Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, with more than 275 million participants. Whilst the total distance covered in an elite soccer match can total as much as 8-12 km, it is the short high-intensity sprints that represent the crucial game-changing moments. These sprints typically last from 2-4 seconds over distances of 10 – 30 m, with players performing 17-81 sprints per game, accounting for up to 11% of the total distance covered during a match. During sprinting, contact times of ≥ 200 ms (222 ± 18 ms) have been observed during the initial acceleration phase. This reduces to less than 200 ms during maximal sprinting, illustrating the high rates of force development (RFD). Unfortunately, with such intense running, injuries are common. Hamstring strains are the most common injury plaguing soccer, accounting for 37% of injuries. Also, as soccer players become more advanced, the game becomes more physical, making soccer strength training essential. The higher the physicality, the higher the necessity for protecting oneself. Unfortunately, all the aerobic work keeps many players extremely skinny, exposing them to being knocked down frequently. Luckily, a well designed soccer strength training program can help prevent injuries, make you faster, and increase body weight/muscle mass.
3 Secrets to In-Season Soccer Strength Training
- Prevent Injuries: Injury incidence rates of 20.4 to 36.9 injuries per 1000 match hours and 2.4 to 3.9 injuries per 1000 training hours have been reported in male amateur soccer. Hamstring injuries are the most common soccer-related muscle injury. These injuries require extensive treatment and long rehabilitation periods. A strength training routine in regular amateur soccer training results in a reduced risk of hamstring injury in male amateur soccer players. Strength training programs incorporating eccentric (controlled muscle lengthening) of the hamstrings help reduce injury risk. Here is one of our favorite exercises during soccer player strength training for hamstring injury prevention.
- Make you Faster: Being faster than your competitors in soccer helps you get open, be first to the ball, and tackle the defender. Strong correlations have been reported between short sprint performance and lower body strength, assessed using free weight back squats. This is likely due to stronger athletes developing higher peak ground reaction force and impulse, which have been shown to be strong determinants of sprint performance. Strong associations are also reported between maximum ground reaction force and maximal sprinting velocity. Additionally higher strength levels are associated with higher RFD. A recent study by Styles (2015) demonstrated a strong correlation between strength training and sprint performance during a low-volume 6-week in-season soccer strength training program with elite soccer players. This study concluded: “It is recommended therefore that strength and conditioning coaches not only try to maintain, but increase strength in season in competitive soccer players, with low volume strength training which should not negatively affect match performance.”
- Build Muscle: Having more muscle helps protect yourself from other players and from general contact within the sport of soccer. Many soccer players are very lean from the high amounts of running during the sport. Styles (2015) demonstrated a 6-week strength training program in elite soccer players increased body mass by ~2.0 lbs. Now, this may sound minimal, but these two pounds can make a massive difference, especially in extremely skinny players.
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As soccer becomes more competitive, getting the edge over your competition is key. A well-designed soccer strength training program provides numerous benefits for not only enhancing sport performance, but also health. Make sure you work with a personal trainer familiar with the demands of a soccer player, especially if you’re performing in-season strength training.
- Styles WJ, Matthews MJ, Comfort P. Effects of strength training on squat and sprint performance in soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Oct 13. [Epub ahead of print]
- Van der Horst N, Smits DW, Petersen J, Goedhart EA, Backx FJ. The preventive effect of the nordic hamstring exercise on hamstring injuries in amateur soccerplayers: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Sports Med. 2015 Jun;43(6):1316-23. doi: 10.1177/0363546515574057. Epub 2015 Mar 20.