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Strength and Conditioning for Soccer...



Most conventional training programs are based on the fact that if you practice soccer foot skills over and over that all other variables in the sport will be enhanced as well. While improving skills is critical, especially at younger ages, it is the improvement of the player’s athletic skills that will elevate the athlete to the next level.

Athletic skills include strength, speed, power, endurance, agility, balance, and quickness. Conditioning is a great equalizer. It could make the difference as to whether you start or sit, or whether you can advance to the next level.  When one looks at the various athletic qualities, more often than not strength is at the core. Strength is the ability to exert force at a given speed. Let’s take a look at speed, power, and agility.

Speed is the amount of distance covered in a given amount of time. Acceleration is how quickly you get to top speed. A soccer player does not hit top speed unless the athlete is on a breakaway. Acceleration and stride rate are the most important speed related factors in soccer. Strength, particularly in the quadricep, hamstring, and hip flexor groups, plays a role in all of these abilities. Reactive speed also obviously plays a key role. Speed needs to be addressed in all planes of motion.

Power  is the product of force, therefore strength, and velocity. This quality is needed both at the plate and on the mound. Power is the ability to exert strength in a given time frame. A good example is a vertical jump. It takes about .2 seconds for most athletes to go from flexion to extension at the knee before leaping. Why do some athletes that weigh the same amount and extend their knees in the same time frame jump higher than others? They can express more force via strength and motor recruitment in this time frame. Speaking of vertical leap, we can improve it here. A program utilizing methods to minimize power loss through the torso will be used in conjunction with plyometrics. The key is stabilizing the pelvis, hip abductors, adductors, and external rotators. We also need to analyze your jump for proper knee tracking and to prevent what Chicago Bulls strength coach Al Vermeil calls back jumping. The low back is comprised predominantly of slow twitch fibers and will not get you vertical fast enough. Important to get those headed balls. Glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps should be used to provide power for jumping. Agility is the body’s ability to change direction while maintaining speed. Power, and therefore strength is at the root of agility. Key areas are the legs, hips, abdominals, and low back.

 

HOW IS IT DONE?



Strength is developed at the facility mainly through the use of free weights and body weight resistive movements. Free weights are supreme since the various stabilizers and co-contractors come into play, not just prime movers, much like during a game situation. A foundation of strength and stability is necessary in order to build upon this foundation using other modes of training in a safe, effective manner. Other modes utilized include plyometrics, medicine and Swiss ball training, speed training, and agility training. In addition, cardiovascular conditioning is enhanced during drills using appropriate work/rest ratios to mainly tax the phosphagen energy pathway, which is the main pathway utilized during the game.

Plyometrics utilize the body’s stretch reflex to yield a more forceful contraction. The goal of plyometrics is to increase power output. It is the linking of speed and strength to develop reactive power. It also teaches good coordination and agility. One needs a good strength base before performing plyometric exercise. The vertimax is one tool  that we use here to improve jump specific power. It is used at high schools and universities across the country.

Medicine ball training is utilized in correspondence with weight or resistance training to develop power. Motions can be multi-planar and sport specific. The core, which consists of the abs, back, hips, and thighs, can be targeted in a sport specific way. Athletic ability is enhanced. The core contributes greatly to body power. All movement initiates at the core.

Swiss ball training enhances balance and teaches strength expression and coordination in unstable environments, much like on the court. Activation of prime movers in a motion is 100% only when balance is present during the motion. Therefore, functional strength is enhanced by improving balance alone. Neutralizer and stabilizer muscle action is enhanced. High levels of nervous system activation occur, which leads to a reserve when the athlete hits the field.

Speed training utilizes strength training, form training and plyometrics. Sprint resistive and sprint assisted methods are used more specifically to target stride length and stride frequency respectively. The drills range from general to very specific.

Agility training is accomplished utilizing cone, ABC Ladder, and rope drills. Work/rest ratios are designed to enhance the appropriate metabolic pathways and for cardiovascular conditioning as well. An example of a specific drill would be a resisted open step while hooked up to external resistance.

The total program is affected by and should be planned in accordance with at what point of the season the athlete is in. Generally speaking, the program moves from very generalized in the off season to more specific as the season approaches. Initially strength gains and muscle mass, if needed, are emphasized. As the season approaches, more emphasis is placed on translating these gains to sport specific speed and power. The younger the athlete, the more skills training should be at the forefront. Provisions should be made in programs to blend skills and conditioning accordingly.