Why soccer players should lift weights, and our top five exercises.
Should soccer players lift weights? It is a question I’ve been frequently asked and quite often I’ve found that both players and coaches have been influenced by the traditionalist belief that lifting weights as a soccer player makes you “slow” and hence limits your football ability. This could not be more wrong. Lifting weights regardless of your sport is crucial, not only does it contribute to developing several physical qualities such as speed, agility, acceleration and powerful movements such as jumping; it also helps provide a protective barrier against injury. Like we have mentioned before “a stronger athlete is a more resilient athlete”.
Soccer has continually evolved; the game has become faster and the physical demand on athletes has therefore increased. During a game players are exposed to a variety of explosive movements such as changing direction, sprinting, kicking, jumping, tackling and jostling. Strength plays a key role in all of these movements, as it assists players to consistently perform these actions with greater efficiency. Regardless of the position you play on the park I’m sure you’re aware of the physical demands these actions take upon your body.
From a team perspective it can be highly advantageous for all players to lift as part of a periodised training program. As stated above we know strength assists players in completing high intensity movements more efficiently and the ability to do so has been shown to positively benefit team performance. Teams that sprint further and more frequently have been proven to increase their chance of winning as their players have an increased ability to reach loose ball contests first, dribble past opponents and create/stop goal scoring opportunities.
The ability to withstand higher forces also decreases individual player’s injury risk. Research has shown us that strength training almost halves the risk of injury among soccer players. Reducing injury rates is key as lower injury rates and higher match availability have been shown to correlate with a higher percentage of winning. You only need to look as far back as last year’s fairy-tale story that was Leicester City winning the English Premier League to see just how beneficial an expertly periodised strength program benefits a team. The figure below demonstrates exactly how Leicester’s physical ability gave them the greatest possible chance of success. They suffered the fewest injuries and kept key players on the park all while being able to play a fast-paced counter attacking style of game that utilised the repeat sprint ability of attacking players.
Injury rates in soccer have been well documented with muscle strains ranked as the most commonly occurring injury among professional players. Furthermore, over 80% of all injuries sustained are to the lower limbs. Now we’ve gone over the benefits a periodised strength program you might be wondering what you need to do in the gym to build your strength. We’ve outlined five key exercises all soccer players should complete as part of a balanced training program.
Top 5 exercises for soccer players:
The squat is a key compound exercise that helps develop lower body strength. Squats can be varied by altering equipment used (i.e. barbell, dumbbell, single leg), depth of squat and loading position (front, back, overhead). Like all exercises it is important to focus on technique before progressing your loading.
- Single leg RDL
Multiple benefits from this exercise – balance and proprioception through hip, knee and ankle as you complete the movement on one leg. Then strengthening of the posterior chain predominately the hamstrings as you begin to load the movement. It is also lays the foundation for normal RDL and deadlift variations.
“Nords” are an excellent exercise to eccentrically strengthen your hamstring muscle group. Hamstring strains are the most common injury in soccer and Nords have been shown to reduce the incidence and recurrence of hamstring injuries. Completing both hip hinge and knee dominant variations
- Bulgarian Split Squat
Performing single leg work is crucial for any field sport athlete and this exercise fits the bill perfectly. You run, jump and kick all on one leg so you need to be strong on one leg.
- Pallof Press
Make sure you don’t forget to strengthen your core! There are hundreds of “core” exercises, a lot of which rarely transfer to improving your game on the pitch. The Pallof Press focuses on developing the anti-rotational function of your core muscles. The exercise highly correlates to soccer related movements such as jostling as it assists your body to remain upright so you are not easily pushed off the ball.
Take Home Notes:
- Strength work does not make you slow.
- Regular strength work should be completed by all soccer players as part of a balanced training program.
- Not only does building strength benefit performance it can decrease your risk of injury.
- There are a range of beneficial exercises but it is key you are taught by an accredited strength coach prior to beginning any new training methods.
Author – Liam Towell