The Physical Demands of Football (Soccer) – Part I

living in Australia. Heck, our national team is called the SOCCERoos. Yet I can’t help myself. It just makes sense. Of all the footballs, it is the one in which you use your foot most.

Nomenclature nitpicking aside, I said I’d write about the physical demands of the game, so this leads off my two part series which will look at the physical demands of football. This first part will discuss the energy system demands of the game, as well as a suggestion on training for it, whilst the second part will discuss the motor skills required to make it big, or just make an impact at your local ground.

Analysis of World Cup play showed that players on average covered a distance of 10 km in a game, yet over 51% of the high intensity action lasted only 20 seconds or less. Actual sprinting occurred even less, at only 5.8% of the time spent running, Gambetta (2002).

Other analysis shows a total breakdown of movement as follows: It was found that during the 90 minutes players spent 17% (15 min.) standing, 42% (38 min.) walking, 16% (14 min.) jogging, 25% (22 min.) running with less than 2 minutes of this sprinting, dos Remedios (2010).

What does this mean though?

Well, before I read this, and before I knew much about physiology, I would have said soccer is an aerobic dominant sport. Yet now I realise that although it appears to be an aerobic sport, the game is played with a constantly elevated heart rate, with peaks and troughs as effort goes up and down. There are bursts of effort (anaerobic), and recovering from those bursts (aerobic).

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It was interesting to hear Sir Alex Ferguson comment on Manchester United’s pre season training this summer. He mentioned how in years gone by, the players would perform longer distance running, which included 400 m runs, 800 m runs and often higher. This season he said most of the work was 200 m runs. This is is the change in thought process that parallels his comments I blogged about relating to improvements in sports science.