Few players get soccer strength training right.
Today’s soccer performers must be “complete athletes”…
They have to be quick off the mark and over 10-20 yards. They have to have the upper body strength to resist challenges. They need excellent levels of both aerobic and anaerobic endurance to last the duration.
If you simply lift weights – in much the same way as a bodybuilder – you are doing yourself and your game a great disservice.
Bodybuilders, and athletes whose sports are predominantly strength based, will train to increase size, bulk and maximal strength. They’re not too concerned if it’s to the detriment of their aerobic endurance levels or even their agility and flexibility.
If all you do is follow the typical 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions all year round, you are far from getting the most from your soccer strength training sessions.
Let’s take a closer look why…
Different Types of Soccer Strength Training
In soccer, lower body strength is required for kicking, jumping, tackling, twisting and turning and also forms the foundation for explosive speed.
Upper body strength is required for shielding the ball, holding off opponents, throw-ins and also contributes to overall power and explosiveness.
We can split “strength” into three broader categories…
Absolute or Maximal Strength
Absolute strength is the maximum force that a muscle group can exert in single, momentary contraction. For example, a player who can leg press 250lbs has greater absolute strength than a player who can leg press 200lbs.
In soccer, good maximal strength is beneficial for holding off opponents and shielding the ball. More importantly it also forms the foundation of muscular speed and power.
But there’s a caveat..
Maximal strength (usually measured by one repetition max) makes no allowances for time – for example, a weightlifter can spend 30 seconds or more slowly lifting a weight inch by inch.
Not much use to the soccer player.
As a rule of thumb then, maximal strength training serves a greater purpose than just increasing absolute strength…
The end result should be to increase your explosive speed and power.. .
Power is a product of both absolute strength and the speed of movement. Increase either one (without lowering the other) and you increase explosive power.
Yes, if you do nothing but follow a generalized weights routine you find in nearly every issue of popular fitness magazines, you will increase your power. That, of course, assumes you continue to maintain your speed and flexibility.
But even those generalised programs can be enhanced if you consciously increase the speed of contraction.
Another, highly effective form of power training is called plyometrics. Plyometrics bridges the gap between strength and speed by combining elements of both in single movement patterns.
It sounds complicated but it’s not.
In fact it’s a very easy form of training to perform so long as the player and coach rigidly adhere to the guidelines.
As we’ll see in a moment, soccer strength training should fall into some distinct phases. The first phase is used to develop a solid functional strength base in the off-season. You can then move on to a maximal strength phase before converting this into soccer-specific power or…
Strength or muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle group to perform repeated, high-intensity movements. Strength endurance is essential for soccer – and like power, perhaps more essential than all-out strength.
At some point in your soccer training routine you should focus on developing strength endurance. Going back to our 3 sets of 8-12 reps example, general weights programs are inefficient at best for developing soccer-specific strength endurance…
A much more efficient set-up is circuit training. And if you can incorporate stations into the circuit that match the movement patterns in soccer, you are way ahead of the game!
With all these different types of soccer strength training, things can start to get a bit overwhelming. How do you train for maximal strength AND power AND muscular endurance – especially when you have limited training time?
Obviously, the answer is you don’t.
Not even professional players can… or should.
Instead, we break a soccer strength training program into several phases – each lasting between 4 and 12 weeks (although some phases can vary in length).
The 4 Phases of a Soccer Strength Training Program
It’s crucial that you take a long-term perspective in your soccer strength training plan.
Even if you only do 1 weights session a week, you should still adapt it over the course of your season.
Looking at the big picture, so to speak, will help you see how it all fits together. It also takes the pressure off trying to cater for everything in just a few training sessions – a sure-fire way path to over training and not much of anything else.
Here’s an example of how you can break a season, and a soccer strength training program, into just a few manageable phases…
The Off-Season – Build Functional Strength
Soccer, like any sport, places a lot of uneven demands on the body.
Most players have a predominant kicking foot for example. They kick using the same motor patterns, tens of thousands of times every year.
And so, some muscles develop more than others. Some joints are placed under more stress than others.
The goals of this phase are:
- To prepare the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons for more intense work in subsequent phases
- To strengthen underused stabilizer muscles
- To balance the right and left side of the body
- To redress the balance between the flexors and extensors (soccer players, for example, are notorious for having over-developed quads from repetitive kicking actions. No wonder hamstring injuries are so prevalent in the game).
A good portion of your soccer strength training should focus on core stability. It’s a form of training that is becoming more and more popular, and rightly so…
The core – the abdominals, lower back and trunk – all form your “center of power”. Every twisting, turning , stopping and starting movement is supported by your core. It allows your upper and lower body to work in cohesion, minimising shock and stress.
This is the most important phase of any soccer strength training program. Yet most athletes dismiss it. And it becomes doubly important for younger players.
The foundations you lay in this phase literally determine the quality of strength and power formed in later phases. More importantly, without this phase, injures – both short and long-term become much more likely.
Off-Season/Early Pre-Season – Build Maximal Strength
With a good foundation to build on, you’re fully prepared to move into phase 2… building maximal strength.
This is where most players finish – the same routine (or some slight variation) all year round.
But that’s good news for you…
You’re following a soccer strength training program that meets the specific demands of your sport – you have a big advantage.
—– Side Note —–
Maximal strength is relative to the other phases. For obvious reasons younger athletes should lift weights below their maximum. However, this phase should use higher loads than the other phases.
The goal of this phase is to develop the highest force possible. Since power is our overall outcome, it makes sense to develop strength first and then convert it into soccer-specific power.
The aim is to complete this phase before the start of the season. That way the latter stages of pre-season training can focus on power and strength endurance training.
Late Pre-Season – Muscular Power and Strength Endurance
You’ve prepared your body well.
You’ve built a solid strength base.
And now it’s time to reap the rewards of all your efforts…
In this phase of soccer strength training, goal is to convert your strength gains into soccer-specific power and muscular endurance.
Soccer is one of the few sports demands roughly equal amounts of explosive force and strength endurance.
Plyometric training and/or circuit training should replace sessions in the weight room for this phase. It will last roughly 4-6 weeks depending on your schedule.
In-Season – Maintenance
To become a balanced player you have to accept that you’ll lose a small amount of maximal strength to develop more competitive types of strength. But it will make you a better player!
During the in-season, the goal is to maintain the gains you’ve made during a strenuous pre-season period without over reaching or over training.
Remember, one of the best forms of training is a competitive game. Base all your other training sessions around it.
One more point before we wrap up…
This is not one big, continuous phase in your soccer strength training routine.
Because the competitive season can last up to 9 months, you should split your strength routine into smaller cycles.
Each might cycle might last 6-8 weeks for example. At the beginning of each cycle you lift lighter weights and perhaps perform few sets. You reach a peak in the middle of the cycle (week 4-5) and taper off again towards the end.
It’s another technique used by the pros to keep their bodies (and their minds) fresh and free from injury.
More On Strength & Conditioning For Soccer
All the phases and types of soccer strength training are laid out step-by-step in my ebook, Fit For Soccer…
It contains dozens of sample strength, power and muscular endurance programs to cater for a wide variety of needs – sets, repetitions, progression, exercise illustrations and so on. Not only that…
It outlines in detail ALL the elements of fitness crucial for success on the soccer pitch. Including:
- Strength and strength endurance training
- Speed and agility training
- Aerobic and anaerobic endurance training
- Flexibility, warming up and cooling down
- Testing soccer-specific fitness
- Nutrition for soccer
- Off-season, pre-season and in-season program design
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.