Winter break training program: How to stay fit during the winter break?


As a coach you want your team to get fully rested during the winter break without losing all fitness after the holidays, so your team doesn’t have to catch up lost fitness when recommencing competition. A winter break, generally lasting about 14 days, is the perfect opportunity to shrink any accumulated fatigue built up during in-season competition. Including holidays Christmas and New Year’s Eve, players are often at absolute rest. At first glance, this doesn’t seem harmful. After all, it enables players to fully recover from physical discomforts. However, absolute rest for a prolonged period of time is detrimental for previously built up fitness as well, also described as ‘detraining’. More elaborately, detraining consists of loss of (an)aerobic power and endurance, strength, flexibility, muscle tone, muscle mass, and metabolism, with the steepest deterioration in the first three weeks of training cessation (1). However, the magnitude of training re-adaptations after detraining is different depending on the athlete’s fitness level and duration of training cessation (2). To ensure optimal team performance at competition resumption reduced fitness levels must be caught up again which costs valuable time. Therefore, a specific winter break training program is necessary to maintain fitness during the holidays.

What should be the load of my winter break training program?

It is estimated that after two weeks of absolute rest during winter break time to safely return to a full training load will be 32 days (3). Increasing training load back to pre-winter break levels too fast greatly increases the risk of injury and illness. Therefore, as a coach you want to limit detraining effects and return to full training load as soon as possible without increasing risk of injury and illness. Therefore, absolute rest is not recommended on how to spend the winter break. Relative rest (reduced training load) limits detraining effects leading to less time spent on catching up on fitness. Implementing a winter break training program of training at 40% of normal load greatly decreases detraining effects, reducing time to a safe return to full training load to only 14 days (table 1) (3), after which competition matches are often schedules again.


Table 1. Retrieved from regression AIS whitepaper (3). Number of days to safely return to competition load during two weeks of relative rest (40% or 60%) or absolute rest (0%).

Train at 40% normal load

Based on a schedule of four sessions per week (1 match, 3 training), lower training volume, and frequency to two sessions per week of approximately 30 minutes each during winter break. Schedule one session of 40% normal load per every 3 to 4 days to enable full recovery and replenishment. This way, at the recommencement of team training players, are less affected by detraining and can withstand higher initial training loads leaving less time necessary to restore lack of fitness and more time available for team tactical sessions. Nevertheless, we must remain cautious not to immediately overload players as any reduction in training load leads to detraining. On return to training, session frequency is restored to 4 per week automatically increasing total weekly load. Simultaneously increasing acute training load will further increase player fatigue, lengthen their recovery, and greatly increase the risk of injury and illness. Therefore after winter break training load must be progressively increased and can be back at competition load in two weeks (see figure 1). Using this program outline will shorten time to a safe return to training by almost 3 weeks without increasing the risk of injury and illness.

Figure 1. Schematic outline of absolute rest and relative rest winter break periodisation. The left graph shows safe return to training load (grey line) after two weeks, which is significantly prolonged after absolute rest (right graph, blue line) during winter break.

Winter Break Training Program

How can one train at 40% normal load? What factors need to be considered when making exercises? What kind of exercises are suitable. Basically, any exercise activity that requires physical exertion can be beneficial. Nevertheless, remain as sport-specific as possible. Include exercises in winter break programs to expose players to comparable types of physical exertion done in normal training. For example, a high amount of sprint distance and accelerations included in regular training sessions should be represented in winter break training sessions. Convert the load exerted by these sprints and accelerations to 40%, so if 100% load contains 400m sprint distance and 100 accelerations, include a running exercise that achieves 160m sprint distance and 40 accelerations. See table 2 for a training session exposing that particular load. After a thorough warm-up, players start with 10x5m sprints focussing on accelerations followed by a 60m lane high speed running targeting sprint distance. Keep in mind that the goal is to expose the body to sprint related stimuli (i.e. limiting detraining) and not to increase fitness. Therefore, make sure for adequate rest in between series.


Table 2. Example of 40% load training session.


After two weeks of 40% relative rest players return to team training less affected by detraining. However, proceeding on competition load levels straight away will still result in high acute load spikes exposing players to increased risk of injury. By reducing initial training load when resuming team sessions players will readapt to higher training loads fast and get 100% fit without increased risk of injury. This can be done by placing focus on volume with a small portion of high-intensity small-sided games in the first sessions after winter break. In these sessions, include large running/passing/sided games exercises to increase total distance in a controlled way. In the following sessions, gradually progress towards more chaotic exercises (small position games / small-sided games) to increase random explosive movements and mimic more match relevant situations. With adequate monitoring and session planning your team is back to perform in two weeks!


  • Prefer relative rest over absolute rest
  • 40% relative rest counters detraining
  • Two weeks of 40% relative rest is restored in two weeks
  • Gradually shift from controlled to chaotic exercises post-winter break
  • Relative rest gives more time for tactical sessions


  1. Mujika I. Detraining: loss of training-induced physiological and performance adaptations. part I. Short term insufficient training stimulus. Sports Med 2000: 30 (2): 79-87.
  2. Joo CH (2018) The effects of short term detraining and retraining on physical fitness in elite soccer players. PLoS ONE 13(5): e0196212.
  3. AIS Executive Summary, version 1, May 4 2015, retrieved on November 11 2018.

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