Training for the Marathon: If it’s good for Caroline Wozniacki would it be good for my game?

XC Tough

XC Girls Get Tougher

Long distance running is good for one thing: improving your long distance running.

Ms. Wosniacki seems to have stepped up her endurance for long points, long rallies, long sets and long matches by adding distance running to her training regimen. To be sure, she is training under the tutelage of trainers and fitness professionals who are keeping a close eye on what she does, how hard she goes and how much recovery she gets. She did not run “an easy 12 miler” this morning before facing Serena in the US Open Finals.

But would long distance running, perhaps X-Country training, be good for your game? I get this question a lot from soccer players who do put in the miles, generally 5-7 miles, per game at the highest levels:

During the fall, should I run x-country to prepare for my spring soccer season?

If you are not also playing soccer, I say, go ahead. But if you are also playing club soccer in the fall, generally, I discourage it, and here’s why. Soccer is primarily an anaerobic sport with endurance undertones. It relies on short bursts of speed repeated over and over. Attack and recover. Backtrack to defend and then counter-attack. Ground is covered either at sprint speed or cruising speed, with walking or jogging recovery. Very few players do much running at “marathon” pace.

Marathon training relies on getting your body prepared to cover a lot of ground at relatively slow speeds. This requires the development of your slow twitch muscle fibers, enhancement of the cellular components that support these fibers, and even conversion of “swing fibers” – that is fibers poised to take on either fast OR slow twitch characteristics – to the slow, endurance, variety. That means, when you hit the soccer field, you will have muscles that are prepared to go the distance, but may let you down in the head to head, 1 v 1 efforts that greet you. You will have “lost” that sprint speed and quick first step that was easy to call on last season.

That said, if you’re in the off-soccer season (do we still have any of these?) and enjoy the endurance training, you may choose to do so. Your endurance will improve. Then, come soccer season and the final 10-15 minutes of the game, when you see your teammates faltering and opponents running out of steam, that extra endurance may be just what you need. Go for it.

But, even though Wozniacki seems to have pulled it off, I don’t recommend distance running combined with soccer play in the same season. If the slow twitch training doesn’t get you, the volume of training probably will. I have seen kids compete in a x-country meet in the morning and then show up to their afternoon game. They’re pooped and it doesn’t take long to show. If they push it, they are pushing their bodies to use muscles and tap reserves that are so depleted that they are swinging the door wide open for injury.

That’s never pretty for the kid or the team.

So, hats off to Ms Wozniacki. She is fit and she remains fast and strong. If you’re a soccer player, your best bet is to take your “off season” or your “lower intensity season” and train those fast twitch fibers to respond on cue. Work on cutting and quickness and short bursts of speed. Do it with a ball or with a friend. It’s a whole lot more fun.

It’ll pay off come show time, when you need to beat that kid who always had a step on you last season. See if he can keep up. If he can, lose him with that new move you’ve been working on, and the second gear you’ve got because you’re fresh and well-rested.

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