In an ideal world, our athletes would report to pre-season training camp in peak physical condition, ready to focus entirely on technical and tactical abilities. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. More often than not, a great proportion of the short pre-season period is often directed toward conditioning. How fit can we get our athletes in such a short window of time while still putting in enough work on drills, strategy and technique? Fortunately, fitness qualities such as aerobic capacity and intermittent sprinting ability can be developed quicker than other qualities like strength and power. However, non-traditional methods are required as a period of “concentrated loading” would be required to significantly improve fitness qualities in such a short time period.
In a brand new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2014), German sport scientists evaluated the effects and sustainability of a 2 week high-intensity “shock” microcycle in 12 high level adult male soccer players. The 2 week microcycle included 8 traditional practice sessions that involved technical and tactical training. In addition, 12 sessions of conditioning were performed with 2 sessions performed on days 6 and 13. The conditioning session included interval work, small sided games and a soccer dribbling course. Work periods of 4 minutes where heart rate reached 90-95% of maximal heart rate with 3 minute recovery periods were utilized. Athletes performed 3 performance tests before, 6 days after (to allow for recovery) and 25 days after the 2 week microcycle. The included tests were counter movement-jump, a repeated sprint ability test and a YoYo IRT2 test.
The results showed that at 6 days following the shock cycle, Yo-YoIR2 test and repeated sprint ability (including mean sprint time and speed decrement) test scores improved significantly. At 25 days post shock cycle, these parameters decreased but remained above pre “shock” training values. Counter movement jump did not appear to be significantly affected at any time point. The researchers concluded that a 2 week shock microcycle sufficiently improved fitness markers but that after 19 days, fitness levels tended to decrease. Therefore, it is likely that maintenance work should be included throughout the season to prevent deconditioning.
Coaches should be aware that the athletes involved in this study had at least 10 years of experience in their respective sport. These are advanced athletes with a high training age. Therefore, their ability to handle such a high concentration of conditioning work greatly exceeds younger and less experienced athletes. This should be taken into consideration before planning similar training cycles. The potential for injury and overreaching is greatly heightened during these periods and therefore players should be monitored closely. With proper pre-cautions in place and an appropriate group of athletes, fitness markers can be greatly improved from a 2 week block of concentrated conditioning work.
Wahl, P., Guldner, M., & Mester, J. (2014) Effects and sustainability of a 13-day high-intensity shock microcycle in soccer. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. Ahead of Print.