Football-specific training or active recovery: which promotes better recovery?

Football-specific training or active recovery: which promotes better recovery? Your weekly research review Contents of Research Review Background & Objective What They Did What They Found Practical Takeaways Reviewer’s Comments About the Reviewer Comments Original ... Read more

Owen Walker

By Owen Walker
Last updated: August 20th, 2023
4 min read

Football-specific training or active recovery: which promotes better recovery?

Your weekly research review

Owen Walker

By Owen Walker
Last updated: August 20th, 2023
4 min read

Contents of Research Review

  1. Background & Objective
  2. What They Did
  3. What They Found
  4. Practical Takeaways
  5. Reviewer’s Comments
  6. About the Reviewer

Original study

Trecroci A, Porcelli S, Perri E, Pedrali M, Rasica L, Alberti G, Longo S, Iaia FM. Effects of Different Training Interventions on the Recovery of Physical and Neuromuscular Performance After a Soccer Match. J Strength Cond Res. 2020 Aug;34(8):2189-2196. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003269. PMID: 31373975.

Click here for abstract

Background & Objective

In competitive football (soccer), players are frequently required to play in periods with congested fixtures in which they have limited time to recover between matches (3–4 days).

The authors in the current study compared the function of the knee extensors and flexors, as well as sprint performance, after completing football-specific training or an active recovery regime 48 h following competition match

What They Did

Nine sub-elite football players played two 90 min friendly matches with similar match activity profiles. On one occasion, 48 h after the match, players performed a 60 min soccer-specific training session consisting of small-sided games, tactical drills, and set plays. On the other occasion, players performed a 30 min active recovery session consisting of circle drills, dynamic stretching, and low-intensity jogging.

72 h before, immediately after, and 72 h after the match, participants were evaluated for:

  • Repeated sprint ability (5×30 m with 25 sec rest).
  • Neuromuscular performance (maximal voluntary contraction of knee extensors and flexors).

What They Found

The main findings of this study were:

  • Performing a low-intensity active recovery training session 48 h after a football match promoted a better restoration of muscle force of the knee flexors after a match compared with a more traditional training session composed of football-specific drills.
  • Conversely, both training sessions induced similar recovery effects in repeated sprint performance and knee extension maximal voluntary
    force production.

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Practical Takeaways

  • If there is a succession of matches with limited recovery time in between, practitioners should prescribe low-moderate training sessions 48 h after the match (i.e. circle drills, technical drill, positional work), to promote a better recovery of neuromuscular function of knee flexors. This could be particularly important with regards to injury prevention, since hamstring muscle strains are
    very common in football players, particularly in high match congested periods.
  • In some competitive periods, when there is a high demand for technical and tactical aspects, these needs of the players preparing for the upcoming match cannot be disregarded. In these cases, practitioners should consider a football-specific training session (e.g. small sided games, tactical drills concerning attacking/defending maneuvers), with limited distances covered in acceleration or deceleration, especially in cases where the player has compromised knee flexors force production, or the previous match induced high mechanical loads.

Reviewer’s Comments

“This is a very interesting study that aimed to solve a real-world problem, can football athletes train in a match day (MD) +2/-1 without eliciting fatigue for the MD? Given the findings of the current study, particularly the observed decrease in the knee flexors force, the answer is “no”. At least with the characteristics of the training session that the authors have used.

These results are not surprising and I don’t think teams often train in MD+2/-1. A more frequent scenario is when teams have 3 days between matches. It would be very interesting to understand the level of fatigue the players present on MD+2 and the effect of different training loads during that session when the team competes two days afterwards (i.e. MD+2/-2). Given these findings and from my experience, I would suggest coaches carefully plan and manage players to avoid the need of training on a MD+2/.1.”

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Owen Walker

Owen Walker

Owen is the Founder of Science for Sport and has a Master’s degree in Strength & Conditioning and a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Conditioning & Rehabilitation from Cardiff Metropolitan University. Before founding Science for Sport, he was the Head of Academy Sports Science at Cardiff City Football Club, and an interim Sports Scientist for the Welsh Football Association.

He’s published research on the ‘Practical Applications of Water Immersion Recovery Modalities for Team Sports’ in the Strength & Conditioning Journal by the NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association). He has also been featured in the Sports Business Journal and The Roar, Australia’s leading sports opinion website.

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