How Should I Condition for Soccer? - Indianapolis Fitness And Sports Training
Sports Performance Training

How Should I Condition for Soccer?

written by Mike Robertson

soccer-headerIf you don’t think fitness in soccer is important, you haven’t been watching the 2014 World Cup.

  • Mexico holds the lead into the 86th minute, only to give up two goals in the final eight minutes and lose.
  • Brazil/Chile goes through extra time (120 minutes), and finally wins on PK’s.
  • Greece/Costa Rica also goes through extra time, and furthermore, Costa Rica plays the last 55 minutes with only 10 men!

Imagine how that must feel – you’ve spent years of your life dedicated to this one moment.

Will you have the gas left in the tank to make those runs?

Will you be able to ward off fatigue enough to focus and bang home that big PK?

This is why conditioning is so important!

Couple World Cup fever with the fact that many of our high school and college athletes are full-tilt into their off-season at IFAST, and I think it’s time to have a chat about conditioning.

A few weeks back, I wrote a post discussing what soccer players need to focus on in the off-season. If you don’t want to read the whole post, I’ll summarize here in three quick bullet points:

  1. Improve movement quality,
  2. Improve strength, and
  3. Improve conditioning.

We’ll cover the other aspects down the line, but I think conditioning is a really misunderstood topic, especially in the soccer community.

Too often, I see kids that come to me who are woefully overtrained. A coach runs them into the ground in an effort to “get them into shape,” yet when it comes time to perform on the pitch, they still gas out in as little as 15-20 minutes.

And if you think I’m embellishing, I’ve seen this time and time again. One girl worked her butt off to “get into shape” and pass the various conditioning tests which were thrown at her over the start of her career, but she would always gas out on the pitch, even though she was pushing herself as hard as possible.

What gives?

Quite simply, if you don’t have a systematic approach to building conditioning, you’re never going to be able to go 70, 80 or 90 minutes. It’s just not going to happen.

With our soccer athletes here at IFAST, we typically break the off-season down into three distinct training cycles:

  1. A lower-intensity “base” phase,
  2. A  middle phase, where we use a mixture of high and low-intensity training, and
  3. A high-intensity or “peaking” phase.

Without getting into all the minute details, let’s take a brief look at each, as well as you need to address each step along the way.

Phase 1: The Base Phase

While the term “aerobic” is currently taboo in a lot of circles, it definitely shouldn’t be.

The fact of the matter is if you play soccer, you need a strong and well-developed aerobic energy system. The aerobic energy system is the only one that’s capable of supplying your body with energy for prolonged periods of time.

In our initial phase, we’ll often focus on lower intensity methods to help build the aerobic base. While you can obviously go out and run for an extended period of time, what’s most important is that you keep the intensity in a very specific target range.

Too often, athletes want to feel as though they’re working hard, and as such, they train too intensely early-on. This doesn’t allow for the proper adaptation in the cardiovascular and circulatory systems, and ultimately limits their performance.

Another cool thing here is that you don’t have to go out and simply run. You can make this more fun by creating various circuits, or even get some technical work in with a ball at your feet.

The key here, though, is to keep the training intensity low and build a base. From there, we can move into Phase 2.

Phase 2: The Middle Phase

Our second conditioning phase is where things start to get real 🙂

We’ve built a solid aerobic base, and now it’s time to continue improving that base, while also getting into more high intensity running and sprinting. In our geek speak we call this an “Aerobic-Alactic” or “Alactic/Aerobic-Intensive” phase, but I’m 99.999% 100% sure you don’t care about that.

The scientific literature tells us that the average sprint in soccer is only 2-4 seconds, so the goal is to work on pure sprinting speed and acceleration. Quite simply if we can make someone faster in a small area, they’re more likely to create separation as an offensive player, or close a gap and cut off angles as a defensive player.

Perhaps more importantly when talking about conditioning, though, is the ability to do sprint repeatedly throughout the game.

So in this phase we’re not only working to make you faster and more explosive, but to give you the ability to do this repeatedly throughout the game.

Remember my girl above, who struggled with her conditioning? After only 5 weeks on one of our off-season programs, she texted me and said she was still making runs as a forward in the 85th minute of her matches.

Now that’s pretty darn impressive, if you ask me!

Prior to this time, she was the girl would could give you 15-20 minutes and that was it. Coaches up to this point had labeled her as “out of shape” and viewed her more as a sub than a starter, which brings us to the second part of this phase.

The second goal is to bring up resiliency and fatigue resistance as well. This is where some higher intensity running can come into play.

Regardless, even though this is higher intensity than the previous phase, it’s still not HIGH intensity. And perhaps more importantly, it’s within a targeted and specific training zone so that recovery is more complete.

Once this phase is done, it’s time to wrap up with our final peaking phase.

Phase 3: The Peaking Phase

The final step in our soccer conditioning program is truly high-intensity work.

The key here is that we’ve taken numerous weeks to build a base, and we’ve set the stage for high-intensity training.

What I often see is that coaches and athletes get caught up in the high-intensity training trap, and that’s all they do day after day, week after week, and month after month.

Without getting into all the scientific jargon, suffice it to say that excessive and continual high-intensity training negatively impacts recovery, and can drive athletes into the ground.

And not only does it negatively impact recovery, but it also increases stress and anxiety, and is incredibly hard on the body in general.

As such, it should only be used at certain times of the year, and even then, only for short periods of time.

Think of high-intensity training as the icing on the cake. When served with an awesome piece of cake, it accentuates it and makes it better.

But as a stand alone product?

Well I don’t know about you, but more than 2-3 bites of icing and I’m done.


An intelligently laid out and progressive conditioning program is of the utmost importance if you’re a soccer player.

Going high-intensity year round may give the impression that you’re working hard, but you’re definitely not working smart.

If you’re interested in having IFAST lay out a program for you, please reach out to us via e-mail at [email protected], or phone at 317.578.0998. We’d love to help take your performance to the next level!

All the best


Mike Robertson

  1. Great article but my concern is the “peaking phase”. Now, it may simply be the use of the term “peaking” but when i think peak that means hitting on all cylinders. If that’s the case, then before you peak you are yet to be hitting those cylinders. So, for an NCAA program … If you plan for them to peak in the postseason you are taking away something, therefore, during the season. Well if you aren’t peaking during the season you’re not making postseason. It would seem like microcycles where you’re hopefully peaking each game, instead of during each part of a season makes more sense. At least during the actual playing season. Love the article though. Think there is a lot of great info … Just wanted your thoughts on that.

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