How Fit is an Elite Footballer?

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Dr Stephen McGregor was Leeds United’s first head of sports science and took up a similar role at Aston Villa. He is currently the director of the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance.

Are elite players physically exceptional?

Players generally cover 12km a game, while most will reach speeds of nine-10 metres per second at various points over the 90 minutes, amid multiple accelerations and decelerations. Footballers require a combination of endurance, strength and speed and are likely to be superior to the average man across each of these areas as a result. However, it is a heightened effectiveness across all three areas simultaneously that underpins their overall superiority.

Just how physically superior are they?

A VO2 max score (measured in millilitres of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body mass per second) refers to a person’s maximal rate of oxygen consumption and is regarded as reflecting their aerobic physical fitness. The max for an average man is generally between 35-40ml, whereas for an elite footballer a score of 60-70ml is normal, suggesting a substantially higher level of fitness. Body fat percentage is another area. Among the male population of the UK the average is 25-30%. Top footballers will tend to measure between 6-10%.

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Are lower league players athletically superior to the average person?

Evidence suggests that the higher up the divisions you go the greater players’ average fitness status is, but a National League player is still covering 10-12km per 90 mins in a game and is substantially fitter than even the regular gym-goers among the Coach readership. This is due in no small part to the relatively large amount of time they have to dedicate to maximising their fitness, strength and conditioning.

Is becoming as fit as a footballer an attainable goal for joe average?

Not unless they’re able to quit their day job and begin training full-time under professional supervision. Readers can work on reducing body fat, getting faster and aerobically stronger by undertaking various forms of targeted exercise, yes, but reaching elite athlete levels of fitness leaves little room for an alternative 9-5.

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How healthy is football for you?

Football is great all rounder when it comes to improving health and fitness. It’s a cardiovascular challenge, meaning it’s good for the heart, while the combination of running, jumping, turning and landing tone up muscle and help with bone health, which will stand you in good stead as you age. It’s also a good way of burning body fat.

Where does football stand in terms of an all around work out?

Imagine a spectrum of fitness focus comprising weight-lifting, with its focus on explosive power, at one end and the pure, cardiovascular endeavour of marathon running at the other. Football occupies a middle point between the two extremes. While the degree to which it can improve strength or stamina are not as extreme as sports that work purely on those attributes, playing football is better for building strength and speed than marathon running and more beneficial for endurance than strength-focused activities like sprinting.

Which sports are better? Which are less good?

It’s the million dollar debate, our sport is more challenging than yours, or we’re fitter than you, but it would be misleading to describe one sport as better for you than another. It depends upon which area of fitness you are hoping to improve, as all offer different focuses. Be fit for your sport.