Metabolic Conditioning in the form of Small Sided Games


What is it?

As football has become more modernised, conditioning training has moved from long continuous aerobic exercises towards football specific interval drills (Rhea et al, 2009). This change is aimed at meeting the demands of match situations whilst reducing training volume and therefore susceptibility to injuries. Metabolic conditioning is a method of conditioning athletes using game related practices in the form of small sided games to enable athlete’s to adapt to the physical and psychological demands of their sport (Dellal et al, 2012). Small sided games is a common practice method of playing sport in a smaller version, whether that be a smaller area of playing surface or smaller numbers of players involved. Throughout the UK small sided games are played daily ranging from recreational 5-a-side competitions or elite training session at professional football clubs.

Why is this training method used?

Small sided games are utilised by coaches to improve an athlete’s conditioning, technique and tactical performance. The aim of this method is to increase the athlete’s ability to replicate the high intensity moments at key parts in a game (Rhea et al, 2009). The intermittent game related practice targets both energy systems to enable explosive actions when required whilst being able to quickly recover during times of low intensity work. This method can be critical in decisive moments of competition especially the latter stages.


Variations and Adaptations

Small sided games can be easily altered to suit the team or individual’s required adaptation. By altering the number of participants, playing area size and modifying the rules, coaches can target specific areas for improvement (Radziminski, Rompa, Barnat, Darglewicz and Jastrzebski, 2013). The training intensity can be increased by making the playing area bigger or reduced by making it smaller or introducing more players.

By increasing the athletes conditioning, adaptations expected would be an increase in stroke volume and blood flow capacity to allow more oxygen to transport around the body. This increase in energy production will also allow for a more efficient lactate removal and improve fighting the onset of fatigue (Ross and Leveritt, 2001).

Small sided games can also be adapted to suite the coach’s session goal. In the below video of an Edge Hill Ladies team, the training session was aimed at increasing the amount of 1v1 occasions so fewer players were used in a bigger space. Although altering the size of the pitch has been shown to have little effect on the participant’s heart rate, it does have a positive effect on the amount of technical skills practiced during the same time period (Kelly and Drust, 2009).

Literature and further research

Small sided games have been shown to increase footballers Vo2 max, anaerobic threshold and recovery (Rhea et al, 2009). During a study of 40 elite football players participating in 3 games of 4v4 and 2 friendly matches, players were found to cover a greater distance and perform more high intensity runs in all positions during small sided games (Dellal et al, 2012).

In a study of 20 male u16 year old football players, small sided games showed an improvement in both maximal oxygen consumption and technical skills as opposed to continuous running training (Radziminski et al, 2013). This was further reinforced by Helgurud,  Engen, Wisloff and Hoff (2001) who found no improvement in the precision or quality of passes following an 8 week period of interval running training.


Little research has been carried out regarding the technical aspect of small sided games. It is widely accepted that few players on the pitch can lead to an increased amount of on the ball actions for the participants. However Dellal et al (2012) discovered that the percentage of successful passes was lower during small sided games, particularly those with enforced match conditions (1 touch and 2 touches only).



Metabolic conditioning is beneficial in increasing a football player’s performance by increasing their ability to sustain anaerobic activity and their ability to quickly recover. It is important to determine the individual’s specific metabolic demands in order to achieve the greatest gains in the quickest time possible (Rhea et al, 2009).

With small sided games found to have similar physiological responses to specific interval training, its added bonus of being beneficial tactically and technically for the athletes involved making it a popular choice for coaches today.

From a personal standpoint, I find small sided games much more enjoyable than traditional conditioning programmes and I prefer them to full size games due to feeling more involved in the game. I bet I’m not the only one.

Other Links


DELLAL, A., OWEN, A., WONG, D. P., KRUSTRUP, P., VAN EXSEL, M., & MALLO, J. 2012. Technical and physical demands of small vs. large sided games in relation to playing position in elite soccer. Human movement science, 31(4), 957-969.

HELGERUD, J., ENGEN, L. C., WISLOFF, U., & HOFF, J. 2001. Aerobic endurance training improves soccer performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 33(11), 1925-1931.

HILL-HAAS, S. V., DAWSON, B., IMPELLIZZERI, F. M., & COUTTS, A. J. 2011. Physiology of small-sided games training in football. Sports medicine, 41(3), 199-220.

KELLY, D. M., & DRUST, B. 2009. The effect of pitch dimensions on heart rate responses and technical demands of small-sided soccer games in elite players. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12(4), 475-479.

RADZIMINSKI, L., ROMPA, P., BARNAT, W., DARGIEWICZ, R., & JASTRZEBSKI, Z. 2013. A Comparison of the Physiological and Technical Effects of High-Intensity Running and Small-Sided Games in Young Soccer Players. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 8(3), 455-466.

RHEA, M. R., LAVINGE, D. M., ROBBINS, P., ESTEVE-LANAO, J., & HULTGREN, T. L. 2009. Metabolic conditioning among soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(3), 800-806.

ROSS, A., & LEVERITT, M. 2001. Long-term metabolic and skeletal muscle adaptations to short-sprint training. Sports Medicine, 31(15), 1063-1082.


Altitude Training for Football


What is it?

Exposure to altitude has been shown to have negative effects on the endurance of football players. This is because activities carried out at altitude have been shown to reduce the amount of ATP1 production due to lower air pressure (Levine, Stray-Gundersen and Mehta, 2008). As a result of this, the air becomes ‘thinner’, leading to difficulties breathing as less oxygen particles are taken in and an increase in heart rate as the body works harder to transport blood to working organs (Wilber, 2011).

Why is this training method used?

Altitude training is used to aid athletes in acclimatisation to help eliminate the signs of attitude sickness. A lack of oxygen at altitude can lead to athletes feeling nauseated, fatigued, disorientated and dizzy. Altitude training aims to prevent severe reactions to the changes in altitude by slowly allowing the athlete to get used to their surroundings and gradually preparing them for an upcoming competition. For matches played at high altitude, Gore, McSharry, Hewitt and Sauders (2008) suggest a week training at a moderate altitude before moving up to a higher altitude prior to the match.  Football teams often adopt this approach for tournaments by setting up training camps a few weeks prior. The below video explains the thinking behind Englands u20 football team altitude training before the 2011 World Cup.

Variations and Adaptations

The amount of time taken to acclimatise is often dependent upon the length of the competition or the level of altitude. There are 3 main types of altitude training summarised by Ben Griffen and Michael Chiovitti summarised below:

Live High – Train High

Originally research suggested both training and living should take place at high altitude to best prepare athletes. This however led to athletes experiencing de-training as their recovery was halted due to the lack of oxygen (Levine, 2002). Training high and living high is a precarious balancing act as too long exposed to training in high altitude can result in over-training whereas staying too short in these conditions would be of little benefit whatsoever. The biggest criticism of this method is the inability to replicate the required intensity to improve performance.

Live High – Train Low

Another method of altitude training is to train at sea level but then to rest at altitude. Here the athlete can replicate the required intensity of performance and still acclimatize to higher altitude whilst they sleep. Studies have shown that the beneficial effects of this can last up to 3 weeks post-altitude (Wilber, 2011). Although the running performance increased by only 1% in elite sport that can be the difference between success and failure.

Live Low – Train High

This method, often referred to as Intermittent Hypoxic Training consists of living at low altitude and training at high altitude.  This is often the most practical for coaches as they can create a simulated environment via the use of an altitude training chamber which is inexpensive.


This table taken from Levine (2002) shows the change in maximal oxygen uptake under the conditions of the 3 methods mentioned. This highlights how maximal oxygen uptake decreased during low-low training as opposed to high-low and high-high sessions.

Adaptations expected during altitude training are an increase in the blood carrying capacity of the blood and an increase in muscle buffering capacity. This is beneficial for sports which require high intensity running such as football (McLean et al, 2013).

Literature and further research

Evidence of a decrease in performance at altitude this can be found during the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa.  Matches were played in altitudes ranging from 0-1753m above sea level. The resultant research into the amount of total distance covered showed a decrease of 3.1% during matches played at 1400m and above (Nassis, 2103). Another study of 1460 matches spanned over 100 years found that in international football; high altitude teams had a significant advantage over low altitude teams at both high and low altitude (McSharry, 2007). This is due to lowland teams struggling to acclimatise to high altitudes which impact their physiological performance.

Currently FIFA2 recommend an acclimatisation period of at least 3 days when playing at an altitude of 1500m or above.  This is a short amount of time compared to Gore et al (2008) suggestion of 1-2 weeks of acclimatisation at moderate/high altitudes to overcome acute mountain sickness and partial restore Vo2 max.



Currently there is a lack of research in to the exact time taken to acclimatise due to the difference in individual responses. Individuals have been shown to react differently to given stimulus with some not responding at all. Coaches are therefore required to monitor their athlete’s reactions to training at altitude and be alert for any signs of altitude sickness.



Exposure to altitude has many adverse effects on the health of athletes. Acclimatisation is crucial before competition to enable a team of individual to compete to their potential. Coaches must keep in mind that individuals are different and that training must be specific to their needs.

This article is a brief overview of training at altitude. There are many factors that may alter the effectiveness of altitude training such as the athlete’s diet, fitness levels and the quality of their sleep which require further investigation. Research that has been carried out highlights the improvements made during an acclimatisation period and the recommendation for altitude to take place preseason to prepare footballers for an upcoming campaign (McLean et al, 2013).


Other Links


  1. Adenosine Triphosphate – A substance that provides immediate energy to muscle cells. ATP is the main energy source for the majority of cellular functions.
  2. FIFA – The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or International Federation of Association Football in English, is the international governing body responsible for organising and promoting tournaments all over the world.


GORE, C. J., MCSHARRY, P. E., HEWITT, A. J., & SAUNDERS, P. U. 2008. Preparation for football competition at moderate to high altitude. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 18(s1), 85-95.

LEVINE, B. D. 2002. Intermittent hypoxic training: fact and fancy. High altitude medicine & biology, 3(2), 177-193.

LEVINE, B. D., STRAY‐GUNDERSEN, J., & MEHTA, R. D. 2008. Effect of altitude on football performance. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 18(s1), 76-84.

MCLEAN, B. D., BUTTIFANT, D., GORE, C. J., WHITE, K., LIESS, C., & KEMP, J. 2013. Physiological and performance responses to a pre-season altitude training camp in elite team sport athletes. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 8(4), 391-9.

MCSHARRY, P. E. 2007. Altitude and athletic performance: statistical analysis using football results. BMJ, 335(7633), 1278-1281.

NASSIS, G. P. 2013. Effect of altitude on football performance: analysis of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Data. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3), 703-707.

WILBER, R.L. 2011. Application of Altitude/Hypoxic Training By Elite Athletes.  Journal of Human Sport & Exercise. 6 (2). 271-287.

Plyometric Training in football


What is it?

Plyometric training is a set of exercises or drill which looks to increase an individual’s power by combining exercised based on speed and power. Usually involving bodyweight exercises, plyometric uses the stretch-shortening cycle muscle action to produce maximal force in the shortest amount of time (Markovic and Mikulic, 2010). This development of explosive movement has become very popular with the arrival of programmes such as crossfit and includes a variety of disciplines such as jumping, box jumps, counter-movement jumps, kettlebells, pull-up bars and resistance bars carried out usually at a high intensity.

Why is this training method used?

Speed and agility training can provide stimulus at the high velocity spectrum of the force-velocity curve (see below) and can be beneficial in a variety of sports including football (Hoffman, Cooper, Wendell and Kang, 2004). That ability to jump higher to win the ball or leap over an oncoming defender can be the difference between success and failure.



Variations and Adaptations

With footballers required to make a huge number of explosive actions during a game, it is advantageous to build explosive power in the leg muscles to aid in jumping, kicking, turning and changing pace (Ronnestad, Kvamme, Sunde and Raastad, 2008). There are a variety of plyometric exercises that specifically target the lower limbs as shown in the video below.

After plyometric training, athletes can expect to find an increase in the proportion of type II muscle fibres as well as an increase in force development, motor unit recruitment and inter-muscular c-ordination resulting in a more efficient movement (Gouvea et al, 2012).

Further to this, plyometric training has also been found to increase anaerobic performance during short term plyometric programmes (Luebbers et al, 2003).


Literature and future research

Plyometric training has been found to increase power, jump height and sprint performance (Ronnestad et al, 2008). In a study of sprint times over 10m and 40m, sprint-specific plyometric training reduced the time taken for both distances compared to traditional sprint training (Rimmer and Sleivert, 2000).

Jumping has been found to produce forces up to 7 times an individual’s body weight and is conducive to increasing bone mass, predominantly in young teenagers (Markovic and Mikulic, 2010). This force however can be reduced significantly (up to 80%) by adopting the correct landing technique as found by (Hewett et al, 1996). Plyometric training traditionally takes place on hard surfaces such as wood or concrete with matting but this can lead to induced muscle damage. In a study of muscle soreness following jumping and sprinting on various surfaces, Impellizzeri et al (2008) highlighted that landing on sand induced less muscle soreness and resulted in improved jumping and sprint times. Plyometrics on a grass surface however resulted in greater improvements in counter-movement jumps. This study highlighted that different surface areas can lead to different adaptations and is one of the many factors to be taken into consideration when planning a plyometric session.


Many of the studies conducted have been over a short period of time with little research carried out supporting the long term effects of plyometric training (Luebbers et al, 2003).

Plyometric training has been shown to be effective on its own however greater improvements have been found when combing with other methods of training. Weightlifting, aerobics training, and electro-stimulation have been found to aid plyometric training in enhancing a number of physical attributes such as jumping, sprinting, agility and endurance (Markovic and Mikulic, 2010). 

Fabio Cannavaro


Plyometric training is very inexpensive and is easy to learn. Plyometric training is advisable to increase performance and prevent injury and is best used in conjunction with some sort of resistance programme. Before planning a plyometric programme coaches are advised to consider their athletes injury records, coordination and bodyweight as these are factors that can affect expected performance.

Personally I am not a fan of some aspects of plyometric training due to the impact on my knees. However it’s hard not to recognise the benefits of this method of training and the proposed reduction of impact using the correct technique. Therefore, I will look to incorporate plyometric training into my own training plan in the near future.


Other links


GOUVÊA, A. L., FERNANDES, I. A., CÉSAR, E. P., SILVA, W. A. B., & GOMES, P. S. C. 2013. The effects of rest intervals on jumping performance: A meta-analysis on post-activation potentiation studies. Journal of sports sciences, 31(5), 459-467.

HEWETT, T. E., STROUPE, A. L., NANCE, T. A., & NOYES, F. R. 1996. Plyometric training in female athletes decreased impact forces and increased hamstring torques. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 24(6), 765-773.

HOFFMAN, J. R., COOPER, J., WENDELL, M., & KANG, J. 2004. Comparison of Olympic vs. traditional power lifting training programs in football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(1), 129-135.

IMPELLIZZERI, F. M., RAMPININI, E., CASTAGNA, C., MARTINO, F., FIORINI, S., & WISLOFF, U. 2008. Effect of plyometric training on sand versus grass on muscle soreness and jumping and sprinting ability in soccer players. British journal of sports medicine, 42(1), 42-46.

LUEBBERS, P. E., POTTEIGER, J. A., HULVER, M. W., THYFAULT, J. P., CARPER, M. J., & LOCKWOOD, R. H. 2003. Effects of plyometric training and recovery on vertical jump performance and anaerobic power. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 17(4), 704-709.

MARKOVIC, G., & MIKULIC, P. 2010. Neuro-musculoskeletal and performance adaptations to lower-extremity plyometric training. Sports medicine, 40(10), 859-895.

RIMMER, E., & SLEIVERT, G. 2000. Effects of a Plyometrics Intervention Program on Sprint Performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 14(3), 295-301.

RONNESTAD, B. R., KVAMME, N. H., SUNDE, A., & RAASTAD, T. 2008. Short-term effects of strength and plyometric training on sprint and jump performance in professional soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(3), 773-780.

Olympic Lifting for Football – Is it necessary?



What is it?

Olympic lifting is a popular approach used by coaches and athletes in order to focus on strength and power development (Johnson, Sabatini and Sparkman, 2008). Olympic lifting is an athletic discipline in which an athlete attempts to lift a barbell loaded with weighted plates. Olympic weightlifting combines high force and high velocity movements which are suited to developing strength, power and speed which are advantageous in a variety of sports (Hoffman, Cooper, Wendell and Kang, 2004). The lift concerning this article is split into two parts, the clean and jerk.

With the barbell on the floor, the athlete begins by standing with their feet situated under the bar, hips width apart. The lift begins with the athlete grabbing the bar with their arms straight, their shoulders directly above the bar and their back flat. Once in this position the athlete raises the bar as high as possible with the use of explosive hip and knee extensions before quickly dropping under the bar into a squat position and resting the bar across the shoulders. To complete the clean aspect of the lift, the athlete then stands with their grip slights wider and feet slightly narrower. From here the athlete dips slightly by bending their knees before driving the bar upwards whilst simultaneously splitting the legs into a lunge position. The jerk is completed by bringing the feet back in line with the rest of the body.

Why is this training method used?

Football consists of numerous amounts of brief but intense movements. These movements, including changing direction, tackling, sprinting, jumping and kicking can occur anywhere between 150-250 times during a 90 minute match (Bangsbo, Mohr and Krustrup, 2006). It is therefore, beneficial for conditioning coaches to include strength training programmes to enable their athletes to have an advantage in game situations (Hoff and Helgerud, 2004).

In football, the quadriceps muscle group are crucial for jumping and kicking activities so it is highly beneficial for coaches to adopt a strength conditioning programme aimed at increasing muscle strength without compromising speed of movement (Brito et al, 2014). This balance of speed-strength is better explained using the force-velocity diagram (see below) and can be used by coaches to match the training activities to the demands of the sport.


Variations and Adaptations

Different stimulus can be achieved by altering the amount and force and velocity during a training programme. A low velocity, high force programme would be more suited to athlete’s looking to increase their maximum strength as opposed to a high velocity, low force programme best suited for those looking to increase their maximum speed. This is reinforced by Johnson et al, (2008) who highlight that a slow velocity lift will have a negative effect on the muscles ability to produce an explosive effort. The responsibility of the coach therefore lies in matching the demands of the sport to the training activities using the force-velocity curve as guidance.

Olympic lifting has been shown to result in specific strength adaptations in both upper body and lower body.  Athletes who compete in strength and power sports are more associated with having more fast-twitch fibres compared to endurance athletes (Fry et al, 2003).



During a competitive season the time for specific weight training may be sparse due to more time spent on field-based exercising aimed at prepare players for match specific demands (Brito et al, 2014). Olympic lifting is very technique orientated and takes time to become proficient.

If Olympic lifting is impractical or too challenging for the athlete there are a number of other approaches of gaining similar results. Some methods are highlighted in the following article by Kyle Morre courtesy of

Literature and further research

Olympic lifting has been shown to have a significant advantage over traditional power lifting in both 1RM1 and sprit times over 40 yards (Hoffman et al, 2004). Although this study is based on collegiate American football athletes it does have implications for football players due to the highlighted improvements in lower body performance.

There has been limited research into Olympic lifting and its application to football in the United Kingdom to date. Despite this, links have been associated with successful football teams being physically superior with Arnason et al, (2004) suggesting teams situated higher up the league table demonstrated greater power and strength in tests of countermovement jumps and squats.



By adopting a high force, lower velocity Olympic weightlifting programme, football players, and other athletes, can develop both strength and power to aid them in sporting contests (Hoffman et al, 2004). Weight lifting is noticeably safer than other sports, especially when supervised by a qualified personal. The majority of injuries sustained tend to be as a result of poor technique so starting with minimal weight to begin with is advisable to become proficient at this sporting discipline. Olympic lifting itself has been associated with injury prevention (Johnson et al, 2008).

Weight lifting can be combined with plyometric training to help gain significant improvements in match related physical abilities (Alves, Rebelo, Abrantes and Sampaio, 2010) and is therefore a worthy addition to an individual’s training regime.


Other Links:



1 –Used to determine an individual’s maximum strength, a one repetition maximum (1RM) is the maximum amount of force that can be generated for one contraction.


ALVES, J. M. V. M., REBELO, A. N., ABRANTES, C., & SAMPAIO, J. 2010. Short-term effects of complex and contrast training in soccer players’ vertical jump, sprint, and agility abilities. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(4), 936-941.

ARNASON, A., SIGURDSSON, S. B., GUDMUNDSSON, A., HOLME, I., ENGEBRETSEN, L., & BAHR, R. 2004. Physical fitness, injuries, and team performance in soccer. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(2), 278-285.

BANGSBO, J., MOHR, M., & KRUSTRUP, P. 2006. Physical and metabolic demands of training and match-play in the elite football player. Journal of sports sciences, 24(07), 665-674.

BRITO, J., VASCONCELLOS, F., OLIVEIRA, J., KRUSTRUP, P., & REBELO, A. 2014. Short-term performance effects of three different low-volume strength-training programmes in college male soccer players. Journal of human kinetics, 40(1), 121-128.

HOFF, J., & HELGERUD, J. 2004. Endurance and strength training for soccer players. Sports medicine, 34(3), 165-180.

HOFFMAN, J. R., COOPER, J., WENDELL, M., & KANG, J. 2004. Comparison of Olympic vs. traditional power lifting training programmes in football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18(1), 129-135.