There are many instances in team sports where matches are held every day or every other day. This occurs during tournament play as well as congested match fixtures. Competitions are considerably more taxing on players than practices, often resulting in greater soreness and muscle damage. Therefore, it is reasonable for coaches to be concerned about player recovery status after 1 or 2 consecutive games in a row. Accordingly, it would be useful for coaches and sports medicine personnel to understand the physiological and biomechanical changes that players experience from repeated match exposure. This would enhance monitoring protocols, facilitate recovery interventions and influence player substitution. As a result, teams may experience less injuries and hopefully achieve more successful match outcomes.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research assessed the physiological, psychometric and biomechanical responses to simulated soccer matches across a five day period. A sample of 10 semi-professional male soccer players performed 90-minute treadmill-based soccer match simulations in laboratory controlled conditions three times with 48 hours separating each trial. The trials were held at the same time of day, corresponding to regular match times. Heart rate, oxygen consumption, electromyography of the biceps femoris muscle and blood lactate were measured throughout the standardized soccer simulation protocol. Before and after each trial, knee flexor peak torque was evaluated. Perceived muscle soreness was rated before and after each training session.
The results showed that heart rate, blood lactate and oxygen consumption progressively increased throughout each session, but did not differ between sessions. This indicates that effort and intensity drifts upward throughout a match. Biceps femoris electromyography was significantly higher during the first half of each trail relative to the second half. In addition, biceps femoris activity was lower in trial two and three compared to trial one. Peak knee flexor torque was significantly lower in trial three compared with trial one. Thus, the decreased muscle function as a result of fatigue may increase hamstring injury risk. Finally, muscle soreness was significantly higher at trial three compared with trial one. Clearly, neuromuscular performance appears to be affected from frequent competition simulations. Therefore, coaches should closely monitor playing time in starters to limit fatigue accumulation as injury risk may be heightened.
Page, R. M., Marrin, K., Brogden, C. M., & Greig, M. (2017). The physical response to a simulated period of soccer-specific fixture congestion. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. In press.