We wouldn’t be fitness nerds if we didn’t talk about the biggest sports craze happening now–soccer. As the World Cup continues, we’re more enthralled than ever with the game we played as kids. Played in over 200 countries, soccer has become the most popular sport in the world. Considering the extreme level of endurance, speed, agility, and flexibility required for top performers, soccer is a perfect example of professional athleticism.
Why We Love Soccer
We love soccer because of the community, the sport, the thrill of scoring a goal in a low-scoring game, and the fierce athleticism it takes to sprint around the field for 90 minutes. We love the excitement of watching the almost palpable synergy between teammates. We love the heart-pounding moments of corner kicks and the rush of blood to the heart when our favored team scores an unlikely goal. We especially love a game-winning bicycle kick.
How Soccer Sculpts Muscle
Due to the mix of both anaerobic and aerobic effort during soccer, both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers are worked. Slow-twitch fibers are worked during jogging and low-impact running. Fast-twitch fibers are worked from sprinting, jumping, lunging, and quick changes of direction required in soccer. Switching between both systems of effort causes you to burn more calories while strength training your muscles, which adds mass. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism. This is why professional soccer players tend to look lean and chiseled.
Bodyweight Exercises for Soccer Players
A great warm-up exercise for soccer players is the squat. Of course, squats can be performed at high speed, with weights, using the Tabata Protocol, and combined with jumping, all of which greatly increases the difficulty. However, the simple squat is a perfect warm-up tool for the big leg muscles soccer players rely upon.
Start standing with legs shoulder-width apart and lower until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Keep your back straight and your chest lifted. Always squat back and never put weight into your knees. For increased intensity, squat lower until your butt touches your calves and return to standing.
Considered only a cardio exercise, sprinting can also build serious muscle mass. The rapid firing of major and minor muscle groups in your legs, thighs, butt, back, core, and upper body works your fast-twitch fibers. Fast-twitch fibers are harder to target than slow-twitch fibers, and sprinting gets right to the source. Not only that, but sprinting will increase heart health, endurance and work capacity, energy use and conditioning, brain cognition, and perhaps most importantly, mental toughness.
Sprint lengths can vary, but between 30 and 50 feet is a good starting marker. Sprint with all out speed for the designated marker and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times. You can also try gasser sprints where you set up 3 markers with increasing lengths between them. Sprint to the furthest marker and sprint back to the start. Then sprint to the second furthest marker and sprint back to the start. Finally, sprint to the closest marker and sprint back to the start.
Agility is crucial for a top performing soccer player. There are many agility drills you can work on, but we’re partial to this one from Greg Gatz, director of strength and conditioning at the University of North Carolina.
- Set two cones 10 yards apart and do the following:
- Start by facing forward in a staggered stance. On “go,” sprint to the opposite cone. At the cone, regain control, stop as quickly as possible and backpedal to the start.
- At the start, turn your hips, plant your outside foot and begin side shuffling back to the far cone. When you reach the cone, plant your outside foot again and shuffle back to the starting cone.
- Repeat the same sequence using carioca footwork (side step, crossover step, side step, crossover behind). After returning to the cone on the last carioca step, plant and sprint past the last cone.
- The whole drill (seven changes) should be completed in 20 seconds or less depending on the age of the athlete. Rest 30-45 seconds and repeat. See how quickly you can change directions, as well as movements.
Uphill runs require the athlete to work on their endurance, sprinting capacity, and strength. They are so effective at burning fat and sculpting muscle, they have become a fixture of soccer training. Find any suitable hill, and run up that thing. Pretty simple. We suggest walking on the way down to lighten strain on the knees.
Soccer players rely heavily on the big muscles of the thighs for power to launch the ball over the heads of their competitors. Explosive jumps require rapid fire of big and small stability muscles in the legs, thighs, butt, and core, all the muscles needed to efficiently navigate the field.
Begin standing shoulder-width apart. Squat down, press through the heels, and with power and speed, jump as high as you can. For added difficulty, hug your knees to your chest while in the air and return to a squat position. 10 reps will have you breaking a sweat and power jumps interspersed with other lower-body exercises will amp up your leg game.