Aerobic Training For Elite Handball Players


The competition in elite team handball (TH) has increased significantly in the recent decades, and the physical requirements for elite players have increased correspondingly. During the match, the players need a great capacity for strength and power, anaerobic performance and also a high level of aerobic power and intermittent endurance to constantly perform during the entire match, where they also at the same time continuously must be aware of the tactical game conditions. A high level of physical conditioning is an essential tool to exploit and sustain the players´ technical and tactical qualities throughout an entire game. Thus, relevant physical training with sufficient volume and intensity must be performed in elite TH not only for improving playing performance, but also for preventing overload and injuries, especially for the players who play regularly.

Aerobic training, can be divided into three overlapping areas: A) Low-intensity training, (B) Moderate-intensity training, and (C) High-intensity training. The training intensity can be assessed by using measurements of the heart rate. The relative exercise intensity is expressed as the heart rate during exercise in relation to the maximum heart rate. As aerobic training should mainly be performed with a ball, the definition of the three categories takes into account that the heart rate will alternate continuously during training, since the intensity can depend on the players´ direct involvement in the game and therefore can be difficult to control precisely. Thus, an acceptable primary area (range) is designated. The training intensity must be regulated according to the player´s own maximum heart rate (HR). 


Aerobic low-intensity training should be performed to achieve faster recovery after a match or an intensive training session. Therefore, the training is also called recovery training. During low-intensity training the players perform light physical activities such as jogging and low intensity ball games. This type of training may help the muscles to recover more efficiently and to avoid overtraining. During low-intensity training, the exercise intensity should be performed with a mean HR of approximately 65% of HRmax .This type of training also has psychological benefits. The need to recovery physically is often accompanied by a need to relax mentally. This may be obtained by performing exercises of low intensity and activities that differ from those normally used.

Aerobic moderate-intensity training aims to increase the capacity to exercise for prolonged periods of time, i.e. for the entire match, and to increase the ability to recover quickly after a period of high intensity exercise during training or match-play, and in addition between multiple training sessions or matches in long tournaments. A male/female elite TH player covers around 4 kilometres during approximately 50 minutes of match-play and also performs other demanding. Therefore, elite TH players need to train the aerobic intermittent endurance capacity to be able to maintain a high work-rate and good technical performance throughout the entire match. Moderate-intensity training can take the form of either continuous or intermittent exercise. For the intermittent exercise, the work periods should be longer than 5 minutes interspersed with short breaks. During moderate-intensity training, the exercise intensity should be performed with a mean HR of approximately 80% of HRmax . Elite TH players can benefit greatly from training with short and frequent runs with relatively high intensity within the area of aerobic moderate-intensity training (70-90% of HRmax), and at the same time save some valuable training time, which can be used for other aspects of training. 

The purpose of aerobic high-intensity training is to increase the aerobic power (maximum oxygen uptake, VO2-max) for improving the ability to exercise at a high intensity for relatively long periods of time during training or a match-play. Furthermore, the aim is also to increase the ability to recover quickly from high-intensity exercise during training or match-play. During a match, the players are exercising several periods at a high-intensity. During aerobic high-intensity training, the exercise intensity should be performed with a mean HR of approximately 90% of HRmax and in the area of 80-100% of VO2-max. High-intensity aerobic exercise (formal or with ball handling) can be carried out continuously or intermittently (by interval training). Performing continuous training, the training sessions should have duration less than 30 minutes, since the intensity needs to be high. The interval training within aerobic high-intensity training can be divided into long and short interval periods. At long intervals, the duration of the work periods are 2-10 minutes, and the duration of the rest/active recovery periods are 1-6 minutes. The duration of the rest/active recovery periods is of less significance for the training effect, but it must be sufficiently long so that the player is able to maintain the intensity during the exercise periods. At short intervals, the duration of the exercise periods are 10-120 seconds, and the duration of the rest/active recovery periods are 5-60 seconds. During short interval training, the exercise periods can be too short for the oxygen uptake and heart rate to reach the desired level. Thus, the rest/active recovery period is crucial for the training effect. 

Take away tip

What is VO2 max?

VO₂ max is the maximum (max) rate (V) of oxygen (O₂) your body is able to use during exercise. The greater your VO₂ max, the more oxygen your body can consume, and the more effectively your body can use that oxygen to generate the maximum amount of ATP energy.


Q&A: What’s the importance of high intensity aerobic training for handball players?


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