Is it Time to Work a Bit of Soccer Into Your Training?

Posted by Filed Under: Science and Research

Some people live to run. These folks are happy as long as they feel the track, trail or road beneath their feet. And then there are other runners who relish various cross-training activities to mix things up now and then. If your spicy garnish happens to be a game of soccer, you may be in luck. A team at the University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen University Hospital and Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark have announced results from a research project that show playing soccer may have higher health benefits than jogging.


The sports scientists followed a soccer team consisting of 14 untrained men, as well as a group of 14 joggers and a passive control group for three months. The participants in both test groups trained in hourly sessions two to three times a week, keeping their average heart rates at 82 +/- 1 percent of HRmax. Each participant followed a controlled diet and was subjected to a number of tests representing his health and fitness levels, including total muscle mass, fat percentage, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and balance

At the end of the 12-week period, both test groups showed beneficial effects. The blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and balance measurements in both groups improved. Yet, while the joggers lost 2kg of fat and experienced no change in total muscle mass, the soccer players lost 3.5 kg of fat and gained over 2 kg of muscle mass.

Sports scientist Peter Krustrup explains, “Soccer is an all-round form of practice because it both keeps the pulse up and has many high-intensity actions. When you sprint, jump and tackle your opponents, you use all the fibres in your muscles. When you jog at a moderate pace, you only use the slow fibres.”

When asked if they found the sessions hard, the soccer players generally responded not particularly, while the joggers found them difficult. Krustrup puts this discrepancy down to the different focus of each activity. When you are jogging, you focus on your body and how you feel. When you play soccer, you are concentrating more on the game. While the participants within each group trained together, the joggers were not always side by side as they had to maintain their own specified average heart rate.

Personally, I find running, alone or in a group, easier and more enjoyable than a round of “footy,” though the spirit of the argument seems to make sense. If you are in some way distracted from your exertion, you are more likely to be aware of the positive aspects of the activity and less focused on the negative. But, for those who freeze in fear at the suggestion of anything that requires skill and coordination with hard, fast-moving objects, jogging may still come out on top, regardless of the 1.5 kg difference in fat loss!

About Nora

I am a native Californian currently settled and running my way bit by bit around the South East of England. Besides running, my training activities include biking, hiking, swimming, yoga, and tap dancing in place while in line at the grocery store. I am addicted to photography and run most races with my camera in hand, just in case.

  1. Andy Benkert on August 29th at 11:07 am

    Don’t tell this to Scott Jurek – though soccer-induced sprained ankles don’t seem to slow him down much! 😉

  2. Vanilla on August 29th at 11:15 am

    Great article Nora. I’ve been playing indoor soccer for a while now and have always felt like it was cheating to call my weekly matches a “cross training” session. Now I don’t feel so bad about it.

  3. Terry (planet3rry) on August 29th at 11:30 am

    I was a soccer player then a runner and now am a Runner who sometimes plays soccer. What I noticed during the period when I was playing copious amount of soccer filled in with running was that Soccer didn’t help my Running (other than maintaining fitness), but Running helped my Soccer.

    When I was training for my first marathon, I was playing 2x a week indoor soccer and once a week outdoor (full field) soccer along with training runs. I would have a 4-6 mile Tempo run and then play indoor and my recovery time during the soccer game was noticeably faster. Being an adult co-ed league, we would sub ourselves out when needed and I would have to watch the clock so that I wouldn’t hog game time. Before I could only last a small number of plays before I would sub-out or hang way back on defense.

    After a couple of weeks of doing this, I would set up plays during outdoor games that would be half field sprints, which equals out to about 100m or so.

    The only thing that I am leery about playing soccer again while training for a key race is the injury factor. Since Soccer is a contact sport, just not in the Zidane tactics from the picture above, I would be afraid of an injury that would force me to miss the race.

  4. derek on August 29th at 1:14 pm

    i’ve played the sport almost my entire life. in the past 4 years i’ve run in more races than i have played soccer games but i still don’t consider myself a runner. i’m just an old soccer player running to stay in shape 🙂

  5. Nora on August 31st at 3:17 am

    I would never consider indoor cheating, though I guess you don’t have far to run before you get to the other side of the pitch!

    I definitely agree, I’d worry the most about being injured, all world cup head-butts aside! While injuries don’t seem to slow some people down, I’d probably be sidelined. While I can appreciate the range of movement and muscles used is good for you, that’d be where I’d do something “stupid”.

    I’ve struggled with the whole “runner” label and what I’ve decided is if you run and you enjoy it and make it any part of your life, you’re a runner.

  6. FYI on June 10th at 4:41 am

    More and more I find that a combination of running and soccer keeps me in better shape. Between teh Sunday soccer game on the field, Monday nights in an indoor field and then running throughout the week, it keep smre ready for the next game…

    FYI’s last blog post..Those Embarrassing Body Problems (Urinary Incontinence)