You are raring to go for the first game of the season. Your body isn’t as sore after training, you’ve psychologically went through some tough sessions and you have built up to 90 minutes of match fitness.
There is a big emphasis on building fitness in pre-season, and rightly so. You need to increase those levels after taking some down time in the off-season.
It’s much harder to INCREASE fitness than it is to MAINTAIN it.
Therefore, building in the pre-season and maintaining/slightly building as best you can in the actual season when there are more games is logical.
It’s difficult for coaches (in particular outside of professional football) to accurately and effectively manage the workloads their players go through in-season. A lot of players will work laborious full time jobs and have external stress off the pitch which is very difficult to report and monitor accurately. Additionally, there is far less contact time with players.
What often happens is coaches will finish pre-season with a very fit squad and then put fitness down the pecking order in terms of priority. This isn’t a a major issue, as long as it is sprinkled periodically throughout your training week.
Technical and tactical training done by many players or coaches very often doesn’t deliver the high intensity training (speed, strength or distances) which players were exposed to in pre-season. It serves a purpose fitness wise to provide a low intensity stimulus but not enough to keep those fitness levels high throughout the season.
This often leads to teams slowly but surely decreasing their fitness levels (some even get injured) as the season goes on. Devastatingly, a lot of these teams are really lacking that sharpness when it comes to the business end of the season fighting for a championship or a relegation battle (see the blue line on the chart below).
Luckily a simple 10-20 minute exposure just once per week in addition to the match day can be enough for many players to keep their fitness levels topped up to a high level and actually nudge back up to high levels at the business end (see the orange line on the chart below).
*Numbers are there to give guide of potential high’s and low’s of a teams fitness if fitness is not worked on in-season. There would be much more up’s and downs on the graph to represent a coach and players adaptation to workload and schedule.
Already Doing Additional High Intensity ‘Top Ups’ In-Season?
Excellent. You or your team probably have no issue throughout the season with fitness.
But, here is some food for thought for you:
Small sided games, whilst a fantastic way to provide high intensity football specific stimulus, isn’t all that guaranteed to provide the fitness stimulus you hope it will unless you have GPS systems and several coaches to monitor and motivate players to get all players working as intensely as you want.
Supplementing small sided games WITH small doses of additional high intensity runs (5-10 min) is a more effective way for coaches without GPS to ensure players are hitting the speeds and distances they want to get the fitness stimulus desired.
Players who don’t play or don’t play much WILL need additional work.
Look for windows of opportunity i.e. OFF week and also be mindful of 2 or 3 games in 7 day periods.
MINIMUM EFFECTIVE DOSE. Why add in the High Intensity work on two sessions when you can do one with the same if not more effective results in-season? Doing too much can be as detrimental as not doing anything.
All elements of fitness are included in this discussion, not just ‘endurance/conditioning’. Some fitness abilities WILL deteriorate earlier than others if they are not worked on.
Speed and strength should be trained at LEAST once per week in-season. Again, a little goes a long way
Recovery is as important as the stimulus. Put your ‘top up fitness sessions in-season’ furthest from your match day.