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Physical Training Tools for Soccer Players


Female soccer player holding off a defender from getting the ball during a small sided game
Small sided games are a great tool for getting more touches, improving your skills and getting fit.

When it comes to becoming a skilled and well rounded soccer player, nothing is better than playing, practicing, and sharpening your skills on the field. However, if you can augment your skills with the following physical attributes, you will increase your chances for coaches to start you, for scouts to put you at the top of their list, and for you to feel dominant in a game or in your role on the pitch.

Unfortunately too many young athletes, especially in soccer, are missing out on developing most of these traits in their weight room or at home workouts. One of the reason's that I became a trainer was because I was blown away by the results I saw after working with a trainer myself when playing college soccer.


  • Stability

  • Speed/power

  • Strength

  • Mobility

  • Endurance

  • Recovery

  • Consistent Play


There is no order of importance to these traits. Each one will bring a variety of benefits to your game that when pieced together with your skills, will help you reach your full potential in the beautiful game. I will describe each of these traits, why they are crucial for a soccer player to develop, and how to develop each trait. Although I highly recommend having a trainer that plans this all out for you, knowing how you should be training will help you know if your trainer is any good and allow you to do somethings on your own if necessary. As you read, think about your current training and workouts, write down which tools you are already developing through practice, games and your current workouts. Then make plans to add in the missing tools to make your training more complete.



Stability

Although there is no order of importance for the traits mentioned above, stability is a crucial building block for all the others since so much of soccer is played on one leg. A player must be balanced as they run, receive a pass, dribble, shoot, pass and defend. Soccer players are constantly in a split stance or with only one foot on the ground so the better their proprioception, or body awareness, is on one leg, the better they will play. Having great stability in a variety of positions also helps reduce the likelihood of injury. Training principles that you can include in your training for stability include:


  • Challenging Stability: Going from stable to unstable positions (ex. going from a regular back squat to a split stance squat or lunge and then from a split stance to a single leg exercise)


  • Off Center Core Training: Holding weights off center to challenge your stability as you move (ex. Front squats, suit case carry, loading one side of the body in a lunge, etc.) Make sure you even out both sides for any exercises that require loading just one side.


  • Plyometrics: Double leg, split stance and single leg progressions of plyometrics will help get your tendons used to more explosive movements, increase your rate of force production or how fast your muscles get going, and help your agility or ability to change direction in response to what’s going on in the game. *Note: if you have any tendon pain that prevents you from training explosively I highly recommend working with a physical therapist first and foremost, but you can also try adding isometric or exercises were you hold at a specific position for 10-30 seconds in each rep. You can try isometric knee extensions for patellar tendon pain or calf raises for any ankle tendon pain. Again, please see a physical therapist first to get clearance, treatment, and specific exercises that will help you recover in the quickest and healthiest way.


Having strong and stable upper body, lower body and core also plays an important role in increasing your speed and power.



blonde male performing plyometric training by jumping over medium and small hurdles


Speed and Power

Speed is a game changer in soccer. Yes, most importantly you want to be able to pass, shoot, dribble, and have game intelligence, but the more speed you add to all those things, the more unstoppable you’ll be. There is good technique when it comes to speed but you don’t need to get carried away and try to run like olympic track athletes. Once you have good coordination, timing and rhythm, the best way to increase your speed is to make sure you have enough strength to produce the forces necessary to get you moving quickly. Training principles for speed and power include:


  • Plyometrics, again. (See above)


  • Lifting heavy: 3-4 sets of 1-5 reps 1-3 times per week squats, deadlifts, leg press, etc. I also recommend balancing your training with upper body workouts as well, since your trunk and arms actually play an important role in your speed development.


  • Lifting light weight fast: Training explosively with resistance teaches your muscles to produce a lot of force faster. You can just move fast during the “up”, or concentric part of the lift, or even jump while holding dumbbells, kettlebells, or a weight vest. 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps with plenty of rest in between sets so you can get maximal intent (move as fast as possible while in control) 2-3 times per week is great. I recommend starting very light and see what your body can tolerate well from day to day and week to week. Remember, you still have soccer practice and games that should take priority over any of this.


  • Sprints: If you want to get better at something, do that thing! Resisted sprints and uphill sprints are excellent for demanding more of your body while you sprint but even consistently sprinting on your own, recording your times and trying to beat them will also go a long way in helping you improve your speed. Try getting in four 40 yard sprints 1-3 times per week with plenty of rest (2-3 minutes) in between each sprint to allow you to give your max effort on every sprint. Also see repeated sprints in the endurance section down below.


If you you want to incorporate multiple types of training in one workout (ex. speed, strength and stability), speed and power should be the first thing you work on following your warm up to ensure you can give your max effort!


four soccer players sprinting with a weight bag dragging behind them
Resisted or uphill sprinting is a great way to get strength gains for sprinting.

Strength

The stronger you are, the more force you can produce and absorb. This means that increasing your strength can lead to increases in speed, power and help reduce the risk of injury. Weightlifting may also help improve coordination, helping you learn to control and move your body better, which makes you a more efficient and dangerous athlete. Strength doesn’t always mean size. Strength is developed as your body’s ability to recruit (use) most or all the muscle fibers of a muscle improves. Once your body can maximize the muscle it has, you may see a plateau in your strength gains which means hypertrophy, or growing the muscle, will have to happen before you can continue to see strength improvements.

Training principles for building strength:


  • Building Strength: 3-6 sets of 1-5 reps at 80-100% one rep maximum (1RM) 2-4 times per week. Please always make sure to use a spotter when lifting heavy loads.


  • Building muscle (Hypertophy): 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps 3-4 times per week. Try to get in at least get 15 sets at 8-12 reps per week per muscle group to really get your muscles growing. However, be aware that this type of training can lead to soreness and stiffness which may impact your performance and/or lead to injury in the short term. If your in a demanding part of your season.


Weightlifting is not dangerous if done correctly, with proper form and appropriate loads. This is one example of why working with a certified trainer for sports performance training is recommended.


Male performing a barbell back squat in the bottom position of the lift.
The barbell back squat is a great compound movement for developing lower body strength and core stability.


Mobility

Being mobile means more than just being flexible. Not only does it mean that you can move through a full range of motion, but that you are also able to accept certain loads and produce force in various ranges. In other words, you can be strong, coordinated and fluid in various positions. Mobility training can help undo muscular imbalances such as loosening up overactive muscles, relieving stress on joints, increasing range of motion and maintaining normal muscular length. Mobility, like any other type of training should be done gradually with progressive overload so as not to push muscles beyond tolerable lengths and loads. There are various methods for increasing flexibility but I prefer the following:


  • Self-myofascial release (SMR): foam rolling, massage guns, rolling on a lacrosse or bouncy ball. This helps release tension in the muscle and helps increase, at least temporarily the range of motion. This can be done at the beginning or end of exercise or on its own. If you have a tight muscle, SMR may be a great way to relive some of that tension before practice or a game.


  • Dynamic stretching: Moving through a stretch or holding it for less than 10 seconds. This is great stretching to do following a short jog or activity to get your body warmed up before a game or practice. It will help you feel loose and get your body ready to move through full ranges of motion.


  • Static Stretching: holding a stretch for 20+ seconds. Over time, this can help increase the length of a muscle and lead to increases in the range of motion for a joint. Muscles that are over-used in certain sports may benefit from this as they may be in a shortened position even at rest due to overuse. However, it is often not recommended to static stretch before competition as it may slightly reduce the amount and rate of force production from a muscle.


  • Loading: Moving through a full range of motion during weight lifting with proper form and progressive overload.


Endurance

Endurance refers to the body’s capacity to continually to perform work. Aerobic, Anaerobic and Muscular endurance are all different types of endurance that most elite level athletes need to develop in order to compete at the highest levels. Usually, the best conditioning is done by playing your sport and playing a lot of it. However, there are things you can do in the gym or at home to help supplement the gains you get from practice, competitive games or pick-up.


  • Aerobic: This is your base cardio fitness. Being able to run at a steady pace for 30-60 minutes 1-2x per week or interval training (mixing intensity or speeds) for 10-30 minutes 2-3x per week will help build a solid aerobic fitness base. HOWEVER, if you’re in season or playing a full 90 minutes consistently around 2 times per week, your aerobic endurance is probably at a good level.


  • Anaerobic: This is your ability to sprint repeatedly with short rest periods. Once you’ve built up adequate aerobic fitness, you can do repeated sprint training starting with short distance sprints (20-30 yards) and longer rest periods (60-90 seconds). Build up slowly from 5 to 20 sprints per session for 3-4 sessions per week (increasing by 1-2 sprints per session or 3-5 sprints per week).


  • Muscular Endurance: Muscular endurance is your muscles' ability to continuously produce force. This is especially important in the core and leg muscles for soccer players but a well balanced program, where training for all muscles is incorporated, is always recommended to avoid imbalances that could lead to injuries. Again, playing the sport consistently will help develop endurance in the core and leg muscles. If that is the case, then a resistance training program focusing on upper body may be recommended while still touching on core and legs to boost or maintain gains without compromising performance. 1-4 sets of 12-20 repetitions 2-3x per week should be enough to help build and maintain adequate muscular endurance.

Recovery

Recovery is one of the most under-utilized tools for improving performance in sports especially in youth athletes. Proper nutrition, sleep, and active recovery days are essential for allowing you to retain the skills, abilities and physical attributes that you work so hard to develop at practice and in your training. The physical demands on athletes is getting greater and greater so if recovery is not prioritized, the risk of injury, overtraining or burnout becomes a reality for most athletes in most sports. Some athletes recover faster or slower than others so experiment with the following guidelines and see what helps you to feel refreshed and ready to give 100% come game day.


  • Sleep: Try get around 6-9 hours of sleep per night. I highly recommend getting closer to 9 hours.


  • Nutrition: Eat a well balanced diet with plenty of carbs to replenish energy stores, protein to build muscles, healthy fats to help various bodily functions including hormonal production and absorbing certain vitamins. Also be sure to get plenty of fruits and vegetables.


  • Active Rest: Varying the load of training each day can help prevent over training, allow you to recover properly and reduce the risk of injury. This doesn't mean that you become a couch potato the day after every game but activities like other sports (for fun, not competitively, where you're giving 100% effort again), yoga, 1-3 mile steady state run, or a lighter workout can be great for helping your body move, flush out toxins resulting from pushing hard the day before, and even help maintain cardio, strength and/or power gains from previous workouts. Allowing the mind to take a break from the soccer every once in a while is great also to avoid burnout and negative stress.



Consistent Play

I began by stating that playing and practicing the game will be what helps you the most in achieving the highest levels. This still holds true. I emphasize the importance of prioritizing your soccer training because if your goal is to become the best soccer player you can be, then you need to find how the training tools mentioned above fit within your games and practice schedule. For example, if you only play one game per week, you may be able to lift heavy (which causes soreness) 2-3 days after your game, allowing for active rest, speed or stability work in the days immediately following the game. However, if you play a game every 3 days, you may need to lift heavy right after your game on the same day to allow for a recovery day the next day or not lift heavy at all and wait for the offseason. This is where having a trainer or someone knowledgeable to bounce ideas off of comes in handy but you can always learn from experience as well. Experiment and see how your body responds to certain workouts so that you can make sure that you are feeling great and ready for game days, tryouts, or other important events. Also pay attention to what you do in training. If you did a drill where you were required to repeatedly sprint for 30-40 yards, that's your speed training already done within your team training session. You can't control what your coach will deliver during training but you can track it and plan your workouts around it.


Taking responsibility for your development is a huge step in reaching the next level but you don't have to do it on your own. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at athleteplusperformance@gmail.com. I would love to help you reach your next level. Also, please subscribe to the blog if you want more content on becoming a better athlete or if you are a coach, for ideas on how to help your athletes improve!


Build yourself, change your game!

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