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Conditioning For Soccer

Conditioning For Soccer
Pattern Running Program

By Marc R. Bernier, MPT CSCS

In any sport, the success of a physical conditioning program is dependent on the specificity of the training regiment. Every sport has unique physical demands that necessitate careful examination of the cardiovascular and energy requirements needed during game situations to allow the implementation of appropriate training methods. This is especially true in the sport of soccer.
Unfortunately, many players and coaches have been misled regarding what constitutes “soccer fitness.” The source of these misconceptions lie in the commonly published distances that soccer players cover during a typical match, which usually fall between 5-8 miles per game. As a result, tests such as the “Cooper Test” (which evaluates how long it takes a player to complete 2 miles) were commonly used to assess soccer fitness. However, it is not uncommon to have those players with the best results on that test exhibit the lowest cardiovascular fitness during matches. The reason for this is that soccer is not played at a constant pace in a continuous manner. Studies on soccer players have shown the following:

  • Full intensity sprints occur every 90 seconds, for an average distance of 14m
  • Rest intervals occur every 2 minutes, and last for only 3 seconds
  • A typical match involves 1000 different activities / skills (dribbling passing, trapping, sprinting, etc), and changes every 6 seconds

As you can see, the sport of soccer is highly dynamic. The energy demands of performing each activity / drill is much higher than simply running straight ahead because of the twisting, squatting, jumping, accelerating that occur. During a match, the body must be able to perform explosive activities (cutting, kicking) and sprinting (anaerobic system) over a prolonged period of time (aerobic system), which all tax a different energy system. Thus, our training methods must address each of these vital components and do so in multiple planes so as to address different movement patterns and muscle groups.

This is best accomplished via “aerobic-interval training”, in the form of pattern running. Pattern running consists of isolating typical sprinting activities that occur during games, and having the soccer player perform them in consecutive series. Sample sprints are as follows:

  1. 10 yard sprint
  2. 30 yard sprint
  3. 50 yard sprint
  4. 15 yard carioca / grapevine left
  5. 15 yard carioca / grapevine right
  6. 25 yard 45° cuts
  7. 20 yard backpedals
  8. 30 yard bending runs
  9. 10 yard sideshuffle, 20 yard forward sprint
  10. 15 yard backpedal, 15 yard open left sprint
  11. 10 yard repeated, quick jump headers
  12. 10 yard repeated, quick simulated instep shots

There are an infinite number of patterns you can run, limited only by your creativity. After you have established the 10-15 that you want to use, place them in random order. It may help to make a chart outlining the progression (the numbers in the columns correlate to the numbers next to the sprints listed above):

#rep 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 5 4 1 11 1 2 5 11 7 2
2 7 5 2 10 3 4 1 1 11 10
3 2 1 3 9 5 6 11 10 6 12
4 10 6 4 8 7 8 6 2 2 3
5 4 2 5 7 9 10 10 9 12 7
6 1 7 6 6 11 11 3 3 4 4
7 11 10 7 5 10 9 9 8 1 9
8 6 11 8 4 8 7 4 4 8 5
9 9 3 9 3 6 5 7 7 9 1
10 8 12 10 2 4 3 8 5 3 8

After completion of each sprint, the player walks or lightly jogs back to the starting position. After a designated rest period (which includes the time to return to the starting line), the next sprint is performed. Typically, a work:rest ratio of 1:2 or 1:3 should be employed. If the sprint took 10 seconds to complete, the rest period should be either 20 or 30 seconds. Initially, it is recommended to use the longer rest period, and reduce the time as the conditioning level of your players improves.
Other authors have advocated the use of these workouts in younger athletes (12 and under). In my opinion, these workouts are best suited for the older age groups, typically 13 and above. The intensity of this training may be too advanced for some players who have not yet reached puberty, with overuse injuries a potential result. Therefore, I only advocate its use in younger players as a fun activity in the form of relay races or for movement training. For older age groups, the number of columns performed can be adjusted to allow for easy, moderate and hard training.
The major advantage of this form of training is that it incorporates soccer specific movements and running patterns, and will train endurance as well (since the sessions can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to complete). Additionally, this program can be given to players to perform in the off-season or on non-practice days, and they are more likely to be compliant in performing it since it is unique and more closely resembles the movements they will perform on the field (most players dislike running continuously for long distances).
The goal of this article was to provide an introduction to the concept of pattern running in hopes that it will assist coaches in the development of soccer-specific conditioning for their players. Ultimately, a better trained athlete is a more successful athlete, with a reduced chance of injury.
– Teichelman, T. Pattern Running for the Soccer Athlete. Strength and Conditioning 1995; October: 64-65.
– Fish, J. Position-Specific Pattern Running Program. Performance Conditioning for Soccer; Vol. 4, No. 4: 6-8.
– Hedrick, A. Combine Aerobic-Interval-Pattern Running for Soccer Specific Conditioning. Performance Conditioning for Soccer; Vol. 5, No. 2: 3-4.

Marc R. Bernier is a senior physical therapist and strength and conditioning specialist at the HealthSouth Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham, AL. He is the Director of HealthSouth Soccer International, is currently the Sports Medicine and Training Advisor for Soccer Jr. Magazine, and is a Sports Medicine Consultant for the Galatasaray Football Club of Istanbul, Turkey, 2000 U.E.F.A Cup Champions. He can be reached for questions or comments at marc.bernier@healthsouth.com, or by calling 205-930-4700.