Just because it has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that is the best way to do something. The world of fitness is rife with this. Especially when it comes to training for athletics.
I was recently speaking with good friends of mine from the United States who had questions for me concerning their daughter’s soccer coach and soccer training program. This coach has the soccer team perform 3 mile runs (almost 5km for us metric Canadians) at most practices in order to condition the cardiovascular system of the team. They do this under what exercise people call steady state condition, which basically means they run it at a single speed.
I made the recommendation for their daughter to complete the 3 mile run but to do it in intervals. Say, sprint for 20 to 30 seconds, walk for 30 seconds and repeat this until the 3 miles were completed. Off she went to do this and was quickly told by the coach that this was not appropriate and to continue with the steady state protocol.
Why? If we look at this physiologically running a steady state 3 miles is a purely aerobic activity. During a soccer match these young athletes would never run a steady 3 miles at the same pace. A soccer game would consist of short sprints (say, 20-30 seconds) interspersed with walking and light jogging (say around 30 seconds). Sounds a little bit familiar?
This is not a purely aerobic activity, neither the run nor the soccer game. So why would the coach want the athletes training a steady state aerobic protocol? There is an obvious aerobic component to soccer, however it is mingled together with serious anaerobic energy expenditure, as in sprinting, accelerating, decelerating etc.
Again, why would the coach not want to train the athletes to maximize the use of the energy systems and body demands that they will encounter during the actual sport?
The answer: I have no idea. It doesn’t make any sense.
Well, I do have an idea. The problem is that 99% of coaches out there have no idea what the hell they are doing. They have no knowledge base or understanding of strength and conditioning, physiology, anatomy, recovery, and a host of other variables intrinsic to human performance.
They do it simply because that’s just the way it has always been done. No point to changing anything. No need to incorporate the last 20 years of research about how to best condition the human body. No way they are going to get rid of the 3 mile run. That is simply just what you do.
Soccer isn’t alone. Know anyone that plays hockey? Football? Basketball? Steady state running will not improve their performance either. In fact, it could potentially hinder their ability fully develop the energy systems they are actually going to need to use.
What about your cardiovascular system? Cardio conditioning? Short bursts of high intensity activity are much more effective at increasing your cardiovascular capacity (in the field we refer to it as your VO2 max) and do so far more then long steady state runs. If you need endurance in these sports you will develop that during practice. During strength and conditioning you need to focus on strengthening and conditioning.
Hockey players, volleyball players, basketball players, martial artists, boxers, sprint runners, sprint cyclists, are all examples of athletes who really do not need to be running steady state.
Get rid of these old school practices. And if you are a coach – seek out the advice and knowledge of a qualified and experienced strength and conditioning professional. That’s what we are here for.