Conditioning for High Performance
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Focus on Football
A true belief in strength & conditioning principles is relatively fresh in professional football, I still see players who believe that lifting weights makes them heavy, slow & suppresses their playing performance. This is nonsense of course as many professional footballers & other elite athletes in both individual & team sports lift weights, seriously heavy weights! They also employ a variety of other physiological conditioning techniques that are proven athletic ability enhancers. I would like to highlight the importance of conditioning players appropriately through a variety of techniques that enhance performance, lower injury risks & aid in creating a winning team.
Strength training principles
Explosive power & speed is crucial in deciding many important match moments, these usually occur with a change of direction followed by a short acceleration of 10 meters & high speed sprinting up to 30 meters to challenge an opponent, pass the ball or shoot. The quicker the player can get from A to B significantly improves chances of success once there.
Developing Explosive Power
Resistance training encourages adaptive change to occur within the morphology, architecture & nervous system of skeletal muscle. In simple terms lifting weights can change the muscles structure at a cellular level, increase the muscles cross sectional area, stiffen the tendons & improve the neural input into the muscles. These changes contribute to a marked increase in the muscles maximal contractile force. Athletes who perform at higher levels have been shown to possess greater maximal explosive strength than those who participate at lower levels in the same sport. This is true across many sports.
Maximal Muscle Strength & RFD
Maximal strength in young elite footballers has been shown to increase by 20-50% in response to heavy resistance training in as little as 8-16 weeks. In addition research has highlighted parallel gains in rate of force development (RFD). High RFD reflects the neural systems ability to generate very steep increases in muscle force in a fraction of a second, a very desirable functional outcome for a player.
Does Strength Training Interfere with Endurance Capability?
Research completed on endurance athletes who concurrently trained the aerobic system & completed heavy resistance training, actually demonstrated increases in both short term <15 minutes & long term >30 minutes endurance capacity as well as greater maximal strength & RFD following the training period. The physiological adaptations & benefits are detailed below.
Aagaard & Andersen (2010)
The What, When and How of Resistance Training
What resistance / sets / reps / frequency during in season?
Gains in maximal strength can be seen with as little as twice weekly resistance training using 3 to 4 sets of 2-4 reps with a varying resistance of 75-95% of 1 rep max. Strength training can be cycled over repetitive 4 week blocks to maximise physiological responses & recovery.
The are many exercise s that produce different outcomes, I would suggest keeping good compound lifts as a must, if your players can lift well then adding in or exchanging either full Olympic lifts or their variants allow the player to maximise physiological adaptations & provides variety in training. Here are a few suggestions I would include:
1- Back Squat
2 – Romanian Dead Lift (RDL)
3 – Mid-Thigh Pull (MTP)
Sample Training Plan: 12 Weeks
Being strong & powerful is an extremely useful attribute for a player; however being able to harness & utilise these trained attributes into usable on field speed will provide the rewards. It is fairly easy to implement but don’t rely on lifting weights alone, technical proficiency is the key to speed.
Translating Strength into Speed
In the last section emphasis was placed on lifting heavy weights to gain maximal strength & power during the in-season phase. In this section I wanted to discuss how we translate this new strength into usable speed on the field.
High speed movements such as sprinting & jumping utilise the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) where muscle tendon units allow a stretch before shortening rapidly. The stretch stores elastic energy within both the tendon & also within the series elastic component of the muscle. There are many reported mechanisms that demonstrate the SSC increases velocity & power output. There are many plyometric exercises coaches can provide with various levels of intensity, however to get the desired effect I would aim for one or two that are performed with high aptitude.
Plyometric exercises are not inherently dangerous but can be demanding, safety is an important consideration so ensure you complete a sufficient warm up, lead up drills and use an appropriate intensity and volume of exercise that is comparable with your personal conditioning level. Like any mode of training before selecting higher level plyometric exercise you should have completed a training block with lower intensity jumping to allow sufficient physiological adaptation. This may include Pogos' Squat jumps, Tuck jumps, Hurdle jumps and Hopping variants before progressing to higher intensity depth jumping. Baechle & Earle (2008) is an excellent resource for anyone starting their plyometric journey.
Here is my favourite: Box to Box Depth Jump
Focus - Short snappy contact phase
Box height – start with 30cm
Frequency – 1-2 per week with 72 hours between sessions
Recovery – 10 sec between reps & 2-3mins between sets
Volume – start with 40 contacts per session (4x10)
Postural Integrity & Sprinting Mechanics
Optimising posture for starting, accelerating & maintaining maximal speed are critical to athletes in any sport. The action of the arms and legs must be co-ordinated to maximise force delivery during contact phases of the sprinting cycle. Therefore teaching players the correct mechanics for all phase of sprinting are crucial in maximising every individuals speed
Running drills that reinforce perfect technique are simplified versions of specific movement patterns. They break down the sprinting pattern into the start, the acceleration & maximal velocity phases and allow the player to rehearse key technical elements for each phase.
The Start & Acceleration Phase
Requires a low hip position that allows a powerful hip extension to occur through a fairly rigid torso. Running drills to develop the start & acceleration phase are the 3 point start.
The Transition Phase
Acceleration to maximal velocity sees a shift in posture from a driving acceleration to an upright posture that allows maximal force generation. The emphasis is for both a high hip & knee position. Running drills to develop technique during maximum velocity are skipping A & B drives
The introduction of performance based strength & conditioning principals can seriously enhance individual & team performance. Initiate a structured, progressive and consistent training plan that fits into your regular training and reap the rewards.
Aagaard & Andersen (2010). Effects of strength training on endurance capacity in top-level endurance athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports Suppl 2(s2):39-47.
Baechle & Earle (2008). Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning. NSCA. Human Kinetics.
Cardinale & Nosaka (2011). Strength & Conditioning, Biological Principles & Practical Applications. Wiley-Blackwell.
Fleck & Kraemer (2004). Designing Resistance Training Programs. Human Kinetics.
Joyce & Lewindon (2014). High-Performance Training for Sports. Human Kinetics.
Kobal et al (2016). Effects of different combinations of strength, power and plyometric training on the physical perfromance of elite young soccer players. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 31(6)/1468–1476.
Zatsiorsky & Kraemer (2006). Science & Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics.