Skeletal muscle and performance adaptations to high-intensity training in elite male soccer players: speed endurance runs versus small-sided game training

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2018 Jan;118(1):111-121. doi: 10.1007/s00421-017-3751-5. Epub 2017 Nov 8.


Purpose: To examine the skeletal muscle and performance responses across two different exercise training modalities which are highly applied in soccer training.

Methods: Using an RCT design, 39 well-trained male soccer players were randomized into either a speed endurance training (SET; n = 21) or a small-sided game group (SSG; n = 18). Over 4 weeks, thrice weekly, SET performed 6-10 × 30-s all-out runs with 3-min recovery, while SSG completed 2 × 7-9-min small-sided games with 2-min recovery. Muscle biopsies were obtained from m. vastus lateralis pre and post intervention and were subsequently analysed for metabolic enzyme activity and muscle protein expression. Moreover, the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery level 2 test (Yo-Yo IR2) was performed.

Results: Muscle CS maximal activity increased (P < 0.05) by 18% in SET only, demonstrating larger (P < 0.05) improvement than SSG, while HAD activity increased (P < 0.05) by 24% in both groups. Na+-K+ ATPase α1 subunit protein expression increased (P < 0.05) in SET and SSG (19 and 37%, respectively), while MCT4 protein expression rose (P < 0.05) by 30 and 61% in SET and SSG, respectively. SOD2 protein expression increased (P < 0.05) by 28 and 37% in SET and SSG, respectively, while GLUT-4 protein expression increased (P < 0.05) by 40% in SSG only. Finally, SET displayed 39% greater improvement (P < 0.05) in Yo-Yo IR2 performance than SSG.

Conclusion: Speed endurance training improved muscle oxidative capacity and exercise performance more pronouncedly than small-sided game training, but comparable responses were in muscle ion transporters and antioxidative capacity in well-trained male soccer players.

Keywords: Antioxidant capacity; Football; Intermittent exercise; Muscle fatigue; Muscle oxidative capacity; Na+–K+ ATPase activity.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • High-Intensity Interval Training / adverse effects
  • High-Intensity Interval Training / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Physical Endurance*
  • Soccer / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Muscle Proteins