Conditioning is absolutely crucial for overall fitness, as well as speed of play and final half effectiveness. Fartlek is one strategy proven to be extremely effective for soccer athletes, male and female. Soccer, football as it is commonly known elsewhere in the world, is one of the oldest team based sports on the planet. It requires a person to run a bit more than the length of an American football field (approximately 110 yards) consistently for approximately 90 minutes. It also requires dexterity, suppleness, and a presence of mind to concentrate on using feet and legs as hands and arms. It is no surprise that soccer is the most popular game in the world, and it is also no surprise that strength training and conditioning for soccer is probably more focused than other sports.
Soccer-specific strength and fitness training is crucial for success at the sports highest levels, youth or adult. Soccer players require a combination of aerobic and anaerobic fitness due to the nature of the game and the fact that there is continuous movement with lots of short bursts of more intense activity.
Aerobic fitness is tied to oxygen use and anaerobic fitness is tied to work, power and strength. Soccer fitness is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic fitness with further specialization for each person’s age and position. Conditioning for soccer is not one size or one program fits all sort of endeavor. It is often necessary to concentrate on mental training and motor skills when dealing with younger soccer athletes because conditioning and speed training is not easily connected or does not have an impact on those younger than the beginning teen years, except with a very small and select group of “premier” level athletes. After puberty, strength and conditioning training can and should have a major effect, however sessions should be focused and controlled, based on the age and sex of the soccer athlete. Also remember that strength and conditioning sessions develop a better player but are not a replacement for individual foot skill, vision, and teamwork. However, when training is done consistently, over a period of months, amazing results are possible.
One form of aerobic fitness training for soccer is called Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish. Fartlek is a form of conditioning that puts stress on the aerobic energy system by keeping the athlete moving, without stopping for long periods of time. How this differs from a regular continuous running and/or circuit training is in the variation of speeds involved, variation that taxes the body and causing the individual to adapt to the strain. Fartlek sessions last approximately 45 minutes and use everything from walking to sprints. Fartlek deals with one of the most important things in soccer: speed of play. Soccer athletes are required to accelerate quickly, have a high maximum speed, react quickly, be able to change direction, and be able to sustain their speed. Fartlek and plyometrics (exercises that allow muscles to reach maximum force quickly) round out a aerobic workout and great amazing results during a relatively short training schedule.
Anaerobic training for soccer athletes is focused more on maintaining a lean physique that is not over muscled and inflexible. Soccer athletes are required to have high-speed and endurance, as well as be able to take the physical pain and punishment that often comes with contact. Push-ups and squats have made up much of the old-school approach to soccer strength training. Push-ups develop shoulders and the core muscles, and create a more well-rounded player. Squats develop power and speed for legs. However, while great exercises, alone they are woefully inadequate for overall development of top-caliber players.
Conditioning for soccer has varied mainly by age, rather than gender. This is incorrect and does not deal with the very specific requirements, and differences, between men and women, boys and girls. The older the soccer athlete is, the more he or she will see the benefits of strength and fitness training. However, when properly administered, sex-specific and soccer-specific strength and fitness training can have a dramatic impact on the physique and the play of youth soccer athletes. The proper conditioning program, combined with strength and fitness training will keep a player strong yet lean, increase the their oxygen intake, and increase their speed of play. The proper balance of training, aerobic, such as fartlek, and strength an fitness, such as circuit training, will also provide for greater body control and reduce the risk of injury. Sex-specific, sport-specific strength and fitness training, combined with aerobic training will enhance a player’s strength, endurance, confidence, speed of play, and quality of play. Today’s top athletes, amateur or professional, must find and use a balanced program of fitness to play at peak levels.
The various programs offering training for sex-specific and soccer-specific vary from comprehensive and very good, to woefully inadequate and years behind the times. The need for an overall, focused, and individually designed program of strength an fitness training cannot be overstated. I have been training athletes since the early 1980s and the difference between athletes who train properly and with weights and resistance machines, and those who do not is pronounced. If it is your desire to play at the highest levels or you know someone who has that as their goal, they must commence the proper strength and fitness program immediately!