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Intensity: a fundamental parameter in training

Intensity: a fundamental parameter in training

The ability to maintain high levels of physical and mental intensity is a key concept in soccer
Playing soccer requires performing movements at maximal or near maximal speed and oft-repeated during the whole duration time of a match. Soccer is essentially an acyclic, unpredictable sport, and this feature implies that these high intensity movements be separated by relatively short recovery times.
Several scientific studies have demonstrated that the difference between high-level and low-level teams depends mainly on the continuous intensity with which the team can endure prolonged play times. This ability is labeled REPEATED SPRINT ABILITY (RSA) and more precisely indicates the player’s ability to perform maximal anaerobic, alactacid and lactacid activities with relatively short recovery times. Of course, this parameter influences the load of the training sessions, which is well known to be aimed at producing physiological changes in the athlete.
Anyway, we cannot forget that soccer is mainly a tactic-strategic sport in which the player is continuously asked to perceive-analyse-decide in relation to a given tactical context. The correct execution of the game model chosen by the coach, according to the tactical periodization, depends on the degree of cerebral and physical intensity that can be attained. Therefore, we can affirm that intensity is the true discriminating parameter of a correct training session.
Intensity cannot be separated from concentration. When we say that soccer requires intensity we refer to its complexity and its continuous need for concentration. Therefore, we can speak of relative maximal concentration, i.e., continuous concentration that allows the execution of the coach’s game model, just because the soccer player is continuously asked to think and make decisions.

Training exercises should always have a tactic-strategic objective to respect. This objective relates to the intensity/decision concentration that occur during the action according to the exigencies of execution. We are talking about decision-making concentration. The more a player is trained based on relative maximal intensities, the more effective is his execution of complex actions. This kind of training will enable the player to be always “ready” to make decisions during the match. To conclude this introduction it is important to underline this concept: intensity precedes volume, not vice-versa: volume means only the amount of relative maximal intensities.
High intensity exercises with a ball should represent the new frontier for coaches today. In a tactic-strategical context the player is trained globally, by developing his tactical-technical-physical-psychological features. This is made at a high intensity level, simulating a match context.
Several studies demonstrated that a correct execution of these exercises has remarkable effective results on both the individual player and the team development.
High intensity can be measured in three different ways:
  • Monitoring heart rate
  • GPS
  • Borg scale based on single feedbacks


Discriminating parameters to calibrate the intensity of an exercise are:

  1. Number of participating players: Obviously, the individual intensity that a player is required to achieve varies according to the number of players involved. Exercises with a reduced number of participants (for instance, 1vs1, 2vs2, 3vs3) have the advantage of enhancing work on repeated technical actions specific for each situation, but they hinder a complete development of collective tactics (always the primary objective!). Nevertheless, high intensity 1vs1, 2vs2 and 3vs3 exercises are most useful because they considerably increase the number of fundamental technical-tactical actions executed by the players, such as possessions per player, transmission-controls and number of tactical choices per player.
  2. Size of the field: Increased size of the playing area where the training session is performed markedly changes the physiological response of the body. Heart rate and blood lactate concentration are influenced in particular, as well as the perception of fatigue.
  3. Density (number of series, exercise duration and recovery times): Increasing the number of series, repetitions, repetitions duration and recovery times strongly affects the intensity of the session. On the other hand, radical changes of these parameters may bring about dangerous overreaching and overtraining phenomena. Therefore, any variation should be carefully balanced to reach a given objective.
  4. Encouraging the player: The encouragement transmitted by the coach during the practise is another element that strongly influences the intensity of an exercise and, consequently, the training session as a whole.

When the coach stimulates his players continuously the average intensity of the session increases significantly. Marked increases of heart rate are recorded, and still higher increases of blood lactate concentrations.


Finally, I would like to make an important point.

Soccer is an acyclic sport that requires performing high speed movements repeated several times during the match with short recovery times. Soccer is a game that does not allow the duration and sequence of high intensity periods to be foreseen. A careful, close observation of matches will enable a coach willing to work on specificity to create a scheme simulating the activity pattern typical of a match and, on this base, to try to build up a micro-cycle made of training units in which the exercises have variable play and recovery times, as occurs in a match.
Here is another essential parameter concerning training intensity: intensity increases when play and recovery times are variable.

Giuseppe Maiuri

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