It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve greatness in a discipline, whether that’s piano, golf or – in our case – football.
Elite professional footballers have undoubtedly put in their 10,000+ hours, although the vast majority of that takes place when the cameras are off; on the training ground, in the gym and in the classroom.
Whatever your level, training is crucial for footballers wanting to reach their potential and take their game further. Whether you are a player, a coach or a parent, in this article we dissect the world of football training and give you everything you need to know to make the most of it.
Why We Need to Train for Football
There are no two ways around it – to develop as a player, you must train. Turning up to a match having not done anything since the last game is a recipe for mediocrity at best, an embarrassing defeat at worst.
The old adage ‘use it or lose it’ rings true when it comes to football. If you aren’t constantly improving the physical, technical and mental side of your game, you are standing still or – worse – moving backwards.
What is Football Training?
It’s worth being aware that the tree of football training actually encompasses three broad but distinct branches: Physical, Technical and Tactical.
All three training branches complement each other and play a vital role in the success of both the individual player and the team as a whole.
Physical training is about building the engine that will power you through your matches, as well as the physical ability to run, jump and shoot as fast, high and powerfully as you can. This is done through both cardio training (running, cycling, HIIT and the work you do on the pitch) and resistance training (weightlifting with both compound and isolation movements, as well as bodyweight exercises). Physical training also encompasses recovery, flexibility, core and mobility work.
Technical training focuses on the movements that develop your technique on the pitch, including dribbling, passing, shooting, heading and tackling, as well as goalkeeping-specific skills (diving, catching, and so on). Some of these skills can be developed by solo training (footwork and agility), although many require teammates (crossing and tackling).
Tactical training focuses on the theoretical side of the game, such as positioning during set pieces, formations, and the tactics required for both attacking and defending in given scenarios. For this reason, tactical training is usually worked on as a team, and can be done both on the training pitch and in a classroom environment. Tactical training is essential for any team, although the higher the level of football, the more emphasis there tends to be (including video analysis of your opposition, and so on).
How Often Should You Train?
There’s no perfect timetable for football training. Every player and every club from Premier League® to Sunday league will have their own training schedule.
For example, players at Real Madrid may train around four to five hours a day. If you are an amateur player with a job, family and social life, you probably don’t have that amount of time or energy to dedicate to training! Still, you can make excellent progress with a quarter of that.
Of course, your team may have one or two team sessions a week involving physical, tactical and technical training. Yet, the truth is that your main fitness, strength, flexibility and agility training will be down to you.
How much you value your training will determine how often you train.
For example, following a Sunday match, a keen amateur footballer may have the following weekly training schedule:
Monday: Light recovery swim
Tuesday: Strength training followed by HIIT
Wednesday: Team training session
Thursday: Strength training followed by HIIT
Friday: Day off
Saturday: Light cardio and stretching
Spot the day off? This is important. Even the most enthusiastic player must find the right balance between effective training and overtraining.
Training too much can cause injury and fatigue among other problems, so having enough time for recovery and knowing when to take a break from the gym is as important as anything. Nutrition is also imperative for quick recovery, to ensure the body has everything it needs to repair and go again the following day.
For a quick and convenient way to recover after training, we recommend our Recover90®supplement. This tasty drink has been specially developed for hardworking footballers; providing a unique blend of protein, carbohydrates and electrolytes to replenish the body and kick-start the recovery process.
What Equipment Do You Need for Football Training?
If you are buying for a team training session, your shopping list can be vast, although there are some kitbag essentials that are always useful for drills and practice matches. The following are worth the relatively small investment:
- Football Cones
- Agility ladders
- Slalom poles
- Ball rebounders
Don’t forget a supply of footballs – for a team training session, one or two will not suffice (especially if you have enthusiastic strikers who regularly lodge balls in nearby trees!). A good ball pump is also essential.
Aside from bibs, every player will need adequate clothing and personal equipment. This means technical clothing (shorts, shirt and socks), shin pads, football boots for training on the grass, and gloves for goalkeepers. In the gym, you will need running shoes or stable cross trainers, depending on the activity.
At higher levels, some of this clothing will be supplied by the club, although at Sunday league level this is down to the player.
When it comes to strength and cardio training, it is impossible to list all the potential equipment you could use. The easiest way to be able to use the equipment you need is to become a member of a local gym. This will give you access to cardio machines such as treadmills, bikes and rowers, as well as strength training equipment such as barbells, weight plates and squat racks.
If you are training at home, you can get away with having a couple of dumbbells, kettlebells or sandbags, while an indoor bike or treadmill can be useful for the winter.
How Long Should Training Last
The short but most accurate answer is: it depends. In most cases, training shouldn’t last too long, especially if you are doing it most days. However, different types of training will take different amounts of time.
For example, you can expect a traditional team training session organised by yourself or your coach to last around 90 minutes to two hours. This will include your warm up, tactical/technical training, and a practice match, as well as a cool down.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can usually comfortably complete a solo strength training or cardio session in under an hour, while a HIIT session on a treadmill or exercise bike can be done in as little as 20 minutes. Think quality not quantity.
How to Train for Football
As you have read, there are many ways to train. At lower levels, cardio, strength and mobility training will usually be the responsibility of the individual player, while technical and tactical training is usually done with a coach and teammates.
These technical sessions should be much more than a kick-around. They should be deliberately structured to ensure your time together is spent learning and developing as a team.
The following example is a classic training session format, and you can alter the times depending on how long you have.
Warm Up (10 minutes): Every session should start with a warm up to prepare your body and mind for the following activity. Individual warm ups may precede team warm ups if players need to work on certain areas – foam rolling a tight muscle, for example.
For the main warm up, follow the RAMP framework. RAMP stands for Raise, Activate, Mobilise and Potentiate. This can be done as both a team and individuals.
This structure means first raising your heart rate, blood flow and core temperature with light movement like running or skipping. This is followed by activation and mobilisation of the key lower body muscles and joints with movements such as squats, lunges and RDLs among others.
Finally, you will potentiate (or prime) your nervous system for speed by building up to the pace of your session – in other words, practicing some sprints, jumps and fast feet.
Main Session (30 minutes): By now, you and your team will be ready to tackle the main session. There should always be a clear objective, usually an aspect of the game that the team needs to work on.
Don’t try to address too much in one session. Instead, stick with one thing like passing, crossing, ball control, shooting, set pieces and so on. This is where it may be useful to use some of the drills we outline in the section below.
Game Situation (30 minutes): After the main session, if training with a team, there should be a short session to practice the skills you have learned, whether that was short passing, heading the ball or creating space. This could be a small-sided game, larger practice match, or a series of 1v1s, depending on what is most relevant for the skill.
Cool Down (5 minutes): The cool down is often overlooked by players, but is an important aspect of training. It gives you the opportunity to lower your heart rate and breathing to relax the body. This cool down only has to last for a couple of minutes – perhaps a lap or two of the pitch at a very light jogging pace, slowing to a walk halfway in.
Before doing some static stretches or, if necessary, foam rolling for recovery, and then hitting the showers, it is a good time to have a discussion with your team about what has been learned during the session and what could be focused on in the next session.
Drills are exercises that can be incorporated into a training session to improve certain physical, technical and tactical aspects of your game.
While a complete guide to football training drills goes beyond the scope of this article, we have prepared a separate article on how to get the best from your training drills.
Nutrition for Football Training
We touched upon some of this earlier in this guide, although nailing your nutrition is as important to training as the training itself.
Good football nutrition starts with your diet throughout the week and should include enough fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and – particularly important for footballers – complex carbohydrates.
Providing that your diet is on point (or as close to on point as you can), you can make great use of supplements to enhance your focus, endurance and recovery.
In the hour before a training session, you can use an energy gel such as our Fuel90® energy and electrolyte gel to keep you going. Used by top teams around the world, this unique gel contains a dual carbohydrate 3:1 formula for rapid absorption, with 380mg of electrolytes. This delivers both an energy and hydration boost, to help you squeeze the most from your training session.
Click here to read our article about energy gels for football performance.
Whether you have spent a few hours with your squad or a solo session under a heavy barbell, recovery is crucial to ensure you are ready to go again the next day. Having a protein shake – such as our Whey90®or Vegan Protein – and some fruit (berries are excellent) immediately after your session will give your muscles the tools they need to start repairing.
Click here to read more about protein for footballers.
Underpinning everything else is good hydration. Drinking around two litres of water every day (around eight glasses) is a good place to start, with an extra 500ml to one litre of water for every hour of activity.
In addition, be sure to add electrolytes – such as Hydrate90® – to boost your hydration and prevent muscle cramps. Hydrate90® is available as both an energy drink with an added carbohydrate blend, or an effervescent tablet free from sugar and carbs.
Click here to read our article about hydration for football training.
As this guide will have demonstrated, football training is far more than simply kicking the ball around with your teammates during the week.
If you are able to dedicate some more time over your week to work on the physical, technical and tactical aspects of your game, you will be surprised at how far good training can help you progress.
Ultimately, football training doesn’t have to be complicated. Just train hard, mix things around, don’t overdo it, fuel up and recover well!
Click here to shop our range of elite football nutrition