As a strength and conditioning coach, I see lots of “weekend warriors” – folks who work
out extremely hard during high-intensity interval training (HIIT), thinking they will make up for a week of missed workouts.
Sorry, but that’s just not the case. And please, stop over-working yourselves.
Many people have aerobic bases that are not built up enough to do high-impact
workouts without serious risk of injury. And even for the very fit – like the soccer pros
I work with on the Revolution – the risks of intense aerobic/anaerobic workouts often
outweigh the rewards.
People think soccer players just run hard, 100 percent of the time. But a lot of time is
also spent walking and jogging, tracking the play. Of course, my players absolutely
require a solid fitness base, for those bursts of power that lead to dramatic goals and
saves. But my personal goal is to get the most out of people with the least amount of
Those players need to hit the field refreshed, but ready to sprint at any moment. And we
fitness fanatics need to hit our personal “fields” the same way every week.
So how do you build a strong, safe (and sane) fitness base, and accomplish your goals
without over-working yourself?
Try lower-intensity aerobic training. The beauty of this kind of aerobic work is that
it’s not super intense, and it puts you at a far lower risk for injury, burn-out and over-
You can do many different kinds of exercise to accomplish this kind of training;
running/jogging, rowing or jumping rope are all good options, as are swimming, biking,
movement classes, circuit training (with a heart rate monitor), medicine ball circuits and
skill work (such as passing patterns and juggling for soccer players, or light sparring and
heavy bag or mitt work for MMA fighters). There are tons of good options.
I like to have our players do “shuttle runs” between five cones – this is where you run
from the start line to the first cone and back, and then to the second cone and back, and
so on. Coaches used to use this technique when I was younger, and now we just do
them at a “conversational” pace for seven or eight minutes.
(And yes, during low-intensity aerobic exercise, you should be able to breathe well
enough to carry on a normal conversation!)
Use a heart rate monitor to make sure you’re keeping your pace reasonable, keeping
yourself between 120 and 150 beats per minute.
People have this misconception that the harder they push themselves, the better off
they’ll be in the long run. But the truth is, pushing yourself too hard, too fast, without
properly building your fitness level, can be ineffective and harmful.
It would be like if I had our athletes do a sprint test on the first day of pre-season
training. They might run their fastest time ever, or they might tear a hamstring and miss the pre-season, sitting on the bench when they should be in the game.
General soreness, back pain and hip, knee and joint issues are just some of the
problems I see my training clients struggling with. And anyone who’s ever suffered a
serious sports injury knows prevention is far superior to recovery.
So don’t let over-the-top training sideline you… go a little easier, a little more often and
more consistently. And work up gradually to those more challenging workouts!
Nick Downing is in his second season as the New England Revolution’s strength and conditioning coach, a position that was created with the hiring of head coach Jay Heaps. This is Downing’s second go-around with the club, having previously played for the Revs a decade ago.
In his current position, Downing is responsible for developing and enhancing the Revolution players’ speed, strength and endurance, as well as their overall conditioning and fitness in conjunction with both the coaching and medical staffs. Through an integrated approach – including weight training, cardiovascular training, plyometrics, and nutrition – Downing has created both position-specific and individual programs to help the Revs emerge as of Major League Soccer’s most fit teams.
Downing transitioned into the fitness profession, earning certifications from the National Strength & Conditioning Association, USA Track & Field, Functional Movement Systems and Kettlebell Concepts.
He has worked in the metro Boston area since 2005 as a fitness professional, most recently at Pure Performance Training in Needham, Mass. His clientele has included professional soccer, hockey and football players, collegiate athletes, marathoners and tri-athletes. Downing specializes in sport-specific training, including soccer- specific skill development.