Strength & Fitness Training for Soccer Players, Pt. II

by CoachZ on January 28, 2009

Strength & Fitness Training For Soccer Players, Part II

Earlier today we looked at the importance of endurance training for soccer players and the different types of conditioning and who they are suitable. Today we’ll examine the importance of strength training for soccer – not just big muscles – but explosive power and strength endurance.

Soccer players require strength in both the lower and upper body. Nearly every movement in the game from kicking, to tackling, to twisting and turning, sprinting and heading, requires a good foundation of strength and power.

However, strength training for sport is very different from simply lifting weights and trying to lift more and more each session. The bodybuilding mentality still predominates in soccer strength training routines but it’s important to remember that for most players, simply adding muscle size and bulk, or even pure strength, is not what they require to play soccer successfully.

There are essentially FOUR distinct types of strength training for soccer. Each one has its place and don’t worry… they are not all completed at the same time! In fact, in older players, the most effective strength training plan is designed so that one form of strength training builds on another over the course of a season. Let’s look at each in a little more detail…

Basic Strength Training for Soccer

Basic strength training is designed to build a solid and balanced foundation. It prepares the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons for more intense work later on in the training plan. It is designed to strengthen underused stabilizer muscles and to balance the right and left side of the body. Soccer, like any sport, tends to place uneven demands on various muscles leaving some overdeveloped and some neglected. Overly strong quadriceps is a classic example, placing the hamstrings under an uneven amount of stress.

Maximal Strength Training For Soccer

Once a solid base has been built, and muscle balance is restored, more intense training can be completed in order to develop a player’s maximum strength.

Maximal strength and muscle size or bulk are NOT the same thing. As stated earlier, bodybuilders train for muscle size – known as hypertrophy training. A bodybuilder may look very strong, and they are, but their strength is not proportionate to their huge size. In order to train for maximal strength, very heavy weights are used for a small number of repetitions. This limits the amount of muscle bulk that is developed but adapts the neuromuscular system so the greatest amount of force can be applied.

The main goal here is to develop as much strength as possible so that it can be converted into a high level of explosive power and muscular endurance.

Explosive Power Training for Soccer

Power is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest amount of force in the least amount of time. A soccer player can be very strong but unable to apply that strength rapidly, so their explosive power is limited. One way to develop power is through a form of training called plyometrics. A muscle that is stretched before it contracts will contract more forcefully and rapidly (like an elastic band). This is essentially what plyometric exercises do – they stretch muscles rapidly and then immediately demand a powerful contraction. It’s easier to imagine with a practical example:

Imagine the jumping movement to win a header…

The very first phase of this movement has to be a downward thrust. If you try jumping off the ground without first bending your knees, you can’t even leave the ground. As you “dip” down just before a standing jump you are stretching muscle groups like the quadriceps and hip extensors. These are the muscles that will contract very forcefully a split second later to produce the jump.

The shorter and more rapid this downward movement or pre-stretching action is, the more forcefully those muscle groups can contract… and the higher you will jump!

There are many types of plyometric exercises. Lower body plyometric exercises have also been called jump training and one of the simplest drills is very similar to the game hopscotch. Here’s a good soccer-specific drill below:

Muscular Endurance Training For Soccer

Training for muscular endurance incorporates lighter weights and more repetitions. One of the best formats is circuit training where several exercise stations are performed consecutively. Many of the exercises can be performed with little or no equipment such as push-ups, step ups, burpees, squat thrusts, walking lunges, bench dips, crunches and so on. Ideally, exercises should stress the same muscles in a similar way as a competitive soccer game would. For example, using high box step ups rather than lying leg presses for the leg muscles, is more specific to soccer.

Here’s another example… squat jumps are a classic circuit training exercise that build strength in the lower body. Having a partner throw a ball in the air to head is one way to make the drill more soccer specific. Another adaptation is to have a partner play a ball along the deck for you to pass back on every landing.

Now let’s move on to strength conditioning for the various age groups, what I refer to as age-specific, sex-specific, and sport-specific strength and fitness training groupings…


Soccer Strength Training For Junior Players

There is no reason why pre-pubescent players (as young as age 8) cannot take part in resistance training activities.

In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) suggests that if children are ready for organized sport, they are ready for some form of strength training. There are some scare stories regarding strength training in children, such as stunted growth and deformed limbs. However, when completed correctly, under proper supervision, a junior resistance training plan can actually help to prevent injuries that can occur in contact games like soccer.

Here are some important strength training guidelines for young soccer players:

Players who are not physically mature should NEVER lift heavy weights. They should NOT attempt to see how much weight they can lift.
Young players should be supervised at all times with at least one competent instructor for every 10 players.
Players must be given chance to master correct technique with no resistance before resistance is gradually added.
Exercises that use bodyweight and light medicine balls are more suitable than free weights and machines.
Most resistance machines are not designed for the length of children’s limbs and should be avoided.
If you’d like some complete, step-by-step soccer strength training plans for this age group, please see Total Soccer Fitness for Juniors

Soccer Strength Training For Youth Players

As players reach puberty they naturally grow in strength (particularly males). However, bones are still growing and the end plates are still susceptible to damage. Even players who seem to have matured early should NOT lift heavy weights (i.e. a weight that cannot be lifted at least 10 times).
The progression from bodyweight exercises to free weights and machines should be gradual and based on a player’s own development. Because players grow rapidly during puberty, it’s important that a soccer strength training program helps to balance muscle groups. Bones usually grow faster than muscles develop, which can often lead to overuse injuries such Osgood Schlatter disease. A combination of strength and flexibility exercises can help to reduce the incidence and severity of these.

Total Soccer Fitness for Juniors also features soccer strength training plans for this age group, with recommendations for sets, repetitions and suitable exercises.

Soccer Strength For Mature Players

Once players have matured fully, soccer strength training can become much more structured and soccer-specific. During the off or closed season, players should follow a general or basic strength plan. This will help to rebalance the body after a tough season. During the later stages of the off-season and the early stages of pre-season, players should switch to a maximal strength program. This can be converted into power and strength endurance during the latter stages of the pre-season, ready for the first competitive game. or in-depth soccer strength training plans (as well as soccer plyometrics sessions and muscular endurance circuits) please consider getting a copy of Total Soccer Fitness (High Performance Version).

That’s it for [today]. Look out for [more] tomorrow, where we will look at speed and agility training for soccer.

Note: Can’t wait for tomorrow? Want to see more, own more. I have made an arrangement with the parent company responsible for marketing the product this article was derived from. Just click the link under “Soccer-Specific, Sex-Specific Strength and Fitness Training” and you will be taken to the site immediately.

Click here for Total Soccer Fitness


See you in the cheap seats!


{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: