All soccer players are fit, we know that. And just one look at the physique of most of them leaves us is no doubt that they work out a lot. But just how fit are they and what goes into their training? We spoke to Lyle Barreiro, a registered biokineticist at the Sports Science Institute of SA to find out.
Q: How fit is the average professional soccer player and how is this measured?
A: Due to the different physical demands of the various sporting codes it is tricky to measure the fitness levels of soccer players to that of another sport. Endurance, speed, power and agility are important in soccer and are measured by using a battery of tests such as a speed test over 10 & 40m, modified bleep test for endurance, vertical jump test for power, T-test or Illinois test for agility. One of the important tools in gauging a player’s fitness is how he measures up against teammates and opponents in matches.
Q: What sort of training does a soccer player do?
A: Endurance, speed ,power, agility, strength, core stability (fitness), technical and tactical (coach's strategies).
Q: Studies have shown that on average, a soccer player will run about 10km during a match – how is this different from someone running say 10km on the road in terms of fitness?
A: An average runner, running 10k on the road, would most probably run it at a constant speed and finish it in 60min. The speed at which a soccer player covers 10km (in 90min) will differ from walking to sprinting at any given time so the intensity will constantly change. Also, when one speaks of running, we often think running in one direction. Soccer players, on average, change speed or direction once every two to three seconds.
Q: All soccer players tend to be rather trim and slim (as compared to say rugby players who come in all shapes and sizes) – is this because of their training?
A: Elite athletes are 'shaped' according to the demands of the sport. Marathon runners tend to carry little weight due to the fact that they run for long periods, whereas the 100m sprinter is far more muscular and powerful because of the high intensity demand in the short time period (+-10secs) in which they compete.
A similar theory applies in team sports such as rugby and soccer. Rugby is a contact sport and requires big strong men to compete in the scrum and some leaner guys to be able to run fast.
Whereas in soccer it to your advantage to be quick and have exceptional agility - in any position you play. Therefore the physiques of the players are very similar. It is important to note the in soccer, the defenders are generally taller than the rest of the players as they are required to header the ball more often than most.
Q: Before a team takes part in a big match, do they have to rest much before the day, or train right up until it?
A: This would depend on the a few factors, one being the coach's method of training, another being the type of training. For example, tactical training (low intensity) could take place the day before, but high intensity fitness training should stop at least 48hrs prior to a match to allow for recovery.
Q: What are some of the most common injuries a soccer player suffers?
A: The lower body is predominantly used in soccer so ankle and knee sprains are amongst the common injuries along with hamstring, calf and groin strains.
Q: Do you know, or can you estimate roughly how many kilojoules the average player burns during a match?
A: I cannot say for sure, but I would guess at around 1 400-1 600 cal. Depends on the player’s position, muscle mass, distance covered during the game, temperature, altitude, etc.
Q: Who do you think is the ideal soccer player from a fitness point of view, and why?
A: It’s very difficult to answer this because there are different requirements for the different positions. Overall I would say that the midfielders are the fittest, and if one looks at the current well-known players then Christiano Ronaldo, and South Africa’s Steven Pienaar would rank right up there. They’re exceptionally quick, have fantastic endurance, and are very strong on the ball.
Q: How important are the following for a soccer player: Height, weight, speed, dexterity, visual skills, coordination?
A: Height is very important for goalkeepers and central defenders. As for weight, you have to be lean with a very low percentage body fat as excess weight can impact a player’s fitness levels and performance.
Speed, agility and coordination are all essential and often central components in training drills.
(Amy Henderson, Health24, April 2010)