The Importance of Cross Training in the Soccer off Season

By Mike Kelly, PRO TRAINER, for "11 Players Magazine" (Inugural December Edition)

Well, it’s November and winter snowfalls are not far off from covering the soccer pitch. As a coach, it’s an opportune time to reflect on the positives and negatives of the past season. What you might discover, is that some of the team was lacking in energy and/or, incurred far too many injuries. The good news is that the winter time provides a great opportunity to work on fitness deficiencies.

Soccer is one of the most physically demanding sports and has been categorized as a high intensity, intermittent, team sport. It is also a sport using linear and nonlinear running, with players having to go through various planes of movement during a game, often changing suddenly. If not to make the game more challenging, throw in some vertical leaps (and the occasional rough landing) – good thing Soccer is officially, “a non-contact sport”.

During a competitive youth soccer game, depending on the position, a player can be expected to run/walk well over 5 kilometers (with mid fielders typically going farther). As the majority of a soccer game is run at sub-maximal, aerobic cardio intensities (much to the chagrin of all coaches), it’s extremely important that players develop a solid aerobic base. It has been shown (K McMillan, J Helgerud, R Macdonald, J Hoff 2005), that even a small improvement in a players aerobic conditioning can result in more efficient running on the field. Extending a players energy base is paramount, as once fatigue kicks in, coordination starts to drop, i.e., fatigue can mean the difference between an accurate kick on goal, or putting it 10’ too high. A great metric for determining a player’s aerobic conditioning is their VO2max (maximal oxygen uptake). Once determining that metric as part of a “base lining” process, an off season training program can be implemented to improve upon VO2max levels.

In addition to the cardio element, soccer players also require both explosive and endurance based muscle activity during a game. So, what’s a relatively easy way to improve both cardio and muscular levels? Cross Training!

Why cross training, as opposed to just running laps? Well, over time if the same stimulus is applied day in and day out to an individual’s fitness level, sooner or later their body will adapt to the static stimulus and begin to plateau. If you want to try this fitness phenomena out for yourself, do a simple bicep curl exercise with a weight that makes it challenging to complete a proper set. Within a month or so of repeating the same exercise, that same weight will become easier to lift. Unfortunately, if the same weight stimulus continues, in the same technique, you’ll find your bicep strength will plateau and could even get weaker.

Using the previous analogy exemplifies the importance of cross training, whereby the athlete is continually being challenged by different exercises and techniques - as a coach, there is a myriad of options for improving players overall fitness level, simply implementing a relevant cross training program can be a great start.

Cross Training can be made as simple or sophisticated as you like, including the use of a “periodization” program (a systematic approach to improving one’s fitness level). To get an extra bang for your buck, incorporate some Speed, Agility and Quickness (SAQ) drills and if time permits, a properly done plyometric program will nicely cap off the training.

NOTE: Be careful with implementing too demanding of a plyometric program, as youth player’s bones structures are generally still growing and overly demanding impact forces can cause negative effects (try jump rope, which when done properly, is a great form of basic plyometric, works the cardio element and is inexpensive).

Finally, with the reality of cost and time, get your players at a minimum, to try out another sport, ideally one with similar movements to that of soccer, e.g., basketball.

Certainly, it’s also paramount that players continue to work with the ball throughout the off season, as this is what they’ll be doing on the field, but cross training with other sports and/or exercise programs, can make for great improvements in fitness.

Mike Kelly is a canfitpro PRO TRAINER (“providing training to trainers”) and runs VIP Fitness, specialising in the sports conditioning of youth competitive teams and individual athletes in the greater Ottawa area. © 2010 Mike Kelly.

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Working With An Injured Team Member

By Mike Kelly, PRO TRAINER, for canfitpro Magazine

While running team conditioning programs, the possibility of having one or more players being injured beforehand is very common.  As so to keep the "team" concept intact and not let the injured player become too de-conditioned, I try and accommodate that player(s) whenever possible. Depending on the severity and  type of injury, I keep the injured player challenged,  all within a safe scope of ability to avoid exacerbating any injuries(s). The god news is that exercise programs can be tailored for most injured athletes. For example, if it is a knee injury (one of the top soccer injuries), it may still be possible to implement an Isometric and/or Balance program (useful in additional muscle fiber recruitment/support). Any such program with an individual, regardless of being injured or not, must be gradually implemented to ensure a player(s) has the ability to take on any new physical challenges. 

Regarding the usefulness of Balance training,  I recently had a physio therapist refer a client to me after recovering and rehabilitating from an extensive ACL procedure. After several months of focused exercises incorporating Balance, the client's overall leg strength was reported as being stronger than it was pre-injury. So, a knee injured player could typically participate with a # of modified team exercises, that would not negatively effect the injury - all while still maintaining some degree of fitness within the team environment and in addition, challenge the rest of the team at the same time. Ultimately, if we think of the body as having 3 main zones of Upper, Lower and Core, with various planes such as Frontal and Sagittal (left/right sides), there are a variety of exercises injured players can still participate in, so variety is rarely a problem.

Lastly, while providing conditioning training to youth teams, it also presents me with a great opportunity to embed the techniques and importance of flexibility, as an injury prevention tool - the majority of teens for example, have very poor flexibility and as a result, can be injuries waiting to happen . As such, even injured players can participate in select flexibility aspects (that are not directly affecting the injured area).

When athletes with back injuries are part of the equation, they are usually very limited at what they can do - at the very least, I will try and recruit them as an assistant in helping run the various team drills (a whistle can be an empowering tool).© Mike Kelly 2010.

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Maintaining One's Fitness Level In The Off Season

By Mike Kelly, PRO TRAINER, for canfitpro Magazine

As many of my clients want to maintain their workouts during the fall & winter months, small adjustments need to be made for any of your prior outdoor training segments (indoor activities such as resistance training can pretty much remain the same, concentrating a little bit more on the warm-up beforehand). 

Firstly, understand that unless you live in a southern climate, the colder months are for the most part, not meant for achieving personal bests because of the change in temperature and things like poor shoe traction. That being said, unless you are a winter sport athlete, it's typically a time to focus on trying to maintain the physical conditioning that was achieved in the warmer months. One change that should occur, is that of clothing, specifically, think of layering for any outdoor activities - keeping your core nice and warm will go a long way to have the rest of your body staying warm. 

I change to an all leather upper shoe and adding some type of traction cleat to your runners is a great idea - I put a few wood screws into the base of my shoes (being careful not too use too long a screw). With the colder temperatures just around the corner, it's a great time to switch your outdoor biking to indoor spinning where you should be able to find a suitable class for your skill level. If you're looking for a slightly different cardio workout, try snow shoeing. Remember, it doesn't take long for the body to drop back to it's prior, non-challenged state, so it's important to find activities that you can incorporate into your daily routine.

Oh and don't forget your Vitamin D intake, as the sun's rays won't allow the body to make as much as in the spring/summer months. © Mike Kelly 2009.

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To Drink or Not to Drink (my thoughts)

By Mike Kelly, PRO TRAINER, for canfitpro Magazine

Recently, a new medical study directed towards the old standard of getting 8 glasses of water a day, came to my attention. Once reading the study on ABC's website ( the first thought that came to mind was "I wonder what fitness level the 2 researchers were in?", because I know a very fit and highly respected Gastro Intestinal doctor that would disagree with both of these kidney specialists that penned that study. Certainly most studies are beneficial and add credence to a lot of things, but surely common sense should prevail in certain cases, i.e., "drink only when you're thirsty"? My response to that is that why wait if you don't have to, i.e., at any point in the day because I'm normally well hydrated, I could run an easy 5kms without even getting thirsty. But regardless of that, if you'd like to try a simple little test, I think you'll convince yourself to stay properly hydrated. You may want to consult with your doctor before trying this, especially if you have any medical issues.   You'll need to have some current baseline for comparison. If you're already fit, you're likely consuming a good amount of water already.  So, knowing what water you currently drink each day/week, cut that down to approximately half for an entire week - you should notice a number of negatives, including possibly:

  1. a less energetic feeling (i.e., not that there is any energy in H2O, but it assists in many ways to make a body more      functional);

  1. you may feel less capable in the way of body joint movement;
  1. you may feel a little more achy / headachy;
  1. you will feel more thirsty throughout the day and if you are an active person, this could result in other negative's as       the muscles won't benefit from as much cooling etc., (of interesting note, remember the major percentage portion of     muscle, is in fact water, so be careful on intense workout days);
  1. you may experience some constipation;
  1. to a minor degree, your skin may be negatively effected (this is a tough one to gauge) - the one actual skin elasticity reference I saw, stated a negligible difference, but again check it out for yourself ; and
  1. your RHR may increase slightly;   None of the above, being a good thing in my books.

How can I assume the above as being possible negative outcomes when not being properly hydrated? Well, I'm no kidney specialist or even a researcher, but I've tried the same baseline myself. I did this  so that when I train new personal trainers, I could provide my own personal experience if applicable, bearing in mind everyone will be somewhat different.

As for the researcher's reference of "drink when you're thirsty, that's the way your body is designed" - this may be true for most seniors or more sedentary type people (who's health would likely benefit from improved hydration), but you won't likely want to adopt that method of thinking if you are active. As the thirst reflex is somewhat after the fact and won't immediately fix the negatives during any intense activity to be sure, when you finally quench that thirst.

If by the researcher's definition, one can attain adequate hydration through a healthy diet and, keeping in mind the diuretic effect from caffeine in coffee or soda pops that many people drink (let alone the other negatives proven from soda pop), I think you'll find you'll need to eat a lot more food to get the required hydration (watch out for too much sodium). So, give it a try and then switch back to being hydrated for the next week, i.e., taking into account, things like water soluble vitamins etc., your urine should be "relatively" clear in order for you to be considered hydrated and life should feel much better again. How much water will that take, just remember everyone's a little different - the old myth says 8 glasses of water a day, but that was for everyone on the planet, so that doesn't make much sense now does it? In the fitness world, the reference tends to be 1/2oz for every body pound + additional fluids for exercise  and possible diuretic effects.

This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive study, but I think you'll be able to make up your own mind about what hydration level you need for yourself. Hope this information is helpful and remember, "Challenge the Body, or it will Challenge YOU" © Mike Kelly 2008.

Mike Kelly is  an Ottawa based canfitpro, "PRO TRAINER" (Trainer of Personal Trainers) and Personal Trainer Specialist.

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You Are What and When You Eat (& Drink)

By Mike Kelly, PTS for "The Sports Nut" Magazine

After reading the title you may be asking yourself "What’s up with this guy’s grammar?" Well frankly, grammar was never one of my strong points, but having said that, the content of the title is what’s important . You’ve often heard "you are what you eat" but what you may not know, from an exercise perspective, is that when you eat can play a pivotal role in how you’ll perform.

If you’re eating healthy, proper timing of nutrition will allow you to exercise with less fatigue and soreness and prepare you for the next day’s exercise. We all know a good healthy breakfast is important (because between morning and noon is when you’ll burn a lot of your daily caloric requirements), but what if you are going to exercise at noon and don’t have time for lunch – that’s a big mistake, as you run the risk of low blood sugar (that weak feeling). So, make sure you’ve also had a good healthy snack 30 minutes to an hour before your noon exercise.

The Window of Opportunity

Generally speaking, say you had a run yesterday and posted a PB. Now, today you’re ready to impress your boss on the squash court with your new found speed, but early into the match, you feel extra tired – you need only look at what you ate immediately after your run yesterday to see the cause of your fatigue. Although fat is a great source of energy for aerobic exercise, e.g., a slow jog pace, it’s mostly carbs you’ll burn during anaerobic exercise, e.g. when posting a PB. Thus your body taps its supply of quick carb energy stored in your muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is greatly depleted in an hour or so (e.g., muscle fatigue). This is the time when you have to think smart as to what and when you eat, or shall we say, "the window of opportunity". For about two hours after anaerobic exercise, the body will work efficiently to convert and store carb intake. The storage process occurs over a longer period than 2 hours, but to get that hours worth of glycogen you burnt off, it needs to be done in the 2 hour time window. Specifically, it is done by eating high glycemic index foods that quickly convert into glycogen. For the average person, you should be taking in approximately 60 grams of carbs per hour for the first few hours – a sport drink has approximately 66 grams per litre, while an energy bar has about 30 grams. There is also a great food on the market called a "banana" that has approximately 27 grams of carbs. After this time window, then shift to taking in more complex carbs (lower glycemic index) targeting some 400 to 600 grams over the next 24 hours (this is based on your body size and that 57% of your daily caloric intake should be carbs). Should you miss the window, because you feel too exhausted to eat/drink, the overall time your body takes to restore your glycogen levels, will be greatly increased. So instead of replenishing the body’s stores in 24 hours, it might take 48hours. If you haven’t fully replenished this glycogen and take on the boss for an anaerobic game of squash, you’ll be just that, squashed.

The Pause That Refreshes – The Other Part of the Equation

We all know how important water is to our body, right? Just in case, here’s a "refresher" on what water does.

Water is not just for quenching thirst, but is important for many other things, e.g. water hydration helps cool the body down; reduce the burn from muscle fatigue; cushioning of our joints and efficiency of the heart just to name a few. Assuming your nutrition is good, you shouldn’t need anything other than water to replenish lost fluids during an hour of exercise. The only trick is to make sure you are well hydrated before beginning. So how does one know if they are well hydrated? Well you need only look as far as the washroom. Specifically, if your urine is closer to being clear than yellow, you are probably well hydrated. Alternatively, you could monitor your resting heart rate each morning. On days where your RHR is somewhat high, you can bet that you are probably not well hydrated.

Granted, it’s not easy to maintain good hydration. The reason for this is that you’ll only be typically reminded to drink, when you’re thirsty and by then it is too late to maintain good hydration. Okay, so how much water should one take in? Target about 1/2 oz per body pound for normal daily activities. This is a lot more water than you’re probably used to, so remember, "out of sight, out of mind" – keep a full water bottle with you throughout the day. If you’re exercising, you’ll also need to replace the fluids that you perspire out and depending on your body size and exercise intensity that can vary from 16 to 48oz. in an hour. If you’re going beyond 2 hours, consider a sport drink for lost sodium and potassium etc. Oh and let’s not forget about the caffeine we drink, which as a diuretic, you’ll need to drink 4oz. of extra water for every 8oz. of caffeinated fluids. Speaking of drinking, 3 glasses of alcohol per day can reduce the body’s ability to heal itself – so think moderation and you’ll feel better the day after that hard workout (late night hockey players take note).© Mike Kelly 2005.

"The Importance of Cross Training in the Soccer off Season" 12/2010

"Working With An Injured Team Member" 08/2010

"Maintaining One's Fitness Level In The Off Season" 03/2009

"To Drink or Not to Drink (my thoughts)" 04/2008

"You Are What and When You Eat (& Drink)" 07/2005
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