Strength training for soccer is essential to improve the performance of the players.
Soccer is a high-intensity team sport with high contact between athletes and recovery time between actions.
It requires a variety of physical and psychological abilities such as:
- Vertical jump
- Change of direction
It is also crucial for the athlete to have excellent aerobic and anaerobic conditioning to have a high performance during the game.
Players in different roles will need to have different skills, but some technical abilities are fundamental.
HIIT, cardio and conditioning
I won’t spend too much time on cardiovascular activity, as in most cases, that is the core of the physical preparation both in-season and off-season.
Here are some considerations I’d like to make:
- HIIT should have a predominant role compared to lower intensity exercises
- Soccer alternates moments of sprinting and high-intensity, to moments of full recovery
- The player needs to be able to accelerate in a few seconds and then fully recover in the next minutes
- Low-intensity cardio activities can damage overall strength and explosive strength
Let’s take a look at some numbers:
- The athlete needs to accelerate as fast as possible mostly up to 10 to 20 yards
- 96% of sprints are within 35 yards and last less than 6 seconds
- 50% of sprints are less than 12 yards
When looking at these figures, it’s easy to understand why coaches should focus on overall strength and in particular explosive strength.
I’ve never seen a weak athlete run fast.– L. Jusdanis.
Max strength and explosive strength training for soccer
In soccer, movements are quick.
Accelerations, change of directions, sprints and jumps and deceleration are vital skills for all players.
To assess eccentric strength and leg strength, we can use:
- the squat jump to evaluate leg strength
- counter-movement jump to assess explosive strength and ability to use the stretch- shortening-cycle
Studies show that the team that wins the championship has higher results in both tests compared to the last teams in the ranking.
Acceleration, speed, vertical jump, and lower risk of injury are all related to explosive strength.
Technical and tactical skills matters, but so does the physical performance.
Training with weights using progression and adhering to a well-structured training program is fundamental for strength conditioning in soccer.
I want to add something regarding speed briefly.
Acceleration is more important than speed when it comes to soccer.
Max speed is reached in 40-60 yards which is quite unusual in soccer.
In a match, athletes will need to improve their performance within 20-30 yards to do well on the field.
Why train strength for sports?
“You need strength to express speed”– E. Cressey.
Let’s look for the weak link in soccer players.
For most players who train a lot on the field and not enough in the gym, maximal strength can be an issue.
They will need to train overall strength to nail their performance.
F=ma, therefore if the player has good acceleration to begin with, he will need to work on increasing muscle mass to increase strength.
Let’s imagine a player that can do back squats with a maximum weight of 200 pounds but is excellent when sprinting or jumping.
Then there’s me, your coach. I can do back squats with 400 pounds, but I don’t perform well when sprinting and jumping.
What should I do to make both of us competitive on the field?
As your coach, I would have you work on max strength.
High loads, low reps, focus on the bigger muscles.
If I wanted to work on acceleration myself, I would do bodyweight jumps with more moderate loads and focus on fast movements and plyometrics.
The goal is to work on our weak link so that we can both have a better performance.
Periodization for soccer
What’s different in soccer compared to other sports is that the athlete must be able to achieve his top performance throughout most of the year.
In other sports, the preparation period leads to a single competition, in soccer every week there are one or more matches to play.
In this case, it’s better to work harder in the off-season. The athlete can focus on increasing muscle mass and strength.
This period can generally last 4-6 weeks up to 8 weeks at the most, and it will involve different exercises and medium to high reps.
The second phase lasts 4-6 weeks and will focus on increasing sport-specific strength with higher intensity work and a reduction of the total volume of the work.
We will decrease the range of exercises and also lower the reps with higher loads to have visible gain in maximum strength which is the key to explosive strength.
During in-season, we will maintain the gains in muscle mass and strength and work on avoiding injuries and improve maximal speed.
At the end of the season, there will be a moment of transition dedicated to active rest to dissipate fatigue.
When do most injuries occur in soccer?
- Change of direction
- Injuries during tackling are not as frequent as we assume
The lower body is more at risk, especially where there is an imbalance between agonist-antagonist muscles which exposes the weakest muscle to injury.
In this case, it’s fundamental to work on strength which will have positive effects not only on muscles but also on:
- Bone density
How strong does a soccer player need to be?
To maximize results, a soccer player should be much stronger than we’d think.
They should be able to lift:
- Twice their body weight in back squats
- Twice their body weight in the bench press
These results are quite reasonable for regular athletes, nut quite unusual in soccer players.
Some studies show that soccer player that make the national team have stronger flexor and extensor muscles of the knee compared to players that never make it to nationals.
Another study shows that professional players are much faster in 10- 30 yards compared to non-professionals.
We have already seen how important strength and explosive strength are on such short distances.
In Turner’s study on professional soccer players, he found out that, on average, players:
- Run 5y in less than 1.4 seconds
- Run 10y in less than 2.3 seconds
- Have a vertical leap of 18 inches
In many studies, max strength is correlated with better results in the 5 and 10 yards sprints and in the vertical jump.
Body composition in soccer players
Body fat in soccer player must be low, around 10%, and muscle mass should be high as it contributes to strength.
Exercises with weights
To see results in terms of performance, soccer players will need to work mostly with bars and dumbbells and only occasionally use machines and cables.
The athlete will need to strengthen movement patterns in all three movement planes: frontal, transversal and sagittal (which is usually the most trained in soccer).
To do so, they will need to perform compound movements that focus on the lower body:
- Leg extension
- Calf exercises
- Bulgarian split squat
- Romanian deadlift
Recommended exercises for the upper body are:
- Press bench
- Military press
Core training in conditioning for soccer players
Core training is essential in soccer if you want to:
- Increase stability
- Develop overall strength
- Increase endurance and force transfer from the lower to the upper limbs
Which exercises should you be doing?
- Side plank
- Barbell rollout
- Farmers walk
- Hanging leg raises
Strength training for soccer, or Weightlifting?
Olympic weightlifting offers incredible tools to improve performance in an athlete, such as the clean & jerk and the snatch.
But, they are complicated and require great technique, which is why it is not frequently used as part of the training of other sports.
If the athlete has a strong lifting background and can perform these lifts accurately, it is recommended to make them part of the training.
If not, the athlete should work with more accessible compound movements such as the squat, bench, deadlift.
Plyometrics for soccer players
If you want to maximize explosive strength training for soccer, plyometric exercises are the way to go.
Verkhoshansky’s shock method requires a great deal of strength that most players don’t have, making true plyometrics hard to use as part of the training program.
Other simple exercises, such as box jumps could undoubtedly be used.
How many days a week should soccer players train with weights?
3-4 days a week in the offseason
Twice a week in in-season to focus on sport-specific training.
Why not train only for explosive strength?
Explosive strength is the ability to exert maximal force in minimal time; it’s a key factor to improve the athlete’s performance.
If an athlete is strong, it would be a good idea to work almost entirely on explosive strength to increase rapidity.
On the other hand, if an athlete is weak but quick, he should be focusing on maximum strength.
Working on the weakest link is the key in strength training for soccer or any other sport.
Do I need to squat twice my body weight?
According to sports literature, yes.
If you ask me, no.
If you are weak, bringing up your back squat will improve your explosive strength; if you are decently strong, getting super strong won’t provide you with extra benefits.
Strength training for soccer is extremely important: players need many different qualities.
In most cases, explosive strength is much higher than maximum strength, so we will need to work on the weak link.
Increasing maximum strength and explosive strength through weight training and plyometrics will:
- Improve vertical jump
- Improve acceleration in 10-30 meters
- Increase power
- Have benefits on the general health of the player in particular on tendons, muscles and bones
- Reduce the risk of injury
The weaker the athlete, the more benefits he will get from training with a clear, well programmed and periodized training program.
- Strength training in soccer with a specific focus on highly trained players (Silva, Sports Med Open, 2015)
- Relationships between strength, sprint, and jump performance in well-trained youth soccer players. (Comfort P, J Strength Cond Res, 2014)
- Effects of a back squat training program on leg power, jump, and sprint performances in junior soccer players. (Chelly, MS, J Strength Cond Res, 2009)
- Effects of resistance training on the physical capacities of adolescent soccer players. (Christou, M, J Strength Cond Res, 2006)
- Elite and Nonelite Soccer Players: Pre seasonal Physical and Physiological Characteristics (Ostojic, Res Sports Med, 2004)
- Strength and Conditioning for Soccer Players (Turner, Strength & Conditioning J, 2014)
- Physical Performance Characteristics of American Collegiate Football players ( Fry Andrew C.; Kraemer, William J., 1991)
- How much strength is necessary? (Stone et al., 2002)
- Training Principles for Power (Haff, 2012)
- Developing maximal neuromuscular power (Cormie, J Sports Med, 2011)
- Strong correlation of maximal squat strength with sprint performance and vertical jump height in elite soccer players. (Wisloff, 2004)
- Supertraining (Verkhoshansky)
- Strength training for Sport (Kraemer, Hakkinen)
- NASM – Essentials of Sports Performance Training
- New Functional Training for Sports (Boyle)
- Strength & Conditioning for Team Sports (Gamble)
- Special Strength Training: manual for coaches (Verkhoshansky)