Success on the field comes from hard work in the gym. Soccer-specific training programs designed for each player’s position, strengths and weaknesses, and the team’s competition calendar are paying off on the field. Coaches are seeing the main difference through an increase in game wins. They are also seeing a reduction in player injuries allowing their team to go hard all season long. Whether players are still developing or competing at the highest level, having explosive power and strength can be the difference between scoring goals and losing a game. Here’s a six-step guide on how to build a soccer-specific strength and conditioning program:
Step 1. Let’s start with the calendar: off-season vs. in-season
Long before the first game of the season begins, soccer players should be training. During the off-season, athletes should start slow and build their foundation of flexibility and mobility. Start by doing as many movements as possible, with as little load as possible. Exercises should concentrate on increasing range of motion and working in multiple planes of the body. After an athlete builds a base, they progress to a strength phase where the volume of repetition decreases and weight increases. At this stage, it is important for coaches to find the right balance of weight room workouts and on-field training sessions. Once the season begins, it’s all about maintenance and taking into account the competition calendar. Maintenance doesn’t mean shutting down completely. It means keeping the athlete sharp, fresh, and ready for every game. At this point, volume in the weight room will start to decrease. Strength coaches look to balance games and implement tapering, recovery, and regeneration sessions so that players reach peak performance come game time.
Step 2: Individualization: building your strength program one athlete at a time
The key to designing a solid strength and conditioning program for soccer players means taking into account functional output. The athlete’s position and role they play on the team may require different needs for speed, power, and endurance. That means they need workout programs tailored specifically for the individual. For example, goalies need the ability to get from one side of the net to the other in a single motion in order to save the ball from hitting the net. In the weight room, goalies will focus less on endurance and more on reaction time, lateral bounds, and vertical jumping. While defenders focus heavily on overall body strength, midfielders and forwards will place more emphasis on quick footwork and explosion of speed. Providing athletes with an individualized workout program will ensure they are receiving the highest performance training in order to become a better player.
Step 3: Strength and endurance
It is no secret that soccer is an endurance game. Several studies have shown that players run an average of 6-8 miles during a 90-minute match. This places a significant demand on an athlete’s cardiovascular system and muscular endurance. It is critical for athletes to strengthen body muscles to ensure they are competing at the highest level for the entire game. A soccer-specific training program should focus on quality movements and exercises such as lunges, squats, step-ups, pushups, dips, and chin-ups. The program should also take into account balancing the strength of opposing muscle groups, such as quadriceps and hamstrings. Additionally, incorporating high and low intensity interval training into the program will provide a game-like situation, reduce risk of injury, and lead to better results. Lower body strength, particularly single-leg training, is critical for running, jumping, and shooting. Upper body strength allows players to fend off opponents and throw the ball in further. Strength is an important component of soccer fitness and forms the basis of power and speed.
Step 4: Agility: quickness and change of direction
Soccer requires rapid changes in direction, explosions of speed, and plenty of running over the course of a lengthy game or practice. Being able to track the ball and then have the leg power to explosively change direction is key to winning battles on the field. If defenders do not improve their agility, they will have a hard time keeping up with attackers. Goalkeepers also need to work on their footwork in order to keep the ball out of the net. To improve a player’s speed and explosiveness, their training program should include power movements and plyometric drills. Since soccer is a stop, turn, and go game, players that are quick and able to change directions fluidly are successful.
Step 5: Warm-up and cool-down
Another important concept of a training program is warm-up and cool-down. Additionally, maintaining flexibility and a healthy range of motion increases the ability to move joints and can be beneficial in reducing the risk of injury. By increasing flexibility, an athlete’s personal sprint speed, power, and strength can be optimized. For example, if a soccer player is able to move their leg further back, then more power can be created for a shot on goal. Unfortunately, many soccer players do not stretch, warm-up, and cool-down correctly. The most effective way to integrate flexibility training into a routine is to introduce a dynamic soccer warm-up that includes lunges, high knees, and body weight exercises. Implementing an effective warm-up and cool-down is an important part of preparing athletes for training and leads to a quicker recovery. For more information about designing a dynamic soccer-specific warm-up check out this article.
Step 6: Nutrition
The way athletes treat their bodies before and after workouts on a daily basis can transform their performance from being good to great. Carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats provide the fuel needed to maintain energy and endurance throughout an entire training session or game. Additionally, constant hydration enables an athlete’s body to perform at the highest level. If an athlete is dehydrated, they might feel tired, dizzy, and get muscle cramps. Exercise depletes an athlete’s supply of nutrients, and the purpose of post-workout nutrition is to replenish energy stores, increase muscle size and quality, and repair any damage caused by the workout. Refueling your body the right way is also important to help athletes remain injury-free. It is crucial to educate players on proper nutrition to ensure they are doing everything in their power to perform at the highest level. To learn more about proper athletic nutrition check out this fueling for peak performance article.
The right training program can enhance performance, accelerate recovery, and help prevent injury. Soccer-specific exercises and workouts ensure that players are targeting the most important areas that they need to perform at the highest level. These six steps are proven to help coaches build a soccer-specific training program to maximize player performance.