3 training mistakes footballers make 'in-season'

Jacob Strøm

Jacob Strøm

Performance specialist. Cand.scient. Sports Science. 25+ certificates from EXOS, Barca Innovation Hub etc.

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The winter break is over for most, which is why I think this topic should be addressed! Unfortunately, football (and other sports) are strongly guided by tradition, even though science has clearly established new ways to improve sports performance.
Training mistakes football players

In this post I will discuss 3 training mistakes that football players make "in-season". At the same time what you should do instead so that you can avoid making the mistakes, and overtake your teammates and opponents!

Strength and conditioning training should go hand in hand during the season and be optimally planned around football training/matches in order to develop season after season.

#1 - Lack of focus on optimal & attractive recovery

If there is one thing that is common in all circles from football to fitness to regular everyday work, it is the lack of focus on recovery.

For many, the only focus is more exercise, less sleep - and generally just go go go. Because if a little works, more must be better.

This is partly true, but there is a BIG but!

When we strength train, we want to stimulate our body in a specific way, which is determined by our goals. This means that training for greater muscle mass should provide a different stimulus than training for relative strength. In principle, different mechanisms lead to greater muscle mass and greater strength respectively, although there are some correlations, which is why a bodybuilder and an athlete should not train in the same way.

For us to benefit from this stimulus or stressor, it is essential that our body can adapt. Along the way, our bodies are extremely good at adapting to new environments and stimuli, but the body needs time to recover.

That's why more training is not better! If it were, it would just be a matter of training as much as possible to be the best...

Your autonomic nervous system consists of two parts: Parasympathetic and sympathetic parasympathetic nervous system.

These are often called 'rest & digest' and 'fight or flight' respectively. Every time we are exposed to any stressor (exercise, poor diet, economy, family, religion, etc.), we get the same response from the sympathetic nervous system.

This will increase the release of stress hormones, which in the short term is important and necessary, but in the long term can have a negative impact on fat mass, muscle mass and overall performance.

The more time you can spend on the opposite side; rest & digest, the better! The better you will recover and your body will have time to rebuild itself before the next training session. A good indicator of this that I use with more advanced clients is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurements each morning.

This requires a newer heart rate monitor, which measures the time difference between each heartbeat. The greater the difference, the more active the parasympathetic nervous system, and therefore a greater difference will be best.

Optimally, you should be above 80, and preferably not below 70. If you are below 70, you are likely to be overtraining OR under-recovering. Personally, I use the EliteHRV app, which is free.

To recover optimally, you should:

  • Sleep min. 7 hours each night (same time weekdays and weekends, preferably around 10pm)
  • Make sure you eat enough (especially carbohydrates)
  • Relax as much as possible, maybe power napping, massage etc.
  • Possibly supplement with certain supplements that help in this. For example, glycine and aswhaghanda.

 

If you want to know more about supplements, read our popular post on creatine here. 

#2 - Poor or missing periodization of (performance) training

This is very much related to the previous error. Many people are eager to improve, and so they train more and more...

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes disjointed and the planning of the training no longer makes sense. This can quickly lead to overtraining, mainly due to a lack of focus on recovery and optimal nutrition.

Because you CAN ACTUALLY train 10-14 times a week and still manage to recover from your training. All it requires is that your training is organised and periodised according to your goals and other schedule.

As a football player you should strength train all year round, where the primary focus in-season will be not to lose your gains from the off-season. If you do not strength train continuously throughout your in-season, you will quickly lose the hard earned from the off-season. This means you will have to start over in each off-season, and your progress will therefore be minimal...

For this to work, your football training, cardio training and strength training MUST be coordinated and periodised sensibly.

There are several things to consider here:

  • When will you peak?
  • Where are you in your career? Can you tolerate compromising your performance 1/2 - 1 year, to instead focus on strength and power and come back stronger?
  • What do you do next to your football? School, work, leisure...
  • etc.

 

For many, 2-3 or 4 weekly strength sessions fit in very well, if planned properly - and perhaps even more importantly these days when fitness and crossfit are so popular: Provided the volume of your training is NOT too high!

One mistake many make is that they follow 'modern' fitness/bodybuilding programmes that are in no way designed for sports performance. The volume in these programs is, 9 times out of 10, so high that you don't have a chance to recover, let alone with football or sports on the sidelines. Believe me, I've been there myself years ago...

For many, the focus in the first phase is to increase work capacity and recovery, which is why I often design programmes like this for my clients in the first phases to improve this. In the beginning there are usually 4, more or less explosive and heavy exercises, which are run in a row, to get the body used to longer lasting stress/training. Such a workout will take 30-40 minutes including warm-up, so there is plenty of time for recovery.

The further we progress, the heavier and more sport-specific the exercises become, as a good foundation of strength, power and work capacity is ALWAYS essential for long-term success!

Start with plyometric training first, and chances are your benefit will be far from optimal and your risk of injury will be MARKANTLY higher...

#3 - Poor choice of targets and focus

As the other two errors were related, this one is also very much related to the previous two errors.

For each season, it is crucial that you set goals and choose your focus point! This season, will you fight to become first choice at your position, or is it more appropriate to think long-term, and improve the fundamentals like strength and power first? Or is it something completely third...

Whatever goal you choose, it's important to stick to it and not change every time you don't see progress or get bored.

If you jump from goal to goal, week after week, you never allow your body or yourself to get used to anything. If one week you want to have bigger arms, but the next week you want to run a marathon, and then the third week you want to squat 2x your body weight, I can say with certainty that you are not reaching any of your goals.

For the best result, whatever the goal, it is extremely important that the focus is precisely on the goal. If you want to improve your fitness (long distance), work primarily on your long distance fitness, and leave the rest to 'whatever'.

In addition, if you want to be a better footballer, it is important that your goal reflects your sport. Being able to run a marathon will not benefit your Fodboldperformance as much as if you improved your time of 400m or your max squat in the strength room.

During a football match you usually run over 7-8 km, but these are short fast intense bursts - not the same speed for 90 minutes as a marathon would be.

If you play football, your goals should include:

  • Faster 3 km time
  • Faster 400 m time
  • Faster 60 m time
  • Higher 1RM in top squat
  • Higher 1RM in deadlift
  • Higher 1RM in jump shrugs


An improvement in these will be transferable to your football performance. The strength parameters will improve your top speed and acceleration on the shorter distances, where 400 m and 3 km will improve both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems.

3 training mistakes footballers make "in-season"...

I hope this post was an eye opener for you and that you can see how important recovery, periodization and goal setting are to your success as a soccer player!

Many people make the same mistakes over and over again, but if you can avoid them and do it more optimally - you can quickly become the first choice and the star of the team with more strength, better overview and better fitness!

If you have any questions, please join our facebook group for athletes only, where I share daily tips and tricks to increase performance.

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