High intensity interval strength training for Football (Soccer) Athletes by Tony Kauth

[Tony Kauth is a senior studying Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and?an Applied Sport Science Intern at Athletic Lab.]

Increasing strength is incredibly important for all athletes, including football athletes. Strength training programs are often separated from the sport program, with specialized coaches and facilities that provide adequate equipment. While many considerations need to be made, there can be effective ways to implement high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as a strength training supplement to routine sport training for football athletes.


Football athletes can have great benefits from strength training in their performance by improving force production, which can lead to improvement in acceleration and speed development (Johnathan et al, 2017), and possibly change of direction reactiveness. Injury prevention benefits as a result of strength training are also very important for football athletes. Specifically utilizing a method of HIIT within the strength program, however, can have additional benefits. While a misconception may be common, HIIT does not reduce increases in strength (Gentil et al, 2017; Pinto et al, 2017). As a result of the training, cardiovascular performance is also increased (Androulakis-Korakakis et al, 2017; Pinto et al, 2017). Since football athletes need to be explosive while they sprint, as well as fit enough to run nearly continuously for 90 minutes or more in a match, employing HIIT within a strength program seems like an easy decision to make. There are, however, some considerations that should take place before blindly implementing, or changing a current strength program to HIIT.


While HIIT utilization in a strength program may be extremely beneficial for football athletes due to the ability to increase cardiovascular endurance, while not taking away from strength improvements, the athlete?s total workload needs to be strongly considered. It is important to understand that football practices consist of a high volume of endurance running. Coaches may also include bouts of HIIT by incorporating sprint or change of direction intervals. Considering this is important to the strength coach, as additional cardiovascular endurance stress by utilizing HIIT within the strength program may decrease the athletes? abilities to recover properly and could become a chronic issue. That being said, incorporating HIIT within a strength program could free more time in the sport practice for coaches to implement technical work, or end practices earlier, providing athletes more time to recover as part of their endurance workload is now being completed during their scheduled strength training.


Communication with the sport coach may be the most important part of implementing HIIT into a strength program for football athletes. A strength coach should understand if the sport coach is intending their weekly sport practices to include the maximum amount of cardiovascular endurance stress they would like. If the strength coach is wanting to implement HIIT into their program, good communication with the sport coach about the benefits of HIIT within the strength program is key in giving the sport coach the opportunity to understand and adjust the practice workload to account for the endurance work being completed within the strength program. It is also important to decide how to manipulate the program in order to create high intensity. Intensity can be increased by decreasing rest time or increasing load, among other factors. Limiting rest time between sets is likely the most common way to create a HIIT strength program, but the strength coach should be creative and consider varying the mechanisms by which high intensity is achieved. Especially in-season, a football athlete may participate in strength training only one or two times per week, which is about the maximum amount of sessions HIIT should be utilized (2014). When training time is of concern, a HIIT strength session could be easily incorporated into the end of a practice with limited implements and not having the leave the pitch. Should an athlete be participating in more than two strength sessions per week, HIIT strength sessions should still be carefully monitored and balanced over the course of the week to ensure adequate recovery. In off-season training, especially in an athlete where strength improvements are of greater importance than endurance, utilizing HIIT within a strength program can allow for the much-needed increases in strength, while still maintaining, and likely enhancing endurance performance.


(2014). Top injury prevention tips for high intensity training. A Physical Therapist, Inc. Retrieved from?http://aphysicaltherapistinc.com/2014/02/top-injury-prevention-tips-for-high-intensity-interval-training/

Androulakis-Korakakis, P., Langdown, L., Lewis, A., Fisher, J., Gentil, P., Paoli, A., & Steele, J. (April, 2017). The effects of exercise modality during additional ?high-intensity interval training? upon aerobic fitness and strength in powerlifting and strongman athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, (Epub ahead of print). doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001809.

Gentil, P., de Lira, C. A. B., Filho, S. G. C., La Scala Teixeira, C. V., Steele, J., Fisher, J., Alves Carneiro, J., & Hebling Campos, M. (June, 2017). High intensity interval training does not impair strength gains in response to resistance training in premenopausal women. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 117(6). Retrieved from?https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00421-017-3614-0

Johnathan, N., Russell, M., Shearer, D., Cook, C., & Kilduff, M. (March, 2017). Predictors of linear and multidirectional acceleration in elite soccer players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, (Epub ahead of print). doi: 10.1519 /JSC.0000000000001897.

Pinto, N., Salassi, J. W., Donlin, A., Schroeder, J., & Rozenek, R. (May, 2017). Effects of a 6-week upper extremity low-volume, high intensity interval training on oxygen uptake, peak power output and total exercise time. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, (Epub ahead of print). doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002008.

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Mike Young

Director of Performance at Athletic Lab
Mike is the Head Fitness Coach for the North Carolina Courage and North Carolina FC. He is also the owner and Director of Performance at Athletic Lab sports performance training center. He previously served as the fitness coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Carolina Railhawks. He has a PhD in Biomechanics, an MS in Coaching Science, and a BSS in Exercise Physiology and has coached Olympic and professional athletes in Skeleton, Track & Field, MLS and NASL Soccer, PGA Golf, NFL Football, MLB Baseball and Olympic Weightlifting. He has lectured around the world and authored 2 books and dozens of research and coaching articles.
Category : Training