Soccer strength training

Posted on December 25, 2007. Filed under: General | Tags: , , , |

So recently I started hitting the gym again as my form, injuries, pace and strength started to drop. I knew it was time to go back to the gym because a few years ago I was having a bad run of injuries and the thing that got me out of it was a few months in the gym plus a rigorous stretching routine. After that I was in the best form of my life!

Strength training can make a big difference to pace and the ability to hold players off and hang on to the ball. As for preventing injuries, it can also help by strengthening the muscles around joints but the big advantage is in reducing imbalances which can result in injuries. Soccer players tend to prefer one side. One side for shooting, one side to push off from, one side for jumping, one side for performing step-overs, one side for just about any move. Over time, repeating the same actions over and over leads to imbalances with one side or one opposing muscle group getting more of a workout, becoming stronger and hence creating an imbalance. The gym is great for sorting out these imbalances because you can use equipment on one side at a time or at the very least perform the exercises in a more symmetrical manner.

The problem is that a lot of gym work tends to make muscles tighter and reduce flexibility. This is bad for soccer players as good flexibility plays a huge role in preventing injuries. So although we want the extra strength, we’re also working to lengthen our muscles. This requires a good amount of stretching and I don’t mean just before or after a game. You should perform stretches daily and try to spend around 5 minutes on each individual stretch to improve your flexibility (you can spend less time once you only need to maintain your flexibility). It’s quite hard to get into a routine and stick to it but once you do you’ll notice the results very quickly (within a couple of weeks).

Strength training is different for soccer players to body builders. Most body builders are doing low reps to get a great deal of strength and they end up with a lot of fast-twitch muscle fibres. These fibres give you a lot of strength but fatigue very quickly, so although you may be able to accelerate quickly, you won’t be able to do it that many times. Soccer players need a good balance of fast and slow-twitch muscle fibres because games are 90 minutes (or more) and it’s not just explosive power like sprinting and shooting, there’s a lot of jogging and repeated actions.

This all means that you need a workout with a moderate number of reps. Somewhere around 12-15 times for each exercise and 3 sets is fine. As for the exercises, you’ll need some to work those hamstrings, quads and calves. If you can, you should perform free-weight exercises rather than using machines. Things like squats with barbells or dead-lifts, etc. The reason for this is that free-weights not only work the large muscle groups that you’re targeting, they also work all the little stabiliser muscle groups that you need to keep the movement steady. Think joint protection here! Machine exercises are still valuable though as you can target one leg at a time. Try to focus on the free-weights first and make sure there is someone to show you the proper technique so you don’t do yourself any damage!

As for the upper body, it’s not as vital in soccer but don’t leave it out! I tend to perform lower rep exercises to give more strength as you don’t use the upper body as much but when you do, you need all of it’s strength. The difference is quite noticeable when you’re able to hold a defender off much easier.

Almost as vital as the lower body is your core, or your abdominal and back muscles more specifically. You may not think it, but all of your power and pace comes from the core. When you kick or accelerate it starts with the core and you need it for your balance as strength. Again your hamstring flexibility is important here as tight hamstrings will affect your back too as they apply pressure to it. Try to target your lower abs more than the upper as they are more important.

Finally, nutrition is important as well while you’re training (in fact all the time). If you’re like me and you struggle to put on weight but would like a few more kilos to help then you’ll need to increase your intake. Adding an extra meal or two will usually do it fairly quickly, and you only need a good protein shake for these meals. Go for a whey-based protein and around 90%+ protein (unless you find it really hard to put on weight, in which case you’ll need a lot of good carbs too). Try to increase the amount of good oils you take in also, these are your omega 3s and 6s.

All of this stuff I’ve learnt over the years through my own experience and research. The real message is at the very least, stay flexible. As you get older (25+) you’ll lose flexibility and won’t be as impervious to injury as you once thought you would always be. Another important age is around 16, you’re usually going through growth spurts and this can be a risky time also because your muscle lengths still haven’t caught up to the rapidly growing bone. Try to stretch a lot around this time also.

As I said, I’m currently hitting the gym again and although I’ve gone in with a few niggling injuries, after 3 months, a lot of pace has returned as well as strength and good form again. I’d probably be in even better shape if I could just stop playing for at least a little while to recover fully but I just can’t stop playing every week!

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