How to recommence group training after the corona crisis

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In multiple countries in Europe is a discussion on whether and when the competition should be restarted. And different countries also differ in their approach towards this issue. For example, in Germany, group training sessions have already restarted, although only in smaller groups. But most trainers won’t have come across a situation like this before. This leaves them with questions on how to design the optimal training schedule for their players in these times. Hence, in this blog, we will give practical guidelines on how to prepare your team in 3 weeks for the restart of the competition. Furthermore, we will also explain how you can adjust this training program to the situation where clubs have 2 or 4 weeks of preparation time.

Integrate HIIT in your group training

In periods of individual training, it is more common that players perform longer endurance runs at a steady pace (e.g. 10km at 13 km/h). Even though this is good practice for maintaining the general fitness of players, it is not specific to the demands of the match. When there are only 3 weeks to prepare your players for competition, it is important to train as match-specific as possible. Since matches require intermittent exercises where low-intensity activity is interspersed with high-intensity actions, it is important that the drills also incorporate this aspect. Even though we can assume that the general fitness of the players is still quite good, you may still decide that you want to improve this capacity. In that case, it is advised to integrate High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) in some group training sessions during the weeks instead of the endurance runs.

Effective HIIT exercises

As already mentioned, if the players have performed an individual program in the past weeks, we can assume that their general fitness levels are still quite good. Thus, the focus on the first week will be to get the players accustomed to sport-specific exercises. For this purpose, the drills will be of moderate-intensity with a higher volume. In case you want to implement a HIIT exercise, this can be done with 4x2min at 16-18km/h interspersed with 1min at 10 km/h. After this exercise, players should get time (5-10min) to recover before the sport-specific training begins. 

Focus on submaximal intensity

When thinking of passing exercises, one can think of drills with relatively long distances, where players run between the cones at submaximal intensity (see details in Table 1). During these exercises, the focus is on constant movement, and players should not stand still for longer than 5-10 seconds. Then, for the game format at the end of the training, it is advised to choose a game format with a relatively large number of players played on a smaller field dimension. Again, the focus is not on maximal intensity, rather it should of moderate intensity.

Exercise intensity Work period Rest period Repetitions Number of players dimensions
HIIT 16-18km/h 2min 1min at 10km/h 4
Passing exercise Moderate (<20km/h) 5min 2min 3-4 20-30m between cones
Game format Moderate 8min 3min 2-3 7v7/9v9 40x30m to 50x40m

Table 1: detailed information on possible exercises for the first week

Focus on high intensity and speed

For the second week of preparation, players are already better prepared for sport-specific activities. Therefore, the drills will be of a higher intensity while the volume decreases. For the HIIT exercise, this means that the velocity of the intervals increases, whereas the duration of the interval decreases and so does the number of repetitions. When looking at the sport-specific training it is important to integrate this same shift. For passing exercises this means that the distances of the drill decrease, while the intensity of running increases (see Table 2 for details). 

Prepare for peak speed actions

Still, the focus should be to be on constant motion, where players are only allowed to stand still for 5-10 seconds. Then, for the game formats, it is advised to choose a 6v6/7v7 on regular field dimensions. Since it is important to increase the intensity, rules which increase the intensity of the exercise (e.g. allowing only two touches) can be implemented as well. As an extra exercises, sprint exercises (e.g. 30m sprints) at maximal intensity can be added to the program of this week. By adding these exercises, players will also get used to the high loads on muscles during peak speed actions. But monitor the players carefully because you don’t want to expose them to too much peak speed actions. 

Exercise intensity Work period Rest period Repetitions Number of players dimensions
HIIT 18km/h 2min 1.5min 3
Passing exercise Moderate-high (around 20km/h) 5min 2min 2-3 20-25m between cones
Game format Moderate-high 6min 2min 2-3 6v6/7v7 40x30m to 50x40m

Table 2: detailed information on possible exercises for the second week

Focus on maximal intensity

The third week is the last week before the start of the competition. Hence, this week the focus is on maximal intensity while volume decreases even further. This means that the HIIT exercises can be replaced by a sprint exercise with relatively long distances at almost maximal intensity. For the passing exercise, smaller dimensions are advised where players are required to perform lots of changes of directions (up to 180 degrees) at maximal intensity. For this, the players should be in constant motion during the course. 

Make sure there’s enough time to recover

When the players have finished the course, they should get enough time to recover before starting again (see details in table 3). For the game formats, it applies that these should be performed with a relatively small number of players at maximal intensity. To make sure that the players can perform maximally during each repetition, you give them relatively long recovery times in between repetitions. 

Exercise intensity Work period Rest period Repetitions Number of players dimensions
Sprint exercise 70-80% of max speed 1 sprint 60s 6-8 40-60m
Passing exercise Maximal intensity 1 course 1-2min 5-6 10-15m between cones
Game format Maximal intensity 3-4min 3-4min 3-4 3v3/4v4 30x15m – 40x25m

Table 3: detailed information on possible exercises for the third week

Variation, variation, variation..

With the help of the three steps explained above, you should be able to prepare your players for the restart of the competition. However, it is also important to take some general training-principles into account. In earlier blogs, we have explained that variation (high load session should be followed by lower load sessions) in load during the week is important to get the players fit and fresh before the match. Since the players do not have to show a peak performance at the end of the week (the match), variation in load during the week is less important. But players still need time to recover from the higher load session. Therefore, it is advised to include at least one lower load session during the week. 

Adjust the program to your situation

For most clubs, there is still uncertainty about when the competition will restart, and how long the preparation period will be. Hence, we will give guidelines on how to adjust the training program explained above to the situation of your club. If you only get 2 weeks before the competition restarts, it is important to still go through the three steps. However, in that case, you can decrease the time you spend in each step: it will be only 4-5 days instead of 7 days. In the case you get 4 weeks of preparation time, it would be advised to repeat the second week of the program (so it would be 1-2-2-3). This way, the players will get more time to get adjusted to the higher intensities before going to the maximal intensity.

Recommence group training after the corona crisis in 3 steps

The restart of the competition possesses challenges for trainers and coaches on how to physically prepare the players for this. We have provided three steps that can be used as a guideline for a training program in this preparation period. If the players have performed an individual training program, we can assume that their general fitness is still quite good. Hence, the focus is on letting them get used to sport-specific activities in the program. To let the players get used to this again, there is a gradual shift in the three steps from moderate intensity with a high volume to maximal intensity with a smaller volume. If you go through these three steps in your preparation period, your players will get time to get used to the intermittent nature of the match demands within a limited amount of time.

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