One of the greatest challenges for coaches is planning and organizing successful training periodization programs for professional athletes. During the preparation process, the organization of training content using distinct training phases is critical to the appropriate development of physical abilities designed to impact competitive performance [1
]. Specifically, during the early periodization stages, more attention is paid to the improvement in basic physical capacities such as maximum strength and endurance, a period commonly called the “general preparation phase” [1
]. In contrast, close to competitions, coaches usually emphasize the development of speed- and power-related qualities, during the so-called “specific preparation phase” [4
]. Although several studies have examined the effects of training organization on sports performance, less attention has been given to a phase that athletes inevitably face at least one time per season: the detraining period.
Detraining can be defined as a partial reduction or total interruption in training loads, leading to a series of physical and physiological adaptations [7
]. Previous studies have reported significant reductions in strength-power performance in athletes with different training backgrounds after long-term detraining (i.e., periods longer than 4 weeks) [8
]. On the other hand, during short-term detraining (i.e., <4 weeks), the level of evidence is limited [7
], with some studies demonstrating no changes or even increases in certain strength, speed, and power qualities after periods of inactivity [10
]. For example, Hortobágyi et al. [10
] did not observe changes in vertical jump height in resistance-trained men after a 2 week detraining period. Conversely, Loturco et al. [11
] detected meaningful increases in the rate of force development and 5 and 15 m sprint velocity in elite women pole-vaulters after a detraining period of 28 days. Therefore, to date, it is not possible to determine whether short detraining phases can be beneficial or harmful for top-level athletes. A deeper understanding of this issue is fundamental for coaches and sport scientists, as it may affect the selection and sequencing of training content and intensity throughout the preparation period. This becomes even more critical in team-sports, where players usually have limited time for training during the initial phases of the year (i.e., training pre-seasons; that always occurs after short periods of detraining) [2
Specifically, in soccer, athletes typically have ~3 or 4 weeks of training before starting the competitive season (i.e., pre-season) [4
]. Soccer pre-seasons are increasingly characterized by reduced periods and very-congested schedules, both of which compromise the adequate preparation of players and, hence, their performance [6
]. Considering the above-mentioned factors, it is important to examine the effects of short-term detraining (i.e., ≤4 weeks) on some specific physical capacities. In this context, it is essential to determine if “general preparation phases” are required (for example, when neuromuscular performance decreases) or not (when neuromuscular performance stabilizes or increases) after these short periods. This information can help coaches design effective in-season strategies, where the opportunities for specific physical and technical development are often limited. Thus, the purpose of this study was to analyze the effects of 26 days of detraining on the strength, speed, and jump abilities of under-20 soccer players. Based on previous studies that did not find significant differences in the neuromuscular performance of top-level athletes after short-term detraining [10
], we hypothesized that the elite young soccer players would not exhibit significant changes in strength, speed, and jump capacities.
We investigated the variations in strength, speed, and jumping abilities of under-20 soccer players after approximately 4 weeks of training cessation. Our results revealed no significant changes in leg-press 1RM and 10 m sprint velocity; nonetheless, a significant increase was observed in CMJ height. These findings certainly impact training prescription after short periods of detraining. As a consequence, soccer coaches and sport scientists are advised to assess their players not only before and after specific training periods (e.g., pre-seasons), but also at the beginning and end of successive soccer seasons, to better program their strategies throughout the training cycle.
Surprisingly, after a short period of training cessation, players experienced a significant enhancement in CMJ performance. Similarly, Santos and Janeira [21
] reported significant increases in vertical jump performance after 4 weeks of detraining in adolescent male basketball players. On the other hand, Caldwell and Peters [22
], observed significant reductions in jumping height when comparing results collected at the end of the competitive season with data collected after 3 months, at the beginning of the next season (i.e., before pre-season). Based on these results, it is possible to infer that, although long-term detraining (i.e., >4 weeks) may negatively impact jump performance, shorter periods of detraining (i.e., ≤4 weeks) can positively affect this neuromechanical ability in team-sport players. A possible explanation for this phenomenon might be related to the impact of the fitness fatigue paradigm [23
]. Here, following short-term training cessation, the fatigue accumulated over the season may dissipate, allowing the potentiation effects of previous training to be revealed, which results in a net increase in some specific physical qualities [23
]. Furthermore, it has been suggested that higher volumes of soccer training can impair certain neuromuscular capabilities [25
]; as a result, when training loads decrease, improvements in jumping ability could be expected. Soccer coaches should consider elaborating their training routines under this perspective, as general preparation phases may not be required (at least in relation to explosive capabilities) after short periods of total training cessation [2
]. This may also have implications for in-season training design, where a far greater degree of fatigue is usually present, thus requiring a greater manipulation of training variation to attain peak performance.
Contrary to jump performance, no significant changes were observed in strength and speed capabilities (assessed by leg-press 1RM and 10 m sprint velocity). It is well established in the literature that maximum strength and sprint velocity are closely interrelated, with this correlation being stronger at shorter distances (i.e., <20 m), during the early acceleration phases of sprinting [26
]. At this stage, athletes need to apply substantial amounts of force at lower velocities onto the ground, in order to overcome the inertia and accelerate their bodies forward as quickly as possible [27
]. Conversely, at top-speed phases, higher contraction velocities are required and, hence, the contributions of the elastic components and stretch-shortening cycle to sprint velocity are increased [27
]. This mechanical relationship may be confirmed when examining the strong associations regularly found between CMJ and sprint velocity at longer distances (i.e., >20 m) [28
], in athletes from different sport disciplines. Since a significant increase was only observed in jump performance, it is also expected that the lack of changes in maximum strength would lead to similar (and non-significant) variations in short sprint velocity. However, it is crucial to emphasize that players maintained their initial strength and speed levels (i.e., tests conducted at the end of the soccer tournament) throughout the 26 days of detraining. These findings reinforce the notion that soccer players do not necessarily need to develop the so-called “strength foundation phase” before implementing sprinting-specific workouts, at least after shorter periods of total training cessation (i.e., ≤4 weeks) [2
This study is limited by its descriptive design. In addition, the study took place between two successive competitions after short-term detraining. Thus, it is not clear whether longer periods of detraining (i.e., >4 weeks) would evoke equivalent responses in these athletes. Moreover, it is not possible to confirm if more experienced soccer players (i.e., senior category) would exhibit similar tendencies after being exposed to a short period of total training cessation. Another issue is that we did not evaluate changes in physical performance over the entire competitive season, which would be important for comparing the effects of detraining with other training phases. Nevertheless, these outcomes are of practical importance for soccer coaches and sport scientists, who always have limited time, within congested fixture schedules, to prepare their athletes. According to these results, as soccer players are capable of maintaining their strength, speed, and power capabilities throughout these short-term periods, it might not be necessary to program a “general preparation phase” in the early stages of periodization (at least after detraining phases ≤ 4 weeks). Future studies should examine the effects of short-term detraining in professional soccer players, as well as investigate the potential effects of total training cessation on other physical performance measures (e.g., change of direction speed, and aerobic-based capacities).