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  • Writer's pictureMatchfit Football

The Advantages of Interval Training For Football Fitness

Updated: 3 days ago

It's pretty well established now that interval training is the optimal choice for footballers to increase their fitness.

...But I still often find myself debating this topic with football coaches on social media.

Mainly (I think) because during their playing days, long, gruelling runs were the way to get fit.

The common belief is that because a match is 90 minutes long, going on a 90 minute run is the obvious and best way to prepare you for that.

But that's outdated thinking, and here are the top reasons why:

1. Optimised Energy Systems Development:

The intermittent nature of interval training mirrors the stop-start nature of football matches, making it a more football-specific conditioning method.

By alternating between work and rest intervals, you'll develop the ability to recover quickly between high-intensity efforts, which is crucial for maintaining performance throughout a match.

In contrast, steady-state runs primarily target the aerobic system and may not adequately also train your anaerobic energy pathways - required for the explosive actions typical of football.

2. Enhanced Speed and Acceleration:

Football requires frequent bursts of high-intensity running, including sprints and rapid changes of direction.

Interval training replicates these demands more closely than steady-state runs by incorporating repeated bouts of maximal or near-maximal effort interspersed with brief recovery periods.

This stimulates neuromuscular adaptations, such as improved muscle recruitment patterns and enhanced motor unit synchronisation, leading to greater gains in your speed, acceleration and agility compared to continuous training methods.

3. Increased Metabolic Rate and Fat Oxidation:

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) induces a phenomenon known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), whereby your body continues to burn calories at an elevated rate after the workout.

This metabolic effect is more pronounced following HIIT sessions compared to steady-state aerobic exercise like 5ks, resulting in greater overall energy expenditure and potential fat loss over time.

HIIT has been shown to preserve lean muscle mass while promoting fat oxidation, making it a more efficient method for improving your body composition too!

4. Enhanced Neuromuscular Control and Stability:

Multi-directional training challenges your body to move in various planes of motion, including lateral, rotational and diagonal movements, which are common in football.

By incorporating exercises that mimic the dynamic, unpredictable nature of the football, you'll improve your neuromuscular control and proprioception.

This enhanced control will help stabilise your joints, particularly the knees and ankles, reducing the risk of ligament sprains and other traumatic injuries during sudden changes of direction on the pitch.

5. Balanced Muscular Development:

Straight-line running primarily engages muscles in a forward-backward direction, neglecting the stabilising muscles responsible for lateral and rotational movements.

Multi-directional training, on the other hand, recruits a broader range of muscle groups, including the adductors, abductors and rotators, leading to more balanced muscular development.

Strengthening these muscles around the hips, knees and ankles helps maintain your joint alignment and stability, reducing the likelihood of overuse injuries and muscular imbalances that can result from repetitive straight-line movements.

6. Improved Joint Mobility and Flexibility: 

Multi-directional training also promotes greater joint mobility and flexibility compared to straight-line running, as it requires you to move through a wider range of motion in various planes.

Exercises that involve cutting, pivoting and decelerating challenge your joints to adapt to different movement patterns, enhancing flexibility and dynamic stability.

This increased joint mobility helps reduce the risk of soft tissue injuries, such as muscle strains and tears, by allowing the muscles and tendons to lengthen and absorb forces more effectively during rapid directional changes on the football pitch.

As always, it's about finding that balance between progressing your fitness whilst simultaneously doing what you can to boost your injury resilience at the same time.

...So if your coach is still making you run laps of the pitch - send them to this article!

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