Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Physical Demands of Beach Soccer


Beach soccer is becoming a very popular activity. In fact, FIFA has begun to promote and organize competitions. Despite this popularity, very little is known about the movement patterns and physiological demands of beach soccer. Researchers at the University of Basque Country and the University of Malaga in Spain examined heart rates and movements in a group of players during beach soccer matches. They found that this type of soccer is a very intense sport. In addition, their findings may have implications for using sand soccer as an important training tool.
The study examined a group of young semi-professional players (25 years of age) playing a series of beach soccer matches. The matches ranged in duration from 20 to 36 minutes and free substitutions were allowed. Each player wore a GPS tracking device to record movements and a portable hear rate monitor.

The average heart rate over the course of a match was 165 beats per minute. This represented 87% of their maximal hear rate. Nearly 60% of the match was played at a heart rate greater than 90% of maximal while only 19% was spent at a heart rate less than 75% of maximal. Based on these results, one can consider beach soccer to be quite physiologically demanding.

Over the course of a match, players covered 1135 meters. Much of this was spent jogging and walking (~50%) while slightly less time was spent running and sprinting. Interestingly, exercising at this pace under ideal conditions should not have elicited such a high heart rate in a group of trained athletes. However, the players were playing in sand and the small-sided nature of the game required numerous stops, starts and directional changes. Given that these conditions can increase energy expenditure, it seems logical that their hear rates were so high.

Soccer matches involve start-stop patterns of movement and periods of walking and standing (rest) along with running (work). The beach matches elicited a fairly high work-to-rest ratio. This averaged 1.4:1. This means that for every 1.4 minutes spent moving, 1 minute was spent resting. Another way to look at this is that for every minute of work, 45 sec were spent resting. Indoor soccer matches elicit a ratio closer to 1:1. For young soccer players playing an 11v11 match, work-to-rest ratios are closer to 1:3.5. That is, for every minute of work, there are 3.5 minutes of rest. Based on this, is a fairly high intensity activity.

The authors conclude that beach soccer is “an intermittent activity of very high intensity”. Most of the time is spent exercising at a hear rate of more than 90% of maximal and nature of the match and playing conditions required a considerably high energy expenditure.

A key implication for this study is the potential training benefits of beach soccer. The results clearly show that it is physically demanding and should elicit a training effect. Fitness should be improved. The advantage of sand training is that it is also low impact and may help avoid overuse injuries. Professional clubs and other sports already take advantage of this concept. Running, playing and performing drills in the sand is often used as a way to improve fitness.

Earlier studies also show that training in sand can have other benefits including increased proprioception, strength and agility. While these changes have obvious effects on performance, they may also lower the risk of knee and ankle injury. By improving the strength and proprioception of the muscles surrounding these joints, stability is improved and injuries may be minimized. It should be pointed, however, out that there are a few studies focused in sand training and performance. As of today, no research has looked into sand training as a way to lower injury risk. Nevertheless, the potential is there, especially given the neuromuscular improvements that occur following training in sand.

The bottom line… Beach soccer is a physically demanding activity. It may also elicit training effects that improve performance and may reduce injury risk. Given this, it may be an excellent training tool to supplement regular soccer practice.

Reference:

Castellano J, Casamichana D (2010) Heart rate and motion analysis by GPS in beach soccer. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 9:98-103.