Football Conditioning Philosophies.

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    Good morning Ash,

    I would just like to get your thoughts on the different football code’s training philosophies and any subsequent research that you could recommend that I read…

    From my prac time at an elite level soccer team I found that they did very little strength work and subsequently even less power training with the underlying opinion that they didn’t want to get “too big” and hamper their performance.

    As a result all the players had relatively low 1RMs for professional athletes in a contact sport and focussed on higher rep ranges (8-12) and laodings around the 60%1RM. Even though this would suggest hypertrophy training, and conditioning being relative to the athlete, the loading, volume and program design as a whole elicited little in strength and muscle hypertrophy gains in my opinion. Further, half the gym session was spent doing pre-hab exercises with light bands and bodyweight.

    With regards to power, the focus was on 30-40% 1RM and usually as a compound set rather than stand alone exercise with little done in the way of Olympic lifts. Reading the article on band and chain training by Dan Baker he mentions that soccer players tend to focus on this lower 1RM% whereas his experience is League and Union players operate in explosive power (70%1RM) and max power (90% 1RM).

    Now I know soccer players don’t have to overcome an opposition player’s force in the true sense but surely with such low 1RMs and such low percentages of that used for power and strength training, but surely the conditioning would hardly be of benefit. They need to at least move 70 kg round the field as fast as possible and regularly come into contact with other players (I guess that’s why we see so much diving).

    I have since been fortunate enough to be exposed to an elite level Union conditioning environment which has somewhat confirmed the Dan Baker observation. The training involves much more strength work, infinitely higher loads (80-100% 1RM, a greater emphasis on power training (including Olympic lifts) and a training loading of at least 70% 1RM even for power.

    My question would be why do soccer S&C coaches not expose their players to the type of training that I assume you do for your wide 5 (backline) as i’m sure they are just as explosive, fast and agile as any professional soccer player yet are stronger, can deliver a greater force and possibly better fatigue resistance.

    I hope what i’m trying to ask makes sense and sorry if it was too long. I’m interested in getting your view on this issue and there are so many questions. I could write an essay on the differences in training but just can’t understand the reasoning for most, if not all, of these differences. It almost seems like soccer conditioning is still in the dark ages.




    A lot of what you said comes down to the amount of games they play-at least here in the UK most sides will play 2 games per week. When you have recovered from the game done a team run and gone through some skill work this will leave very little time for anything else. Not to say that it cant be done but completing the volume of resistance sessions that a union or league player does would be suicidal for a soccer team.


    Yeah, fair enough but this team was an A-League team playing 21 games over 7 months. Also, my time was spent there in pre-season where they had 5 months to prepare for the season.

    The main issue was not so much volume but rather that they focussed on relatively light loads, even for an 8-12 rep set which made for some very ordinary 1RM testing results.

    Power done as an afterthought (i.e. 12 reps of 45 degree leg press immediately followed by 6 box jumps) or bench throws at 40% 1RM is something I also find strange now having been exposed to Union conditioning. I would have thought some Olympic lifts or power exercises at a higher 1RM% would be of benefit.


    a 5 month pre-season period is very rare in professional football or even rugby union, however from the information you have given it looks like their strength programme was poor.

    A lot of S & C coaches in football, at least in the UK come from an exercise physiology background and as such are more like ‘scientists’ rather than coaches. As a result of this their knowledge and application of strength training is often very poor, this coupled with the mentality of football players not needing to be strong often leads to an endurance based programme with little or no regard given to strength development.

    Also though you can improve power without the use of Olympic lifts, but by using jumps, medball throws and barbell exercises with sub-maximal loads. I like using Olympic lifting but this is not to say power can only be achieved through this training method.


    I would have to agree that the schedule in season makes it very difficult to get any strength/power work done, and the amount of running done in training and games would negate any emphasis on hypertrophy gains particularly if the weights lifted are not stressing adaptation, but I agree there would appear to be certain positions that being more powerful in would be a major advantage, strikers, defenders and goal keepers come to mind, your question is a good one and was once explained to me by a basketball s & c coach in the US working with an NBA team they did basically just machine work, he did not want to injure anyone and get sacked so he took the option of a program with minimum risk of injury, maybe that is why football s & c coaches do not push the higher threshhold training, also tradition has a lot to do with training and often coaches just train the way they were trained, when the Bulls were on top they did a lot of strength and power training, they also had Michael Jordan playing, so maybe it will take a Chelsea or Manchester United or a Real Madrid to win and for it to come out that they have a big emphasis on strength and power training, I have been told that this year is the first that Chelsea has had a s & c coach, please correct me if you know this not to be true, I personally believe that they are missing out on a distinct advantage by not pursuing olympic related movements, cheers, ashley


    Cheers for that, had a think about it last night and I guess a better way to put the question would be…

    Can you think of any physical/physiological reason why an elite level soccer player couldn’t undertake the S&C work (especially the gym sessions) that you put your wide 5 (McDonald, Poki, Laulala, Bateman, Maitland) through and still remain competitive in soccer? This is from a pre-season perspective, or if during the season keeping a similar regime but reducing the volume to accomodate the extra game time demands…

    Alternatively, individual skills aside, is there any physical/ physiological attributes as a result of their training (especially gym work) that means any of your wide 5 would be uncompetitive in an elite soccer environment (e.g. flexibility, speed, endurance)…

    Hope this is a better way to put it.





    Chelsea had a sport scientist who came with Jose Mourinho, but I believe that they did not value strength training that much so I would assume this year is the first that they have a Strength & Conditioning coach who has responsibility for strength training. I have a friend who work at Birmingham City FC and having spent some time with him, I would never work in football, well maybe if I was paid as much as some of the players!

    In terms of clubs with decent programmes I believe Arsenal and Manchester United have good set-ups, however, some players will just refuse to complete workouts and when you are dealing with egos that big I would imagine it not being easy to get them to do something they have never done


    Hello all, sorry have not been able to contribute as of late due to serious laptop malfunctions and some intervention by ash and steve.

    I happened to work in a rugby league and soccer club at the same time for 3 years, and i have to agree with a lot of the posts, soccer is very traditional and tend to stick to training methods that has been passed down through the generations. Also the schedule is fairly full but the clubs dont look at small 10-15 minute pockets of conditioning to improve/maintain as the long season progresses. There is also a propensity in soccer to do “speed/Sprints” at the end of a 60-90 minute football session ???????
    My experience of soccer (both premiership and division 3 ) is that the players have a very low training age in the gym, with limited understanding in the benefits of weights, which is not normally supported by the head coach which makes the task even harder.

    Because i made both the league team and the soccer team train in same centre and posted their testing scores on the walls of the training centre, it highlighted the vast s c gulf between the 2 codes.



    A few points …

    Soccer is very skill based – so physical aspects have never been emphasized as much as in Rugby (to date).
    The higher up the levels the less ‘strength’ work generally done and less emphasis on physical advantage – ‘If a player is poor sell him rather than try and improve him’.
    To be perfectly honest – even in the most advanced UK clubs you could do any weight training and improve them
    The dynamics are also very different – while they may be arguably as strong per body weight etc etc – there is a massive difference in VO2’s
    Now we know VO2 is not as important as we used think – but it still is a measure of aerobic ability
    Bris makes the most important point though about the Prem and that’s the number of games you have to manage – it’s essentially about keeping guys on the field from week to week.
    Off season is literally 6 weeks if you’re an International Player
    If you had 5 months to prepare a Premiership team in the UK you’d win every competition in Europe
    One point though that is important is that traditionally the coaches were actually more Physio’s – if you look at the structure in soccer the head of most Physical Preparation departments was actually a Physiotherapist – which is a completely different attitude to S&C coaches in Rugby.


    European Season too long- Starts August and Ends May. Top players can play upwards of 50 games at least.

    Agree with the post that said education of S&C is v.poor, and most training work is based upon the generational hand-me-down route. My mate is a soccer coach here in the UK and he marvels as 1) The education and availability of training advice/ programmes to Rugby League Coaches/ Players and 2) The levels of intensity and fitness shown by Rugby League players even in mid- level Amateurs.

    He took some sample conditioning sessions and put it in his clubs pre-season- Conference league level- and there was nearly a mutiny!


    But many coaches think soccer conditioning and rugby is the same – where it’s very different.
    Different game, different culture, different demands, different psychology, different training needs.

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