Football Conditioning: Running versus Football

The use of football itself as a conditioning tool was previously believed to unable to improve player fitness. It was this belief that saw the reliance on the use of generic training – this is where you see players performing non-specific running programs.

Very often the first phase of a pre-season sees players running around a field, up and down a hill, or on the beach to improve their fitness. Whilst these may have value, the question that needs to be asked is, “Are we making the most of our limited time during pre-season to condition the players based on the coach’s style of play?”.

Recent studies have found that small (3v3-4v4), medium (5v5-8v8) and large sided games (9v9-11v11) are able to replicate the physical, technical, and tactical demands of a competitive football game. This is important, as instead of using one training mode (running) to improve fitness for football, we can use football itself to improve the fitness of players, while also prepare them technically and tactically.

Table 1: Advantages & disadvantages between specific & generic conditioning (Reproduced from Little, 2009).

There are several advantages and disadvantages to both forms of training (Table 1), but at the end of the day the Principle of Specificity reigns supreme – “The adaptation of the body or change in physical fitness is specific to the type of training undertaken.” Just think of it this way, are we training to run for 30-minutes round a sports track at one set pace, or are we training to compete in a sport that is dynamic and intermittent (stop-start) in nature?

As with any training program, you need to follow the basics of a progressive overload – do not do too much too soon, slowly build the players up in a structured manner to avoid injuries and ensure proper player recovery.

If you would like to know more about soccer specific physical training, take a look at the courses offered by our Official Education Partner, the International Soccer Science and Performance Federation on

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