Sport Specific Training: Soccer
Soccer (or more commonly known as "football") is easily one of the most popular sports in the world with a massive, global base of enthusiasts and practitioners of all ages.
For the longest time (and still today) a lot of the training done for soccer (aside from skills) have been centered around aerobic conditioning, while overlooking important aspects like, strength, speed and power, agility and flexibility. Most players on the pitch run a great deal in the game (estimates of between 11-13km during a 90 minute game), so endurance training is very important but should not be done exclusively at the expense of the other aspects of conditioning.
Train for the Position
Positions in soccer can be broken down or simplified into 3 groups. These groups are, Strikers, Midfielders, and Defenders. Each of these positions has different training requirements above and beyond the normal endurance regimen.
The idea that each position on the field requires different attention is a relatively new one and based on a study in England done on 55 top level professional players from the FA Premier League over the 2003-2004 season. Findings from this study showed that the 3 different groups of players do and would benefit from more specific attention on the various aspects of training based on their game play duties.
Of all the players on the field, the striker needs to be the strongest physically as they are more often involved physical contact, dealing with pulling and pushing as well as being pushed and pulled during challenges with defending players. Good upper body strength is an asset to the Striker.
Strikers also have to start and start suddenly with explosive power more than most other players and this force causes a great deal of stress on the lower limbs so appropriate strength training and prehabilitation is beneficial.
The strength-training program for the striker (and for outfielders in general) is built around compound exercises. Examples are: squats, lunges, pushups, chin-ups, etc). Another important concept to consider is balancing opposing muscle groups such as hamstrings against quadriceps; an imbalance in strength could increase the chance of injury.
Of all the players on the field, the Midfielder traditionally does the most running and jogging. Endurance training is obviously something to focus on, but using interval-training methods. The midfielder is also required to perform vertical jumps for heading. The midfielder will also benefit greatly from strength training as outlined for the striker, but to a lesser degree of focus.
Perhaps second only to the striker, the defender (especially the central defender) needs to focus on strength in order to combat challenges from those strong strikers. Defenders also go to the ground a lot in the game, so training for getting up quickly and explosively is a benefit to the defender. A defender's vertical is also important in order to challenge strikers for headers.
All Positions and Endurance
Developing a solid soccer fitness program should include working on a strong aerobic base, as the game for outfield players places a great demand on the player's cardiovascular system and muscular endurance.
That being said, perhaps just doing blanket endurance training such as running isn't the best overall approach as a lot of the outfield player's movement isn't constant, but relies on changing direction, shuffling, starting and stopping and sudden bursts of speed (sprinting) all of these done at various levels of intensity.
Bringing interval training into your fitness regimen will provide better results than longer duration or low intensity training will give. Interval training incorporates a mixture of high and low intensity training, this more closely emulates the physical environment a player would be faced with in a game situation.
Benefits for strength training
- Resistance to injury
- Better explosive power
- Greater balance, stability, and agility
- Quicker recovery
- Competing in challenges with other players
Speed & Agility
Every player on the field will benefit from greater speed and agility. The pace of the game, especially at the professional levels is getting faster and faster all the time. Being able to get the ball first is very important.
Most professional players are required to perform a 30m sprint in 4.0 seconds. That's very fast. You are doing well if you can do it in 5 seconds.
When you combine strength with speed you get power. Powerful players are forces to be reckoned with.
Training for power, you should consider movements that include explosive or sudden power moves like, power cleans, and jump squats, as well as plyometrics.
To build speed endurance, you should bring these exercises together in a circuit routine with high intensity intervals. Alternate power drills for lower body and upper body with plyometrics as intervals. Conclude your workout with some sprinting and agility drills.
Flexibility for the Soccer Player
A healthy range of motion can be extremely beneficial. Past and present models for stretching (pre-exercise stretching) have been proven to be relatively useless as well as potentially increasing the incidence of injury.
Doing dynamic warm-up drills like freestanding squats, butt kickers, arm circles, walking lunges before training or a match is far more effective. After the game is over then cool down with some stretching (try using your own muscular effort to hold the position).
In the end knowing your position and its demands will help you mold a training regimen that will help you improve your physical game.