I am not a fan of Crunches.
It is a bold statement, but Crunches do not translate to improved soccer performance or reduced risk of injury on the pitch. If you're someone who hammers out hundreds of Crunches a week, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. The good news is you can upgrade your ab exercises and see superior results, as there are plenty of other core exercises you can add to your workout repertoire that will improve aesthetics as well as function.
Will the world go up in flames if soccer players perform Ab Crunches? No, but they will not optimize their physical and technical performance. Ab Crunches flex the core and low back, which is not something we want to happen during soccer specific movements. Rather, a player's core should be stabilizing their limbs so they can better perform on the field. A strong, stable core will better help a soccer player:
- Maintain stability on the plant foot when shooting a ball
- Keep their balance when faking left or right against a defender
- Shoot without placing stress on the low back
- Move the hip extensors (during the back-swing) and hip flexors and quadriceps (during the follow-through motion) on powerful shots
- Play with good posture so they can run at high speeds and change direction quicker
- Breathe more efficiently, which helps with recovering after high bouts of intense movement
Core stabilizing exercises train the lower back to be stable, protecting the health of the spine. In addition, they correctly train the core to act as a unit made up of multiple muscle groups: the hips, low back, abdominals and obliques must work together to effectively accomplish the actions listed above.
Core stability is the foundation of a well-rounded soccer player. But what should they do once they've mastered basic exercises like Dead Bugs, Planks, Pallof Presses, etc.? Should they simply continue to perform them without changing their routines despite diminishing returns? Of course not. If a soccer player has mastered the staple core exercises, then it's time to up the ante with some more challenging variations. With that in mind, here are five advanced core stability exercises for soccer players.
Advanced players can still perform staple core stability exercises like Dead Bugs, Bird Dogs and Planks, but they should be performed as warm-up or recovery and not intense training.
1. The Cable Rope Dead Bug
This is an advanced variation of the standard Dead Bug exercise. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground and keep your chin tucked in. Extend your arms and legs simultaneously and do not let your feet touch the ground. Inhale through your nose, and then lower your legs in a controlled manner while exhaling through your nose.
Sets/Reps: 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps
2. The Plank Bird Dog
This is an advanced variation of the standard Bird Dog. Get in a plank position and line your shoulders up with your hands. Keep your hips from swaying as you touch the opposite hand to the opposite knee.
Sets/Reps: 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps on each side
3. The Pallof Sled Drag
This is an advanced variation of the standard Pallof Press. Set body in an athletic position with the hips back, chest out and knees softly bent. Step sideways while keeping the arms extended and your hands centered.
Sets/Reps: 2-3 sets of 10-15 steps in each direction
4. The Side Plank with Leg Raise
This is an advanced variation of the standard Side Plank. Set up in a side plank position with your body straight and hips lined up with your shoulders. Raise the leg and keep your hips in a stable position. Contract the glutes throughout the movement.
Sets/Reps: 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps on each side
5. The Landmine Hollow Hold
This is an advanced variation of the standard Hollow Hold. Lift your shoulders and head off the ground with your chin tucked in. Extend your arms and raise your legs and breathe through your nose. The diaphragm should expand when you inhale and contract when you exhale.
Sets/Reps: 2-3 sets of 15-30 seconds
Photo Credit: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/Getty Images
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