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Football Team Fitness Training

Tony in Sussex, England asks:

"My football team is getting ready for the new season. What sort of training should we be doing to make sure we are fit?"

Marc Bernier, Senior Physical Therapist at the Alabama Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center (ASMOC), replies:

"Conditioning for the sport of football has transformed from the days of performing long distance running at moderate paces, to more dynamic approaches that incorporate all components of athleticism. In order to optimally train for football, it is imperative that the training approach be specific to the demands placed on the athlete during matches. Interval circuit training can be an ideal approach to both enhance a player's fitness and also improve his athleticism.

"The goal of any conditioning program should be to make the player a better athlete, not a better long distance runner. The most effective training sessions will emphasize the following components:

  1. Anaerobic fitness (sprint recovery)
  2. Acceleration and deceleration
  3. Agility and footwork
  4. Core strength
  5. Lower extremity power
  6. Aerobic fitness (Interval circuit training)

Anaerobic fitness

"The nature of the sport of football dictates that players must be able to perform repetitive series of sprints at maximal intensity, with the ability to recover quickly between each sprint being the critical factor. Shuttle runs and multiple sprints (i.e. 10 x 30 meters) are appropriate methods to use, with emphasis on decreasing rest times between repetitions.

Acceleration and deceleration

"Although speed is an ideal trait in any athlete, the ability to accelerate over short distances is more important in football. A player's 40 meter sprint time is not as vital as how quickly he can accelerate during the first 10-20 meters. It is not unusual to find players on a team with the fastest 40 meter times have the slowest 15 meter split. The player who can accelerate quicker is more likely to get to the ball first, which is obviously a key indicator for success during a match. Additionally, the ability to decelerate must also be emphasized so that players can 'stop on a dime'to gain possession of the ball and set up their next move.


"The ability to perform changes of direction quickly and powerfully cannot be emphasized enough in any football training session, as this is one of the most vital components of athleticism needed for success in the sport. Sprint patterns that incorporate rapid transitions between multiple planes of motion (forward, backward, diagonal, lateral, 180º turns, etc.) should be integrated into the session. Additionally, one of the prerequisites for agility is proper footwork that is quick and coordinated in nature. The use of 'agility ladders' can be very beneficial for training proper footwork techniques, and also for muscular endurance work by having the player perform repetitive series of footwork patterns in sets of 2-3 minutes continuously.

Core strength

"All athletic movements begin with a reflex stabilization of the 'core'of the body, which consists of the abdominal, low back and pelvic musculature. This core stability provides a firm base from which explosive movements can occur at the extremities. Without this stability a player's ability to accelerate and change direction with power will be significantly diminished. However, to be most effective, the activities performed must be functional. Some common techniques include the use of medicine ball throws from a variety of positions (seated, standing) and can also be performed in a more dynamic manner while jogging.

Lower extremity power

"One common misconception among youth coaches is that strength training in a gym using weight machines will improve a player's performance by making him stronger. It must be understood that in most sports the key to success is not strength, but power. Power in athletic terms is the ability to perform maximal work over a short time period (milliseconds). The need for power in football can be seen throughout a match: shooting; jumping for a header; tackling; etc. The most effective manner in which to train for athletic power is through the use of plyometrics. Examples of plyometrics include box jumps, vertical jumps, bounding, single leg hops, etc.

Aerobic fitness - Interval Circuit Training

"When each of the above is performed in isolation, it is unlikely that an optimal training effect will result for the football athlete. The conditioning programs that I conduct integrate all of the previously mentioned components into a circuit training format. Each session lasts approximately 45 -60 minutes in duration, and consists of 4-6 stations. Each station emphasizes at least one of the above components of athleticism in a manner that is specific to the sport of football. An example of a typical circuit includes:

  • Station 1
    Continuous agility ladder pattern for 2 minutes.
    3 sets.
  • Station 2
    Seated / kneeling medicine ball throws.
    3 sets of 8-10 repetitions.
  • Station 3
    Acceleration - deceleration runs: sprint 20m, decelerate within 3-5m, backward jog to back to the start position.
    2 sets of 8 repetitions.
  • Station 4
    Recovery station: juggling, light continuous jog, etc.
  • Station 5
    Combination runs: various patterns that include sprinting slaloms around flags, over mini-hurdles, through agility ladders, etc.
  • Station 6
    Plyometric box jumps: sprint 10m, perform series of 3 box plyometrics, jog 20m, perform 10 vertical jumps over hurdle, sprint

"Appropriate rest periods are given between each station. The ultimate benefit of this form of conditioning is that it addresses all the key components of athleticism, but it also incorporates an aerobic component that is extremely important late in matches.

"The interval circuit training program is an ideal manner in which to condition the football player, as it will not only enhance his fitness level, but it will also work towards making him a better overall athlete.

"The drills described in this article are those typically used by experienced soccer players, who have a good base level of fitness. All fitness programs should be supervised by a qualified conditioning coach or trainer. Consult your doctor before undertaking a fitness program."

More about Marc Bernier >

Article published: 2nd July 2003