This guide has been created as a service for Eurotech® Soccer Academy Campers and should assist you in learning more about soccer fitness and how to prepare for a soccer related event like a match, tournament or even a soccer camp. Enjoy the information and good luck with your training!
What is Soccer Fitness?
Soccer players need a combination of aerobic and anaerobic fitness due to the nature of the game and the fact that there is continuous movement with lots of short bursts of more intense activity. Some positions require higher levels of anaerobic fitness than others, some require more aerobic fitness. A midfield player, is required to cover a lot of ground during a game and needs a good aerobic engine. A striker on the other hand requires short bursts of repeated activity and requires more speed and anaerobic fitness.
One key aspect of fitness that soccer fitness experts recognize is that each player is different and has different training requirements dependant upon their inherent physical abilities, their desire to train, age and position played. Soccer is a team sport and as such, players train together as a team. This is important for many reasons, but it also means that not all conditioning type sessions or activities have equal benefits across all players.
Where time is available to test and analyze results, it is much better if programs can be tailored for each player or group of players with the same requirements. This is important from around the age of 13 and up, when the effects of training have much more of an impact. Conditioning and speed training at 10-13 years has less impact. A recent FA coaching report, suggested that players 10-12 benefit from training in that it prepares them physically and mentally for training when they are older. Their motor skills develop and they learn skills like how to run fast, as well as obvious ball skills when carrying out normal soccer skills training.
Once past puberty, speed endurance and strength, speed sessions will have more impact. Before that stage, sessions should not be too intense, involving shorter sessions with little emphasis on stamina. Plyometrics and strength building activities should be carried it with great care pre-puberty. We suggest to use low level strength and plyometric exercises with younger players, only to get techniques right, and prepare the body for more intense training when they get older.
At all times, however, speed and conditioning sessions are secondary to work done with the ball. Individual skills and team play are the key elements to successful, but having fitness can only make a good player better. Soccer players need a combination of aerobic and anaerobic fitness due to the nature of the game and the fact that there is continuous movement with lots of short bursts of more intense activity. Some positions require higher levels of anaerobic fitness than others, some require more aerobic fitness. A midfield player, is required to cover a lot of ground during a game and needs a good aerobic engine. A striker on the other hand requires short bursts of repeated activity and requires more speed and anaerobic fitness.
One key aspect of fitness that soccer fitness experts recognize is that each player is different and has different training requirements dependant upon their inherent physical abilities, their desire to train, age and position played. Soccer is a team sport and as such, players train together as a team. This is important for many reasons, but it also means that not all conditioning type sessions or activities have equal benefits across all players. Where time is available to test and analyze results, it is much better if programs can be tailored for each player or group of players with the same requirements.
This is important from around the age of 13 and up, when the effects of training have much more of an impact. Conditioning and speed training at 10-13 years has less impact. A recent FA coaching report, suggested that players 10-12 benefit from training in that it prepares them physically and mentally for training when they are older. Their motor skills develop and they learn skills like how to run fast, as well as obvious ball skills when carrying out normal soccer skills training. Once past puberty, speed endurance and strength, speed sessions will have more impact. Before that stage, sessions should not be too intense, involving shorter sessions with little emphasis on stamina. Plyometrics and strength building activities should be carried it with great care pre-puberty.
We suggest to use low level strength and plyometric exercises with younger players, only to get techniques right, and prepare the body for more intense training when they get older. At all times, however, speed and conditioning sessions are secondary to work done with the ball. Individual skills and team play are the key elements to successful, but having fitness can only make a good player better.
Food For Thought - The Soccer Diet
You probably already understand that in order to play to win, you need to train to win. But did you know you’re also going to have to eat to win?
Sure, it might seem like your diet is so detached from your game. The last thing on your mind when you’re fending off an opponent and aiming for the net is what you had for dinner last night. But your body might feel otherwise.
The fact is, if you’re looking to get the most out of your body, you need to make the most of your diet. What you get out of your body is a function of what you put into it.
ACT NOW: Knowledge is power. Do you know what you’re putting into your body? Probably not. Go to the store and buy a small notebook to carry around with you and record what you eat. You might be surprised to see how unhealthy or unbalanced your diet really is.
You might think to yourself, “Oh, I know so-and-so; he plays well and doesn’t watch his diet at all!” But think again. If someone plays well on a careless diet, imagine what he or she would be able to accomplish by giving their body the tools it needs to perform optimally! If all you want to do is play well, you might be able to get away with eating whatever’s in front of you. But if you want to play your sweat-dripping, goal-scoring, and awe-inspiring best, you need to start taking a closer look at your diet.
Eating consciously will give your body the building blocks necessary to achieve maximum endurance, coordination, and skill. However, this is no easy task.
That’s because we live in a Fast Food Nation and an increasingly Fast Food World. Unfortunately, fast food won’t put you on a fast track to soccer success. In fact, it’ll have quite the opposite effect. A quick, cheap and easy meal like a cheeseburger and fries might seem tempting, especially when you’ve just had practice and feel like you could eat an entire cow; but much in the same way that putting poor-quality fuel in your car will increase its wear and tear and keep it from running smoothly, pumping your body up with heavy grease and empty calories will only hurt your game. Ultimately, you are what you eat.
The effects of eating fast food on a regular basis might not be so obvious. It’s not as if you’ll miss more goals immediately after having eaten a Whopper. But over time, the results accumulate. Your performance will lag a little more, week by week and month by month, as your body struggles to make the most out of low-quality calories, and to pump blood through cholesterol-ridden arteries. And one day, you might miss a winning goal and wonder why your performance has suffered. No matter how much you’ve trained, your body can only do so much on a poor diet. Why impose that kind of limit on yourself?
TAKE ACTION: Go to your local video store or library and check out a copy of the documentary “Supersize Me.” If all the nutritional facts about fast food don’t faze you, this documentary will.
And what about amazing players like Robinho or Ronaldinho, who grew up in poverty on the streets of Brazil and in the favelas? They didn’t have the luxury of driving past a window and picking up a meal after practice. So next time you’re tempted to make a fast food stop, remember that if the best became the best without fast food, so can you.
What you do have access to that they didn’t is a wide variety of nutritious and wholesome foods. Being able to distinguish energy-granting, muscle-building foods from those that will only slow you down is an imperative skill as an athlete. You don’t need a personal trainer or a dietician to make these decisions for you. By educating yourself and reading this guide, you’ll learn how to reach and remain at your peak level of achievement.
What’s Under the Hood? - Energy for Soccer
No one sees what their body does with food. It’s not like you have a window into your stomach and can see how what you had for lunch affects your body. You can’t just pop open the hood and check to see if everything’s running correctly. Even if you could see into your digestive tract, you’d need super-vision, because everything that matters happens on a microscopic level.
You see, every muscle in your body derives energy from glucose, which is a very basic, very tiny form of sugar. Glucose is stored in the form of glycogen. It’s like when you fold your clothes to put them in your drawers—you change its shape so that it can fit more efficiently. Well, that’s what your body does with glucose. It “folds” the glucose molecule into glycogen and then “unfolds” it when it needs it. Of course, the science behind your body’s metabolism is a lot more complicated than laundry, but what you need to know is that glycogen plays a vital role in your body’s ability to perform well.
All too many players skimp on glycogen by eating too few carbohydrates. While a soccer athlete should be getting 2400 to 3000 carb calories per day, most only get around 1200. At the level, you’re already behind when you start a practice session or game, and you can drain your carbohydrate reserves by the second half of a game! That’s because the alternating fast and slow running can quickly use up the glycogen in your legs. Even just 30 seconds of running during a game can trim your glycogen stores by 30 percent!
To give your body an adequate supply of glycogen for practice, training, and the big game, eat carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, potatoes, pasta, cereal, low-fat dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. Focus on complex carbohydrates (those with a low to moderate glycemic index) like oatmeal, bran, and brown rice; these take longer for your body to break down, which gives your cells more time to turn the glucose into glycogen rather than fat. Plus, they usually contain more vitamins, fiber, and mineral, all of which help your body stay healthy and strong. When you do eat simple carbohydrates, stick to fruit, low-fat milk, and yogurt. Avoid refined foods, which are simple carbohydrates devoid of vitamins and minerals, like white rice, sugar, alcohol, candy, soda, and anything made with white flour.
Ideally, complex carbs combined with some minimally-processed simple carbs should make up about 65% of your diet. In other words, every time you look at your plate, make sure that at least half of it consists of nutritious carbohydrate-rich food.
DID YOU KNOW? Eating complex carbs will actually reduce your chance of injury. That’s because the #1 cause of injury is fatigue. By eating energy-rich foods that your body can store properly and release in a timely manner, you’ll have sustained energy through an extended period of time, and you’ll be less likely to hurt yourself.
Unfortunately, most athletes focus too much on protein. You might’ve already heard that proteins are the building blocks for muscle. And muscle is the key to strength and performance. It’s only natural to think that if you want better strength and performance, then to get more muscle, eat lots of protein. But that’s not how it works behind the scenes.
Protein-rich foods like meat, cheese, and whole milk have two things working against them: (1) They are tough and difficult for your body to break down, and (2) they usually contain a lot of fat—which you DON’T want.
Think of it like putting gas in a car. Eating too much protein is like driving 50 miles just to get to the gas station. Sure, the gas might be cheaper there, but you’re wasting so much fuel just to get it! That’s what it’s like for your body burning calories just to digest a hamburger. On top of that, the gas (i.e. protein) you get has a bunch of other stuff (i.e. grease and fat) mixed into it that’s no good for the car. It sounds like a pretty bad deal, doesn’t it?
If you don’t want to cheat your body, limit your consumption of the following foods:
• Red meat
• Pork products
• Fried foods
• Whole milk
• Butter or margarine
That doesn’t mean you can never eat those foods again. Just make sure you give your body what it needs before you give it what it wants. If you’ve eaten a healthy meal of whole wheat pasta and chicken in fresh tomato sauce with a side of steamed spinach with roasted garlic and a glass of ice cold water, and you’re still not satisfied, then go ahead and give yourself a small treat. Even then, you can often substitute your craving for unhealthy foods with a more nutritious alternative. For example, if you really want to eat a hamburger, go to a quality restaurant and treat yourself to organically raised beef, or at least purchase a leaner version at the supermarket. It’ll be higher quality and lower in fat.
STOP! Make sure you talk to a doctor if you are making major changes to your diet!
Overall, your body will be happy if from day to day, you eat a well balanced diet. Have a little bit of everything rather than a lot of one thing. Make it a point to incorporate a fresh fruit or vegetables into every snack and meal. Instead of munching on an entire bag of potato chips, have a few baby carrots dipped in salad dressing. Then have a hard-boiled egg. Then have an apple. By then, you’ll probably have lost your craving for chips, and you’ll have given your body a wide range of nutrients that it can work with.
It’s the glycogen that you store on a daily basis that will come into play when you’re on the field. If you watch your diet every day, you’ll only need to make small adjustments for those times right before and after intense physical activity.
Crunch Time: What to Eat Before, During and After Playing Soccer
Many soccer players have rituals bordering on superstition when it comes to what they eat before a game. You might have your own routine established and if so, you shouldn’t suddenly change it. Rather, if your pre-game meal is less than ideal, you should ease into something better.
PERSPECTIVE: "Every day’s the same," says Ronaldinho. He has breakfast, trains, goes back home for lunch with his family, returns to train a little in the afternoon, does press interviews if needed and has dinner with his family. Before match day, things change a little. His diet is more strictly controlled and he gets to bed earlier.
For example, if you always eat steak, potatoes and soda before a game, change it up little by little:
1. Stop putting butter, salt, and/or sour cream on the potatoes. Use black pepper, garlic, and/or chives instead.
2. Give yourself half of the amount of soda you normally drink. When you finish with that, drink water for the rest of the meal. Gradually phase out the soda.
3. Only eat half of a steak, replacing that empty spot on your plate with brown rice or whole wheat pasta.
4. Replace the half steak with breaded, baked chicken breast.
5. Savor your new, delicious and nutritious pre-game meal!
TRUE OR FALSE: The meal you eat the day of the game is the most important meal and will have the greatest impact on your performance during the game. True, or false?
In addition to following the guidelines we established in the previous sections, there are some foods (and drinks) you should definitely avoid right before a game, or before any intense physical activity.
For one thing, stay away from super-sweet and high-fat foods like they’re the plague. Whole milk, marbled meat, cheese, and anything fried will seriously jeopardize your game. So will havoc-wreaking foods like beans, pickled cucumbers, and spices. They’ll slow digestion down and could cause cramps, gas, and associated discomfort. Your body will be torn between digestion and performance. Why distract it when you don’t have to?
Also, don’t indulge right before physical activity. In fact, plan it so that your last meal is no less than three hours before a game (or even practice). If you get hungry, have a light snack, or perhaps an energy bar. Keeping your stomach close to empty is a good idea for the same reason you avoid rich foods before physical activity: energy spent digesting is energy taken away from your performance.
ANSWER: False! The most critical meal is actually the day BEFORE the game. It should be plentiful with good carbohydrates, as well as a little protein and fat. Don’t splurge on fast food just because you think it won’t affect your game tomorrow!
And don’t even think about drinking a drop of soda or even fruit juice before you put your cleats on. Keeping your body hydrated is of utmost importance, no matter what you’re doing, but any liquid that’s caffeinated, carbonated, and/or packed with high fructose corn syrup won’t give your body energy. Believe it or not, they might actually dehydrate you.
Yup, that’s right. To repeat, drinking certain kinds of liquids might actually dehydrate you. It sounds a little counterintuitive, but here’s how it works. Up to 60 percent of the body is water (the brain is composed of 70 percent water, blood is 82 percent water, and the lungs are nearly 90 percent water). Every time you sweat, you lose some of that precious water, along with electrolytes—minerals that are critical to your performance. A sugary, caffeinated and/or carbonated drink will act as a diuretic, making you lose a lot more water than you normally would. As a result, you could end up not only dehydrated, but also lacking electrolytes and putting yourself far closer to fatigue.
To avoid becoming dehydrated, don’t wait until you’re parched before you pour yourself a glass. By the time your body tells you it’s thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. So drink water throughout the day, even if your think you feel fine. Carry a bottle of water with you and take sips from it periodically. A good rule of thumb is to drink a half-cup to a whole cup of water for every 15-20 minutes of physical activity you’re anticipating. Try having 16-20 oz of water 2 hours before a game, then 12-14 oz of sports drink about 10-15 minutes before a match begins. (The warmer the weather, the more water you should drink.)
Don’t forget to continue hydrating your body during the game. You’ll be losing lots of water, making all those darting passes and game-winning goals. This is a good time to get your hands on some sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, Allsport, Power Surge, and others. It’s been proven that sports drinks help athletes avoid fatigue and cramps better than water does. You don’t really need them before you play, but during a game or practice, they’ll help you replenish your electrolytes (especially sodium). Have about 7-10oz of a sports drink every 15-20 minutes during your game or practice. Make sure to have 12-14 oz during half-time, even if you feel full.
Once you’re done playing or training, keep drinking as you cool down. It’ll help you get rid of the toxins that you’ve built up during practice or the game. Follow up with a light meal, similar to what you had before the game. Again, don’t weigh your stomach down; give your body a chance to regenerate, and let it use the glycogen to repair your muscles rather than digest a heavy meal. Drink 300 g of water or hot, sweetened tea with lemon. Wait 1-1.5 hours before your circulation gets back to normal and your body can handle digesting a meal and distributing the nutrients properly. Get plenty of rest, and then return to your healthy, everyday diet.
ACT NOW: Get a piece of paper and a pen and write out your meal schedule for game days and practice days. Be as detailed as you can be. Plan out your meals in advance. Make sure the refrigerator is well-stocked so that your body can be, too.
Tips and Tricks
• Stay positive. If you’re having a hard time disciplining yourself to eat healthier, try focusing on diversity rather than reduction. Don’t think: “I have to eat less of this, less of that.” Instead, remind yourself “I have to eat more of this, more of that.” By focusing on eating more of the good stuff, it’ll naturally leave less room for the bad stuff, and your thinking will be more positive than negative.
• Get enough sleep. The time you spend sleeping gives your body a chance to rebuild itself. Try to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day so that your body becomes familiar with a routine. Staying up late or sleeping in is not a good idea, as your body will have a hard time adjusting to an unpredictable schedule.
• Get your vitamins. There are thirteen vitamins that your body needs in order to develop and function properly, and it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re getting enough. While they don’t provide energy directly, they do assist the enzymes that free up energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Take a daily multi-vitamin with food and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (which are high in vitamins).
• Consider using supplements. A lot of athletes turn to bodybuilding supplements in order to help build muscle mass more rapidly. Most of these supplements are packed with protein, which contains the building blocks of muscles. They’re available as pills, bars, and shakes. Just remember that what applies to a bodybuilder may not apply to you as a soccer player. If you take supplements high in protein, remember that your body still needs carbohydrates, as discussed earlier.
• Watch your weight. Don’t become overly concerned with quantity. In the same way you should be concerned with proportions rather portions in your diet, the same can be said for your weight. In other words, gaining weight isn’t going to help you much if it’s all fat in your mid-section. By determining your body fat percentage, you can estimate what a healthy weight range is for you, and how much weight you need to gain or lose to get there.
Take Stock of Yourself:
1. Write down your weight and body fat percentage. I weigh 150 lbs and my body fat percentage is 20%.
2. Calculate how much of your weight is fat. Multiply your weight by your body fat percentage (put a decimal in front of it; if it’s a single digit, put a zero in front of it, too.) 150 lbs x .20 = 30 lbs of fat
3. Subtract your fat weight from your total weight to see how much of you is non-fat. 150 lbs – 30 lbs = 120 lbs
4. Divide your non-fat weight by .88 (which equals 88% non-fat weight, or 12% body fat). 120 lbs / .88 = 136
5. Add 5 lbs to your answer to get the upper range of your healthy weight and subtract 5 lbs to get the lower range. 136 + 5 = 141; 136 – 5 = 131; my healthy weight range is between 131 – 141
Warming Up to a New Routine
Once you’re providing your body with the tools it needs by sticking to a well-balanced, consistent diet, you can begin to focus on how to use those tools. The first step to maximizing your body’s potential is to do a proper warm-up before a game or practice.
A lot of players are tempted to skip or at least rush through this part of the routine because let’s face it—it’s not as gratifying or exhilarating as facing an opponent and moving the ball past him. Yet, if there’s anything you’re going to learn from this guide, it’s that the least exciting aspects of training are actually the most critical to your success as a soccer player. What you develop that others neglect will ultimately give you the cutting edge as a soccer athlete.
A good warm-up will set the tone for good play. By easing into physical activity and gradually raising your body temperature, you increase the flexibility in your muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. You also reduce your chances of straining, spraining, or tearing later on. Your goal is to make your muscles elastic before you plunge into activity; cold, stiff muscles will not serve you well.
DID YOU KNOW? Warming up actually stimulates the fluids in your joints, giving you somewhat of a cushion for ease of movement. Without adequate fluids, joint movement can result in damaging friction, which will, over time, wear your joints down.
Warming up also gives your heart time to adjust to your increasing activity level, making it better suited to circulate the right amount of blood to various parts of your body. It’s your blood that carries essential nutrients (including glucose, electrolytes and oxygen) to your muscles when you need them, and if you rush into intense physical activity without warming up, your heart may not be able to distribute those nutrients appropriately.
A proper warm-up starts with the simplest and most moderate activity first. You then take it up a notch, little by little, every time asking your body to extend itself further, until it’s ready to perform.
Ideally, start with a very light activity to “loosen up.” A light jog usually does the trick. The goal is for your heart to hit a rate of 120 beats per minute before moving onto the next phase of the warm-up. Of course, it’d be ridiculous to run around before practice or a game while measuring your heart rate, but it’d be a good idea during your own time to exercise lightly while taking your pulse until you reach 120. Make note of what it feels like so that you can recognize when you’ve reached that point without taking your pulse. Oftentimes, this is the point at which you’ve worked up a light sweat.
Another good way to “kick things off” is with a small game of keep away. Form a very small circle of ten yards or so and play one touch, with one player in the middle (six or seven players versus one). As more people arrive, move to two separate groups. Further along you can move to a three man weave, a juggling challenge, one on one drills, or a short game of possession (in a small square two teams trying to maintain control of the ball). But before you take it to the next level, you need to incorporate stretching.
A warm-up will not be nearly as effective as it could be if it does not include stretching. While it might seem like a burden to slow down and stretch, doing so will elongate your muscles and tendons and allow for a greater range of movement later on (thus reducing your chances of injury and increasing your performance potential).
It’s important to begin with static stretching (i.e. no bouncing!). Basically, you move to stretch a specific muscle group until you start to feel tension. You increase that tension gently and gradually, but do not extend into a stretch that you cannot hold. Maintain a stretching position for about 10-15 seconds while breathing normally (don’t hold your breath!). Try to relax into it and release any tension that you’re holding in the stretched muscle group.
STOP! If you feel sharp or stabbing pains when you’re stretching, you’re risking a severe muscle or ligament tear. While a little discomfort as the muscle stretches is normal, any kind of pain is a sign that you’re doing something wrong. Stop rushing it, stop forcing it, and start over.
Stretching the Major Muscle Groups
• Hamstrings: Hang down and try to reach your toes; don’t push it. Keep legs and back straight. Just go down to a comfortable level for your body and then push a bit more after a few tries. You can also do this sitting down. Stretch your legs together in front of you and try to touch your toes. Then with your legs apart, touch your right toe with your right arm (ultimately aim to bring your head to your knee) and then switch sides.
• Quads: While standing with one leg, bend the other leg backwards and grab your foot with one hand. Slowly bring your foot backwards until it touches your butt. Switch legs. It’s important to keep your back straight while stretching.
• Knees: Rotate your knees in a circle, keeping them together and bending down slightly.
• Calves: Lunge forward, keeping your back leg’s heel on the ground; lean on your front leg or on an object or teammate until you feel your calf stretch. You can also cross your legs at the ankles while standing up, then bend down at the hips, bringing your head to your knees, and essentially hugging your legs.
• Ankles: To loosen your ankles, lift your leg up and rotate your foot clockwise and then counterclockwise for several seconds. Repeat with your other leg.
• Groin: Get in the butterfly position, with your legs bent and your feet together in front of you (your legs should form a sort of diamond shape). Try to push your knees down to the ground and/or bring your head down to your feet.
• Abdomen: Lying face down, lift your body off the ground and on to your elbows—hold for a minute; lean to the right side and then left.
• Stomach: To warm up the stomach, lie down with your hands near your shoulders and then lift your waist a few inches off the ground using your stomach muscles. To develop the stomach muscles even more, do full-fledged sit-ups and/or use weights. Reverse crunches can also get the job done. Simply lie down on the floor and bend your legs in the air so that your body resembles the letter L.
• Obliques: Raise your arms above your head and bring your hands together. Then, in a large arc, move your hands down to your left foot, then over your head and to your right foot. Another exercise is this: maintain a straight posture while keeping your legs spread apart and muscles relaxed. Then, put your hands on your hips and swing clockwise in a smooth circular motion and then repeat but this time counterclockwise. Or, do the twist! Lie down and bring one leg over your knee and then touch with your opposite elbow. Switch legs and elbows to work both sides.
TIP: To fully develop abs and obliques it’s important to use heavier weights instead of increasing number of reps. Just like other muscles, such as quads or biceps, abs and obliques can be developed more efficiently with weights.
• Back: Keep your legs spread apart and bring your hands together. Then, bend at your waist and stretch your hands out in front of you but do not try touching the ground. Next, bring your arms behind your back (while keeping arms together) and then stretch backwards.
• Neck: To loosen your neck, move your chin to your right shoulder and then look down at the floor. Repeat motions to the left. Remember to rotate your head gently, in a circular motion.
After completing a routine of basic stretches such as this, you can then move on to more intense activities and drills. This is where your warm-up as a soccer player will differ greatly from those of other athletes. It’s where you start doing a lot of ball work and preparing your body for what it’s expected to do during the game.
Aerobic Training – Cardio
As you may already know, soccer demands an extreme amount of aerobic exercise that gets your heart racing and your sweat dripping. But what exactly is aerobic exercise? Ask a trainer, and he might say something like this: it’s a type of exercise where muscles rely on oxygen in the blood as an energy source, as well as fats and glucose, for long periods of time. But the key player here is oxygen. Oxygen is needed to burn fats and glucose in order to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the primary energy source supplied to your body’s cells. Without a proper oxygen supply, you won’t be able to fuel your body efficiently and you risk serious injury.
Aerobic exercise increases heart rate and cardiovascular endurance, so the more aerobic training you get, the more endurance you will build. But there’s a catch. You need to train for a minimum of 20 minutes so that your body can reach and then maintain an increased heart rate.
An easy way to get in some aerobic training is through long distance running. After all, most of your time during the game is spent running, so it’s necessary to condition your body for endurance, as well as strength for sudden bursts of speed. You can run just about anywhere there’s a wide-open area, such as along the side of a street, in the park, on a track, or on the beach. Just make sure the area is well lit and that you don’t run for more than 40 minutes to prevent exhaustion or cramping. And keep in mind, running is much more fun when you have a buddy to accompany you!
But what exactly are the benefits of running? Long distance running is ideal for several reasons. First, it allows you to endure the great distance you’ll cover during a game. In a typical game, soccer players usually travel between 5.5 and 6.8 miles! That’s a lot of ground to cover, so you’ll need to build up your endurance for that.
DID YOU KNOW? Of the distance commonly traveled in a typical soccer game (5.5-6.8 miles), 2.4 mi are spent jogging, 1.2 mi are used running at a high but not maximum speed, 0.6 mi are spent sprinting, 1.5 mi walking, and 0.3 mi are spent moving backwards.
Second, long distance running will keep your body in shape during the off-season when you’re not constantly running up and down the field. You have to use it or lose it, and this means your speed! If you fail to run regularly during the off-season, don’t expect to perform like you did last season. Generally, you should run three times per week during the off-season and once per week during the in-season. Why the difference? Because during the in-season, you already get an aerobic workout just by practicing and playing in games.
Third, long distance running strengthens the muscles involved in respiration, and helps the flow of air in and out of the lungs. How does this work? Well, for one thing your heart rate increases dramatically while you run, so your blood vessels dilate to allow more blood to circulate through your body. This happens because blood is what carries oxygen throughout your body, and as your heart rate increases, your body needs more oxygen to accommodate the increased level of activity. In other words, the higher your physical activity level is, the more oxygen you need. And more oxygen means more blood being pumped. Simple, huh?
REALITY CHECK: A soccer player’s heart rate increases to 150 beats per minute for the majority of a game. This is where your healthy diet and training will help, because your arteries need to be clear of cholesterol and dilated sufficiently in order to carry all that blood and oxygen. Without either one, you risk serious injury.
Fourth, long distance running can help clear the mind and can improve your ability to concentrate and focus. Think of it this way. During most of the day, your senses are constantly bombarded with stimuli from all over the place. Sometimes people can get headaches from all the commotion, or they can simply stress out. That’s why people say they need a moment of peace and quiet. So use running as your moment of peace and quiet. Use this time to reflect on what’s going on in your life, think out a problem, or even vent out some frustration. Running can be a very therapeutic activity, so treat it as such.
Anaerobic Training – Build Speed and Power
Unlike aerobic exercise, where the body uses oxygen to tap into its energy reserves, anaerobic exercise does not require oxygen. Sound confusing? Well, to explain, you first need to understand that anaerobic training is used to increase strength and power through intense muscular activity. Your muscles generate energy by converting glucose into lactic acid. But because of the strenuous nature of the activity and the fact that oxygen is not needed, this sort of exercise can only be maintained for short periods of time. Oxygen only comes into play after the exercise, when it is needed for recovery and metabolism of glucose to supply more energy. This is why resting time is crucial to maintain a successful session of anaerobic training.
The most popular form of anaerobic training among soccer players is interval training (or “fartlek” among Swedes). This is basically sessions of high-speed/high-intensity exercise followed by periods of rest or low activity. The idea is to develop strength through short bursts of speed in a variety of actions such as stopping, turning, and directional changes. Actually, you could think of a soccer game as one long bout of interval training!
Picture it this way. You’re running down the field chasing the ball at near maximum speed, and then suddenly you slow down once you reach the ball. Now, you’re dribbling the ball, constantly weaving between defenders -- sometimes picking up speed, slowing down, and changing directions -- until suddenly you stop and shoot for a goal. If you score, you celebrate by jumping up and down, but if not, you resume your normal play. There are a lot of sudden movements here, from fast to slow to sudden stops. Your body needs to be ready for this, so you need to train beforehand.
It’s easy to do interval training, though. For example, try “walk-back sprinting.” All you do is sprint backwards for 30-250 feet, stop, turn around, and then walk back to your start point. Do multiple sets. Or, you can do shuttle runs, which are basically the same as walk-back sprinting but require forward running in both directions.
TIP: Interval training can help you avoid injuries associated with the repetitive movements of endurance training. Also, it allows you to increase your intensity without burning yourself out.
You can vary your sprints, too. For example, sprint back and forth for 60 yards in each direction (a total of 120 yards) but break up each sprint into five intervals of 12 yards. In other words, you will sprint 12 yards, stop, sprint another 12 yards, stop, and so on. Then, you can do additional sets, maybe two or three, but this depends on how you’re feeling and what your goals are.
The important thing to remember with any kind of interval training is to allow your body enough time to recover properly before taking on bursts of speed again. Although this type of exercise doesn’t involve the type of stress that accompanies endurance training, you can just as easily tear or pull a muscle from a misplaced foot or through over-exertion. Be watchful and be careful!
Plyometric exercise is when you use explosive, fast-acting movements to develop muscular power and improve overall speed. In other words, it’s an exercise that allows muscles to exert maximum force in the shortest amount of time possible. Several types of athletes such as basketball players, boxers, and especially soccer players use plyometrics.
But don’t confuse power with strength. The rate at which strength is converted into speed is what determines muscular power. Being able to carry out this task in a short amount of time is the key factor here, not your physical strength. Sound contradictory? It’s not, really. Put in another way, a bodybuilder with strong legs might easily perform squats with heavy weights but might not jump as far on a standing long jump as a soccer player who has plyometric training. The reason for this is that the soccer player’s plyometric training has allowed him to condense the time his muscles need to apply the maximum amount of force required to get the job done. This all translates to greater power development with each muscle contraction. But this doesn’t exactly explain how plyometric training works, does it? Well, keep reading.
In order for a muscle to move it has to shorten, or contract. But if the muscle is lengthened just before it contracts, it will produce more force because it has a high storage of elastic energy. Simply put, elastic energy is internal energy that is converted into mechanical energy. This energy releases quickly and is the fundamental clockwork of plyometric training.
To get an idea of how plyometric exercise works, think of your muscles as several slingshots. When you pull back a band, you tighten it more and more, and you can feel it itching in your fingers to release rapidly. The more you pull it back, the stronger the force will be. This kind of thrust is the same kind that your muscles use when you kick a ball, jump to protect the goal, or perform a bicycle kick. Basically, your body is a slingshot ready to spring.
WARNING! Limit your plyometric training on hard surfaces. Obviously it will be difficult to do this if you’re running on stadium stairs, but try to do the rest of your plyometrics on softer surfaces such as grass or dirt fields. Doing so will reduce unnecessary stress on your joints and knees.
Here are some basic plyometric exercises you can do:
• Run up the stairs in a stadium. But vary the steps a little. First, touch each stair with each step but then skip steps to make it more difficult. Then using both feet, simply jump up a flight of stairs.
• Place feet together and hop side to side and forward and backwards.
• Standing long jump – Use this for height. See how far you can jump!
• Jump over a ball on one foot, alternating with your left and right feet. Then try jumping over the ball from front to back. Great for the knees and MCLs, especially for rehabilitation.
• Hurdle Hopping – Jump forward and backward over a hurdle (or other barrier such as a cone) with your feet together.
• Bounding – This is when you take long strides while running. Jumping with two legs will reduce the impact when landing, and bounding up stairs is helpful to develop both the vertical and forward jump. But be careful! Bounding up stairs can be dangerous!
• Hold Drills/Hop and Hold – Same as bounding but in between bounds do a little hop. For example, you want to bound, then stop and then do a quick hop. Then bound again, then another hop.
• Skate Bounding – Skip for distance and height. The object is to achieve longer hang time.
• Box Jumps – Basically, you jump on and off of a sturdy box or platform to develop your vertical jump. Typically, you use two feet, especially for higher elevations, but more rigorous sessions can be done with a smaller box and both feet.
• Down Jumps/Depth Jumps – While standing on a platform, jump down. But during the descent of the jump, prepare yourself for an immediate jump upwards again.
• Tuck Jumps – All you do is pull your legs up into your body while jumping.
• Various sprints to work on diverse groups of muscles – slalom, zigzag, weaves, cutting in and out of cones, angled runs, etc.
Challenge yourself! You can create a circuit around a field by forming several stations where you perform whichever jump you wish. Create different circuits for yourself and see if your friends want to join in. Maybe you can race. The routine will be intense but the results will be well worth it.
Take a day off when you’re training a lot. The body needs a day of rest to recover and refuel.
Get Faster – Speed Training
I’m not talking about your Internet connection, or your commute to work! I’m talking about getting to the ball faster, dribbling at faster speeds, and basically breezing by other players. Needless to say, speed is a top priority for soccer players, but how can you develop and improve this skill?
As noted in the plyometrics section, speed relates directly to power. Power is essentially a combination of both strength and the speed of contraction. If you can increase one, you can increase power. But ideally, you want to increase both, so this is where weight training and plyometrics come into play. Weight training increases strength and plyometric exercise turns that strength into speed and power.
Review both of these sections (plyometrics and weight lifting), so you can combine both types of exercises to increase your overall speed. Since one can enhance the other, both should be used in tandem so you can maximize your overall performance on the field.
Soccer can be a tough sport to train for. Soccer athletes must have not only an endurance base, but also the ability to sprint at full speed for short distances. Training for soccer speed requires a mix of aerobic conditioning (i.e. distance running) and anaerobic power (sprinting).
Having good balance will give you a subtle edge on the field—one that could make all the difference in that critical moment where your team really needs you to come through. If, say, you’re dribbling and an opponent bumps into you, you need to be able to shift your body weight appropriately so that you don’t lose control of the ball. These are some exercises that’ll help you maintain that balance no matter what:
• Test how good your balance is to begin with. Stand in place, feet hip-length apart. Raise one foot and do not let it touch the support leg. Try closing your eyes and maintaining your balance for 30 seconds or more. Do not let that foot touch your other leg or the floor, don’t let your body touch anything for support, and don’t hop. How good is your balance? Return to this test to see how your balance has improved.
• Balance on one foot and toss a medicine ball back and forth in your hands; this strengthens the muscles in the legs and abdomen. It’s even better if two people do it, each on one foot, throwing the ball back and forth.
• Get a foam cylindrical pad to roll your legs upon to work out muscles, along the side of your leg and thighs.
• Yoga is an excellent way to improve your balance and is discussed later in this guide.
• If you live near the coast, surfing is actually a good way to train for balance.
Pump Up the Volume - Weight Lifting
An increasing number of soccer players are lifting weights nowadays. But you must remember to avoid bulky muscles that could possibly get in the way. The last thing you need is to be slowed down on the field. The idea is to gain strength without losing speed or agility. For example, Robinhio is slim and seemingly light as a feather but he’s wiry, quick, powerful and strong. In other words, a soccer player’s physique is not bulky yet it’s not slim. It’s sleek but sturdy, usually dependent upon role and position.
This is where weight lifting can help you get a similar body and round out your training with a more strength-oriented routine. But it’s not wise to jump right into weight training. You should first consult a trainer or coach to see what kind of regimen he recommends. Then, take it from there.
But the best way to get adjusted to the type of stress that lifting weights involves is to start off with circuit training. Circuit training is when you build a core set of muscles on a group of machines laid out in a circuit. This type of weight training is designed to emphasize all the major muscle groups in a relatively short amount of time. There are several types of machines for different muscles, and there are even several kinds of machines for a single muscle. Try them all to see which one works for you. If you don’t feel comfortable with a certain machine, don’t use it.
TIP: Sometimes machines will be grouped according to the muscles they emphasize, or to a particular circuit your gym recommends. Other times, the machines will be numbered or even color coded to indicate which muscles they work. Investigate how your gym organizes its machines.
If you feel comfortable enough with the machines, then you can choose to incorporate free weights into your workout. But be careful. These weights don’t move along a predetermined path like they do in the machines. Instead, there is much more stress on your muscles because they must do all the movements, and that includes holding the weights before and after each set. The greatest benefit to free weights, though, is that they allow for a greater range of movement, which means you can develop strength all over rather than in an isolated spot. Give them a try and see how you like them.
Whether you do free weights, machines, or a mix of the two, it’s always best to rotate between muscles, usually two at a time so that you emphasize just two muscle groups at once. You don’t want to stress your body too much. The general guideline is to work one muscle, then to work its opposite. For example, if you want to build arm strength, work biceps and then move on to triceps. Keep in mind, though, that each muscle is used to perform other exercises. For instance, triceps are instrumental when working the chest, but because the chest is the primary muscle being worked, you’ll want to work the triceps on another day. You don’t want to compromise your bench performance because you maximized your triceps and are now sore!
TIP: It’s important to maintain a constant weight-lifting routine in order to continue strength development. Don’t skip a day or slack off. Just like a Roger Spry drill, momentum is the key here.
When you go to the gym, you must remember to practice proper gym etiquette. It’s simple: just be courteous to everyone else. For example, don’t make loud grunts or slam the weights around. If someone wants to use the machine you’re using, “work in” with him, which means the two of you take turns. If there’s someone using the machine you need, ask to work in. Or better yet, do some sit-ups or balancing exercises on the side while he finishes his set. This way, you keep moving and get a good workout in a short amount of time.
The benefits of weight lifting are vast and extend beyond physical strength. Weight lifting gives you a boost of opiate-like chemicals called endorphins. These surge all over the body and put you into a good mood. Also, levels of the nerve chemical serotonin rise during strenuous activity and contribute further to your positive mood. The release of such chemicals is the body’s reaction to extreme stress. It’s basically a built-in mechanism to deal with physical stress! And the more you adjust your body to weight lifting, the less likely it is to actually feel stressed when you’re faced with other forms of physically demanding activities. Your body will be prepared for what’s coming. Which brings us to the next point…
Injury prevention! Weight lifting will strengthen the muscles and prepare the body for stress that could otherwise injure a frailer physique. For example, toughening up those muscles will definitely protect your bones from a nasty fall on the field. Also, joints become stronger and more agile, which in turn increases your leverage and range of motion. All this means that when weight training (paired with stretching, as described earlier) your body will be solid, sturdy, swift, and overall better prepared for the wide range of physical stresses that soccer imposes.
WARNING! Always maintain proper form while doing any kind of weight lifting. Just the slightest arch in your back during a squat can hospitalize you. If you’re not sure how to properly perform an exercise, ASK! Fellow gym-goers are almost always willing to share their knowledge with you. Remember: everyone’s a teacher.
Goalkeeper-Specific Weight Training
Although goalkeepers don’t run across the field in any one game they have to be constantly aware of the action on the field. Also, they must be ready and able to move quickly – backwards, forwards, and side-to-side – in a short amount of time. Explosive movements are also vital to this position, as well as throwing, kicking, and the ability to concentrate on a frenzy of players all aiming at the goal!
But goalkeepers have done some pretty unpredictable and uncharacteristic things. I’ve seen some crazy plays where keepers rush out of the box to head the ball clear, or run up for a corner kick at the end of a game. These quick sprints and movements require speed, concentration, and strength, and this is where weight lifting and plyometrics can help.
But reflexes are also crucial skills a goalkeeper must have. That’s right, goalkeepers need to have their reflexes, or reaction time, in tiptop shape in order to prevent the opposing team from scoring a game-winning goal. Without reflexes, the goalkeeper is nothing.
QUOTE: "The goalkeeper is the lone eagle, the man of mystery, the last defender. Less the keeper of a goal than the keeper of a dream." - Vladimir Nabokov
The goalkeeper’s reaction time must be extremely acute and cautious to deflections, sudden shots, switches in angle of attack, and flight of the ball. These reflexes can be improved through weight lifting and plyometrics. Basically, the goalkeeper must build strength, agility, balance, and quickness through goalkeeper-specific training programs. Listed below are the recommended areas goalkeepers should strive to perfect.
• Upper body
• Lower body
• Improvement in the vertical leap
• Finger and wrist strength
• Lateral quickness
• Striking the ball with power and distance
Who Needs a Gym Membership?
If you can’t make it to a gym -- whether because of time constraints, lack of membership, lots of traveling, or whatever other reason -- you can still get a solid workout by using your own body and gravity. To do this, though, you must set up a time and a routine to follow and stick with regularly. Usually an hour of work will go a long way.
To get started, do some of the exercises listed below. If you find that you’re not benefiting much after a few weeks or so, up the ante by trying different positions and including heavy objects. Sometimes, your body just needs to switch things up a bit to feel like it’s challenged. If not, it can adjust almost too well to its current routine. In the end, you’ll be surprised at just how good a team your body and gravity make!
A final warning, though. Don’t hyperextend yourself. You can pull a joint or tear a muscle while doing any of these exercises, so proceed with caution.
• Sit-ups – Be cautious of your neck! Keep it straight. Listen to your body and respond accordingly. Bring your chest up just enough to where you feel tightness in your abs. Some people like full-fledged sit-ups while others prefer crunches.
• Pushups – Do these with your arms spaced slightly wider than your shoulders, then bring your chest down to the ground and push back up with your arms.
• Plank Pushup – Start in the same position as a normal pushup but place your feet on an elevated surface, 4-6 inches off the ground. Bend knees, placing them on the ground, then bend elbows to 90-degrees. Lower chest to the ground, then push back up, straightening arms and legs. Repeat.
• Ups-Downs – Start with a pushup and then transition into a jump off the ground. Sit back down.
• Multidirectional Jumps – Jump frontward, backward, sideward, or twist (basically, you balance on one foot and spin/jump to the other).
• Squats – Bending down, lower your butt to your feet but keep your back flat.
• Mini Squats - Touch toes with opposite hand while keeping your legs straight.
• Plank – Pretend you’re doing a pushup but instead rest on your elbows and hold.
• Lunges – Here, you walk forward with giant steps. But while doing so bend down and touch your knee to the ground with each step.
• Calf raises – While standing against a wall stand up on your toes.
• Wall Sits - hold yourself up against the wall at a 90 degree angle. Pretend like you’re sitting on an invisible chair.
• Isometric Hold - Squeeze and tighten the gluteus muscles (i.e. your butt) and release.
• Calf Raises (deeper) – While standing with your heels off the edge of a stairway or ledge, lift your heels up but hold on to a rail.
• Toe Raises – Simply walk on the heels of your feet.
• Standing Pose (Yoga Asana) - Tighten your quads, your arms, and push out your chest. Take deep breaths.
• Pull-ups and Dips – Parks or trails will often have equipment along the trail where you can do pull ups, dips, and other strengthening exercise. So keep an eye out for these types of trails and cross training options.
TIP: Just like weight training, it’s best to do several similar exercises that work the same muscle group. Doing so will broaden your range of movement and increase overall strength and agility. You’ll be working the entire muscle and its full range of movement, not a single spot.
Mental Training - Focus for Soccer Players
So far, we’ve reviewed how you can sharpen every tool in your body’s shed to optimize your proficiency as a soccer player. Whether it’s you’re heart, your stomach, your muscles, or your joints, they all need to be trained and cared for properly. However, the most important tool your body has to offer is the one that brings it all together: your mind.
Just like with your muscles, you either use it or lose it. You need that brain of yours to tell everything else what to do and how to do it. Your skill, grace and coordination as a soccer player depend on it. It needs glycogen, oxygen, and nutrients but it also needs exercise, believe it or not!
In addition to applying your mind when you’re at practice or in a match, there are many different ways you can train your brain otherwise:
• Goals and visualization. Mental goals are just as important as the goals you want to score. Set goals for yourself. Write them down and make them clear. Every day, when you get up in the morning, think about your goals and what you’re going to do today to take one step closer to achieving them. Picture what you want to accomplish down to the last detail; use all of your senses to envision your goal. Whether it’s getting the ball past a goalkeeper or running for 40 minutes straight, painting the picture in your mind will help you get there in reality.
• Yoga. Despite what you might think, yoga is not just for new age or hippie types or non-athletes; see Roy Keane. Yoga is a beautiful practice that gives you peace of mind and strengthens your body, helps move blood and oxygen to parts of your body that might be missing out due to your lifestyle, and helps with flexibility, strength, posture and digestion (ridding the body of toxins). Find your local yoga school or instructor and give it a genuine try.
• Meditation. Concentrate on just breathing in, taking deep breaths from your diaphragm, and then exhale slowly. Choose a quiet, relaxing place to sit. As you get more comfortable, close your eyes. Perhaps you want some music on in the background. Sit with your back straight to enhance the movement of your breath. Allow thoughts to enter and exit your mind and maintain focus on your breathing to reach a relaxed state.
• Focus during a game. Focus on your play and not what might be going on around you. Just let that pass you by and maintain concentration on your goals. Don’t get angry at the referee or another teammate—if you do, let it pass quickly and set your sights on the game.
PERSPECTIVE: Do pre-game nerves get to Ronaldinho? "No, never," he says. "I’m more attentive than nervous. And having the tension you need to have, knowing who you’re playing against, their characteristics - those things occupy me more."
• Acupuncture. Chinese medical theory holds that acupuncture works by normalizing the free flow of qi (a difficult-to-translate concept that pervades Chinese philosophy and is commonly translated as "vital energy") throughout the body. Pain or illnesses are treated by attempting to remedy local or systemic accumulations or deficiencies of qi. Pain is considered to indicate blockage or stagnation of the flow of qi, and an axiom of the medical literature of acupuncture is "no pain, no blockage; no blockage, no pain."
• Positive thinking. Don’t focus on the negative. Strive for perfection but realize that we all make mistakes. Even the best soccer players in the world have bad days or miss wide open chances for goals. What you can do is pat yourself on the back for having read this guide, and start applying everything you’ve learned ASAP. As long as you keep moving forward and training to be the best soccer player you could ever be, you’ll always get the most out of the game.