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Should your football mad kids be doing HIIT training?

Child doing indoor workout

What exactly is HIIT training?

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. It is a type of exercise that alternates short periods of intense activity with periods of low-intensity movement or rest.

HIIT is widely acknowledged as one of the most effective ways to train and many adults use this as part of their weekly fitness routines.

In a HIIT workout, you will do periods of intense exercise that can last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Then you will have a brief period of rest before you jump into the next exercise.

Why is HIIT training so popular?

One of the most attractive things about HIIT is that it takes very little time and you don’t need special equipment. Even if you only have 15 minutes, then you can still experience the health benefits from this type of workout. Because of the way that HIIT is designed, you will get the same amount of work in about half of the time of a traditional workout. This makes it ideal for busy kids or those with short attention spans. Because you don’t need fancy gym equipment, kids can easily do it on the football field, in the garden or even inside your home.

How does HIIT training benefit footballers?

The latest evidence suggests that involving strength training within a football training regime has various benefits for individual performance. This is due to the numerous explosive activities required in football such as kicking, jumping, sprinting, turning tackling and changing pace. Improvement in these areas is achieved via muscular strength training that is targeted to the appropriate muscle groups.

There are two ways to increase muscular strength – muscle hypertrophy and neural adaptation. In football, the latter is usually more ideal than the former. This is due to gains in body mass can lead to a decrease in speed and overall performance. Therefore, it is suggested to complete strength training within these parameters: 4-6RM (rep max) for 3-4 sets and 2-5 minutes rest between sets.

It is important to note that aerobic capacity training must also be considered due to the average distance players run in a 90 minute game being at 8-12km (less for children due to shorter match times and pitch size). Repeated-sprint and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to improve players 40m sprint time and max aerobic speed, with some researchers saying that high level football athletes can only gain further aerobic improvements via HIIT.

Is HIIT training necessary for children?

 

The short answer is yes. The primary way our children will get fitter and improve their on pitch stamina is by doing high-intensity training. However kids are natural HIIT enthusiasts by the nature of their play. A game of playground tag, jumping on hay bales or a series of flips on a trampoline for example is an organic version of HIIT without them realising it. However many of the grassroots coaches we interviewed say that, since the lockdowns, they are actively incorporating HIIT training into their weekly training practice sessions and drills.

 

Are structured HIIT workouts safe for kids?

There is a growing body of evidence supporting the role of HIIT in managing health outcomes in children. The majority is overwhelmingly positive. Much like its effect in adults, regular HIIT has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of weight gain and the subsequent development of childhood obesity. This in turn will greatly improve performance in grassroots sport.

We spoke to a grassroots coach who regularly incorporates a 20 minute HIIT session into their weekend training sessions for his u12 team.

Nic Reed, Bransgore FC Assistant Coach, says; “Since lockdown one of the major issues for our children has been match stamina due to lack of fitness. We have been incorporating a 20 minute HITT session into our training routines and the results have been astounding. I don’t want to jinx the season but we’re noticing a positive impact already! I definitely think the HITT sessions have helped improve the team’s fitness and we encourage them to practice the exercises at home as well.”

Need some HITT inspiration?

There are a number of free 15 minute HIIT workouts available at Fitness in 15 on their Instagram page.

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