There’s more than one way to get in a good workout. High-Intensity Interval Training is a popular choice for realizing the benefits of steady state cardio in about half the time. A study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness suggests soccer players can achieve similar results playing games with 4 athletes per side.
On separate days, 16 soccer players performed 4x4 fifteen-second runs at 110% of capacity with 15 seconds of passive recovery between efforts. Small sided games were played on a 25 meter x 35 meter field.
Testing conducted 3 minutes after each session showed no significant differences between heart rate, blood lactate concentrations or ratings of perceived exertion. There was less of a mood disturbance with small sided games compared to HIIT, suggesting players might enjoy that type of workout more.