Back to football training: What to consider for a safe return?

Back to football training: What to consider for a safe return?

After two months of confinement it seems like, at last, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The restrictions and confinement have begun to soften, allowing us to go out at certain times as well as doing some physical activity in the fresh air. Do you know what a return to training is like, for example, in football?

It seems that professional competitions intend to resume their activity after nearly 8 weeks of stoppage. However, lower competitions (from 2nd division down) will not compete again, a priori, until next season (no dates yet confirmed).

Level of detraining in footballers COVID 19

It is therefore more important than ever to consider what the effects will be of a period of confinement characterised by a reduction in physical activity which many have never experience before, as footballers never spend so much time standing still.

A detrained footballer

After a long period of inactivity, the body enters a state of detraining. In 2001, Mujika and Padilla defined detraining as partial or complete loss of physiological, anatomical and performance adaptations achieved with training and as a consequence of the reduction or suspension of the training process.

One of the main consequences of this untraining is the reduction of cardiorespiratory capacity, which will manifest itself as a decrease in resistance and an increase in heart rate for the same activity when compared to the values recorded before the change in training.

According to Mujika and Padilla in 2001, this reduction in cardiorespiratory ability begins to manifest from 4 weeks of inactivity, and gradually declines from that point. Therefore, since this capacity will be greatly impaired, return to aerobic physical activity must be progressive.

How have teams returned to training

Professional football clubs have already resumed training individually and in safe and hygienic conditions.

How is the muscular condition after detraining?

Another major effect of the detraining will be seen in our mechanical structures, such as muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Scientific evidence shows us a decline in both muscle size and in muscle composition and properties after a period of detraining. Trained muscles, accustomed to stimuli of a certain magnitude, can become atrophic if these stimuli cease and no longer have the need to produce the levels of strength to which they are accustomed to after X weeks of inactivity. (Ronconi & Alvero-Cruz, 2008)

As important or even more important than our muscles are our tendons, the mechanical properties of which will tend to be reduced after a period of inactivity.

Remember that the main function of tendons is the transmission of force to generate movement, so a loss of their capabilities can lead to a mismanagement of these forces which, in turn, can trigger injury.

However, it is not just the size of our muscles that we should consider. Perhaps the most important thing to consider is the loss of neuromuscular capabilities that are observed after a period of detraining (Rejc et al, 2018).

These neuromuscular capabilities translate into the production of strength by our muscles, both in the amount we are able to produce, and in the time we invest into it.

Therefore our strength, speed and power will be reduced when we return to the field.

Football training graphic

Chart 1. Maximum Explosive Power (A) and Maximum Specific Straight Femoral Explosive Power of Quadriceps (B) performed before a period of inactivity (PRE-BR), after the period of inactivity (POST-BR) and after 14 days of retraining (R +14).

How should we return to training?

Because of the above, it will be absolutely necessary to return to physical activity with caution and very progressively, as our structures and capabilities will be far from what we used to have before the break, although most of us have been training at home to avoid these losses.

Do you know what exercise was recommended for footballers during this time of confinement? Access the link to find out everything you need to know.

While home training is completely necessary to alleviate the loss of capabilities that we have discussed, we must be aware that, although we have managed to reduce the magnitude of loss of muscle mass, cardiorespiratory capacity or neuromuscular strength, the activities that we have been doing are far from what we usually do on the pitch.

Of course, one of the main principles of sports training is the principle of specificity, which tells us that we must apply the stimuli closest to the demands of competition to the player, in order to generate useful adaptations to respond to those demands.

Pre-season non proffesional footballers

When will we see group training or group pre-seasons in the world of football?

Progressive training

What do I mean by all of the above?

Precisely, my intention is for you to understand that, for however much work you have done at home, how many kilometres you have run on your treadmill or any similar exercise, your structures are not prepared to return to football in an immediate manner.

Because football is considered, according to its physical demands, an intermittent sport with high demands for both acceleration and deceleration (Newans et al., 2019). With this, we will have to re-train our structures in relation to those specific characteristics of football, such as changes of direction, accelerations, decelerations, jumps and kicks, mainly.

Therefore, to compete in football safely and effectively again, it is essential to carry out a period of progressive training, that goes from the most general training (such as race, force work, ball driving and passing) to the most specific training. Increasingly specific and demanding actions of football, such as acceleration, jumps, changes of direction and goal striking should be introduced gradually.

Return to football progressive workout

We should note that in professional football, summer transition periods last about 4 to 6 weeks, and retraining periods to competition (the famous pre-seasons) take place for about 8 weeks before competing again.

Taking into account the conditional differences between professional and amateur footballers, and considering that the period of non-play for football is much greater than 4-6 weeks, it becomes evident that there is a need for a much longer period of progressive training in order to avoid injuries and to be able to enjoy what makes us so happy once again.

Bibliography References

Have a look at related content:

  • Professional athletes during lockdown-easing. Access the post here.
  • How can other athletes get in shape after quarantine? Find out more at this link.
Review of Returning to Football Training

What condition are you in - 100%

Detraining - 100%

How to return - 100%

Progressive training - 100%


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About Carlos Gallardo
Carlos Gallardo
Carlos Gallardo, in addition to working as a youth team trainer for Rayo Vallecano of Madrid, is passionate about scientific dissemination.
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