A common misconception is that soccer players only train for stamina and technique. Power training plays a crucial part in their workouts, and it is the best way to gain strength. Since soccer players usually cover about 12 kilometers in 90 minutes, many people think of soccer as an aerobic sport, similar to distance running. However, footballers must also have a solid anaerobic base in order to be able to speed up, dive for a header, or run through a tackle.
Sure, talent and technical skills are the major elements of a footballer’s performance, but being a more complete athlete will also make you a better player. Power training will do more for your performance than any type of soccer shoes. Take a look at Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best, if not the best soccer players. His training mentality changed the culture at Manchester United.
Doing the right exercises will not only enhance your muscle strength, but will also improve your tendon flexibility, raise your speed, boost your explosiveness, and make you jump higher and faster. Soccer players rely mostly on their legs, but their torso is also of great importance. The core needs to be developed so that the player can change directions quickly and continuously.
Just make sure that you limit machine use as much as you can, and use dumbbells instead. This way, you activate the muscle tissue and train all the other small muscles which you cannot train with machines.
The following exercises will help you improve the key factors of soccer performance: speed, endurance, and agility.
Gym exercises for improving speed in soccer
Players like Gareth Bale, one of the fastest football players alive, trains very hard in the gym to be able to sprint past defenders.
There are many routine strategies to follow, such as full body workouts and 3 day split workout routines. Pick the one which is most suitable for you. If you only train twice a week, go for 2 full body workouts.
If you have time and the energy, a 3 day split will provide bigger benefits.
What kind of exercises should you include in your workouts? Good question. Here are some of the best weight training and body-weight exercises you can use to improve your footballing ability.
1. Single-leg squat
Why: When sprinting, the majority of your power goes into only one leg at a time. Regular squats are great for activating the muscle groups which help you run, but single-leg squats train the legs to endure your whole weight so you can develop the power for sprinting.
How to do single-leg squats:
- Stand on one foot and hold the other one in front of you.
- Slowly bend your knee, and hold your arms in front of you for balance.
- Start lowering yourself into a squat, and hold it down there for a second before standing back.
2. Dumbbell bench step-ups
Why: According to Tony Strudwick, the head of fitness at Manchester United, this exercise will help you go from a sprint to a jump in order to get quickly to a set-piece header.
How to do dumbbell bench step-ups
- Stand next to a bench with a couple of dumbbells in your hands. The bench should be on your left side.
- Place your left leg on the bench and push yourself up until both your legs are straight.
- Hold this position for 2 seconds before going down.
- After doing 10 reps switch to the right leg.
3. Pulling a weighted sled
Why: The heavy sled will put intense resistance on every muscle that you use to move forward, including the glutes, shoulders, and your core. Exercising these muscle groups will make a huge impact on your game time acceleration.
How to do a weighted sled drag
- Connect the sled to a harness that you can attach to your body. Start with light weights at first.
- Lean forward, and start with small steps.
- Start picking up the speed and increase the length of your steps.
- Stop after 50 meters and repeat.
Gym exercises for improving endurance in soccer
Lasting the entire 90 minutes in a football match can be quite exhausting, so you need to have as much stamina as possible.
1. High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
Why: This type of workout simulates what is going on in a soccer match: quickly switching between paces and sprinting. It trains your body to switch rapidly between the aerobic and the anaerobic system. This will make your body use oxygen more resourcefully. You can do this type of workouts on a treadmill or on a static bike.
How to do HIIT
- Step on your treadmill/static bike, and for the first 10 minutes just warm yourself up while gradually increasing speed.
- When you reach medium effort, start running/spinning at maximum speed for 30 seconds.
- Return to medium effort for 3 minutes.
- Repeat this 5 times.
2. Burpee pull-ups
Why: They push your body to its limits, and exercise various muscle groups. The reason they are perfect for endurance training is because they rapidly increase your heart rate, just like when you make a sprint in a football match.
How to do burpee pull-ups
- Stand under a pull-up bar.
- Drop into a squat position, with your hands on the floor right in front of you. Kick back your feet into a push-up position, just like in a regular burpee.
- From this position, without moving your hands, jump back into a squat position.
- Quickly stand up and jump to grab the pull-up bar. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
- Drop down and repeat according to your fitness level.
Gym exercises for improving agility in soccer
Agility is one of the most important abilities a football player can have, so they can spin around the ball and run through defenders. Although skill and talent play a huge role in this, hard work in the gym will make it even harder for opponents to stop you.
1. Medicine ball push-ups
Why: Even though this does not sound like the perfect agility exercise, it improves your core strength, which then enables you to make rapid turns without losing balance.
How to do medicine ball push-ups
- Place both your hands on a medicine ball in front of you.
- Move into a push-up position with your hands on the ball, right under your chest.
- Lower yourself until your chest touches the ball, and then push yourself back up.
2. Forward-backward sprints
Why: They help you get ready for sudden changes in direction, and train your body to move rapidly in any direction.
How to do forward-backward sprints
- Set out cones at a 20 meters distance.
- Sprint from one cone to the other.
- When you reach the second cone, stop, and then sprint backwards.
As you can see, there are many reasons why you should include the gym in your soccer training. Each and every one of these exercises will make you stronger, quicker, have more endurance, and develop your injury resistance.
Combined with skills and technique, your physicality and athleticism will make you stand out every time you step out on the field.