Physiological Responses to Linear/Non-Linear Soccer Simulations.

Phys Responses JSCR

Our recent study investigated the Loughborough Intermittent Shuttle Test (LIST) (Nicholas et al., 2000) and it’s effects on neuromuscular fatigue when adjusted.

The problem with this ‘gold standard’ simulation is that, though it mimics the demands of a typical soccer game, it’s ecological validity was to be questioned.. how could it mimic the demands of a soccer game if the testing was completely linear (running in one straight direction)? Nonlinear running is frequently performed during soccer matches, with professional players completing 727 (+/-) 203 swerves and turns within a single match (Bloomfield et al., 2007). Such swerves require a great deal of rapid changes of direction and decelerations.

But to successfully complete these actions in soccer, repetitive demanding muscle contractions are necessary, particularly those of an eccentric nature and the cumulative effect of performing these type of contractions ultimately leads to fatigue, less efficient movement patterns (Small et al., 2009) and an increased risk of injury (Greig & Seigler, 2009). Research has also suggested that nonlinear running induces greater heart rate (HR), perceptual, and metabolic responses than straight-line (linear) running (Dellal et al., 2010), but this has also been questioned in recent studies, where they found similar drops in jump performance regardless of the type of running (Hader et al., 2016).

JSCR Infographic

Summary of study. Credit to Adam Johnson @PreventionPhys

The aim of our study was see if a modified version of the LIST could be incorporated mimic the demands of soccer while also achieving a similar amount of swerves and turns as reported in Bloomfield’s paper. The modified LIST allowed for the inclusion of 6 x 90degree and 1 x 180degree changes of direction (COD) per run. This meant that there was a total of 720-1008 COD’s within the whole protocol without altering total simulation time or activity time during the simulation.


8 university football/rugby athletes too part measures including blood lactate, heart rate (maximum and average), jump height, peak landing and isometric force, and perceived fatigue were measured across the testing period. The running was monitored through Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers attached to each participant.


Though participants found the modified LIST harder through perceived fatigue and heart rate measures, it portrayed no changes to jump height and isometric/landing forces. The modifed LIST did not change the total distance covered in the LIST but did change the amount of decelerations and the high speed running (HSR) distance. However,  greater HSR distances were directly related to reductions in isometric hamstring force.

What does this mean?

COD’s do seem to induce higher ratings of perceived fatigue but HSR distance plays a role in hamstring fatigue, indicating how important this GPS variable is for sport scientists and coaches alike when it comes to monitoring training load and managing fatigue. It also allows for changes to training (particularly related to small sided games or metabolic conditioning) by incorporating COD’s which could reduce HSR distance but still lead to higher or similar metabolic demands.


The modification to the LIST was based on multi-directional running at 1.5x the timing of the maximal effort run timing of each participant. The COD’s were positioned in a manner that did not alter total distance covered by the original LIST. However, such timings and COD positionings may have given participants enough time to run and change directions at a pace which did not require a great deal of side cutting mechanics but full body turns following lesser speeds of running.

The study would ideally have aimed to recruit a larger sample size of professional athletes to see if these results reflected the larger population of professional soccer players.

Full study available here:

An Introduction to Acute Fatigue within Sport


Muscle fatigue most often occurs during strenuous dynamic physical activity (James, Scheurmann & Smith, 2010) and within sport, can be explained as a reduction of maximal force or power that is associated with sustained exercise, or the inability to produce or maintain a required force or power output (Celine et al., 2011).


Neuromuscular fatigue is a vast topic of research and though many of the causes are still obscure, it is agreed to be the result of a combination of central and peripheral factors (Allen, Lamb, & Westerblad, 2008; Enoka & Duchateau, 2008; Fitts, 1994; Waldron & Highton, 2014).

Vaguely put, central fatigue is related to the brain and central nervous system while peripheral fatigue is to do with the muscles themselves and the substances related to contracting them.

In a few more words, central fatigue is related to reduced central motor drive of the central nervous system (CNS) due to changes in the synaptic concentration of neurotransmitters and therefore its ability to recruit available motor units (Davis and Bailey, 1997).

Peripheral fatigue on the other hand, relates to limitations of muscle capacity through biochemical changes (Waldron & Highton, 2014), such as an increase in blood lactate concentration and hydrogen ion accumulation (Mohr, Krustup & Bangsbo, 2003). It occurs at, or distal to, the neuromuscular junction and is thought to be linked to several mechanisms such as failure of excitation-contraction coupling, a disruption in neuromuscular transmission and the inhibition of muscle contraction through either the build-up or depletion of metabolites (Kent-Braun, 1999).


Lactate and hydrogen ions (H+) production is the result of glucose breakdown. If a sufficient amount of oxygen is not available to the working muscles then hydrogen ion concentrations begin to rise and the muscles, including blood flow to the muscles, become acidic. This acidic environment blocks neuromuscular transmission (signal to and from the brain and muscle), slowing down the individual in order to allow more oxygen to get to the working muscles.

Decreased work rate within sports has been affiliated with reduction in muscle glycogen content (Saltin, 1991) while other factors such as physiological changes within the muscle cell, dehydration and a reduction of recruitable muscle fibres for force production have also been suggested (Saltin, 1973; Jacobs et al., 1982; Bangsbo, 1994). Sjersted and Sjoogard (2000) hypothesized that the sarcolemma was one of the sites of fatigue due to its inability of maintaining sodium and potassium concentrations during repeated stimulation. As a result of inefficiency of the sodium/potassium pump, potassium concentrations increase outside the membrane, in turn decreasing the amount within the membrane. This leads to depolarization of the cell, thus reducing action potential amplitude.

Recovery from peripheral fatigue where it relates to metabolic factors and impairments in neuromuscular transmission is known as high frequency fatigue and has been shown to occur within shorts periods of time following exhaustive exercise (Bruton, Lannergren, & Westerblad, 1998; Saltin, Radegran, Koskolou, & Roach, 1998). Low frequency fatigue on the other hand, is related to peripheral fatigue due to impairments within the excitation-contraction coupling process, and occurs as a result of repeated short intervals of repeated muscle stimulation. This type of fatigue is more prominent following eccentric exercise and is likely the cause of a longer lasting neuromuscular fatigue (Keeton & Binder-Macleod, 2006).


Fatigue within sports is primarily identified through a decline in performance (Reilly, 1994). A fatigue effect has been reported to be noticeable in soccer, particularly within the second half due to an observation of decreased work rate (Reilly and Thomas, 1976). Bangsbo et al (1991) reported a 5% greater distance covered within the first half by professional soccer players,

Fatigue been shown to impair sprinting mechanics and joint stability. Such a combination of factors is likely to predispose players to injury during tasks that have high mechanical demands. (Greig, 2009). Fatigue leads to altered movement patterns of athletes into more stressful positions (Borotikar et al., 2008), and has been reported to be a direct contributor towards injuries such anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury via promotion of high risk biomechanics (McLean & Samorezov, 2009)

With advancements in team sports performance analysis such as player tracking technology, fatigue is a popular topic of interest and has usually been associated with variables such as running performance, distance covered from baseline, along with reported changes in neuromuscular force or sprinting ability (Rampinini et al., 2011). Basic physiological measures such as heart rate and blood lactate provide a useful index of overall physiological strain and anaerobic energy yield in response to high intensity situations respectively (Reilly & Thomas, 1997; Reilly, 1997). Thus, combining these variables with a measurement in decrease of muscular force overtime within match play may help indicate acute neuromuscular fatigue.


Other ways include monitoring training load through session RPE’s (rate of perceived exertion) or/and RSI (Reactive strength index). These are easily obtained through a set of numbers based on session time and perceived exertion or using a jump mat and monitoring jump performance which is custom for most professional athletes particularly within team sports. An example and some uses for these two methods are summarised in the below picture.


Sport scientists and S&C coaches may prefer to use other methods of further analysis through a combination of the above mentioned factors or equations such as the Fatigue Index equation (Fitzsimons, Dawson, Ward & Wilkinson, 1993) based on peak running speed/peak force produced and sum of general running speeds or general force produced, depending on the athlete being monitored.