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Purpose: To examine the recovery kinetics of exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD), neuromuscular fatigue, and performance following small-sided games (SSGs) of different densities in soccer. Methods: Ten male players randomly completed 3 trials: a control trial (no SSGs), 4v4 SSGs (62.5 m2/player), and 8v8 SSGs (284.4 m2/player). External and internal load were monitored using GPS technology, heart-rate monitors, and rating of perceived exertion. Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), creatine kinase (CK), isokinetic strength, countermovement jump (CMJ), and sprint were determined at baseline, as well as at 24, 48, and 72 hours post-SSGs. Neuromuscular fatigue was assessed at baseline and at 1, 2, and 3 hours post-SSGs. Results: DOMS increased (P < .05) in 4v4 for 72 hours and in 8v8 for 24 hours with that of knee flexors being more pronounced than that of extensors. CK increased (P < .05) in 4v4 for 72 hours and in 8v8 for 24 hours. Neuromuscular fatigue increased (P < .05) in 4v4 for 2 hours and in 8v8 for 3 hours. Strength declined (P < .05) in 4v4 for 48 hours and in 8v8 for 72 hours. CMJ decreased (P < .05) in 4v4 for 24 hours and in 8v8 for 48 hours. Sprint decreased (P < .05) for 48 hours in 4v4 and for 72 hours in 8v8. Conclusions: SSGs are associated with a prolonged rise of EIMD and induce short-term neuromuscular fatigue and slow recovery kinetics of strength, jump, and sprinting performance. The time for complete recovery is longer for SSGs of lower density.

Papanikolaou, Tsimeas, Anagnostou, Varypatis, Tzatzakis, Draganidis, Batsilas, Mersinias, Loules, Poulios, Deli, Batrakoulis, Jamurtas, and Fatouros are with the Dept of Physical Education and Sport Science, and Jamurtas and Fatouros, also the Dept of Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Thessaly, Trikala, Greece. Mourikis is with Olympiakos Piraeus F.C., Soccer Performance Lab, Piraeus, Greece. Chatzinikolaou is with the Dept of Physical Education and Sport Science, Democritus University of Thrace, Komotini, Greece. Mohr is with the Dept of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, SDU Sport and Health Sciences Cluster (SHSC), University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark, and the Faculty of Health, Center of Health Science, University of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands.

Fatouros (ifatouros@pe.uth.gr) is corresponding author.
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