Now that the soccer season is underway, I’ve been excited to respond to emails, Facebook messages and phone calls on the topic of in-season strength training.  All these inquiries mean that people are finally starting to “get it:” In-season strength is very important for soccer players!

Many skills in the game require strength and power in both the field player and the keeper. They include aspects of shooting, passing, tackling, heading, diving, boxing and parrying.
Over the next few days I will attempt to outline my general thoughts regarding the in-season strength approach to dealing with soccer players.  This first overview will go into the overall importance, “The why,’” establishing a routine is important to overall development. In the next 2 segments I will explain how it’s possible for soccer players to continue to get stronger over the season without over training and how this impacts their resistance to injury.

Over nearly the last 20 years as a strength coach I have been able to gather the best scientific approaches from collaborations with some of the top minds in sport science and apply it to our athletic population here in Western Mass.  Keep in mind, every player and schedule is different, so it might take some adjustments to make this work for you.

During in-season training I am a big believer in the following  concepts – “when in doubt do less” or… “less is  more” and especially “quality over quantity.” Which ever way you look at it, the theme is short, intense workouts to minimize additional physical stress.  An in-season strength training session last no more than 30-40 minutes.  It’s usually roughly 8-12 sets worth of work.  A player, however, may be in the gym longer than that for foam rolling and targeted mobility drills.

Your goal should be to train at least twice a week.  If 1 day per week is the only option, it will at least prevent rapid strength and muscle mass loss.

Here’s a Sample In-Season Soccer Workout.  Every week may be different but this will give you an idea on how to plan.

Sunday or Monday: Heavier Strength Workout

Do this the day before the first game of the week. The intensity (weight) is high, but the volume (number or reps) is low, so it doesn’t impact your performance. No more than 3-5 reps.  This will elicit a nice neurological response without creating muscle soreness.

Tuesday: Game

Wednesday: Full-Body Workout

This lighter session should take place the day after the first game, allowing for some recovery before the second game.  Training after a game is one of the best ways to bring blood flow to all areas of the body and promote active recovery.  Training after a game is a sure way to create blood flow throughout the entire body promoting quicker recovery.

Thursday: Most likely a practice where you will work all the speed and agility on the field.

Friday or Saturday:  Game Day

In my past contact with coaches many have been reluctant to use weights in their fitness training for a host of reasons. A fear of their players’ losing flexibility, not being able to recover from games or practice, or they don’t understand how to properly use weight training during the season.   There are still misconception with some coaches such as…

“We lift weights but we don’t train legs during the season…”

All good concerns to have if you’re a head coach or a concerned parent, but here’s the reality…

The legs of course are the utmost importance. You play the game with your legs right! It’s illegal to use your arms for the most part.  It’s where the ACL injuries happen right?

The continued development of the lower body is vital for:

1. Injury reduction

2  Maintaining physical performance for not only running, but also for jumping, kicking, and tackling, trapping and passing.

In-Season strength training will foster further development of  the core region (muscles of the abdominal and lower back) which aid in throw-ins, powerful headers and sprinting.

Maintaining strength is vital to the keeper for maintaining his reactive power for catching, diving, punching and deflecting. Furthermore, if the player’s upper body strong and stable they will be less likely to sustain an injury when contact is made with other players or the ground.

However, it’s exciting to see the tide is slowly turning, and more coaches are accepting the sport science that if they want their players to continue to physically develop and be ready when it counts late in the season, there has to be structured strength plan in place.

In Football Tactics and Teamwork, (1988) Charles Hughes states, “There is only one way in which to gain strength and that is by progressive resistance activities which almost invariably take the form of weight training…There is also little doubt that football managers in general do not accept the efficacy of strength training. Fears of the players becoming muscle-bound are completely without foundation.”

Back in 1982, In The Challenge of Soccer, Hubert Vogelsinger promotes weight training in his book….”
Strength and power are necessary components of the player’s arsenal…a player’s power can be improved only by increasing the resistance or overload on the muscles.”

The research is making it’s way to the general public.  One particular article looks at how Strength Training Reduces Injury Rate in Elite Young Soccer Players During One Season.

In the next addition to this segment we will look how to use the latest research in formulating a simple yet effective in-season plan for our soccer players.

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