Throughout the history of soccer, coaches have often made players run long distances with the aim of improving their performance during a soccer game.
Although this is commonplace, I wanted to determine if long-distance running is actually good for soccer. Does it really help, or could it even be detrimental? Here’s what I discovered.
Long-distance running is not good for soccer because long-distance running and soccer are two different types of activity. During a soccer game, players mostly make multiple short, high-intensity runs. Long-distance running conditions muscles for long, steady-paced running.
The fact that long-distance running is not suitable for soccer players may come as a surprise to you. I want to show you some alternative ways to increase your fitness and endurance levels for soccer. But first, let’s look at the evidence for why long-distance running and soccer shouldn’t mix.
Differences Between Long-Distance Running and Soccer
When I was younger, my soccer coach would often get myself and the rest of the team to run long distances to improve our stamina or endurance. We would run around and around the soccer field until we were all exhausted!
Now, on one level, this may seem as though it makes perfect sense.
Playing soccer involves lots of running, so improving a player’s ability to run for a long time should help, right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple!
While it has been shown that soccer players often run for an average of 7 miles (12km) during a single soccer game, you will be aware that no soccer player is running non-stop at a slow and steady speed from beginning to end of a game like a long-distance runner would.
Although a soccer player is continually moving throughout a 90-minute game, merely focusing on how long they have to keep moving will give you an incomplete picture.
It is essential to look at the type of movement they are doing.
Different Movements in Soccer vs. Long Distance Running
There are 5 different types of movements that a soccer player does during a game:
- Low-speed running
- Moderate-speed running
- and high-speed running
The combination of these is what makes soccer so exciting.
It’s not merely a one-paced event, but there’s a variation of pace from different players at different times. In some moments, the game seems to be moving at 100 mph, and at other times it’s slower and more strategic.
Long-distance running isn’t like this. Long-distance running is all about maintaining a steady pace for an extended period.
If a soccer player operated this way, they would be a bystander as the game passed them by!
Different Speed in Soccer vs. Long Distance Running
Long-distance runners also run at a different speed than a soccer player.
RunRepeat recently released a report after collecting the data from 107.9 million race results over the past 30+ years.
They found that a male marathon runner keeps an average pace of 6.43 minutes per kilometer, or 10.34 minutes per mile. And a female marathon runner keeps an average speed of 7.26 minutes per kilometer, or 11.55 minutes per mile.
A long-distance runner will maintain this consistent pace throughout a race.
PlayerTek, who manufactures premium wearable fitness trackers and handles a vast amounts of data from soccer players, found that professional soccer players reach a top speed of 9.2 meters per second during a game. That converts to 20.6 mph or 33.12 kph. [source]
Unlike a long-distance runner, a soccer player will hit this top speed at multiple, separate times throughout a soccer game.
If you are interested in getting a wearable GPS fitness like the one’s the pro’s use, check out my review of your best two options here.
There is a vast difference between the speed of a long-distance runner compared to a soccer player and the type of movements they are doing.
Surely, it doesn’t make sense for a soccer player to train by doing a type of activity that they would never do during a game?
Aerobic Vs. Anaerobic Exercise
As I’m sure you are beginning to see, the biggest problem with running long-distance for soccer is that soccer and long-distance running are two different types of exercise.
The technical definition for this is that long-distance running is an aerobic activity, but soccer is an anaerobic activity.
This is a problem because the two types of activity have opposite effects on the body.
Soccer is a majority anaerobic activity. Most of the movements made during a soccer game are short and high intensity. There are certain positions, such as midfield, where higher aerobic ability is advantageous, but overall, soccer is anaerobic.
To give you a definition for these terms, Healthline defines anaerobic exercise as “any activity that breaks down glucose for energy without using oxygen.”
Aerobic exercise is defined as “any type of cardiovascular conditioning”.
Essentially anaerobic activity is anything that involves quick bursts of energy. Activities such as sprinting or sudden movements require maximum energy for a short period.
Aerobic activity is all about maintaining an action over an extended period. Activities such as cycling, rowing, or long-distance running are prime examples of this.
Why This Is an Issue
As I’ve already mentioned, and you already know, soccer involves far more short, sudden bursts of energy (anaerobic exercise) than it contains prolonged continuous activity (aerobic exercise).
If you went out and spent a lot of your time running long distances in preparation for a soccer game, you would be conditioning your body for a different type of activity than what is effective in soccer.
In fact, too much aerobic activity can actually make a player slower. [source]
This is due to the effect long-distance has on your muscles. If you are out running all the time, then your body will be focused on building up your “slow-twitch muscle fibers” at the expense of your “fast-twitch muscle fibers”. [source]
This is great for aerobic activity such as long-distance running. However, for a sport like soccer, you need to be focused on your “slow-twitch muscle fibers.” Focusing on these muscle fibers is what is going to improve your anaerobic activity and make you a better soccer player.
How Much Running Should a Soccer Player Do?
So, now we know that long-distance running isn’t good for soccer, you may be thinking that a soccer player still needs a high level of endurance to keep going for the full length of the game.
This is true.
Endurance and stamina are essential for any soccer player. But regular long-distance running isn’t the way to improve in this area.
To build a good soccer conditioning base, a player should focus on High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
This form of conditioning is used regularly by professional soccer players. It can improve both a player’s aerobic and anaerobic ability.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research even did a study that showed that High-Intensity Interval training, otherwise known as HIIT, dramatically improved a group of elite soccer player’s anaerobic endurance.
If you want to know which soccer position runs the most have a look at this article I wrote.
Soccer Running Workout
Pro soccer players and their coaches know this and have been using this type of training for years.
If you’re wanting to improve your “slow-twitch muscle fibers” and are looking for a soccer running workout that enhances your anaerobic abilities, then you should focus on training in the same way that the professionals do.
Their training is based on decades of research and experience that shows them what is most effective and works best.
In my article, “How do soccer players train?” I’ve put together a guide that not only shows precisely how pro soccer players train but also gives you specific workouts that you can follow to increase your own capabilities and see an improvement in your speed and endurance. Click here to go straight to that guide and find those workouts.
If you follow these same workouts that the professionals do, I’m sure that you will see a dramatic improvement in your soccer performance in no time!
Conclusion and Recommendation
Remember, how far, or how often, you run isn’t the most important thing for soccer training.
As a general rule, a soccer player shouldn’t focus on how many miles they should run in a day. Incorporate anaerobic running workouts into daily soccer training routines is the best preparation for any soccer player.
I also recommend signing up for an online workout course such as this one. They offer thousands of personalized workouts that cater to your specific needs and guide you through them every step of the way.
For more helpful training tips, check out one of these related articles I wrote: