Soccer - Use Aerobic Interval Training for Soccer Fitness

Soccer - Use Aerobic Interval Training for Soccer Fitness

What's the best way to get soccer players fit? Research has shown that aerobic interval training, similar to that performed by distance runners, is better than regular soccer drill training.

How Important is Aerobic Fitness?
Previous studies have shown that aerobic fitness is a limiting factor in soccer, with the second half of games exhibiting lower intensities and volume of running effort.

A Hungarian study showed that the top four teams in its league were also the teams with the highest average VO2 max readings (aerobic fitness).

The Study
The study, performed at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, involved 19 elite male junior soccer players. Half performed an aerobic interval workout of 4 x 4 minutes at 90-95% of maximal heart rate, with a 3-minute jog between each for recovery.

This workout was performed twice per week for eight weeks. That's a total of 25 minutes of training twice per week, or less than an hour of training per week.

The control group performed extra drills for an equivalent amount of time, with the drills involving heading, free kicks, pass-receiving and directional changes.

The results were impressive, with significant improvements seen in both physical and performance factors.

Physical Changes
The change in aerobic fitness was dramatic after only eight weeks, with the test group improving V02 max by 11% (to 64.3 ml/kg). Lactate threshold running speed improved by 21% and running economy, by 6.7%. In contrast, the control group experienced no improvement in aerobic fitness.

Game-Specific Improvements
But most important were the game-specific improvements. The aerobically-trained players increased the total distance covered during games by 20% (from 8619 to 10,335 metres per game). They doubled the number of times they sprinted for two seconds or more and increased their contacts with the ball by 24% (by either touching the ball or pressuring an opponent in possession of the ball).

They were able to perform at a higher heart rate during games (85.6% versus 82.7%) and spent 19 minutes longer per game, than the control group, at a high intensity level (above 90% of maximum heart rate).

This all adds up to players who are able to compete at a higher level of intensity throughout the entire game while getting more involved on both offense and defense.

And to silence detractors of such endurance training, the test subjects experienced no decrease in jumping height, strength, maximum speed, kicking velocity or kicking accuracy.

Alternate Workout
This workout is obviously highly effective. Another workout you might use is the 30-30 workout in which players alternate 30 seconds of running as fast as possible, with only 30 seconds of jogging for recovery. Start with 10 repetitions, and progress to more reps as your players become more fit.

Soccer-Specific Intervals
You could attempt to perform these running intervals while players are dribbling a ball. This would be more specific to soccer, but it is difficult to maintain a 90-95% of maximum heart rate while dribbling a ball. You can experiment with this to see if it will work with your athletes.

Application to Other Sports
This type of aerobic interval should also be of benefit to athletes in basketball and rugby, whose average VO2 max readings tend to be lower than that attained by these junior soccer players, and whose fitness requirements tend to be similar.


1. Owen Anderson, "Soccer fitness training: Endurance training boosts performance in the field." Peak Performance website, 2007.

2. Mirsad Hasic, The Soccer Fitness Guide - Learn How to Become a Faster, Stronger and More Flexible Soccer Player Kindle Edition, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2013.

3. Jan Helgerud,Lars Christianengen,Ulrik Wisløff, and Jan Hoff, Norwegian University Of Science And Technology, Department Of Sport Sciences, "Aerobic Endurance Training Improves Soccer Performance." Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, Issue 11, 2001.


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