Football training traditionally involves grueling calisthenics, hard-hitting tackles, running and agility drills. While no one can argue that football players are in phenomenal shape, adding a training regimen that challenges the body's energy systems to meet the specific demands of play will give your team a competitive edge. Fartlek training duplicates the varying intensity of play, preparing players to adapt swiftly under pressure.
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Developed in Sweden, Fartlek means "speed play", and involves continuous movement with intervals of varying lengths and intensity. Fartlek training alternates between aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, challenging the anaerobic threshold. First used by runners, Fartlek is traditionally done over hilly terrain, featuring short five- to 10-second bursts of all-out effort interspersed with less demanding intervals of two to three minutes. The long-range benefit of Fartlek training is an improved ability to adapt quickly to changes in intensity during perpetual motion, as on the football field.
Applying Fartlek to Football
Fartlek training sessions are meant to mimic the types of activity that take place during play. The unpredictable nature of a football game makes Fartlek an ideal training protocol. Fartlek trains the muscles, joints and energy delivery systems to respond quickly to changes in direction and intensity. Training your players in ways they will perform on the field prepares them for peak performance on game day.
To design Fartlek drills for football, consider the variety of demands the game imposes on players from kickoff all the way to goal. A longer, moderate-intensity running interval at kickoff may be followed by short, high-intensity bursts as the ball moves down the field, an all-out run of several seconds as a player runs the ball, brief periods of backward-to-forward running and sprints with rapid directional changes. Perpetually varying the length and intensity of intervals while maintaining continuous motion is the idea behind Fartlek.
A sample Fartlek training drill for football could entail the following: 10 minute easy warm-up jog; all-out sprint for 10 seconds; 30 second jog; 15 second sprint; 45 second jog; 30 second backward run; 10 second forward sprint; one minute jog; 15 second backward run; alternating directional changes of five to 10 seconds; 30 seconds fast running; one minute walk; three minute jog; one minute walk; three minute jog. You can set up a specific sequence and repeat it, or you can make it up as you go along. Be sure to give an all-out effort during sprints to challenge the anaerobic threshold. Cool down and stretch at the end of your session.