The popularity of futsal has been increasing around the world over the last fifteen years [1
]. In fact, two new international tournaments have been recently approved by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), as the Youth Olympic Games (both in male and female categories) and the European Female Futsal Cup to promote the development of this sport worldwide. Despite this global growth projection, only a few studies have been published in male futsal, and fewer in female futsal. Therefore, there is a need to investigate the training processes and the methods used by the technical staff to better understand the dynamics of futsal.
The training process is the best way for modulating athletes’ performance during the season [2
]. Among other physical capabilities, it may help to increase strength, power, speed and endurance performance according to game demands. However, excessive amounts of training without sufficient recovery can be harmful for performance and injury risk [3
]. In the same way, insufficient training can reduce the performance capabilities of one athlete or the whole team [2
]. Thus, the development of monitoring and control strategies of sessions with an emphasis on the analysis of the workloads might be relevant for improving sports performance and to reduce the injury risk along the season. Usually, team sports workloads (both training and competition ones) are split into external and internal loads. The main external loads registered are: volume, distance covered, speed thresholds, accelerations and decelerations, while the most common internal loads are: oxygen uptake, heart rate, blood lactate, muscle load or ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) [2
Several studies in futsal have analysed workloads using some of the aforementioned variables, such as heart rate, lactate, ventilatory threshold or heart rate variability in elite futsal players [4
]. However, the most commonly used tool to measure training load in futsal is session-RPE (sRPE) [6
], which has been shown to have acceptable reliability and internal consistency [10
Analyses of the training load over a complete season in professional futsal players have shown large variations, particularly with a decrease of loads during the second half of the season [11
]. Also, different patterns were registered during the pre-season in comparison with the in-season [8
]. Likewise, other studies have found an inverse correlation among a lower RPE and higher performance levels in U20 professional futsal players [7
]. However, these data exist only in male futsal players. Recently, Clemente and Nikolaidis [13
] analysed the differences in training loads between sexes and sports (soccer and futsal), reporting higher intensity training loads in futsal than in soccer, but without differences among male and female futsal teams, although the female futsal team involved in that study competed in an amateur league and only four weeks of the in-season period were registered. With regard to this, it can be shown that several questions are needed to answer about the workload profile in professional female futsal teams. Taking into account the relevance of applying appropriate workloads to each sport modality and teams to improve physical performance and reduce injury risks, there is a need to analyse the workloads in a professional female futsal team due to the lack of scientific knowledge in this modality. In fact, to our knowledge, no previous studies have registered the workloads in a professional female futsal team during a whole season and compared the load profiles of a standard week of pre-season and in-season. Therefore, the aims of this study were: (i) to analyse and describe the external and internal workloads in a professional female futsal team during a whole season; (ii) to compare workloads during different periods of the season and, (iii) to describe and compare the load profile of a typical week during pre-season and in-season periods.
The aims of the present study were: (i) to analyse and describe internal and external workloads in a professional female futsal team during a whole season; (ii) to compare workloads during different periods of the season, and, (iii) to describe and compare the load profile of a typical week during pre-season and in-season periods. Based on this, the main findings of the present study were: (a) the technical-tactical training volume increased during the season, while the volume dedicated to conditional training decreased; (b) the internal load showed an oscillatory pattern in accordance with competitive periods; (c) the TWTL in mesocycle one was higher than the others followed by mesocycles two and four; (d) the workload showed a weekly periodisation with a tapering strategy during the in-season period.
The training contents showed a logical distribution in accordance with periodisation principles [2
], where the conditional contents were more prominent in pre-season than in the other mesocycles. During the pre-season, Teixeira et al. [8
] reported 50% of the time focused on technical-tactical contents, giving them more importance than in our study, and reporting double the time on power and strength. Conversely, technical-tactical tasks had more weight during the in-season mesocycles, similar to other studies, reaching over 60%–70% of training volume [11
] or even up to 90% [20
]. Strength training was one of the most important contents during the pre-season, with the sessions being reduced in volume during the subsequent mesocycles, as reported by previous authors [11
]. However, as said above, other studies with professional male futsal players reported much more time dedicated to this capability during the pre-season [8
], which could indicate the need to increase the volume of strength training in female futsal teams due to its relevance of sport performance. This shows some differences in contents distribution according to sex, with more relevance of strength training in men. Finally, the specific training content (technical-tactical and specific endurance tasks) seems to be the most important during the in-season period, similar to previous futsal studies [20
The RPE is the most-used workload tool in futsal [6
]. The mean RPE in our study was 5.70 ± 0.64 over the whole season. These data are very similar to previous studies in a season with youth male players (RPE = 5.5 ± 1.7) [20
], a professional male team (RPE = 4–6) [21
], or in different types of sessions with also professional male futsal players (physical session, RPE = 5.1 ± 0.7, technical-tactical session, RPE = 5.7 ± 0.8) [6
]. However, our data are higher when compared to the study by De Freitas et al. [11
] with professional male futsal players over 14 weeks (RPE = 3.3–4.3). Perhaps, with the exception of the latter, the mean RPE range 5–6 points could be considered as a reference value for the daily RPE over a season in elite futsal players.
The daily workload over a season was 320 ± 127 AU. Scott et al. [22
] found similar values for daily average on Australian professional soccer players (297 ± 159 AU). However, Casamichana et al. [23
] recorded higher values in semi-professional soccer players, with 462.4 ± 237.9 AU, similar to data recorded for professional futsal players 500 AU [6
]. Notwithstanding, with regard to female futsal, our data are similar to previous research, which recorded an optimal training load among 350 and 450 AU [9
]. According to this issue, it could be suggested that there are no differences on the daily workload among male and female elite team sports, perhaps slightly lower in female team sports.
The mean TWTL was 2183.81 ± 838.45 AU throughout the season. Interestingly, our data match with previous studies with high level and professional male futsal players [24
]. Nevertheless, these studies reported lower values than others with players of the same categories [7
]. Both studies showed a TWTL among 2000–6000 AU and 3455–5243 AU, respectively. These differences could be due to the fact that these two studies had over 8 to 10 training sessions each week, compared to our study’s 5–6 sessions per week. Flat and Esco [25
] recorded 2220–3000 AU in female soccer players with six training sessions per week, very similar to our findings. Thus, there seems to be a difference in total weekly workloads between sexes, likely due to the number of sessions. However, more studies are needed to validate our data as reference values for a female futsal team over a season. Finally, according to Foster [17
], overtraining is more likely in weeks with workloads, monotony and strain over 4400, 2.2 and 6000, respectively. This study was performed with international competitive athletes but can be a reference of limits on workloads in sports training. In fact, similar values were only reached in our study during the second week, which highlights the relevance about managing workloads in order to reduce injury risks and optimise the conditional performance [2
Regarding mesocycles, the workload decreased over the season, with higher loads during the first mesocycle. This matches with a study of professional female basketball players, preparing an international championship [26
], and with one of the teams from the study of Teixeira et al. [8
] in futsal. These increasing loads during the pre-season can accumulate higher amounts of fatigue in futsal players and, consequently, increase the injury risk [5
] due to excessive loads combined with insufficient recovery [8
]. For this reason, the pre-season should be accurately designed and controlled with different tools to ensure positive adaptations on futsal players [2
] as well as reducing injury risks [8
]. Moreover, the second and fourth mesocycles presented higher loads than the fifth, sixth and seventh ones. These results may be explained because of the sports programming theories [2
], reaching higher loads on the first months, and the fourth mesocycle as a short pre-season during the in-season period [26
]. However, another study found controversial results in professional female water polo players, with the last period of the season being the highest one, in comparison with the other three mesocycles [27
]. This may be because the last phase of the season contained more intense and competitive matches, at both national and European levels. That is, the load control is fundamental to manage the athletes’ physical performance determined by the goals of the team and the structure and length of the season.
During the pre-season, the sRPE did not show significant differences among the days of the week, showing only differences between Saturdays (usually friendly matches) and Tuesdays. This can be explained by the greater variability and higher loads during the pre-season period, adjusting contents to balance training and recovery to optimise conditional performance [14
]. During the in-season, the weekly workload distribution is shown in previous studies [17
]. That is, the sRPE decreased during the week, with higher loads on Monday (first session of the week) after a full recovery day (Sunday), and the lighter loads on Thursday, to rest for Saturday’s match, as a tapering strategy, which attempts to ensure an adequate physiological response to competition [28
Our study has some limitations as the number of external and internal load variables measured, as well as the number of players involved. More studies on professional female futsal players are needed, including more assessment tools to support these workloads, such as distance covered, the number of accelerations and decelerations, speed thresholds or changes of direction, among others. Likewise, further research should compare data from players in the First Division with lower divisions, given the differences shown by a previous study [29
], as well as to include other important and specific variables in female athletes, such as the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptive use.