A Meta-Comparison of the Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training to Those of Small-Sided Games and Other Training Protocols on Parameters Related to the Physiology and Performance of Youth Soccer Players


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Publication Details

Author list: Holmberg, Hans-Christer

Publication year: 2019

ISSN: 2199-1170

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s40798-019-0180-5


Background: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is frequently employed to improve the endurance of various types of athletes. To determine whether youth soccer players may benefit from the intermittent load and time efficiency of HIIT, we performed a meta-analysis of the relevant scientific literature. Objectives: Our primary objective was to compare changes in various physiological parameters related to the performance of youth soccer players in response to running-based HIIT to the effects of other common training protocols (i.e., small-sided games, technical training and soccer-specific training, or high-volume endurance training). A secondary objective was to compare specifically running-based HIIT to a soccer-specific form of HIIT known as small-sided games (SSG) in this same respect, since this latter type of training is being discussed extensively by coaches. Method: A systematic search of the PubMed, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science databases was performed in August of 2017 and updated during the review process in December of 2018. The criteria for inclusion of articles for analysis were as follows: (1) comparison of HIIT to SSG or some other training protocol employing a pre-post design, (2) involvement of healthy young athletes (= 18 years old), and (3) assessment of variables related to endurance or soccer performance. Hedges’ g effect size (dppc2) and associated 95% confidence intervals for the comparison of the responses to HIIT and other interventions were calculated. Results: Nine studies, involving 232 young soccer players (mean age 16.2 ± 1.6 years), were examined. Endurance training in the form of HIIT or SSG produced similar positive effects on most parameters assessed, including peak oxygen uptake and maximal running performance during incremental running (expressed as Vmax or maximal aerobic speed (MAS)), shuttle runs (expressed as the distance covered or time to exhaustion), and time-trials, as well as submaximal variables such as running economy and running velocity at the lactate threshold. HIIT induced a moderate improvement in soccer-related tests involving technical exercises with the soccer ball and other game-specific parameters (i.e., total distance covered, number of sprints, and number of involvements with the ball). Neuromuscular parameters were largely unaffected by HIIT or SSG. Conclusion: The present meta-analysis indicates that HIIT and SSG have equally beneficial impacts on variables related to the endurance and soccer-specific performance of youth soccer players, but little influence on neuromuscular performance.


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