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Fitness in Soccer


Jan Van Winckel, Msc has a master’s degree in sports science from the University of Leuven, where he is attached to the Perception and Performance Laboratory. He has worked as a physical coach on four different continents ans already has more than 20 years Of experience with various top clubs. Jan is a co-founder of TopSportsLab, a spin-off that developed sports science innovations.

David Tenney, Msc has a master’s degree in sports sciences from California University of Pennsylvania. He has worked mainly as a physical coach in the Major Leagues Soccer(MLS) With the KC Wizards(2007-2008) and the Seattle Sounders(2009-). Before that, he was with George Mason University as Physical Coach for the men’s and women’s teams.

Professor Dr. Werner Helsen is a full professor at the University of Leuven in the Movement Coordination & Neuroplasticity research group. His research focuses on expert perception and performance on the one hand and talent detection and selection on the other, with special reference to soccer. He is a former professional football player, having played for over 25 years in the Belgian national leagues, as well as in the national youth selections. He was also involved 4 years as head-coach of football teams in the semi-professional second and third national league. Since 2000, he coached top referees at European and World Championships, as well as during the preparatory training camps and regular workshops. He is collaborating with UEFA and FIFA, the world's football governing bodies.

Prof. Dr. Paul Bradley is a Sport and Exercise Physiology Lecturer in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences. His general research area is the physiology of intermittent exercise, with special reference to soccer. His research focuses on the testing and conditioning of elite soccer players and he is currently collaborating with one of the world's leading research groups in this area at the University of Copenhagen.

Dr. Jean Pierre Meert is a physician, specialized in anaesthesiology and sports medicine. He has worked at various professional clubs such as K. Lierse SK and Zulte Waregem.

Dr. Kenny McMillan was awarded his PhD in Sports Physiology in 2005, researching endurance and strength interventions for soccer players. Kenny has been working in professional soccer for the last 15 years as a sports physiologist for various clubs such as Celtic FC in the Scottish Premer League, Newcastle FC and Aston Villa FC in the English Premiership, and the New Zealand national team. Kenny is currently Head of Physiology for the Football Performance & Science Department at the Aspire Academy in Qatar.


Fitness in Soccer

The science and practical application

Authors: Van Winckel J, Tenney D, Helsen W, McMillan K, Meert JP, Bradley P

ISBN-NUMBER : 9789082132304

Publisher: Moveo Ergo Sum / Leuven

408 pages

Fitness in Soccer

The Science and Practical Application

Fitness in soccer has undergone tremendous development over the last few years. Thanks to various technical aids such as heart rate monitors, GPS, iPads and other measuring instruments, the insight into soccer science has grown quickly. A lot of things that were part of the weekly training routine up to a few years ago are now being refuted. Fitness in soccer is a blend of science and applied practice and therefore an essential text for every soccer coach.

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    1. Training principles

    Werner Helsen, Kenny McMillan, David Tenney, Paul Bradley,
    Jean-Pierre Meert & Jan Van Winckel


    Performance in association football (known as soccer in North-America) depends upon a myriad of aspects, such as technical, tactical, physical and mental parameters. As with other sports, soccer is not a science, but science can assist in improving performance (Stolen et al., 2005) and preventing injury. Training principles are systematic summaries of scientific findings, and these are highly important for the appropriate organization of training sessions and competitions.

    They are defined as rules and methods that can be used to prepare a player or team for competition in a professional manner. Training principles provide a reliable guidance, and they are therefore important for coaches to understand in order to maximize performance and minimize the chance of failure.


    The Soviet scientist Yakovlev offered probably the first scientifically based explanation of fitness enhancement in 1955. Yakovlev demonstrated the phenomenon of “supercompensation” of muscle and liver glycogen and muscle phosphocreatine stores during recovery from exercise (Yakovlev, 1955).

    The training principle of supercompensation states that improvements only become evident after a period in which the accumulated fatigue from training can be reduced. A period of relative rest enables the results of training to be better reflected. Some important processes occur after the actual training session or match, a period when the players’ bodies are given valuable time to adapt to the training stimuli provided one or two days before. Therefore, rest or recovery should be considered an important phase in the overall training process.

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    2. Training models

    Jan Van Winckel, David Tenney, Kenny McMillan, Paul Bradley


    Training models are theoretical models that enable coaches to understand the training process and its impact on physical performance. These models can then be used as a framework to design training programs. Most coaches are aware of the supercompensation model (the one-factor model), which clearly explains why performance improves after a period of rest. Unfortunately, this model is incomplete, and it has been replaced over the last few decades by the fitness-fatigue model (the two-factor model). This model provides coaches with additional insight, enabling them to make more accurate predictions about the impacts of various training regimes. This allows the training loads of individual athletes to be anticipated and ultimately modified to suit their requirements. Clearly, the primary aim of any soccer training program is to ensure the players are in peak fitness on match day, so it is therefore important to also consider fatigue effects resulting from training and its eventual impact on match fitness.

    In recent years, a considerable amount of research has been published on the effect of different training models. A brief summary of this research is provided below, ranging from the original model from Hans Selye to the supercompensation model (the one-factor model) and the fitness-fatigue model (the two-factor model).

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    3. Physical demands of elite soccer match play

    Paul Bradley


    Time-motion analysis is a valuable data-collection technique used to quantify the match performances of elite soccer players (Carling et al., 2008). Interest has substantially grown in this area over the last decade, because it enables sports scientists to identify the current demands placed on players in competition and apply the data to training and testing protocols (Bradley et al., 2011). This has been driven, above all, by the availability of new technologies that help further our knowledge of training and testing modes to optimize soccer performance (Castellano et al., 2011). One such technology regularly used in elite soccer involves semi-automated monitoring through video tracking, using systems from match analysis companies, such as Prozone® and Amisco®, to simultaneously track the movements of all players, the referee and the ball. This chapter therefore aims to detail the factors that impact the physical demands of modern elite soccer with special reference to position, gender, and standard, as well as contextual influences and fatigue.


    The activity profile of soccer is intermittent, with players regularly alternating between brief bouts of high-intensity exercise and longer periods of low-intensity exercise (Rampinini et al., 2007). During elite matches, players cover 9–14 km of distance in total, with high-intensity exercise accounting for 1–3 km of this (Bangsbo et al., 1991; Bradley et al., 2009; Di Salvo et al., 2009; Mohr et al., 2003). This results in an average intensity of approximately 70% of maximal oxygen uptake and elicits blood lactate concentrations of 4-6 mmol/L (Mohr et al., 2005). However, expressing match intensity as an average value disguises the unique physiological stress induced during intense periods (Glaister, 2005). During these periods, heart rate (HR) can exceed 95% of its maximum, and peak blood lactate concentrations can reach 8-12 mmol/L (Ali and Farrelly, 1991; Bangsbo, 1994). During a typical English Premier League match, players stand still for 6% of the total time. Low-intensity activity represents 85% of the total time, which comprises 59% walking and 26% jogging. High-intensity activity represents 9% of the total time, which is broken down further into 6% running, 2% high-speed running, and 1% sprinting (Figure 3.1).

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    Jean-Pierre Meert, Sally Hara, David Tenney, Jan Van Winckel


    Nutrition can significantly influence a soccer player’s health and athletic performance. Most athletes realize that food choices are important, but many underestimate just how much of an impact the right dietary choices can have on success in their sport. Good nutrition cannot replace talent, skill, or physical training, but it can support and enhance all of these. When elite players compete, the small details often make the difference between a win and a loss. Diet is one such detail. The foods athletes choose for training and competition will affect their ability to train and compete. While attention is often given to the composition of pre-match meals, the everyday training diet is at least as important. A good diet helps promote adaptation to training, resulting in greater improvements for the same training load and/or skills practiced. It also provides nutrients to support the immune system, aid in post-exercise recovery, minimize injuries, and expedite recovery from injuries. There are many opinions about the best way for athletes to eat, but ultimately, nutrition is a science rather than an opinion. The emerging field of sports nutrition involves an understanding of biochemistry, bioenergetics, endocrinology, and exercise science that guides dietary recommendations to help optimize sport performance and associated health parameters.

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    Jan Van Winckel, Werner Helsen, Bart De Roover, Steven Vanharen


    The physical preparation of elite soccer players has become an indispensable part of contemporary professional soccer due to the high fitness levels required to cope with the ever-increasing energy demands of match play (Carling et al., 2008; Iaia et al., 2009). Team sport athletes require a high level of aerobic fitness in order to generate and maintain power output during repeated high-intensity efforts. A well-developed level of aerobic fitness also helps to recover quickly between these high-intensity efforts (Bishop and Spencer, 2004). This ability to recover between bouts of high-intensity activity and subsequently repeat these efforts is a critical physical ability of the modern-day soccer player (Gabbett and Mulvey, 2008). The amount of high-intensity exercise carried out accounts for about 15–19% of the total distance covered and 10–15% of match play (Stone and Kilding, 2009). Although 60% of the time between consecutive high-intensity actions across match performance is spent walking, evidence shows that per game, top-class soccer players perform 150–250 intense actions (Mohr, Krustrup and Bangsbo, 2003), with a high-intensity action every 72 seconds (Bradley et al., 2009). Based on the physical demands and characteristics of team sport competition, and the potential importance of aerobic fitness, it is clear that a significant portion of the conditioning programs for soccer players should focus on improving their aerobic fitness in order to repeatedly perform high-intensity exercise bouts and recover adequately between these bouts (Stone and Kilding, 2009). Aerobic fitness measurements such as maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) and the anaerobic threshold may also discriminate between players of different competitive levels (Stølen et al., 2005), so soccer training programs should regard aerobic conditioning as an important part of the seasonal training plan (Impellizzeri et al., 2005).

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    Kenny McMillan, Jan Van Winckel, Guido Seerden, Werner Helsen


    Interval training can be defined as a single or repeated interval of sport-specific exercise with no additional resistance (Paton and Hopkins, 2004), while high-intensity training refers to exercise performed above the second ventilatory threshold (Seiler and Kjerland, 2006). Because training at high intensity puts a high strain on the player, high-intensity training can be organized through interval training. Interval training at high intensities (i.e., just below or around VO2max) improves endurance performance through improvements in all of the three components of the aerobic system: VO2max, anaerobic threshold, and running economy.

    HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) may consist of high-intensity workloads (> 85% VO2max) executed for a short duration (between 30 seconds and 4 minutes) interspersed with recovery times in between each exercise bout (usually in a 1:1, 1:2 or 2:1 ratio). HIIT can be traced back to as long ago as 1912, when the Finnish Olympic long-distance runner Hannes Kolehmainen was reported to be using interval training in his workouts (Billat, 2001). Several years later in the 1930s, the German professor Dr. Woldemar Gerschler further developed interval training at the University of Freiburg. Gerschler teamed up with cardiologist Dr. Herbert Reindel, and together they developed a training system consisting of running intense but short distances followed by brief recovery “intervals” (Sears, 2001). Gerschler did not allow a runner to begin the next repetition until the HR had returned to 120bpm (Jenkins, 2005).

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    Jan Van Winckel, Nick Winkelman, Renaldo Landburg, Paul Bradley


    Although most of a game is played at low intensity, many high-intensity actions are also involved, such as sprinting, jumping, turning and tackling. Around 2% of the total distance covered during a match is sprinting, while another 10% of the total distance covered is from high-intensity running. This equates to a 10–15m sprint every 90 seconds (Bangsbo, 2006). Most of these sprints are short bouts of exertion (< 15m). Straight-line sprinting is the most frequently occurring action prior to a goal, for both the scoring and assisting players. Professional players have become faster over time, indicating that sprinting ability is becoming more and more important in modern soccer (Haugen et al., 2013). In a recent study, Andrzejewski et al. (2013) conducted a detailed analysis of the sprinting activity of professional soccer players during the 2008–09 and 2010–11 UEFA Europa League seasons. The study demonstrated that the mean total sprint distance covered by players (>=24 km/h) amounted to 237m ± 123m. In terms of the position of play, forwards covered the longest sprint distance (345m ± 129m), which was 9% further than midfielders (313m ± 119m) and more than twice that of central midfielders (167m ± 87m). The average number of sprints performed by the soccer players was 11 ± 5. Another notable fact was that 90% of sprints performed by professional soccer players were shorter than five seconds, while only 10% lasted longer than five seconds.

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    Jan Van Winckel, Kenny McMillan, Jean-Pierre Meert, Balder Berckmans, Werner Helsen


    Monitoring the physical abilities critical to soccer performance allows sports scientists and coaches to gain valuable information that can be subsequently used effectively to optimize training and recovery. However, in complex sports like soccer, the ability to isolate and evaluate specific physical abilities can be problematic. The physiological and mechanical demands of soccer require players to be proficient in numerous aspects of fitness, such as aerobic and anaerobic power, muscle strength, flexibility, speed, agility and quickness (Reilly and Doran, 2003). These physical demands can vary according to playing position, players’ individual abilities, and the tactical guidelines imposed by the coach (Reilly, 2003). Ultimately, match analysis of physical performance (e.g., distance covered) only provides the coaching staff with a one-dimensional perspective, because players do not always maximally exert their physical capacities during match play due to factors such as tactics, score, and opposition standard. In this regard, research into elite match play has found the work rate to be associated with that of the opposing team, as well as their competitive level (Rampinini, 2007).

    The main purpose of fitness tests is to build a physical profile of the player or squad. There are also other reasons for periodic fitness tests, such as being able to objectively assess the impact of training interventions (e.g., determine if the players’ physical abilities have improved over the season), as well as to inform the coaches and sports scientists when a player is ready to return to training and, more importantly, to competition following an injury.

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    Werner Helsen, Jan Van Winckel, Kenny McMillan, Jean-Pierre Meert, Andre Aubert, Pim Koolwijk, Peter Catteeuw, Arne Jaspers, David Tenney


    Heart rate (HR) refers to the number of heartbeats in a set unit of time and is usually expressed as beats per minute (bpm). HR increases or decreases in response to the demands of the body in order to balance the requirement and delivery of oxygen. HR is modulated through the autonomic nervous system and the interaction of sympathetic and parasympathetic outflow. Sympathetic stimulation increases HR, while parasympathetic stimulation decreases it. Over the last two decades, HR monitors have been widely used in soccer. Using HR measurement as an indirect marker of O2 consumption has become a valuable, easy-to-use and relatively inexpensive tool for measuring the internal training load imposed on soccer players.

    Validity and reliability have been shown to be good for HR monitors when compared to ECG measurements for measurement of both HR and heart rate variability (HRV) (Achten and Jeukendrup, 2003; Kingsley et al., 2005). Recently, technical development has focused on real-time monitoring instead of the post-exercise evaluation of recorded data (Schönfelder et al., 2011).


    Physical activity may be best assessed by measuring the oxygen uptake (VO2) during exercise. However, this is not very practical to achieve on a soccer field. Research has shown a linear correlation to exist between oxygen uptake and HR. The load resulting from physical activity can therefore be measured by using the HR as an indirect measure of oxygen consumption This comparison is represented in the Swain formula (Swain et al., 1994):

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    Ibrahim Akubat, Jan Van Winckel


    Examining the training process is essential to understanding why we measure training load. By measuring the training load, we are looking for a dose-response relationship with the outcome parameter. The dose, or the training load, is the prescribed exercise, and the response of interest in soccer is the associated fitness gain, fatigue accrued or injury risk. Examining the dose-response relationship in this manner allows us to improve our knowledge of how a player might respond to a particular training dose. We can also become more proactive in future when manipulating the dose, rather than merely reacting to the response. This may help us to produce desirable responses, such as fitness gain, or prevent undesirable responses, such as injury. The dose-response relationship is deemed by the American College of Sports Medicine to be a fundamental principle of training. It has also been suggested (Banister, 1991; Manzi et al., 2009) that a valid measure of training load should show a dose-response relationship with the training outcome. The training outcome is usually measured periodically using an assortment of fitness tests, performance parameters and injury records. So, why is the dose-response relationship so important to soccer coaches? We generally react to a response, whether it be an injury or a fitness test score. Given that we want to avoid both injuries and frequent fitness testing, which may be impractical due to time constraints, understanding the response to a given dose enables us to be proactive in achieving our aims as coaches. Understanding the training process is essential to understanding which measurements of training load will show good dose-response relationships.

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    Jan Van Winckel, Werner Helsen, Jean-Pierre Meert,Kenny McMillan, Paul Bradley


    In the preceding chapters, we described and defined various physical abilities, such as speed and endurance, as well as physical parameters, such as volume and intensity. We also outlined different methods that can be used to calculate training load. In this chapter, we aim to provide an overview of the different effects of training. There is a lack of clarity regarding the different terms in the existing literature, with the concepts of overtraining, overreaching and overload being used interchangeably. For example, the term “overtraining syndrome” is used regularly in soccer jargon, yet this state rarely occurs in soccer. Declines in performance can also be due to other life stressors, so the term “underperformance syndrome” is sometimes used (Budgett et al., 2000).

    Successful training must involve overload, but it must also avoid the combination of excessive overload and inadequate recovery. Athletes can experience short-term performance decrements without severe psychological or other lasting negative symptoms. This Acute Fatigue (AF) or Functional Overreaching (FOR) will eventually lead to an improvement in performance after adequate recovery. When athletes do not sufficiently respect the balance between loading and unloading, Non-Functional Overreaching (NFOR) can occur. The distinction between NFOR and the Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) is very difficult and depends on the clinical outcome and exclusion diagnosis (Meeusen et al., 2013).

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    Jan Van Winckel, Kenny McMillan, Paul Bradley,David Tenney, Werner Helsen


    Throughout this textbook, the management of fatigue is considered as a critical component to successfully plan a soccer season. Before discussing in more detail the methods of managing fatigue, let us first examine the term fatigue in this chapter. There are many definitions of fatigue in the existing literature. Fatigue is mostly defined as an acute impairment of performance that includes both an increase in the perceived effort to exert a desired force or power and/or any reduction in the ability to exert maximal muscle force or power (Gandevia, 2001). In soccer, fatigue is generally referred to as an inability to maintain physical and technical performance during a match. The exercise intensity of top-class soccer players declines in periods during a game, most likely due to fatigue, particularly toward the end of the match (Mohr et al., 2005).

    Although extensive research has examined the causes of fatigue in soccer, a number of questions remain. The molecular basis of the fatigue process, in particular, is still not understood completely. There are different causes for different types of sport. For example, the fatigue induced by an 800m run is completely different to that of a marathon. The loss of muscle function is quite complex and varies from reduced functioning of the motor cortex in the brain to the binding of actin and myosin. There are various causes of fatigue, and scientists typically divide them into central and peripheral factors. Fatigue can be classified as central when the origin is proximal and/or peripheral when the origin is distal to the neuromuscular junction (Gandevia, 2001). Central fatigue seems to be the main cause of the decline in maximal voluntary contraction and sprinting ability, whereas peripheral fatigue seems to be more related to increased muscle soreness and therefore may be linked with muscle damage and inflammation (Rampinini et al., 2011).

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    13. Fatigue management

    Jan Van Winckel, Werner Helsen, Kenny McMillan, John Fitzpatrick, Ester Lowette, Kyle Woodruff, Paul Bradley, David Tenney


    In the preceding chapter, we considered the causes and effects of fatigue. We also discussed the various ways of countering fatigue. In this chapter, we will discuss the concept of “fatigue management,” which involves monitoring, manipulating, and adjusting fatigue. Professional players are expected to compete in 60–70 high-level matches per year. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to peak by means of classic peaking strategies, as there will be a loss of consistent performance in the preceding and ensuing weeks. It is up to the coaching staff to keep the team at a maximal stable level for an entire season. This process is referred to as performance stabilization.

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    Jan Van Winckel, Kenny McMillan, Carlo Buzzichelli, David Tenney, Paul Bradley

    Periodization is a planned/programmed distribution or variation in training methods and means on a cyclic or periodic basis. As highlighted in the previous chapter, an important aim of periodization in elite soccer is fatigue management. Periodization for soccer entails organizing the season in a structured manner to ensure the level of performance is kept as consistently high as possible (performance stabilization) throughout the season. To achieve this, periods of loading, unloading (recovery), and tapering (for the most important competition(s) of the year) have to be sensibly arranged. Periodization refers to the planned alternation of loading and unloading (fatigue management), the structured sequence of which physical ability (i.e., strength, speed, endurance) to develop, and the division of the annual plan into distinct periods.


    The Ancient Greeks used very elementary plans to prepare for the Olympic Games. The legendary Milo of Croton (6th Century BC), winner of six Olympic Games, was one of the first to use a primitive form of periodization by varying his training load during his training program. Milo began his training most days by lifting a calf, and as the animal grew bigger, the lifting load increased, consequently improving his performance. At the end of his training process, he was able to carry the animal around the Olympic stadium. Galen (129–200 AD) was a Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher (Nutton, 1973). At the age of 28, he returned to Pergamon in Italy as a physician to the gladiators and became one of the first to write about periodization. He believed that various types of exercise needed to be blended in order to improve performance. He divided exercises into three categories: without “hostile” movement, such as weightlifting; quick exercises, such as ball games; and exercises with a “hostile” nature, which we now refer to as plyometric exercises. It was not until the run-up to the Olympic Games in Helsinki (1952) that the experience of the Russian coaches became the impetus for the methodological principles of training systems.

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    (UNDERSTANDING THE GAME’S DEMANDS TO ENHANCE SOCCER PERFORMANCE) Juan Luis Delgado-Bordonau, Alberto Mendez-Villanueva


    We accept that the football training methodologies have been evolving and improving greatly over time, but their origin remains the same: methodologies which approach different aspects of the game in analytical and decontextualized forms (Tamarit, 2007).

    In an attempt to simplify the complexity inherent in any human activity, sport-training methodologies, like most other sciences, have used the “Cartesian” way of thinking. Consequently, they suffered from a fragmentation of its various dimensions (e.g., physical, technical, tactical and psychological). From this perspective, these factors are first trained separately and combined later on when applied in competition. Training methods have also been characterized by the division of the season into several periods, and the periodization of these methods was structured so “peak performance” would be reached at major competitions. To do this, these training methods gave priority to the “physical” factors, because the concept of “performance” appeared to be closely related to a set of adaptive biological changes (functional and morphological) that occurs in the body. Training methods were based upon the isolation of performance factors, and training was organized through analytical approaches where decision-making processes played a secondary role.

    In contrast to these analytical training approaches, the so-called integrated training method has gained momentum in team sports. This is where physical, technical and tactical aspects are developed in combination. In short, integrated training promotes a resemblance between competition demands and training activities, but it does not address the contextual and specific features of all the game elements. Its level of specificity therefore only relates to the sport itself and not to a certain way of play (game model).

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    Jan Van Winckel, Werner Helsen, Kenny McMillan, Paul Bradley


    In the previous chapters, we talked about the importance of “fatigue management” and “performance stabilization” throughout the competitive in-season period. In this chapter, we take a closer look at the preseason macrocycle. The preseason training period is traditionally the period when players complete the most physical work, enabling them to cope with the physiological demands of the competitive season (Bangsbo, 1994). Tae-Seok et al. (2011) examined the physiological loads of programmed “preseason” and “in-season” training in professional soccer players. They concluded that the average physiological loads were higher in preseason than in in-season, and a greater proportion of time was spent exercising at 80–100% of maximum heart rate. During preseason, coaches usually focus on rebuilding fitness (retraining). Adjustments in load are a direct attempt to deliver a training stimulus to promote specific training adaptations (Tae-Seok Jeong et al., 2011). This contrasts with the goals of training sessions during the competitive season, where emphasis is mainly on maintaining the physical abilities developed during preseason (Bangsbo et al., 2006). During preseason, the training load can be as high as one or two daily training sessions (90–120 minutes per session) for five days a week (Impellizzeri et al., 2006). Overall, the aerobic capacity of team sport players (e.g., basketball, rugby league and soccer) has been shown to increase throughout the preseason and decrease during the competitive season when using a classical team sport conditioning approach (Stone and Kilding, 2009). Thus, the focus of preseason is usually centered on long-term improvement of physical abilities. For elite teams unfortunately, the emphasis during preseason is increasingly placed on commercial activities, or games are planned to meet sponsorship requirements. Although this may be lucrative in the short term, it could detrimentally affect performance in the longer term.

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    Jan Van Winckel, Werner Helsen, Jean-Pierre Meert, Kenny McMillan, Paul Bradley


    In the preceding chapter, we discussed planning strategies during preseason. In this chapter, we will discuss how the in-season phase can be structured. The match is the most important event of the week during in-season, and everything is therefore focused on attaining optimum performance on that day.

    Team success can be partly attributable to the planning and execution of appropriate in-season training periodization strategies. As explained in the previous chapter that discusses fatigue management, planning during the in-season period is focused on performance stabilization. It comprises four phases in each microcycle: recovery, loading, tapering, and the match. The load can only be varied in the loading phase of every microcycle.


    17.2.1 Terminology

    When a periodization phase of three to six weeks is mentioned in the literature, this refers to the mesocycle. For the in-season phase however, we opt for a three-phase mesocycle.

    It is difficult to prove the efficiency of a three-, four-, five-, or six-phase mesocycle in soccer. There are so many factors influencing a match that it is almost impossible to design research that empirically and quantitatively proves a three-phase cycle to be more advantageous than its six-phase counterpart. The issue of periodization during the in-season period is based on best practice rather than evidence-based findings. Although we have tried to present relevant research findings where possible, most of the concepts discussed in this chapter are intuitive or anecdotal. However, it would be helpful for researchers to report findings that could add to the evidence base and therefore fully support or reject these anecdotal reports. Before looking at the structure of the mesocycle in detail, we first set out a number of principles to explain why we opt for a three-phase cycle during in-season.

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    Werner Helsen, Jan Van Winckel, Paul Bradley, Kenny McMillan


    As was already mentioned in the previous chapters, weekly planning in soccer is entirely focused on preparing for the forthcoming match. At the beginning of each week, the emphasis is placed on recovering from the fatigue accrued during the previous match, while at the end of the microcycle, different tapering strategies are applied in order to optimally prepare players for their next match. Only training sessions at least 48 hours prior to, or after, a match can be used to physically overload the players.


    A training session consists of the following parts:

    1. 1. Pre-activation or functional strength training
    2. 2. Warm up: • cardiovascular stimulus:
      - increase oxygen uptake
      - increase heart rate
      - activate the transportation of oxygen to the active muscles
      • dynamic stretching
      • speed: ATP-CP system and activate lactate removal (longer exertion with sufficient rest)
    3. Technical/tactical training
    4. Small-sided games (SSGs)
    5. Progression phase: In this phase, work is done for each player individually based on a strength-weakness analysis; this can be technical (e.g., shooting, passing, receiving, etc.), tactical (e.g., line defense), mental, and physical (e.g., repeated sprint ability, speed, etc.)
    6. Recovery phase:
      • cooling down
      • restoration of fluid balance
      • replenishment of energy substrates
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    Jan Van Winckel, Kenny McMillan, Werner Helsen, Paul Bradley, David Tenney


    Stretching is a routine part of the training regime of soccer players. However, there is a great deal of controversy in relation to stretching. For a soccer coach, it is not easy to draw the right conclusions from the often-conflicting information available. Despite this problem, stretching has a long tradition of use, and it will likely continue to be a part of training and rehabilitation programs (Covert et al., 2010). Stretching can be beneficial to some extent, but we must try to emphasize a pragmatic perspective and use any scientific evidence to inform our judgments. It seems that the parameters of the stretch, such as the time to stretch and the holding duration, are almost as important as the stretching technique used. This chapter provides an overview of different stretching techniques and sets out how and when these techniques can be used.


    19.2.1 Ballistic or elastic stretching

    Ballistic stretching is a form of stretching performed in a bouncing motion, using the momentum of a moving body or limb to attempt to force it beyond its normal range of motion. This type of stretching is likely to increase flexibility through a neurological mechanism. It involves fast “bouncing” movements where a double bounce is performed at the end range of movement. Ballistic stretching should only be used by athletes who know their limitations and who are supervised by staff. Some studies have expressed concerns over the risk of muscle-strain injuries (Vujnovic and Dawson, 2004), because ballistic stretching could potentially cause microtrauma to the muscle (Taylor et al., 2004). These hypotheses are not supported by current scientific literature, but nevertheless, coaches should be careful about using ballistic stretching after soccer activities that could cause EIMD (e.g., excessive eccentric loading, match play, etc.). Soccer players need time to recover from these activities, and they should not attempt to improve flexibility while in this state.

    Hello Sir,
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    Lieven De Veirman, Glen Reed, Pieter Jacobs, Jan Van Winckel


    Strength training has evolved tremendously over the last decennia, with a great deal of research trying to establish the fundamental principles of strength training. Speed-strength (power) is often a decisive factor in modern soccer. Concurrently, the somatotype of soccer players has also changed over the last few decades from ectomorphic (e.g., Cruyff, van Basten, Platini) to more mesomorphic athletes (e.g., Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, Kompany, Rooney). In this chapter, we discuss the physiology of muscle strength and the various strength training programs.


    20.2.1 Muscle fibers

    The human body has different types of muscle fiber. The ratio of these muscle fibers is certainly not identical in all muscles.

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    Jan Van Winckel, Steven Probst, Balder Berckmans, Pieter Jacobs, Mathieu Gram


    Due to the specific physical demands of soccer, the incidence of injuries is significantly higher than in other team sports such as field hockey, volleyball and basketball. The risks of acute injury in professional soccer are threefold greater than in the construction, manufacturing, and service sectors of industry (Drawer and Fuller, 2002). Large-scale epidemiological studies indicate that the injury prevalence rate in professional soccer is approximately 15%. This means that for a squad of 25 players, approximately four players will be unavailable at any given time due to injuries. Hägglund (2007) reported that 65–95% of players had at least one injury every year. In a recent study in European professional soccer, Ekstrand et al. (2011) demonstrated that a team with a 25-player squad can expect 15 muscle injuries every season, with muscle injuries accounting for more than a quarter of the total layoff time.

    Contact injuries are responsible for just over a half of all injuries, and these are often linked to external factors and therefore not completely avoidable. Non-contact injuries, however, can be largely avoided, and these are divided into acute non-contact injuries and overload injuries. Muscle injuries, such as strains, are generally regarded as the largest group of avoidable injuries. Extensive epidemiological studies by Professor Ekstrand et al. (2011), conducted over a ten-year period with 51 different professional clubs, have shown that muscle injuries account for 35% of the total number of injuries. Up to 80% of these muscle injuries are non-contact injuries that could be avoided to a large extent through individual injury-prevention programs and workload management. This substantial number of muscle injuries is responsible for more than 25% of the overall absence of players from match-play and therefore has a major impact on the success of the team. This is especially significant when considering that muscle injuries alone (in a squad of 25 players at professional level) are responsible for 223 days of unavailability per season, including 37 match days and 148 training days. Injuries to the hamstring muscle group are the most common injuries, accounting for 37% of all muscle injuries. The average unavailability per muscle injury lasts 14 days before the player can return to squad training.

Reviews and Testimonials

In the four years we worked together at Club, I got to know Jan to be a true professional, perhaps the best in Belgium in his field-

Luc Devroe, former Technical Director at Club Brugge KV

As instructor at the Belgian UEFA-Pro license course, Jan made an impression by translating difficult theoretical fitness-training concepts into plain footballing language and practical exercise material. This enabled our UEFA-Pro course participants to acquire the ability to get their players physically ready to deliver top-level football performances-

Bob Browaeys, Director of the Federal Trainers’ School

Due to, and thanks to, Jan’s vision, expertise and professionalism, the team stood out through its fantastic general fitness and extremely low injury rate.

Adrie Koster, ex-coach of Ajax Amsterdam and Club Brugge KV

During his period as physical coach at Club Brugge, Jan Van Winckel proved that his solid scientific approach leads to strong results. He also gave our club’s training approach a new dimension, supported not by intuition but rather on the basis of physiological and biomechanical criteria."

Dr. M. D’Hooghe, Honorary Chairman of Club Brugge and Chairman of the FIFA Medical Committee

Due to, and thanks to, Jan’s vision, expertise and professionalism, the team stood out through its fantastic general fitness and extremely low injury rate.

Adrie Koster, ex-coach of Ajax Amsterdam and Club Brugge KV

I have seldom seen a coach who can translate science into practical football application so well.

Aad de Mos, ex-coach of (among others) Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven, Werder Bremen, RSC Anderlecht

Jan is one of the best in his field, probably one of the best in the world.

Carl Hoefkens, former player of the Belgian national team, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City

Fitness in Soccer should be compulsory reading for all coaches, physiotherapists, students specializing in training and coaching and sports scientists

Guido Steens, Editor in Chief - Aloreki, University of Leuven Newsletter

Jan’s work is characterized by professionalism, precision and the systemic use of modern training principles. His scientific work has had a direct impact on the success of the club in recent years.

Prof. Ahmed El-Shafee, general manager of Al-Ahli Saudi Football Club

Fitness In Soccer is a must-have for every professional football coach

Jan Hauspi, Football Magazine

Jan, Werner. We are impressed. 600 pages full of interesting and relevant information. Well done!

Kristof Geeraerts, Editor in Chief Dug-Out

Fitness in Soccer, between practice and science is an absolute must for every soccer coach. 28 fascinating chapters offer a broad, accessible insight in modern soccer. Both basic and advanced technology are discussed, and that's the power of the book. The book is not only useful for sports scientists, but also for coaches and players.

Review Dug-Out (Specialized Belgian Coaches Magazine)


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Steven Probst, MSc, has a master's degree in sports physiotherapy and rehabilitation sciences from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. Since 2009, he has worked for TopSportsLab as a research and development manager. Aside from this, he is involved as a sport physio and rehab coach in the youth academy of Oud-Heverlee Leuven, a Belgian first-division club.

Pim Koolwijk, MSc, has a master’s degree in human movement science from the VU University Amsterdam and a bachelor’s degree from the Sport Academy in The Hague. Since 2007, he has worked as an exercise physiologist/physical trainer at FC Utrecht, which performs in the highest Dutch division. In the past, he has worked as a human movement scientist at several sporting organizations. He still works as an independent sports consultant for several sporting organizations and individual athletes in the Netherlands. He has several specializations, including Strength and Conditioning Coach NSCA, Tennis and Skiing.

Alberto Mendez-Villanueva, PhD, is a Senior Football Fitness Coach and Sports Scientist at the ASPIRE Academy and Qatar Football Association in Doha, Qatar. Before this, Mendez-Villanueva was the head of the Football Physiology Unit at the ASPIRE Academy. He holds a doctoral degree in sport physiology form the University of Oviedo in Spain and a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Western Australia. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed scientific articles. He has also presented nearly 50 lectures on team strength and conditioning and physiology-related issues.

Kyle Woodruff, BSc, has a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology from the University of Connecticut. He has worked as a physical coach for the Al-Ahli Saudi football club and also as an assistant for the men's and women's soccer and basketball teams at UConn.

Lieven De Veirman, FAFS, has a certificate in Applied Functional Science from the Gray Institute in Adrian, Michigan. He has worked mainly as a personal trainer for lower level athletes and is currently a strength and injury-prevention coach at the youth academy of the Al-Ahli Saudi football club.

André E Aubert, PhD, has a doctorate in physics from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, where he is currently emeritus professor at the Faculty of Medicine. His main research domains are cardiovascular sport physiology and the cardiovascular condition of astronauts, both on Earth and during the weightless conditions of space.

Dr. Peter Catteeuw, PhD, was awarded his doctorate in sports sciences in 2010 from the University of Leuven. He has worked as a research and development manager for TopSportsLab in the field of performance management. As physical coach, he was active in the youth teams of K Lierse SK (2004–2007) and RSC Anderlecht (2007–2009). Since 2011, he has worked as physical coach for the first team of KRC Genk.

Guido Seerden has a master's degree in Human and Movement Science (specialized in Sport & Exercise) and has also had a research internship at Liverpool John Moores University. He cooperated with LJMU’s Science and Football department during his final project about talent development in soccer. He has completed further internships, such as at Tranmere Rovers FC, where he worked as a fitness coach and sports scientist. He is currently working in Saudi Arabia as the Head Coach of the U9's and U10's at the Al-Ahli Saudi football club.

Steven Vanharen is a certified strength and conditioning coach, a physical soccer coach, and a soccer-periodization expert. He has worked with U17 and U21 teams in the Belgian premier league. He worked at K.Sint-truidense VV as head coach and physical coach (2010–2012). After this, he became assistant coach/strength and conditioning coach of the first team at Ujpest FC in the Hungarian premier league (2012-2013). He currently works as field training specialist and physical coach at the Al-Ahli Saudi football club in Saudi Arabia (2013-).

Mathieu Gram, MSc, holds two master’s degrees: one in Physiotherapy & Rehabilitation Science and one in Physical Education & Kinesiology. He has been active as a Sports Physiotherapist and Rehabilitation specialist at the Al-Ahli Saudi football club. Prior to this, he worked as a Sports Physiotherapist at the West Coast Eagles AFL club in Perth, Western Australia.

Carlo Buzzichelli, is an invited professor of “The Theory and Methodology of Training” at the Sport University of Camaguey and the Center of Football Studies at Camaguey, Cuba. He is technical director of the Tudor Bompa Institute, International. In 2012, he was invited as a guest speaker to the “International Workshop on Strength & Conditioning” (Trivandrum, India) and to the University of Sao Paulo and the Olympic Center of Sao Paulo (Brasil). As an S&C coach for team sports, Carlo’s teams have achieved eight promotions, as well as a first and a second place in their respective league Cups. As a coach of individual sports, Carlo has contributed to the World Track & Field Championship and the Commonwealth Games. His athletes have won sixteen medals in the national championships of four different sports (track & field, swimming, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and powerlifting), as well as two international gold medals (track & field), one silver and one bronze (Brazilian jiu-jitsu), setting five national records (in powerlifting).

Juan Luis Delgado joined the ASPIRE Academy in 2007. He has held diverse positions as a soccer coach and worked with different groups from u13 to u17, developing players for Qatar's national junior teams. In 2013, he was appointed as coordinator of the newly created Scouting Department. Part of this new responsibility included the complete structuring and strategic setup of the department. Prior to this (1999–2006), Juan began his coaching career at Villarreal CF in Spain, working in several positions including both academy and first-team level. He then moved to Valencia CF where he worked as academy training methodology coordinator. He graduated from Valencia University with a bachelor’s degree in Sport Sciences and a minor in soccer. He also holds a master’s degree in Sports Psychology from UAM, Madrid. He is currently undertaking his doctoral thesis on “Football Tactical age-related differences.” In line with his soccer education, he is a UEFA Pro accredited coach and has enjoyed coaching development opportunities in the Netherlands and the US.

Ibrahim Akubat, PhD, has a doctorate in exercise physiology, focused on training load monitoring in soccer, from the University of Hull, UK. He has examined a whole portfolio of dose-response relationships with physical, perceptual and biochemical measures in rested and fatigued states, all of which will be published in due course. He is now a lecturer in exercise physiology at Newman University, Birmingham and a consultant to numerous teams and athletes. He is also the founder of Training Impulse, a company providing information, workshops, training and software for matters related to training load monitoring.

Renaldo Charles Landburg is a former athlete from the Netherlands. After finishing his study at the Central Institute of Sport Instructors (CIOS) he has completed courses to specialize in running technique, coordination and fitness in soccer. Following his work at many amateur clubs in the Netherlands, Louis van Gaal and Danny Blind approached Renaldo in 2004 to come and work for the youth academy of AFC Ajax, Amsterdam. After this work at one of Europe’s best youth academies, he decided in 2010 to move to Saudi Arabia, where he continues to work for the Al-Ahli Saudi football club as physical coordinator of the youth teams.

Glen Reed, MSc, ASCC, has a master's degree in strength and conditioning (S&C) from Middlesex University, London. He currently works in youth soccer, serving as the S&C coach for the U16 squad of Crystal Palace, where he has also had experience with the first team (2009-2010). Prior to this, he worked in the area of tennis at Highgate Performance Tennis (2011) and Hills Road High Performance (2011–2012).

Sally Hara, MSc, RD, CSSD, CDE, is a board-certified specialist in Sports Dietetics and a certified diabetes educator. She has bachelor’s degrees in both Nutrition Science and Exercise Physiology, as well as a master’s degree in Nutrition Science, all from the University of California, Davis. Sally has worked in research laboratories and medical centers and has run a private practice, where she provides medical nutrition therapy and sports nutrition coaching, near Seattle for over 10 years. As a nationally recognized public speaker, former college instructor, and writer, she has authored and co-authored multiple research studies and sports nutrition articles. She is a contributing author of The American Dietetic Association’s Sports Nutrition: A Guide for the Professional Working with Active People (4th ed.).

Bart De Roover is a former international professional soccer player, having played five games for the national team of Belgium. After his playing career, he served as head coach of several first-division teams, including SV Zulte Waregem and Antwerp RAFC. Bart holds a UEFA Pro coaching license and is involved in the post formation of the Asian Vice-Champions, the Al-Ahli Saudi football club.

Balder Berckmans, MSc, has a master's degree in both sports sciences and rehabilitation sciences from the Free University of Brussels. He has gained experience in soccer through internships at Manchester City FC, 1. FC Cologne, and Club Brugge K.V. Since July 2012, he has worked mainly as an injury-prevention and end-of-rehabilitation specialist at the Al-Ahli Saudi football club. Before that, he worked for KV Mechelen as a strength and conditioning coach, with specific attention on efficient moving in soccer.

Ester Lowette, MSc, has a master's degree in Sports Psychology from The University of Leuven. She has played professional volleyball for over 20 years, winning the European Top Team Cup with Asterix Kieldrecht. Ester played several years for the Yellow Tigers (the national team) and has won the Belgian Championship with three different teams.

Arne Jaspers, MSc, has master’s degrees in Physical Education and Kinesiology and in Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy from the University of Leuven. He is currently conducting his doctorate about the use of athlete-tracking data in soccer for performance optimization and injury prevention. This project is a cooperation between AZ Alkmaar, the University of Leuven, and TopSportsLab. Before that, he worked as a performance analyst with the KBVB, UEFA and FIFA in supporting the physical preparation of elite soccer referees.

John Fitzpatrick, MSc, is an aspiring sports scientist and researcher with a master’s degree in strength and conditioning from Teesside University. He is currently a sports science intern at Newcastle United Football Club. His research focuses on the monitoring of recovery and fatigue in soccer players.

Pieter Jacobs, MSc, holds a master's degree in sports sciences and a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation sciences from the Vrije Universiteit Brussels. He previously worked as a physiotherapist for Beerschot AC in the Belgian professional league. He works currently at Al-Ahli Saudi football club as Head of Rehabilitation (2012-).