Nail Pre-Season Training With These Football Fitness Drills

Two men perform sprints as part of pre-season training
(Image credit: Getty Images)

At the end of a hard football season, it’s tempting to kick back and give yourself the entire summer off to recharge your batteries ahead of the next campaign. While that approach will seem like an excellent idea in the long, warm (ha!) days of June and July, you’ll be kicking yourself come the start of the season when you can barely play five minutes of a match without needing a breather.

To ensure match day doesn’t come as too much of a shock to the system, follow this four-week training plan. We’ll warn you now that it’s not going to be an easy month, but you’ll be delighted that you put in the hard yards come the final 20 minutes of the first game back, when you bag a hat-trick as a result of being the only one fit enough to keep running.

Once you’ve got yourself back up to speed with these fitness sessions, chuck in some work on your skills with these football drills used by Premier League top scorer Harry Kane. You’ll be better prepared for kick-off than ever before.

The Expert

Tom Henson is a UKSCA-accredited strength and conditioning coach working at Southampton FC, where he oversees fitness and strength training for the 18-21 age group. He has an MSc in Sports Performance.

Week 1

Henson says: “The words ‘pre-season training’ will evoke scare stories of players running so far they puke their guts up. But with this plan, the first week back in training is meant to ease you back into exercise after a few weeks on the sun lounger (if you’re lucky) or couch. Steady-state cardio won’t stress your body like interval sprints but it will establish an aerobic base which will help with recovery from the shorter, sharper exercise coming in the following weeks. The two other sessions in the week should be anything other than simply steady-state cardio to encourage mobility without the same repetitive stress pattern of running.”

Session 1: 45-minute run

Work up a light sweat and moderate heart rate. Aim to maintain 75% of your max heart rate.

Sessions 2 and 3: Sports sessions

For example, swimming, tennis or a session on the exercise bike or rowing machine.

Week 2

Henson says: “These drills are all about ‘lactate supercompensation’ work. With the 3-2-1 pattern drill the idea is that as your intensity increases, you compensate by increasing your rest periods, which will help you progress from aerobic to anaerobic exercise. Training this week will improve your ability to buffer high levels of lactic acid in your muscles and sustain a high workload, meaning you’ll still be going strong as the match approaches full time while everyone else is flagging. The high energy expenditure will also help burn off those well-earned pints at the end of last season.”

Session 1: 3-2-1 pattern interval sprints

On an athletics track or around a football pitch, run as fast as is sustainable for three minutes, then rest for one minute. Run again for two minutes then rest for two. Then run for one minute and rest for three. That will take 12 minutes. Repeat this three times in total.

Session 2: VO2 max stimulating runs

Starting on the goal line, aim to run the length of the pitch 4.5 times in two minutes then rest for two minutes. Repeat this six times in total.

Week 3

Henson says: “After three weeks the intervals become shorter but that means you can crank up the intensity. A good VO2 max is no use if your muscles are riddled with lactic acid and your body starts shutting down. That’s where these sessions will make the difference. These intervals will force you to train at or slightly above your lactate threshold, and as a result you will increase the intensity at which it will occur in a match situation. In other words, you’ll be able to maintain a high intensity in matches, because you exercise at an even higher one in training. The five-a-side sessions also tick all the boxes. They combine these short, sharp, sprints with multidirectional movement, football skills and a match situation, which will all sharpen you up for the first game of the new season.”

Session 1: 1:1 interval sprints

Sprint for one minute then jog gently for one minute for ten sets in total.

Session 2: 1:3 interval sprints

Increase the intensity. Sprint for 45 seconds then jog gently for 2min 15sec for eight sets in total.

Session 3: Football

For example, a five-a-side match.

Week 4

Henson says: “The final week before a return to competitive action involves mixed distance metabolic sprints and includes lots of changes in direction. This gets your body used to game-specific sprints and movements. It’s challenging for your central nervous system and neuromuscular systems but the key is to ‘stimulate, don’t annihilate’. For both the shuttles and clock drill you want to keep the quality high. Run with good form, concentrate on staying agile, turning sharply and accelerating powerfully. Now you’re ready. Enjoy the season.”

Session 1: Shuttle runs

Sprint from the goal line to the edge of the six yard box, then walk back to the start. Sprint from the goal line to the edge of the penalty box, walk back. Sprint to the halfway line, walk back. Repeat this six to eight times, depending on fatigue.

Session 2: Centre circle clock drill

Mark out a clock face with 12 cones on the centre circle. Always starting in the middle, run to the cone designated for 3 o’clock then 6, then 9 then 12. Time yourself and rest five times as long as it took before continuing. Do this twice more. Then do one set running to the 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 o’clock. Rest five times as long as it took again. Then finish by running around the whole face. Aim to run as fast as possible and change direction off both feet.

Session 3: Football

For example, a five-a-side match.

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Sam Rider

Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix. Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.