Physiological Adaptations to Soccer-Specific Endurance Training in Professional Youth Soccer Players

McMillan, K., Helgerud, J., Macdonald, R., Hoff, J.

Background: Enhanced oxygen uptake correlates with improved soccer performance metrics such as distance covered, ball involvements, and sprint frequency. Interval running has been effective in boosting oxygen uptake significantly. This study explores whether a similar physiological benefit can be achieved through interval training using a soccer ball, mimicking game-specific movements.

Objectives: The main objective was to investigate the physiological adaptations resulting from a 10-week high-intensity aerobic interval training program implemented by professional youth soccer players, employing a soccer-specific ball dribbling track.

Methods: Eleven youth soccer players, averaging 16.9 (SD 0.4) years, underwent high-intensity aerobic interval training sessions twice a week for 10 weeks, in addition to their regular soccer training. The specialized aerobic training regimen comprised four sets of 4-minute work periods of dribbling a soccer ball around a designated track at 90–95% of maximal heart frequency, interspersed with 3-minute recovery jogs at 70% of maximal heart frequency between intervals.

Results: Mean VO2max increased significantly from 63.4 (5.6) to 69.8 (6.6) ml kg^(-1) min^(-1), or 183.3 (13.2) to 201.5 (16.2) ml kg^(-0.75) min^(-1) (p < 0.001). Squat jump and counter movement jump heights also improved significantly from 37.7 (6.2) to 40.3 (6.1) cm and 52.0 (4.0) to 53.4 (4.2) cm, respectively (p < 0.05). No significant changes were observed in body mass, running economy, rate of force development, or 10 m sprint times. Conclusion: Implementing high-intensity 4-minute intervals of dribbling a soccer ball around a specially designed track, in conjunction with regular soccer training, effectively enhances VO2max in soccer players. Moreover, this training regimen does not negatively impact strength, jumping ability, or sprinting performance.

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