Physical fitness and technical ability are two hallmarks of an exceptional player. These two components are not independent but are intimately linked. The player’s aerobic capacity or fitness level greatly influences the technical performance of match play. Research has shown that the fitter the player, the greater the technical performance in a match, particularly at the later stages of a match. Thus, coaches are constantly searching for way to increase both. There are a wide array of drills and practice programs to choose from. These range from distance and interval running to specific technical drills such as dribbling and juggling. In order to optimize practice time, a program that achieves high exercise intensity within soccer specific training would be a great advantage.
Several years ago, Dr. Jan Hoff at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Trondheim, Norway) developed a training method that incorporates soccer skills into an endurance training program. The Hoff test, or circuit as it’s often called, includes multiple changes in direction, ball lifting and dribbling in reverse. His work has shown that this program can be used as a part of regular training to improve fitness.
The Hoff circuit is often called the Hoff track or the Hoff test. A typical layout of the course is shown in the figure at right. The players dribble the ball through the cones and lift it over the 30 cm high hurdles. They then move around the next set of cones. Between point A and B the players turn and dribble backwards while controlling the ball. Depending on the exact layout of the course, the total distance covered is about 290m.
For training purposes, players typically perform the course in four, four minute intervals with a three minute recovery period of light jogging / joggling between intervals. This makes the total time to complete a training bout is 25 minutes. Ideally, players should exercise at an intensity that elicits 90-95% of their maximal heart rate. However, the intensity can be varied depending on the athletes’ specific needs, fitness level and technical skill. As with any interval-type training program, it is also possible to vary other parameters such as the duration of each bout and the recovery period.
Researchers have evaluated the effects of Hoff circuit on young and experienced players. They have found that training elicits energy expenditure equal to playing small-sided games and interval running. That is it is as physically taxing as these other methods of fitness training. After several weeks of training, the improvements in fitness are also comparable to other methods of training in terms of maximal oxygen uptake. For example, Dr. Kenny McMillan of the Glasgow Celtic Football Club Medical Department used the Hoff circuit to train a group of 17 year old professional players. He asked the players to perform the routine described above two times per week at the end of their regular training sessions. After 10 weeks, maximal oxygen uptake was increased by 9%.
This circuit can also be used to asses a player’s fitness level. For the Hoff test, players are typically asked to complete as many circuits as they can within 10 minutes. In order to be successful, players must demonstrate both fitness and ball control. Drs. Ulrik Wisløff, Karim Chamari trained a group of U15 players for 8 weeks. Based on their results, they suggested that an optimal goal for the Hoff test ad U15 players is ~2100 meters in 10min. That translates into a bit over 7 circuits (using the layout described in the diagram). In practice, this goal will vary greatly base on each player’s age, ability and fitness level. Some coaches have varied the test by timing how long it takes to complete a set number of circuits (5-8). In either case, this test can be used very effectively to evaluate both fitness and ball control.
While the goal of the Hoff circuit is to develop both fitness and ball control, it is important to point out that no one has yet examined the direct effect of training on soccer specific skills and match performance. That is, there are no research studies available to show the technical improvements that might be gained. However, endurance training improves match performance and training with the Hoff circuit improves endurance. Based on this, one could reasonably conclude that training the Hoff circuit should greatly improve match performance and skill, especially given that the Hoff circuit provides ball work along with fitness training.
The take home message, research has shown that the Hoff circuit can be effectively used to improve player fitness and evaluate endurance capacity. The advantages of this program is that it incorporates many of the skill needed to be a successful player – fitness, ball control, and the ability to change directions. Also, it can be easily incorporated into a regular training routine.
Chamari K, Hachana Y, Kaouech F, Jeddi R, Moussa-Chamari I, Wisløff U. (2005) Endurance training and testing with the ball in young elite soccer players.
British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39:24-28.
McMillan K, Helgerud J, Grant SJ, Newell J, Wilson J, Macdonald R, Hoff J. (2005) Lactate threshold responses to a season of professional British youth soccer. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39:432-436.
Hoff J, Wisløff U, Engen LC, Kemi OJ, Helgerud J. (2002) Soccer specific aerobic endurance training. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 36:218-221.