Training in Practice – Requirement for Compensatory Training

Not only are the USA and Mexico cooperating to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup with the assistance of Canada, but USA’s Major League Soccer and Mexico’s Liga MX have announced how both organizations club teams will compete and participate in the revamped Leagues Cup.

47 teams in total (29x MLS and 18x Liga MX) will compete to win the cup which will consist of group and knockout phases.


Revised Leagues & Cups

The revised MLS and Liga MX Leagues Cup is the most recent collaborative link between the two giant North American or CONCACAF soccer federations, as a way of raising the competitive level and interest surrounding the profile of both organizations and soccer leading into the FIFA 2026 World Cup.

According to reports the Leagues Cup will become an official competition ratified by CONCACAF Champions League, with the winner successfully gaining an automatic place into the round of 16 within the CONCACAF Champions League.

Furthermore, strengthening the competitions hold in the game, will see the 2nd and 3rd placed teams earning a place in the CONCACAF Champions League opening round.

As with any newly added competition to the seasonal calendar, player health and wellbeing concerns are raised, as a direct result of fixture congestion.

Within the vastly travelled MLS fixture schedule, alongside the US Open Cup and newly established Leagues Cup, some players and clubs will also be trying to navigate the CONCACAF Champions League whilst focussing on the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.


More Games Demand More of Players

Playing between 40-50 competitive games in football through the 1990s was considered significant & detrimental to football player and their careers.

However, analysis into the current fixture demand of elite level players, and using superstar Lionel Messi as a recent example, has since 2007/08 played an average of 61 games per season for both club and country, with the highest number of seasonal games being 71.

As a result of these fixture demands, the potential to train isolated aspects to enhance their game further is non-negotiable with the focus firmly placed on player recovery.

Messi may get away without the additional training to develop aspects of his game further due to his technical proficiency, but what about the developing players who want to progress further.

Are these fixture congestive demands a negative impact on their development within the game?

MLS DP Comparison Match Data 2021-Regular Season

Player Games Played Minutes Played
Raúl Ruidíaz 26 2,146
Josef Martínez 25 1,731
Carlos Vela 20 1,267
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández 21 1,736

Issues Coaches & Managers Face

As we know, the number of training sessions within the week or microcycle is strictly determined by the fixture schedule.

Although generally at the elite level of the game, each component of a training is monitored, with some variables being very unpredictable and situational based on game management e.g. number of minutes per match.

Players who play most of the minutes within games will progress in certain areas of their game.

However the developing players who might not be established players and are always preparing for games, but never playing many minutes….. what happens to them?

Match competitiveness is the biggest motivation for any player, and for this reason coaches always want each player to be available and in perfect physical shape but without focussing too much on the players who don’t play.

One of the main issues faced by practitioners and coaching staff within the game is managing training and games whilst trying to minimise the injury risk to their players. According to the research, injury in team sports, especially football reduce the chance for successful outcomes as a result of not having ‘Best-11 players’ available.

Moreover, injuries also account for significant financial implications within club football based on the fact injured players’ salaries can be described as a ‘negative investment’.

The long standing conversations around starters vs. substitutes, or players who didn’t play sufficient minutes in a typical match week are still ongoing in terms of how do we provide enough stimulus to prepare the non-starters.

For the physical stimulus and lack of playing minutes across the microcycle, the use of compensatory training sessions becomes vitally important to coaches and fitness practitioners within the game.

Usually such compensatory training sessions take place on the first day after a match day (MD+1C) or at times, immediately after the final whistle.


4 Points to Consider

There are fundamental aspects, that need to be taken into account when planning a compensatory training session for the subs or non-squad players:

  1. Players not selected for a match day and those who played less than 45 minutes should be worked.
  2. Mechanical strain among substitutes should be levelled off.
  3. Injuries resulting from reduced ongoing and chronic strain should be avoided.
  4. Depending on player’s position and upcoming fixture, high-speed running (HSR) and sprint (>25 km/h) should be optimized.

How Running Rates Have Changed

Over the last decade high-speed running rates increased in some world leading leagues by approx. 40%.

As a result of this information, such compensatory activities have to be adjusted for each player in a microcycle.

Additionally, high-speed running often occurs during last minutes of a match, when teams can experience so-called “worst case scenario” and fatigue occurs meaning teams become more open, less tactically structured and leaving opportunities for teams to score – this is where we see many transitions from offense to defence and vice versa.

The role of a coach is to consider player’s capacity and properly adjust and compensate based on their match work rate profile.

The reduced strain, coming from different playing time across consecutive matches, may lead to an increased injury risk.

According to reports and data sets, weekly volumes for high-speed running and sprint distance should not exceed 15% increments as this is where the loading spikes are seen in relationship with increased injury values (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Example of five microcycles load for two athletes. Athlete 1 accomplished microcycles that ended up with a match. Athlete 2 accomplished microcycles that did not end with a match (either on the bench or not selected for a match day). In the 5th week the Athlete 2 played a match, what resulted in additional distance load > 19,8 km/h. After the match his A:C ratio grew rapidly up to 1,4. The rate suggests that the HSR level increased overly and for that there might be an injury risk.

Group Training

Appropriately adjusted training volume maximizes efficiency and, simultaneously, reduces side effects of the training itself (lowers fatigue and risk of injury).

Hence MD + 1C is a perfect day to compensate the players’ lowered work volume as a result of the limited playing time. This way players are ready for a higher training strain on MD-4 and MD-3.


Designing Training Sessions for MD+1 

Group 1: Regeneration group (MD+1R; > 60 min in a match) 

Group 2: Compensatory group < 45-60 min in a match (MD+1C).


The crucial factor, determining work volume in a starting microcycle, is the date of next fixture. A coach has to be ready for two scenarios: 1) Saturday – Sunday matches; 2) Saturday – Wednesday – Sunday matches.

Buchheit (2019) introduces training solutions, that depend on the next fixture’s date (Fig. 2).

Small-sided games used in MD+1C may balance volume decrease as they generate the highest TD, HMLD and ACC/DEC rate (due to the lower number of players).

Moreover, such games make players use technical skills, shooting, dribbling and tackling more often. High-speed running distance and sprint have to be compensated in isolated training.

An important point that has received very little attention in the literature so far is that for most of the HIIT options.

The actual HSR intensity (33 to 100 m/min) tends to be far superior to that of peak match demands during similar durations (20-25 and 15-20 m/min over 4 and 6 min, respectively).

In other words, when compensating HRS volume with HIIT, what is generally covered in a 90 min match is achieved in less than 15 min with HIIT.

This means that match-specific HSR intensity is easily overloaded using HIIT.

Fig 2. Decision process when it comes to programming locomotor loads, e.g. high-intensity intermittent training (HIIT) including high-speed running (HSR) and/or mechanical work (MW) and sprint work, with respect to competition participation and match microcycle.

Practical Solutions


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Module 1: The appliance of science – tapering & periodisation in team sports 
Lecturer: Dr. Adam Owen

Module 2: Soccer specific monitoring: Weekly microcycle, planning and performance 
Lecturer: Dr. Dawid Golinski

Module 3: Game model building & development: Reinterpreting Tactical Periodisation 
Lecturer: Dr. Alejandro Romero-Caballero (La Liga)

Module 4: Individualised Periodization in a Soccer Team: A working model
Lecturer: Jarred Marsh

Module 5: An integrated approach to soccer training: Developing a working model
Lecturer: Efthymios Kyprianou

Module 6: Carbohydrate requirements of soccer players: Implications for periodisation
Lecturer: Dr. Liam Anderson

Module 7: Integrating Physical & Tactical Periodisation in Soccer: Senior & Youth levels
Lecturer: Hamish Munro

Module 8: Maximal intensity conditioning periods in soccer: Physical vs. Tactical strategies
Lecturer: Dr. Miguel Angel Campos Vazquez (La Liga)

Module 9: Preparing the modern soccer player: Training session design
Lecturer: Dr. Adam Owen

Module 10: Competitive soccer training microcycle: Structure & justification 
Lecturer: Dr. Manuel Segovia

Buchheit M. 2019. Managing high-speed running load in professional soccer players: The bene t of high-intensity interval training supplementation. Sport Performance & Science Reports. March (53): v1.

Buchheit M. 2019. Programming high-speed running and mechanical work in relation to technical contents and match schedule in professional soccer. Sport Performance & Science Reports. July (69): v1

Stevens TG., de Ruiter CJ., Twisk JW., Savelsbergh GJ., Beek PJ. 2017. Quantification of in-season training load relative to match load in professional Dutch Eredivisie football players. Sci Med Football 1:117–125.

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