Conditional Training session: The balance between hard training and injury risks
As a coach, you want to train your team as hard as possible and minimize the injury risks. Balancing between those two extremes is a tough job. You don’t want to train too hard causing exertion, or worse: injured player(s). Training too soft with the philosophy of minimizing the injury risks is also not an option, because then players will get injured during matches due to the big difference between training sessions and the matches. You have to find the right balance in order to get your team as fit as possible. A conditional training session can help, but how do you do that?
Pick the best moment for a conditional training session
Players need to be exposed to a high-intensity training session equivalent of match loads at least once a week (VCT). This way, match demands are not the sole high-intensity exercise bout within one week. Players get accustomed to high-intensity demands and will develop power and resistance to fatigue, increasing physical fitness. For optimal player development, a periodization should include microcycles that alternate high, moderate, and low training intensities that allow adequate recovery between sessions. According to the super-compensation principle, match recovery is slow and progressive and can vary between a couple of hours to multiple days (1). Through superior physical adaptation players go through a recovery ‘overshoot phase’. A new training stimulus is best applied during this overshoot. Most often this high-intensity training session is planned between 48-72 hours after the match, which is generally considered as the best time.
Conditional training session and the supercompensation principle
“Super-compensation principle is the relationship between work and regeneration that leads to superior physical adaptation as well as metabolic and neuropsychological arousal before a competition.” (1)
Train on match demands
Due to practical limitations, such as lack of time and resources, determining match demands can be difficult. Therefore, exposing players to equal demands in a training session is a hard task for a coach. This can lead to a conditional training session load that is too low compared to match load. By under-loading during training sessions, players are underprepared for match loads, limiting development and performance. By tracking external load (GPS, accelerometer) and internal load (heart rate, RPE) in training sessions and matches, coaches can add or eliminate strenuous training exercises to adjust to match loads.
Compare your conditional training session with the match
Once the match and training demands are known, detailed training buildup can begin. Unfortunately, there is a pitfall. Training sessions should approximate match demands on multiple aspects. Training sessions can include a bulk of small-sided games and small passing exercises resulting in an increased number of accelerations and decelerations. However, due to the small surface of these exercises, other variables such as total distance, sprint distance and number of sprints may fall short of their corresponding match demands. The solution is therefore to include both small and large surface exercises in the VCT session. In other words, combine small-sided games (4vs4 on small surface) with large passing exercises (>30m) to increase many load variables.
Comparing the conditional training session with the match demands
In the example above, training sessions mainly included small-sided games and small passing exercises. As shown in the graphs, the number of accelerations was equal to match demands during the high-intensity session while the sprint distance was not. In fact, in none of the training sessions, that week was sprint distance more than 33% match demands.
According to the super-compensation principle, player recovery is slow and progressive
Next training stimulus is best applied during the recovery ‘overshoot phase’
Include at least one strenuous training session per week approximating match demands (VCT)
Determine match demands as accurately as possible
Combine 4vs4 on small surface with large passing exercises (>30m)
Analyze whether training was equal to match demands and adjust in future if needed
(1) Bompa T, Buzzichelli C. Periodization. Theory and Methodology of Training. 6th ed, p14, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2018.
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