In professional senior soccer, training load monitoring is used to ensure an optimal workload to maximize physical fitness and prevent injury or illness. However, to date, different training load indicators are used without a clear link to training outcomes.
The aim of this systematic review was to identify the state of knowledge with respect to the relationship between training load indicators and training outcomes in terms of physical fitness, injury, and illness.
A systematic search was conducted in four electronic databases (CINAHL, PubMed, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science). Training load was defined as the amount of stress over a minimum of two training sessions or matches, quantified in either external (e.g., duration, distance covered) or internal load (e.g., heart rate [HR]), to obtain a training outcome over time.
A total of 6492 records were retrieved, of which 3304 were duplicates. After screening the titles, abstracts and full texts, we identified 12 full-text articles that matched our inclusion criteria. One of these articles was identified through additional sources. All of these articles used correlations to examine the relationship between load indicators and training outcomes. For pre-season, training time spent at high intensity (i.e., >90 % of maximal HR) was linked to positive changes in aerobic fitness. Exposure time in terms of accumulated training, match or combined training, and match time showed both positive and negative relationships with changes in fitness over a season. Muscular perceived exertion may indicate negative changes in physical fitness. Additionally, it appeared that training at high intensity may involve a higher injury risk. Detailed external load indicators, using electronic performance and tracking systems, are relatively unexamined. In addition, most research focused on the relationship between training load indicators and changes in physical fitness, but less on injury and illness.
HR indicators showed relationships with positive changes in physical fitness during pre-season. In addition, exposure time appeared to be related to positive and negative changes in physical fitness. Despite the availability of more detailed training load indicators nowadays, the evidence about the usefulness in relation to training outcomes is rare. Future research should implement continuous monitoring of training load, combined with the individual characteristics, to further examine their relationship with physical fitness, injury, and illness.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Smith DJ. A framework for understanding the training process leading to elite performance. Sports Med. 2003;33(15):1103–26. doi:10.2165/00007256-200333150-00003.
Foster C, Florhaug JA, Franklin J, et al. A new approach to monitoring exercise training. J Strength Cond Res. 2001;15(1):109–15. doi:10.1519/00124278-200102000-00019.
Kenttä G, Hassmén P. Overtraining and recovery: a conceptual model. Sports Med. 1998;26(1):1–16. doi:10.2165/00007256-199826010-00001.
Ekstrand J, Hägglund M, Waldén M. Injury incidence and injury patterns in professional football: the UEFA injury study. Br J Sports Med. 2011;45(7):553–8. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.060582.
Ekstrand J, Hägglund M, Waldén M. Epidemiology of muscle injuries in professional football (soccer). Am J Sports Med. 2011;39(6):1226–32. doi:10.1177/0363546510395879.
Orhant E, Carling C, Cox A. A three-year prospective study of illness in professional soccer players. Res Sports Med. 2010;18(3):199–204. doi:10.1080/15438627.2010.490462.
Bush M, Barnes C, Archer DT, et al. Evolution of match performance parameters for various playing positions in the English Premier League. Hum Mov Sci. 2015;39:1–11. doi:10.1016/j.humov.2014.10.003.
Bengtsson H, Ekstrand J, Hägglund M. Muscle injury rates in professional football increase with fixture congestion: an 11-year follow-up of the UEFA Champions League injury study. Br J Sports Med. 2013;47(12):743–7. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092383.
Dupont G, Nedelec M, McCall A, et al. Effect of 2 soccer matches in a week on physical performance and injury rate. Am J Sports Med. 2010;38(9):1752–8. doi:10.1177/0363546510361236.
Ekstrand J, Hägglund M, Kristenson K, et al. Fewer ligament injuries but no preventive effect on muscle injuries and severe injuries: an 11-year follow-up of the UEFA Champions League injury study. Br J Sports Med. 2013;47(12):732–7. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092394.
Impellizzeri FM, Rampinini E, Marcora SM. Physiological assessment of aerobic training in soccer. J Sports Sci. 2005;23(6):583–92. doi:10.1080/02640410400021278.
Viru A, Viru M. Nature of training effects. In: Garrett WE, Kirkendall DT, editors. Exercise and sport science. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000. p. 67–95.
Bouchard C, Rankinen T. Individual differences in response to regular physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(6 Suppl):S446–51. doi:10.1097/00005768-200106001-00013 (discussion S52–3).
Bahr R, Krosshaug T. Understanding injury mechanisms: a key component of preventing injuries in sport. Br J Sports Med. 2005;39(6):324–9. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2005.018341.
Halson SL. Monitoring training load to understand fatigue in athletes. Sports Med. 2014;44(Suppl 2):S139–47. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0253-z.
Foster C. Monitoring training in athletes with reference to overtraining syndrome. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998;30(7):1164–8. doi:10.1097/00005768-199807000-00023.
Jobson SA, Passfield L, Atkinson G, et al. The analysis and utilization of cycling training data. Sports Med. 2009;39(10):833–44. doi:10.2165/11317840-000000000-00000.
McGregor SJ, Weese RK, Ratz IK. Performance modeling in an olympic 1500-m finalist: a practical approach. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(9):2515–23. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bf88be.
Dellaserra CL, Gao Y, Ransdell L. Use of integrated technology in team sports: a review of opportunities, challenges, and future directions for athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(2):556–73. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a952fb.
Aughey RJ. Applications of GPS technologies to field sports. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2011;6(3):295–310.
Cummins C, Orr R, O’Connor H, et al. Global positioning systems (GPS) and microtechnology sensors in team sports: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2013;43(10):1025–42. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0069-2.
Borresen J, Lambert MI. The quantification of training load, the training response and the effect on performance. Sports Med. 2009;39(9):779–95. doi:10.2165/11317780-000000000-00000.
Clarke DC, Skiba PF. Rationale and resources for teaching the mathematical modeling of athletic training and performance. Adv Physiol Educ. 2013;37(2):134–52. doi:10.1152/advan.00078.2011.
Taha T, Thomas SG. Systems modelling of the relationship between training and performance. Sports Med. 2003;33(14):1061–73. doi:10.2165/00007256-200333140-00003.
Wallace LK, Slattery KM, Coutts AJ. A comparison of methods for quantifying training load: relationships between modelled and actual training responses. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2014;114(1):11–20. doi:10.1007/s00421-013-2745-1.
Calvert TW, Banister EW, Savage MV, et al. A systems model of the effects of training on physical performance. IEEE Trans Syst Man Cybern. 1976;2:94–102. doi:10.1109/TSMC.1976.5409179.
Banister EW, Calvert TW, Savage MV, et al. A systems model of training for athletic performance. Aust J Sports Med. 1975;7:57–61.
Busso T. Variable dose-response relationship between exercise training and performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003;35(7):1188–95. doi:10.1249/01.MSS.0000074465.13621.37.
Perl J. PerPot: a metamodel for simulation of load performance interaction. Eur J Sport Sci. 2001;1(2):1–13. doi:10.1080/17461390100071202.
Edelmann-Nusser J, Hohmann A, Henneberg B. Modeling and prediction of competitive performance in swimming upon neural networks. Eur J Sport Sci. 2002;2(2):1–10. doi:10.1080/17461390200072201.
Colby MJ, Dawson B, Heasman J, et al. Accelerometer and GPS-derived running loads and injury risk in elite Australian footballers. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(8):2244–52. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000362.
Gabbett TJ. Reductions in pre-season training loads reduce training injury rates in rugby league players. Br J Sports Med. 2004;38(6):743–9. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2003.008391.
Gabbett TJ. The development and application of an injury prediction model for noncontact, soft-tissue injuries in elite collision sport athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(10):2593–603. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181f19da4.
Gabbett TJ, Ullah S. Relationship between running loads and soft-tissue injury in elite team sport athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(4):953–60. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182302023.
Rogalski B, Dawson B, Heasman J, et al. Training and game loads and injury risk in elite Australian footballers. J Sci Med Sport. 2013;16(6):499–503. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2012.12.004.
Veugelers KR, Young WB, Fahrner B, et al. Different methods of training load quantification and their relationship to injury and illness in elite Australian football. J Sci Med Sport. 2016;19(1):24–8. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2015.01.001.
Akubat I, Patel E, Barrett S, et al. Methods of monitoring the training and match load and their relationship to changes in fitness in professional youth soccer players. J Sports Sci. 2012;30(14):1473–80. doi:10.1080/02640414.2012.712711.
Brink MS, Nederhof E, Visscher C, et al. Monitoring load, recovery, and performance in young elite soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(3):597–603. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c4d38b.
Brink MS, Visscher C, Arends S, et al. Monitoring stress and recovery: new insights for the prevention of injuries and illnesses in elite youth soccer players. Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(11):809–15. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.069476.
Gabbett TJ, Whyte DG, Hartwig TB, et al. The relationship between workloads, physical performance, injury and illness in adolescent male football players. Sports Med. 2014;44(7):989–1003. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0179-5.
Owen AL, Wong DP, Dunlop G, et al. High-intensity training and salivary immunoglobulin-A responses in professional top-level soccer players: effect of training intensity. J Strength Cond Res. 2014. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000380 (Epub 2014 Jan 19).
Castagna C, Impellizzeri FM, Chaouachi A, et al. Effect of training intensity distribution on aerobic fitness variables in elite soccer players: a case study. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(1):66–71. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181fef3d3.
Castagna C, Impellizzeri FM, Chaouachi A, et al. Preseason variations in aerobic fitness and performance in elite-standard soccer players: a team study. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(11):2959–65. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31828d61a8.
Manzi V, Bovenzi A, Impellizzeri MF, et al. Individual training-load and aerobic-fitness variables in premiership soccer players during the precompetitive season. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(3):631–6. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825dbd81.
Los Arcos A, Martínez-Santos R, Yanci J, et al. Negative associations between perceived training load, volume and changes in physical fitness in professional soccer players. J Sports Sci Med. 2015;14(2):394–401.
Thorpe RT, Strudwick AJ, Buchheit M, et al. Monitoring fatigue during the in-season competitive phase in elite soccer players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2015;10(8):958–64. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2015-0004.
Los Arcos A, Yanci J, Mendiguchia J, et al. Rating of muscular and respiratory perceived exertion in professional soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(11):3280–88. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000540.
Carling C, Orhant E. Variation in body composition in professional soccer players: interseasonal and intraseasonal changes and the effects of exposure time and player position. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(5):1332–9. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc6154.
Silva JR, Magalhães JF, Ascensão AA, et al. Individual match playing time during the season affects fitness-related parameters of male professional soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(10):2729–39. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31820da078.
Silva JR, Rebelo A, Marques F, et al. Biochemical impact of soccer: an analysis of hormonal, muscle damage, and redox markers during the season. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014;39(4):432–8. doi:10.1139/apnm-2013-0180.
Owen AL, Forsyth JJ, Wong DP, et al. Heart rate-based training intensity and its impact on injury incidence amongs elite-level professional soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(6):1705–12. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000810.
Mallo J, Dellal A. Injury risk in professional football players with special reference to the playing position and training periodization. J Sports Med Phys Fit. 2012;52(6):631–8.
Buchheit M. Monitoring training status with HR measures: do all roads lead to Rome? Front Physiol. 2014;5:73. doi:10.3389/fphys.2014.00073.
Haugen TA, Tønnessen E, Seiler S. Anaerobic performance testing of professional soccer players 1995–2010. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013;8(2):148–56.
Buchheit M, Laursen PB. High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle: Part I: cardiopulmonary emphasis. Sports Med. 2013;43(5):313–38. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0029-x.
Buchheit M, Laursen PB. High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle. Part II: anaerobic energy, neuromuscular load and practical applications. Sports Med. 2013;43(10):927–54. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0066-5.
Alexandre D, da Silva CD, Hill-Haas S, et al. Heart rate monitoring in soccer: interest and limits during competitive match play and training, practical application. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(10):2890–906. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182429ac7.
Sporis G, Jovanovic M, Omrcen D, et al. Can the official soccer game be considered the most important contribution to player’s physical fitness level? J Sports Med Phys Fit. 2011;51(3):374–80.
Morgans R, Orme P, Anderson L, et al. An intensive winter fixture schedule induces a transient fall in salivary IgA in English premier league soccer players. Res Sports Med. 2014;22(4):346–54. doi:10.1080/15438627.2014.944641.
Meeusen R, Duclos M, Foster C, et al. Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the overtraining syndrome: joint consensus statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013;45(1):186–205. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318279a10a.
Milanez VF, Ramos SP, Okuno NM, et al. Evidence of a non-linear dose-response relationship between training load and stress markers in elite female futsal players. J Sports Sci Med. 2014;13(1):22–9.
Andersson H, Raastad T, Nilsson J, et al. Neuromuscular fatigue and recovery in elite female soccer: effects of active recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008;40(2):372–80. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31815b8497.
Gastin PB, Meyer D, Huntsman E, et al. Increase in injury risk with low body mass and aerobic-running fitness in elite Australian football. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2015;10(4):458–63. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2014-0257.
Carling C, Le Gall F, Dupont G. Are physical performance and injury risk in a professional soccer team in match-play affected over a prolonged period of fixture congestion? Int J Sports Med. 2012;33(1):36–42. doi:10.1055/s-0031-1283190.
Hulin BT, Gabbett TJ, Lawson DW, et al. The acute:chronic workload ratio predicts injury: high chronic workload may decrease injury risk in elite rugby league players. Br J Sports Med. 2016;50(4):231–6. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094817.
Cross MJ, Williams S, Trewartha G, et al. The influence of in-season training loads on injury risk in professional rugby union. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2016;11(3):350–5. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2015-0187.
Nassis GP, Gabbett TJ. Is workload associated with injuries and performance in elite football? A call for action. Br J Sports Med. 2016. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-095988 (Epub 2016 Mar 3).
Nédélec M, McCall A, Carling C, et al. Recovery in soccer: part I—post-match fatigue and time course of recovery. Sports Med. 2012;42(12):997–1015. doi:10.2165/11635270-000000000-00000.
Akenhead R, Nassis GP. Training load and player monitoring in high-level football: current practice and perceptions. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2015. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.2015-0331
Hägglund M, Waldén M, Bahr R, et al. Methods for epidemiological study of injuries to professional football players: developing the UEFA model. Br J Sports Med. 2005;39(6):340–6. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2005.018267.
Fuller CW, Ekstrand J, Junge A, et al. Consensus statement on injury definitions and data collection procedures in studies of football (soccer) injuries. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40(3):193–201. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2005.025270.
This review was part of a research project supported by a research grant from the Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology–IWT, Belgium (IWT 130841).
Conflict of interest
Arne Jaspers, Michel Brink, Steven Probst, Wouter Frencken, and Werner Helsen declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.
About this article
Cite this article
Jaspers, A., Brink, M.S., Probst, S.G.M. et al. Relationships Between Training Load Indicators and Training Outcomes in Professional Soccer. Sports Med 47, 533–544 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0591-0
- Physical Fitness
- Aerobic Fitness
- Training Load
- Internal Load
- Training Outcome