Soccer (U.S.) Strength and Training Exercises

The simplicity of soccer disguises the intense physical requirements to succeed in the sport. Simply playing soccer by the hour will make a player better, but it is the focused and specialized training, directed at every segment of the player's necessary skill set, that will take a good player to the next level of ability and accomplishment.

Soccer training is intended to build the individual skills of the athlete, while creating a bridge to team tactics and coordinated play. All soccer players will participate in strength and training that enhances some physical aspects of the sport; the degree with which any one or more of these discrete abilities is emphasized will depend on the individual player and the position played. The physical aspects of the game include speed, including acceleration and explosiveness; agility and balance; body control, particularly in jumping and heading the ball; leg strength; and endurance.

The development of each of these physical capabilities must be incorporated into the training required to build the individual technical components of play. Those technical areas are dribbling the ball; passing the ball and receiving a pass, using the feet, legs, torso, or head to control the ball as may be necessary; shooting the ball; heading the ball; in-bounds thrown in; corner kicks; the penalty kick; and defensive marking and tackling techniques.

The speed required for soccer can be developed as with all other running sports. Interval running is used for this purpose, especially that which incorporates an agility component. Intervals that simulate game conditions, such as those that replicate the explosive bursts of between 10 yd and 60 yd (10 m and 55 m) to run to a ball, or the acceleration required to run down an opponent are examples. Interval training is a primary means for the soccer player to stimulate fast-twitch muscle fibers. Interval repeats simulate game conditions, where the player may be required to accelerate quickly many times in a 90-minute match.

Endurance training is the backbone to the physical capabilities required in soccer. As with sports such as boxing, rugby, or basketball, where the primary means of gaining an advantage in competition will be through the shorter, anaerobic bursts of muscle energy, strong aerobic capacity assists the player in making a speedier recovery between the intervals, which in a game setting may be from 10 seconds to 30 seconds in duration.

Muscle mass alone is not a highly prized physical attribute in the soccer player, unless the athlete is able to move efficiently. Soccer does require a measure of physical strength to assist the player in maintaining a position obtained on the field. There is a significant amount of physical contact between opponents, some of it inadvertent such as two players contesting a ball in the air. Other physical contact is either reckless or deliberate, such as the hard sliding tackle by a defender. Weight training that emphasizes strength, but not the development of mass, is valued. High repetition/low-to-medium resistance training achieves this end.

To develop the leg strength necessary for jumping and driving the ball powerfully, a variety of exercises are employed. Plyometrics programs, emphasizing explosive jumps, are directed to the ability of the player to go as high as possible to head a ball. Weight training that is leg-specific, including leg presses, leg squats, and lunges, build the quadriceps, the muscle group that extend the knee joint to deliver a kick.

Calisthenics and other flexibility training assist the athlete in developing an optimal range of motion in all joints. The greater the degree of flexibility, the more agile the player and the better the player will be equipped to move responsively. Due to the repeated lateral movements required of soccer players during games, these athletes are especially vulnerable to groin strains and pulls. Soccer strengthening and flexibility exercises will stress this region of the body, in conjunction with the neighboring abductors, which assist in the lifting and powering of the thigh, and the abdominal muscles.

For competitive players who compete either regionally or internationally, acclimatization to both heat and altitude may be incorporated into a player or team training schedule. Soccer is played throughout

Soccer player performing step-climbing strengthening exercises during training camp.
areas of the world that experience intense heat and humidity; there are many stadiums that host international matches located at altitudes greater than 5,000 ft (1,500 m), an environment that tends to tax the aerobic capacity of the player through the reduced amount of oxygen available in the air. In ideal circumstances, soccer teams playing at altitude will arrive a minimum of seven days prior to the competition to permit the athletes to acclimatize, a process that begins with the body's increased production of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO). EPO will trigger the production of a greater number of erythrocytes, the red blood cells that transport oxygen. The greater amount of red blood cells available to the player during high altitude competition, the more efficient the player's cardiovascular system.

SEE ALSO Exercise, intermittent; Motor control; Plyometrics; Soccer; Soccer injuries; Stretching and flexibility.