be no long term change for that muscle. There is a reason why muscle was tight in the first place.” – Dan John. Think about strengthening proper muscles and stretching (less) proper muscles with proper exercises and positions/motor control at first place (glutes, abs… + stretching hip flexors). Believe me, it will pay off not only when it comes to tight hams!
Again: “What’s the best mobility drill? It’s called intelligent strength training with pristine form and flawless technique.” – Dr. John Rusin
“Once you have enough range of motion and you can control it well, focus on building strength, capacity, and skill (don’t just focus on being MORE mobile).” – Ryan DeBell
“If you aren’t seeing results from stretching, then it’s not only a waste of time, but it may be working against you. The thing is, muscles don’t get longer; they maintain a certain tone or tightness based on neurological impulse. So yes, strategic stretching DOES work in terms of reducing tone and tightness (in the short and long term), but if it hasn’t worked for you by now, it’s probably not going to.” – Dr. John Rusin. Anyway, technically correct strength training with full ROM (it depend’s on person, goal and exercise), slower and faster dynamic flexebility warm up and SMR techniques should work better than when you do only static stretching after the training. Static stretching after the training works good only when it comes to reducing muscles tone (relax) and for accelerating recovery and reducing muscle soreness from time to time. I mean, you probably can get muscles longer if you passively stretch muscles, hold loooong time and scream how much painfull it is but… I think that you are not a maniac.
Be careful, increasing passive ROM, without being able to demonstrate you have strength through this range, will only increase the odds of getting injured in that range. It makes sense that “loaded dynamic stretching” (doing strength exercises with “full” ROM) is pretty usefull. “Pause squats” (and similar) are also popular now (dynamic and static flexibility combo, among the other valuable things).
Below you can see my philosophy (in short) when it comes to periodisation model for soccer physical preparation:
Biodinamic: strength endur. – hypertrophy – max. str. – plyo. and power (AM)
Bioenergetic: aerobic endur. – anaerobic endur. – SAQ – specific endur. (PM)
10 days 10 days 14 days 20 days
This is an example of the preparatory period of 54 days – until the first game and before a week of taper. Of course, it looks more like an isolated work of the main components but I like including more small sided games and some more specific drills when it comes to on-field training (PM trainings). Work on endurance comes like a first thing of the preparatory period, and plyometric and power work like a last thing (the most risky movements when it comes to injuries and players need to be properly prepared for that).
Of course, once you are done with one phase, you should be maintaining the gained ability through reducing the volume (number of weekly trainings, or inside some training – better) but maintain intensity of „specific“ exercising (per week) of some trained ability.
Now, I am going to shortly explain some parts of my periodisation model chart. You can even do aerobic training with light med. balls (variety of exercises under different joint angles), dumbells, jumping ropes, kettlebells… but if you did it in the morning with a bit higher than light load (strength endurance – circle method for example) than I suggest aerobic work with the ball (some prolonged specific drills with NO or a VERY short competetive intensity). Athletes can even run (non-ball exercises) but not often. Therefore, when it comes to aerobic training – the game oriented light drills are the most important („killing a few birds with one stone“). Or if you prefer more, you can do strength endurance training in the morning (weight room), and light med. ball work mixed with slower running in the evening (some teams prefer without-ball option first several days of the preparatory period – off season). Some prefer more slow introduction to training on that way – and that’s not the wrong approach. In general, there is no the single best approach to anything. We are testifying that the best teams are working a bit differently. Sometimes someone is champion but another time someone else. Somebody corresponds to a certain work but someone else does not. We are all different. In particular, no radical/big changes should be introduced to any formed/experienced team. At the end, players must believe in the coach’s work – that’s the most important!
When it comes to hypertrophy you don’t need it too much for soccer. Too much of hypertrophy can make really resilient soccer player but a bit slower on the field especially when it comes to acceleration, deceleration and changing directions as fast as possible (the law of inertia), which is crucial in soccer. The bigger hypertrophy is good only for sprint – look at sprinters (full speed part), but that’s not so often in soccer. You can do hypertrophy less days or skip it because you will work on it a bit (but enough for soccer) through the strength endurance at the begining of the prep. period and through the max strength training (5 reps). Pyramidal method is also good because we „kill 2 birds (max strength and hypertrohy) with one stone“. We can also use 10 reps for example, but 10th rep should be with max effort because on that way we also „kill the same 2 birds“. If 10th rep is submaximal, the influence on hypertr. is similar but there is no influence on max strength. So, when it comes to necessary strength training – isolated work is the only possible approach! But be careful, you need to own the movement before you do the exercise!
When it comes to max strength training, the best/safest load is from 85%-90% of 1RM! I would avoid 1RM (100%) because this is not a part of competition like in powerlifting – why to risk some injury with the highest load when we can reach the same benefits of 1RM with submaximal load mentioned above (but with max number of reps)? Yes, the last rep is your max but you are better prepared for that because of submax reps before. Anyway, you never know what exactly the 1RM number is – maybe an athlete came tired or with bad mood on testing, didn’t give his/her best for some reason when it comes to testing (that’s why I don’t like 1RM testing protocols). I know you need to find out how much is 90% of 1RM for example, but you can find it out really quick by using progressive trials during the session – rest between trials should be 4 mins at least (when you are able to do 4 reps at most it’s probably around 90% of 1RM). Also, even though I put max strength at morning (AM) try to lift heavy around 12 or a few hours after getting up because our intervertebral discs are full of water in the morning (that’s why we are taller a bit after getting up) and risk of disc protrusion increases because of that (I am talking about players who love back squat and some similar spine-loaded exercises, if I need to do it early in the morning my choice is always another exercise selection – but also highly effective one). By the way, this is the strong reason why you should be avoiding 1RM in the morning when it comes to back squat and similar.
It depends on MANY factors, but in most cases classic strength training should include the main moves (1-2 big compound lifts mostly) and accessory work (3-5 a bit less compound but still multijoint moves mostly).
When it comes to anaerobic endurance training (and soccer specific endurance tr. of course), I think that small sided soccer games and more specific soccer drills (like game at the bigger field with less players) are irreplaceable tool in modern soccer today. Trainers need to control intensity and duration of course. Isolated work in this case is probably wasting of time (it’s not soccer specific), even if you can control the load maybe on the best way by doing isolated work. You simply don’t improve a SOCCER endurance. Isolated work with the ball is less effective also. Small sided games or similar with certain tactical tasks/requirements are probably the best way in this case (but be sure to change players often so they don’t „adapt“ on the same players or tasks). If you take a look how good teams play, you can not see prolonged high intensity running (lactic work), so why should we train on that way? You can see only high intensive very short running (agility mostly) shifted with “rest” – slow or a bit harder aerobic work. Players need a good aerobic base because they will rest faster between explossive moves so they can do it more often – if needed. And they will be more efficient during high int. moves, but only if they have a strong basics and do specific aerobic work (work with a soccer ball). Good legs strength and drinking some home-made energy drink a few sips every 15-20 mins rather than water – and they can run pretty good. Asking me about supplements? The only safe/natural and provenly efficient one for now is creatine! Pure coffee like a stimulant isn’t bad pre-workout also…
„I see too many trainers coaching as if they were scientists: Everything is controlled, precise, calculated… But it looks artificial… No intensity, no do-or-die effort, no survival instinct… NO RESULTS!“ – Christian Thibaudeau. But don’t be overwhelmed by trying to control everything. Keep it simple (better for players and you both)!
When it comes to SAQ/plyo/power training (probably the most important skills for soccer players), the power of individual anticipation is decisive factor definitelly (game related drills are more valuable if you are a technically trained pro player and possess appropriate tactics), but if you didn’t learn a PROPER TECHNIQUE of these very demanding skills – you could have trouble with injuries and inefficiency (poor technique can mess up almost everything) later during professional career! When you are a pro, SAQ/plyo/power isolated work is necessary from time to time. Without PROPER technique and strength base players can’t make their best, can’t develop their max potential! Youth players and kids especially should work very often on this skills by isolated work exclusively (learning proper technique is possible only by isolated work). Remember that „motor patterns live in the brain“ – Charlie Weingroff. „Poor movement can exist anywhere in the body, but poor movement patterns can only exist in the brain.“ – Gray Cook. Everything is easier to learn when you are a kid because it takes a time we often lack when we are pro. Once decision has been made, a proper dosage of this drills (isolated work), if smartly applied, could even help pro players to become A BIT faster – more agile at small space (better/faster starting/stopping, acceleration, agility…) and better jumpers (everything really depends on many things and nobody can exactly tell it will happen and if it’s only because of the basic SAQ work – for example). Of course, everything is possible only if you have a good whole body strength base (you simply need to add some weights for results) and proper technique (isolated work) because: „Your brain is too smart to allow you to have full horsepower in a bad body position. It’s called muscle inhibition.“ – Gray Cook. But even if it can make your player a bit faster – more agile at small space (opinions are various on this topic), I found it almost useless because faster – more agile at small space in soccer means almost nothing if player doesn’t have a good ANTICIPATION (fast „game reading“ in general, and good tactics), it’s not easy to learn and requires/involves a lot of education and playing experience. Due to many factors (return to the formed patterns in stressful situations, the inner game, and so forth…), many good trainers agree that it’s very questionable whether an isolated fixing of agility techniques can do anything to make a good transfer to the field when it comes to already formed athletes especially (perhaps after forming a new automation that requires a very looooong time). Maybe it’s a waste of valuable time maybe not, but you will never make mistake if you are fixing both basic lifts and plyo technique (+ it’s less complicated to teach, and for athletes to realize, remember and repeat). Fear, suspicion and evaluation of movements should not exist because it disturbs the body in the manifestation of the natural process of learning, the process that is in our genes. For more info on this topic, check the inner game philosophy mentioned above.
Let’s see what Lee Taft thinks about common training tools: „A common training tool, like the agility ladder, step, hoops, and so on are never bad tools… The coach might perceive it as a useless tool because they don’t know how to use it to tackle a specific task, but the tool itself isn’t inherently bad. Judge a tools usefulness by how it can accomplish a task for your athlete – void of your personal opinion of the tool or past experience with a given tool.“ – Lee Taft
If you give kids „agility ladders“ almost daily do it with purpose of learning a proper technique first (a proper movement patterns) in a bit slower tempo. The main goal shouldn’t be improving some abilities – it will naturaly comes later and will be efficient/economic and easier if ones has already gained a proper basics. We know that ladder skills are pretty complex (like most skills) so we shouldn’t overload/confuse kids with too many cues but leave them to figure out alone, and help them if they can’t – step by step (it can take a time but that’s better than thinking about small details non-stop – overthinking). Our brains should naturally „figure out“ movement without any conscious thought (too many verbal instructions interfere with the process/ability of learning/execution of the movement when it comes to learning any skill), and we/coaches should clean up technique only if we see some highly injury-risk moves (poor motor control – more because of poor basics than muscle weakness). Again, learning basic motor patterns FIRST (basic strength and plyo work – correct progression). Remember, the automatization of the SAFE move/moving is always the ultimate goal, and it depends on the „motor talent“ whether some movement/moving will look more or less nice/beautiful.
“Ladders will NOT get an athlete faster because they don’t help with exerting force into the ground, which is a major component of speed (increased muscular strength = increased power output). However, they do serve a purpose, especially for young age groups learning mechanics, coordination, and body control. I’d also be remiss not to point out that ladders help kids to learn “athletic stance” so they’re able to move laterally quicker. Especially in the game of soccer, this stance is critical for tight space dribbling, defending, and getting into open space off the ball.” – Erica Suter
Free weights power work is more effective, but if you like med. balls work too – Mr. Lee knows it the best (he even includes med. balls in agility work very smart). Lee loves rubber bands also – don’t be lazy and take a look 🙂 . Speed parachutes and similar? Naaaah…, ask Charlie Francis 🙂 . Smart sled work could be effective also (I am not talking about sled towing – it mostly sucks because the body is less stable and sled can interfere with good/proper acceleration technique)… Two paragraphs below you can read Boyle’s thoughts about this.
Let’s see what coach Carl Valle says about medicine balls (it really makes sense): „Medicine balls aren’t tools to develop power as much as tools to express power you already have. Medicine balls are bridge tools to help transfer, but in my experience, they rarely deliver that transfer. Does that mean we shouldn’t use medicine balls? Of course not. It just means we need to use them with a tighter and more-speciifc strategy. Some people see medicine balls as upper body, trunk, and lower body tools to develop power, but they are more like tools to express the power you already have.“ Again, Olympic power lifts (and derivatives) are irreplaceable tools for now!
„Many coaches attempting to develop speed spend far too much time on technique drills, and far too little time on developing the specific power and specific strength necessary to run faster. Weighted sled drills target the specific muscles used in sprinting to help bridge the gap between form running drills and weight room exercises, like squats and olympic lifts.“ – Mike Boyle
In my opinion, sled workout works more when it comes to acceleration (which is so important in soccer) because the body is inclined down a bit which means more specific angle to acc.
„How do we develop speed, quickness and agility? Unfortinately, we need to do it the old fashioned way. You can play with ladders and bungee cords all you want, but that is like putting mag wheels on an escort. The key is to increase the horsepower, the brakes, and the accelerator.“ – Mike Boyle
„Force into the ground equals forward motion. This is why the athletes with the best vertical jumps are most often the fastest. It comes down to force production.“ – Mike Boyle. That’s why the plyo work is important. Work on strength first, then plyo work will reach your full potential when it comes to your best force production. Players with faster and higher force production make advantage very often! One interesting fact – it’s well known that Olympic lifters (and similar) are best vertical jumpers among athletes. Do you still beleive that big compound lifts aren’t something must-do in soccer?
„If you want to teach someone how to sprint or jump, fix their lifting mechanics on the basic human movement patterns. Teaching sprinting or jumping form without addressing basic movement patterns rarely works.“ – Dr. Joel Seedman
So, in pro soccer today, even if you become slightly faster and(or) a bit more agile by doing things mentioned above – it can make a difference in many situations (but again, after decision has been made).
At the begining of the preparatory period, the theory rule is a bit more of nonspecific strength exercises, but at the end less number of exercises – but they should be „more specific“. Anyway, you can’t make mistake with basic lifts/exercises never – they are already enough „specific“ and nonspecific at same time (of course, there is a variaty of another usefull exercises). Try not to make circus out of training by doing some „specific“ shooting-strength exercises with some load for example 🙂 . Specific shouldn’t means specific on that way – literally. Basic movement patterns are always specific because you can find them more or less everywhere. Of course, some of them are more for soccer (will be helpful) some less. Don’t forget single leg strength execises because they are tremendously beneficial (variations of lunges, step ups, split squats, single leg RDLS…). They play key roles in injury prevention/reduction and are more specific to most sports in general which is great (we use single leg moves during running, jumping, cutting, agility…). Sled work again, hmmm 😉 . When it comes to in-season, there is no sense to have isolated SAQ and plyo drills (I mean on separated trainings) because players have game related football exercises daily and play a lot – injury risk can increase (maybe just a bit like prolonged warm up – CNS arousal). But gym work (max strength maintaining mainly), at the other side, should be incorporated for sure – because only on that way players can maintain the „body force“ at high/optimal level (optimal level = optimal performance). Optimal level of max strength = optimal level of CNS functioning. You are only as strong as your BRAIN let’s you be! So, we see that our brains dictate everything. And by doing max strength, there is no plyo parts so injury risk is decreased (I am talking here about 4-5 reps per set). I’ve heard for one simple test made by Russians of how to check if your players are in a proper „sports shape“ (peak performance period) during the season. They just check their max grip strength by using hand dinamometer like an only tool (they have their data from the period when they were maximaly prepared). It make sense because if you are currently in „sports shape“ your grip strength will be the best possible one (the CNS condition is very important in sport and can tell you a lot). We know that the proper „sports shape“ can lasts no more than 2,5-3 months in a row. After that period, we need time to regain it or we can prolong it a BIT by making smart substitutions.
I almost forgot repeated sprint ability (RSA), it’s a key quality for soccer players (mix of the different essential abilities). Several training methods are possible: repeated sprint training, high-intensity interval training, small-sided games, strength training… Strength training is here because it can increase linear sprinting ability although actual changes are typically small. And since strength training can also increase change of direction ability, it lakely increase RSA in many cases. But remember, we know that RSA is a key for team sports – but the optimal training approach is unclear. Therefore, you should combine these valuable methods (derived and supplemented from: Bishop, D., Girard, O., Mendez-Villanueva, A., 2011. Sports Medicine, 41(9), 741-756).
FLEXIBILITY/MOBILITY/STABILITY (through warming up and proper variations in strength training technique sometimes), CONDITIONING, STRENGTH, AGILITY/SPEED, POWER AND PLYO is everything you need in soccer! Actually, you should work on every important ability every week (you work on many by modified play and similar), but put focus on the 1 more often and with more load during every developmental mesocycle in prep. period (it’s less injury risky than Issurin’s block periodisation where you need to work on 1 ability and totally exhaust it during mesocycle). Smart Training + Quality Nutrition + Planned Recovery + A Growth Mindset = Athletic Success!
Wait wait, what about BOSU ball and similar? No, please! Many smart trainers found it useless (maybe just like a very short part of warming up; for example, single leg balance exercises are not bad to train the ankles, core and lower body to work in a coordinated manner). For lower body work, keep your feet on solid ground and find other ways to introduce instability (basic split squat? Hmmm… 😉 ). Single-leg exercises are, by nature, “instability” training because of the smaller base of support. Because „We need to train for uneven surfaces instead of unstable ones.“ – Sue Falsone. Athletes never come in contact with a surface like the BOSU. By training lower body strength on BOSU ball, you simply can’t do your best with high load (you can’t excert high force) because the working muscles are LOSING one part of their energy on stabilizing the movement and therefore their full potential (of course, you work on small stabilizers, but that’s not the main goal during the classic strength training). „It works pretty well for athletes rehabbing lower body injuries to the knees and ankles, but can make certain foot problems worse. Unstable work helps people who’ve suffered lower limb injuries. People who’ve rolled their ankles and those who’ve had ACL or MCL injuries in their knees seem to benefit significantly from the increased muscle firing rate needed to manage unstable surfaces. But if you haven’t had these injuries, the benefits seem to be minimal after the initial adaptive phase where you learn to not fall on your face. Unstable surface training can actually make some conditions like plantar fasciitis or patellar tendinitis worse. The overused tissues have to work much harder to stay upright, so it tends to cause more flare ups. It might help a little with balance and reaction, but there are much better methods.“ – Dean Somerset
“First, the ground contact in many sports is very short, meaning the athlete contacts the ground, creates deformation in the surface, and then moves on to do it again at another position on the field/course. For a BOSU to replicate this, athletes would need to step on it and then move on to another surface or contact point. That means prolonged exposure to the unstable surface would be non-specific and provide minimal benefits unless they’re looking to compete in the BOSU Olympics. For athletes in sports like basketball, hockey, soccer, and football, they’d never come into contact with any surface remotely like a BOSU. That means they’d rarely see any specific benefit to it, unless you count the development of general fitness qualities like balance and reaction, which could be trained on any surface, including solid ground, and with reactive force applications like an opponent trying to move them. An athlete has to deal with unstable loading from changes of direction, contact with opponents, and varying speed more than he does adjusting to changing surfaces.” – Dean Somerset
“Lower body instability training should be used in much more sport-specific ways via different training methods on stable surfaces. It’s all about specificity. When a running back sprints downfield and gets tackled, the ground never moves underneath him even when his legs or body get hit other players. Thinking in terms sports-specificity, most athletic movements take place at high velocities and involve the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) to a great degree. Unstable surfaces lengthen the pause between the eccentric and concentric phase of SSC movements, so the force production that follows eccentric preloading is considerably less. It’s like trying to jump out of sand. You just can’t generate enough force because of any stored elastic energy is lost before you can activate it. Sure, UST may positively impact function in athletes with previous injuries and related proprioceptive deficits. But the bigger problem is that UST impairs SSC function in healthy athletes. As they say in the sports world, “If you train slow, you’ll be slow.” And UST forces you to train slowly.” – Eric Cressey
So, let’s conclude… Nobody is ideal – deeply analyze by trying and thinking and take something from the both sides! Make smart combinations – combinations that work! Only on that way you have the chance to become an elite physical preparation coach!
Last but not least (important quick reminder), don’t avoid gym/big basic (core) movements/lifts (lunges, squats, deadlifts…)! Don’t avoid something that works! Gym is irreplaceable tool in modern sport today! Among the other things, big compound moves can give you a lot!
„Remember: The simplest, most fundamental part of our job is to get people/players stronger.“ – Mike Boyle
„If you think lifting weights is dangerous, try being weak. Being weak is dangerous.“ – Bret Contreras
Of course, maybe the best preparation for the game is playing by itself but you need to have a STRONG basis for that (by all means)! Hands down, technique/tactics and psychology are more important for players of course, but a proper physical preparation by all means (injury prevention/reduction, resistance training, recovery…) is something players need if they want resilience and “self-confident body” (maximum of their body potential in general)! You can not improve everything IMPORTANT by the playing (and similar) only!
So, this post is maybe the best one I wrote so far – maybe not, but anyway: „I’m not that smart – I just study more.“ – Charlie Weingroff 🙂
Thanks for reading and all the best,