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In the past physical strength has often been viewed as an underestimated component of conditional ability. Various performance classes were telling players, not that long ago, that strength training makes a player slow and immobile. In fact, based on speed rather the opposite is true. Of course, a soccer player should not have the body of a bodybuilder and must work to his maximum force values, but this area should still be optimally trained for soccer.

The benefits of strength ability in soccer

It takes around 10 minutes of watching a game to clarify the role of well-trained power ability in soccer, as it is the case for most team sports. Shots from various distances, jumps to head balls, abrupt changes of direction, quick acceleration, sprint, feints and throw-in. All these movements without a fortified musculature will not work successfully, and certainly not at a high level of play. Within the game the various facets of soccer strength capacity are shown in terms of: maximum, reactive and indeed explosive strength. The word ‘explosive strength’ itself has enough meaning to show the importance of this as a basis for a soccer player and this does not make him slow in fact it makes him fast. If the explosive strength is optimally developed, it enables the athlete to move his body with maximum speed. Some players can cause problems for opposing teams simply with their speed. Especially with repetitive actions as a result of well-trained strength endurance, being the fourth facet of the power capacity with particular importance.

In addition to the pure power and speed growth through appropriate training a well-developed musculature will show even more features. First, there is a increase in soccer-specific performance. In addition to improving soccer-related explosive strength characteristics during jumps, shots to line up and throw-ins, also a prerequisite for a better load compatibility is created. The athletically trained players find it easier to dribble and form-fitting duels under interference. Another positive effect is improved injury prevention. Well-trained muscles provide the most efficient protection of the musculoskeletal system, especially for joints and ligaments. In particular, the training of abdominal and back muscles is crucial. To preserve not only in terms of posture prophylaxis but also to provide a stable body position during a variety of movements, this part of the muscular system is important. Many coaches will have already heard the term “core training” in this context. This training philosophy is about the development and stabilization of the “core body”, meaning the deep abdominal and back muscles, as the focus of each training exercise.

When should strength training be performed in soccer?

For training in the grassroots sector the selection of the training program should depend primarily on the time available. The individual performance of the players, meaning the strengths and weaknesses, but also the available training opportunities should impact the amount of strength and speed training. If opportunities are given players over 16 years should start with targeted strength training, with a slowly increasing exposure to weight training. This training should, if possible, take place twice a week. For players under 16 years of age training with their own weight and a partner is absolutely sufficient. Excessive weight training at an early age can jeopardize growth and development of athletes, as it may cause epiphyseal injuries and other negative side effects. Good alternatives to heavy weights are resistance bands and medicine balls which also allow soccer specific strength exercises. To improve your player's balance you can use soft surfaces like yoga mats.

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Strength training takes place during the preparation period, where the development of these skills is in focus. In order to achieve this successfully at this stage it is recommended to use circuit training with a focus on strength and sprint training. The pyramid training (see Figure 2) is a special method of strength training and has the advantage that it is very versatile while requiring a low expenditure of time. Muscular endurance, hypertrophy and maximum strength, as the most important skills, are covered by this method. A pyramid workout usually includes 3-5 sets per exercise, which start at low intensity with high reps of 12-15 repetitions per set. The intensity increases with each set, where the number of repetitions decreases. With the last set of the exercise intensity at 3-5 reps is the highest. Between each set a two-minute break is advisable. A workout should consist of a maximum of 5-6 exercises and be reduced after the first 5 weeks of preparation period from two to one unit per week. With the start of the competition phase, the targeted strength training should give way to a classic circuit training with mostly dead weight exercises because now the force is on the training goal.

Functional training in soccer

In terms of strength and sprint training a motion analysis as a basis for the exercise selection can be crucial. “Functional training” is based on that idea. The sport specific movement, for example a header in soccer, is viewed in its entirety and is transferred to the strength training. The idea eliminates isolated strength exercises on a training machine. Instead exercises which are selected for the functional strength training aim to be as close as possible to the in game movement. It ensures that all muscle groups involved in the movement are trained as a unit. For instance, exercising explosive squats or even squat jumps will be more effective compared to isolated strength training of each involved muscle, if you want to improve your vertical jump in soccer. Furthermore, strength training without exercise machines will improve the functional strength of your core muscles, which are used to stabilize the body during complex movements.

Functional training can be combined with stabilization training in different variations, and is best executed as part of a circuit training. Apart from training the “big” muscles, stabilization training also includes the inner layers of the muscles. The objectives are mainly safe movement execution, injury and fatigue prevention, and rehabilitation after injury.

If you want to learn more about functional training in soccer we recommend you the book “Core Performance” by Mark Verstegen. For years he has been the Athletics coach for the German National Soccer Team as well as for the USA Men’s national team and several club teams.

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