The North Carolina Courage may very well be the best women's club team on the planet.
Not only do they currently sport a massive lead in the standings of the National Women's Soccer League, but their recent victory in the International Champions Cup Women's Tournament saw them defeat two of the finest women's club teams in Europe—Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Lyonnais.
Kristen Hamilton has played a pivotal role in the Courage's rise to dominance. The 5-foot-4 attacker has appeared in 18 of their 19 NWSL games so far this season, and her four assists are tied for the second-most on the team. STACK recently caught up with Hamilton to find out the training it takes to thrive on the best women's club team in the world.
"In the offseason I'm in the gym four to five days a week. I'm lifting, doing strength work, just getting as strong as I can. Because (the NSWL) season can last six to seven months, you know your body is going to break down, so you want to be as strong and as fit as possible going into the season so you can maintain that," Hamilton says.
Hamilton says there are four "big lifts" she looks to hit every week during her offseason training. They are the Front Squat, the Back Squat, the Deadlift, and the Romanian Deadlift. So there's essentially some form of Squat or Deadlift in Hamilton's program every strength training day, but the different variations help her target different muscle groups and ensure she avoids overtraining. Front Squats target the quads more than the Back Squat, for example, while Romanian Deadlifts targets the hamstrings and hips more than the Deadlift.
In addition to those major strength-builders, core strength is also a key focus in Hamilton's routine. "Core strength stabilizes everything—your core stabilizes so much," Hamilton says. "So that's definitely incorporated in my routines. I do a core circuit towards the end of almost every one of my workouts."
Her core circuit encompasses Dead Bugs along with a 3-minute Plank series that includes Front Planks, Side Planks, Front Planks with Leg Raises, and Side Planks with Reach Throughs.
Activating and strengthening the glutes is another crucial part of Hamilton's program. She utilizes a glute activation series every single day, be it before a weight room session or before a practice. "The glute work is something I'd tell every athlete about. It stabilizes your whole lower-body. Girls, and young girls in soccer, in particular, are a lot more prone to ACL tears and knee injuries. The more glute strength you have, the more you'll reduce your risk of those," Hamilton says. "One of the biggest things I do every single day is a glute activation series. (I put a mini-band around my ankles or knees) and walk sideways, walk forwards, walk backwards. I do that before every training session to warm up my glutes and get them firing and stabilizing correctly."
Outside of the weight room, cardiovascular fitness is an absolutely critical part of Hamilton's routine. Courage head coach Paul Riley encourages an extremely aggressive style of play, and the players need stellar endurance to make it work. Hamilton performs intense aerobic training during the off-season, but Riley also integrates plenty of fitness work into the team's practices. One of the most brutal conditioning drills they perform is known as the Superfield.
"I'd say we're definitely the fittest team in the league. That's attributed to the amount we run on the field and the style of soccer we play," Hamilton says. "We're a very high press, high attacking, aggressive team. If you want to play and you want to be on the field, you're going to have to be fit enough to do that work."
Photo Credit: Andy Mead/Getty Images
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