Brian’s Soccer-Specific Strength and Fitness Training: Day One Fitness Test

by CoachZ on February 15, 2009

Laying a Foundation and Setting the Pace: Brian’s Introduction to Strength and Fitness Training for Soccer Athletes

The night before had been a difficult one for both of us and I wasn’t sure whether Brian would be up for his testing. The testing for soccer-specific strength and fitness training is not really that different from testing for any other sport, it is demanding and takes the athlete to the limits of his or her strength, fitness, and endurance. Soccer-specific testing, many would argue, should be based more on the lower extremities because soccer is played primarily with the legs, ankles, and feet; this is, unfortunately, the prevailing mindset.

Prevailing? Yes!

Correct and proper? No!

For one thing, anyone who thinks soccer is only played from the waist down hasn’t watched too much soccer. Additionally, there is a secret to working out and getting optimal results.

The secret? No, not the new-age “Secret!” Although this secret is perhaps as revolutionary or at least as controversial, particularly among those less-informed. The secret I am referring to is something discovered years ago by bodybuilders. Yes, those heavily muscled hulks, male and female, who work out for hours and pose in front of the mirror a lot. Another stereotype!

Am I going to get cards and letters, phone calls and emails, IMs and smoke-signals about that one!

Anyway, back to the secret. The common perception regarding working out is that if you work out a particular body part more than any other part of the body it will continue to grow and develop until you look something like Popeye (forearms) or Tom Platz (thighs).

Platz? Google him! My age, actually, and an absolutely dominant force on the bodybuilding stage in the late 1970s to mid 1980s. Platz was known for incredible, some argued too incredible leg development. Google him and you judge. He competed with guys you may remember. Arnold? Lou (speaking of Hulks!)?

Back to the thought behind Brian’s soccer-specific strength and fitness test.

The secret? If you don’t find a balance, a proper ratio in the focus of your workouts, upper body to lower, your development and your progress will not be to the levels possible with a well-balanced routine. Hence, Brian’s testing, and subsequent workout programs, were an overall, holistic approach to development focusing as much on the upper body as the lower.

Now that the theory is behind us, only one more thing must be noted before we continue. No one, and I mean no one, who isn’t experienced working with young athletes should ever go any where near them in the context of a strength and fitness coach. Let me say that again in a slightly different way: Do not attempt to train an athlete, particularly a young athlete, particularly a prepubescent adolescent, unless you have extensive, and I mean extensive, knowledge and experience working with kids!

Brian Arrives!

Brian walked in to the facility at a little after 10am EST on an unseasonably cool morning for Northern Ohio, it was mid-May. Funny thing? Mom, Dad, and Sis…still giggling… were right behind him. Mom and Dad thought they’d stay and watch, just to make sure Brian worked hard and did his best. Not on a good day!

Something I learned almost day one in training athletes: loved ones stay home, especially parents! Why? There are a thousand reasons and, believe me, they are all valid. Two stand heads and tails above the rest. One, I tend to get very intense when I work with athletes and, while another coach or athlete will understand this and handle it properly, moms definitely do not! Two, they are a distraction! Moms, dads, wives, and especially girl or boyfriends are strictly forbidden, they are the kiss of death when it comes to intensity. Case closed! So, Mom, Dad, and even Sis were sent packing. I told them to be back in an hour. Mom looked a bit perturbed. Dad was grinning, I think he had an idea why I sent them away and he wasn’t arguing. Sis was oblivious but somewhat disappointed that she wasn’t going to get to see her little brother get worked out…and over!

Brian by this time had returned from the locker room with his gym shorts, t-shirt (no tank tops/muscle shirts), white socks, a clean pair of Adidas, and two towels. He was also instructed to bring two more towels and not to eat anything for two hours prior to his strength and fitness testing.

It’s funny how big a young soccer athlete looks when on the pitch, challenging for a ball or diving for a save. When with their peers, in uniform and competing, even a young boy or girl looks somehow bigger. However, on this particular day, standing in front of me, towels, fitness survey, and doctor’s release in hand Brian looked all of ten years old…and scared to death!

I took the forms, made sure they had been signed and notarized, and set them aside. I asked Brian if he had any last requests. I laughed! He didn’t. I then took one of his towels and set it on a flat bench half way through the circuit of machines set up specifically for testing, the other I wrapped around my neck. I looked at Brian and nodded towards the Lifecycle…he followed.

I take on a slightly different persona when training an athlete. Before and after the training session I am relaxed, even jovial in tone and temperament. My intentions? Simply put, they are to put the athlete at ease. During the session, testing or training, it is all about the work, the challenge, getting the athlete to step up and even out of him or herself…to strive for something greater than anything they have done before. That’s not to say we don’t have fun, we do, but there is a fire just below the surface, a sort of slow, intense burn, and it is that burn I tap into for 30 seconds to a minute, fifteen to thirty times during the test.

The test is intense, Intense, INTENSE!

After Brian did his 20 minutes of LSD (long-slow-distance), he hopped off the Lifecycle and I could tell what he was thinking. He told me later I was right! Brian was thinking, “This isn’t going to be so bad, I can handle this…no problem!” I have been training athletes for thirty years and you can see it on their faces every time; they all have that same look after the Lifecycle. He was even beginning to get a bit of that strut back in his step, in his talk, his manner.

After the Lifecycle we stretched for another ten minutes. I was beginning to see it on his face, that look they all get, the “When are we going to lift!” look. Brian was getting bored, even a bit aggravated…it was all over his face. After all, he was thinking, it’s been thirty minutes and my Mom and Dad will be back in a half an hour. We haven’t even started lifting yet. He kept looking towards the back of the facility where some of the high school football players were putting each other through the paces. That’s where he wanted to be, with the jocks, not up here with me and all of these sissy machines. Stretching!

Brian’s Soccer-Specific Strength and Fitness Training Test Begins

It was exactly 10:34am EST when I nodded toward the first machine, the Kaiser Cam II leg extension machine. Brian looked at me and the look said it all. He hesitated and then asked, “where are the weights?” I smiled and told him not to worry about it and to hop on. Brian looked at me, still not convinced, took a seat and I turned the knob. Immediately, there was a hissing sound, something like a snake…or a ticked-off Brown fan…a compressor in the back kicked on. I told Brian what I wanted him to do, “We are going to go from machine to machine, as quickly as possible with occasional detours to that flat bench where your towel is resting” He nodded and we started.

I pushed Brian from the leg extension to the leg-biceps (hamstring) curl, to the leg press, then over to the bench in about 4 minutes. Brian was a nice rosy shade, somewhere between pink and fire engine red, breathing heavily, sweating, and a little unsteady. I told him to lie on his belly and to bring his left leg up to his buttocks, now he was really looking at me funny!

A couple of the veterans (12 & 15 years old), they had been through the test the week before so they knew it all, had gathered. The veterans, knowing exactly what was going to happen next, were all grins.

Failure the Ultimate Soccer Training Strength and Fitness Way!

I took the towel and wrapped it around Brian’s right ankle and told him to resist, to not let me pull his leg down. Brian did so. I found him to be remarkably strong for his age. Resist down and then pull the leg back up against my resistance on a six count. We did that until he couldn’t lift his leg on his own. Then we switched to the left leg and did the same thing…to failure! As soon as both legs had been fully exercised, we immediately moved (I moved, Brian kind of shuffled) to the machines for the back, three of them, then on to the machines for the chest, two more, all the time returning to the bench to take the muscle group to failure with nothing more than my hands or a towel.

Finally, we got to the bench for the triceps, it was 10:48am EST or 14 minutes into the actual test, and that was it. Brian was done! Or that’s what he thought! Quite red from the exertion and almost totally out of breath in 14 minutes. Brian bolted to the locker room and made it just in time! It seems Brian figured he would eat anyway. After all, he was in shape, he thought. He’d eaten before practices all the time. Besides, Mom said it was OK, he needed his energy! So, Brian had only himself, and his mother, to blame. He confessed after the test and promised to never, ever eat before a workout again. I didn’t say a word!

A few minutes later Brian emerged from the locker room and you could tell by the look on his face, color almost back to normal, that he thought he was done.


I pointed to the Lifecycle and he groaned. That’s right, he actually groaned! It seems someone had told him about the last part of the test. He figured because he had broken the rules and gotten sick as a result that I would feel sorry for him and let him slide. I told him that almost everyone gets sick the first time, mainly because no one is in the kind of shape they should be in, I don’t care if they run fifteen miles during a match!

Brian hopped up on the Lifecycle; a crowd had formed by then and all of them started cheering and clapping! I told him to start pedaling, that no matter how hard it got to never stop pushing those pedals! Pedal as if your life depends on it, and he did…for 12 seconds at level 10 manual! If you know anything about Lifecycles, level 10 manual is a bit like cycling up Mount Everest, particularly after a strenuous leg workout, even one that only lasted all of 6 minutes, with the “failure bench.”

Brian slid off the bike to rousing cheers and applause…he had made it, he was one of the Ultimate crowd now. Brian had passed, he hadn’t quit, he had lost his breakfast; and, he was on his way to becoming a real champion, he just didn’t know it yet. I, on the other hand, did!

Brian’s Mom, Dad, and Sis walked in just as Brian was pulling himself up off the floor. Mom looked at Dad, who was laughing now, and just shook her head. Brian, color almost back once again, stumbled over to his parents, gave them a big hug, and thanked them “for the best gift” he’d ever received. He loved it!

Next? Soccer-Specific Sex-Specific Strength and Fitness Training: Brian Begins the Ultimate Program and Defines the Word Champion!

NOTE: The testing techniques I use have been developed by watching, learning, and employing the techniques of the very best in the world for more than three decades. I was at the gym working out the day the first Nautilus machine was delivered (1976), and then the entire circuit. I watched and read as Penn State went from almost completely focusing on Nautilus when it first came out to moving back to a mix of machines and free weights. The following year they were NCAA National Champions and everyone in Happy Valley was Papa Joe Paterno’s fan, buddy, and pal! I had the pleasure of having one of Penn State’s best training with us at our facility that summer, 1982, just before the championship season. I have never, and I am including professionals I’ve had the pleasure to work with, ever witnessed anyone work harder than that young man. Ohio State told him that at 6’5″ and 265 pounds he was too small for their program! So he went to play for Joe Paterno, became a national champion, and played in the Senior Bowl. Bravo! And go figure!

ON TRAINING AND FAILURE: When I take an athlete to failure I am aware of several things. I won’t go into all of the conditions here are two: One, he or she is already a conditioned athlete and we are not starting from scratch; Two, I am taking them to failure not with a machine or free weights but with my hands or a towel. In doing so, taking them to failure in such a way, I am in total sync with how their body is reacting and how they are dealing with the stress every step of the way.
One more thing! I never take an adolescent to failure with heavy weights and low repetitions, machines or free weights.

NEVER! Workouts for soccer athletes vary and can range from fast-paced circuit training to high repetition, machine and free weight training; and, occasionally, heavier training is employed with older, mature, and seasoned athletes. The program and the intensity varies from athlete to athlete and situation to situation.

The ULTIMATE result of Ultimate Soccer Training, the Soccer-Specific Sex-Specific Strength and Fitness Testing and Training, is an athlete who is faster, quicker, more powerful, more self-confident, and, probably most important of all, more INJURY RESISTANT than ever before! This can be particularly important when training female athletes, given their increased susceptibility to knee injuries. I have never, I will say that again, NEVER, had a female athlete suffer a knee injury requiring surgery after training with me for a significant period of time! Strength and fitness training is not only appropriate, it is essential for today’s soccer athlete, male or female!

See You in the Championship Circle!


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

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