December 13, 2022


Prescription of post-match or post-training recovery strategies in young football players is a key point to optimize football performance. 

Considering that the effectiveness of recovery strategies may present interindividual variability, scientific evidence-based recovery methods and protocols used in adults are possibly not applicable to young football players. 

In this sense, a study called “Post-exercise Recovery Methods Focus on Young Soccer Players: A Systematic Review (Julio Calleja-González et al., 2021)” was conducted to present a critical appraisal and synthesize original research articles published until then that evaluated the effectiveness of recovery strategies in young male football players under 18 years of age (as a chronological age criteria).

 Types of Recovery Strategies

In this systematic revision, different post-exercise recovery methods were evaluated:


  • Static Stretching (SS)1, 2, 3 
  • Active Recovery (AR) including jogging or submaximal exercise4, 3, 5 
  • Different cold water immersion strategies (CWI)6, 7, 8, 3 
  • Contrast water therapy (CWT)1, 8 or thermoneutral immersion (TWI)6, 7 
  • Whole body vibration (WBV)9 
  • A combined modality, which included CWI and AR1 and a spa treatment, based on alternating thermotherapy and cryotherapy, sauna use, CWI, and Jacuzzi.10

Effects of Post-exercise Recovery Strategies

The different recovery strategies were evaluated in terms of their effects on young football players in different performance variables.

Effects of Recovery Strategies on Neuromuscular Performance

Neuromuscular performance encompasses all the aspects related to nervous system control of muscle activation and the factors that contribute to applied motor task performance. Different conclusions were made in this respect:


  • Static stretching did not seem to be effective for recovery of neuromuscular performance2 since they exacerbate muscular damage.
  • Both AR and CWI may improve neuromuscular performance in a greater extent than SS.3
  • Neuromuscular performance can be maintained better using CWT, CWI8 or a combined recovery modality (CWI and AR).1
  • The benefits of AR intervention applied 48 hours after a single match may restore knee flexor muscle force production at a higher level compared to a football-specific training session, reducing injury risk at post-match period.


To sum up, water immersion protocols may provide non-significant benefits to the performance of young football players during the recovery period, although it was not established if any of the prescribed recovery modalities were better. WVB could also be a valid option, and it is recommended not to use SS if neuromuscular performance is the main goal of the recovery strategy prescription.


Effects of Recovery Strategies on Match Running Performance 


Only post-PHV (peak high velocity) players experience match-induced fatigue within 48 hours, as evidenced by a decreased match running performance during the following match, and therefore require recovery interventions, whereas the implementation of post-match recovery strategies in pre-PHV is questionable.10

In this context, a spa sequence (sauna, Jacuzzi/hydromassage, and CWI) applied in post-PHV players the day after a match may have a beneficial impact on low-intensity running, sprinting distance, peak match speed, total number of sprints, and the number of repeated sprint sequences during the second match.10

Moreover, CWI is better than TWI for recovery purposes in young football players because it can promote better maintenance of total match running distance in subsequent matches.7


Effects of Recovery Strategies on Football-Specific Performance 


Even though the precise influence of different recovery strategies on football-specific performance has not received proper consideration, it is advisable to use PR during training sessions requiring repeated high-intensity exercises.4


Effects of Recovery Strategies on Physiological Responses 


To attenuate EIMD (exercise-induced muscle damage) and inflammatory response in young football players, different water immersion strategies, AR and SS have been investigated. 


  • CK III (a referent isozyme the diagnosis and tracking of muscle damage) can increase after training sessions on consecutive days, but the increase is significantly lower when CWI or CWT is applied compared with PR, having no significant effect on uric acid, leukocytes, hemoglobin, and reticulocytes.8 


  • It has been proven that both CWI and AR attenuate CK response over a 48-hour period compared with the conventional SS.3


  • CWI or TWI is not effective in reducing the inflammatory response in the 24-hour period after intense exercise.6 Similar to CWI, AR and SS, which are ineffective methods to reduce muscle edema in elite young players.2, 3


  • A combined modality (CWI + AR) applied between soccer matches may induce a higher HR than CWT and SS, with HR responses higher in CWT compared to SS.1


To sum up, EIMD biomarker responses are possibly attenuated when water immersion and AR strategies are applied for recovery purposes, but SS seems to be ineffective. Regarding inflammatory processes, more studies are required to identify which strategy shows positive effects because no strategy has been identified as the best option to modulate this response. Finally, it is important to consider that AR and water immersion strategies may modify HR response and therefore football performance.

Effects of Recovery Strategies on Psychological Responses 


Several methods have been applied to reduce DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) and fatigue perception in young football players.


  • Regarding DOMS attenuation, it has been observed that WBV in combination with a traditional cool down protocol (SS) reduced the muscle pain induced by a soccer-specific effort in high-level junior players compared with SS.9


  • When comparing the effects of recovery interventions on DOMS, AR and CWI demonstrated significantly greater effects than SS3 but no differences between AR and CWI were identified. 


  • Players exposed to CWI have generally reported lower perception of fatigue compared with PR, CWT, and TWI after training sessions or during tournaments.6, 7, 8


  •  A combined modality (CWI + AR) may also elicit a moderately higher perceived recovery immediately after the recovery session than CWT and SS, with SS considered the worst method to improve perceived recovery.1


Considering the above-mentioned results, DOMS may be reduced in young football players using WBV, CWI, and AR, but not with SS, whereas fatigue perception may be decreased mainly with CWI because AR or SS has no positive results.


Practical Applications and Conclusions


More scientific evidence is necessary to support consistent conclusions on the prevalence of one or another method of recovery with young football players. However, depending on the needs of each player and the main objective of the recovery strategy, it is possible to select those methods whose benefits we have summarised, thus individualising the recovery prescription:


  • Neuromuscular performance can be recovered using WVB but not with SS, and water immersion protocols may also be useful, but their positive effects are not significant, and the best water immersion method cannot be pinpointed.


  • Match performance maintenance may be achieved using water immersion protocols but no other recovery methods have been investigated.


  • EIMD and inflammatory responses could be positively affected when water immersion and AR are applied, although SS seems to be ineffective. 


  • Perceptual responses also seem to be better with CWI and WVB, but contradictory results have been found when AR is applied, and SS had no positive impact. 


Finally, it is important to consider that AR may modify HR response and football-specific performance.




1 Kinugasa, T., and Kilding, A. E. (2009). A comparison of post-match recovery strategies in youth soccer players. J. Strength Condition. Res. 23, 1402–1407. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181a0226a

2 Pooley, S., Spendiff, O., Allen, M., and Moir, H. J. (2017). Static stretching does not enhance recovery in elite youth soccer players. BMJ Open Sport Exerc. Med. 3:e000202. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2016- 000202 

3 Pooley, S., Spendiff, O., Allen, M., and Moir, H. J. (2020). Comparative efficacy of active recovery and cold water immersion as post-match recovery interventions in elite youth soccer. J. Sports Sci. 38, 1423–1431. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2019.1660448 

4 Gharbi, A., Masmoudi, L., Chtourou, H., Chaari, N., and Tabka, Z. (2017). Effects of recovery mode on physiological and psychological responses and performance of specific skills in young soccer players. J. Sports Med. Phys. Fitness 57, 1590–1596. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.16.06598-1

5 Trecroci, A., Porcelli, S., Perri, E., Pedrali, M., Rasica, L., Alberti, G., et al. (2020). Effects of different training interventions on the recovery of physical and neuromuscular performance after a soccer match. J. Strength Condition. Res. 34, 2189–2192. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003269

6 Rowsell, G. J., Coutts, A. J., Reaburn, P., and Hill-Haas, S. (2009). Effects of cold-water immersion on physical performance between successive matches in high-performance junior male soccer players. J. Sports Sci. 27, 565–573. doi: 10.1080/02640410802603855 

7 Rowsell, G. J., Coutts, A. J., Reaburn, P., and Hill-Haas, S. (2011). Effect of post-match cold-water immersion on subsequent match running performance in junior soccer players during tournament play. J. Sports Sci. 29, 1–6. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2010.512640 

8 De Nardi, M., La Torre, A., Barassi, A., Ricci, C., and Banfi, G. (2011). Effects of cold-water immersion and contrast-water therapy after training in young soccer players. J. Sports Med. Phys. Fitness 51, 609–615. 

9 Marin, P. J., Zarzuela, R., Zarzosa, F., Herrero, A. J., Garatachea, N., Rhea, M. R., et al. (2012). Whole-body vibration as a method of recovery for soccer players. Eur. J. Sport Sci. 12, 2–8. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2010.536579 

10 Buchheit, M., Horobeanu, C., Méndez-Villanueva, A., Simpson, B. M., and Bourdon, P. C. (2011). Effects of age and spa treatment on match running performance over two consecutive games in highly trained young soccer players. J. Sports Sci. 29, 591–598. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2010.546424






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