Speed and Strength Training with Landon Donovan

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For years, countries the size of Rhode Island ran circles around our National Team, delighted by the opportunity to embarrass the All-Mighty United States of America for all the world to see.

We were playing their brand of football, and we sucked at it.

Now, we play soccer, and soccer has become an American Game.


For years, countries the size of Rhode Island ran circles around our National Team, delighted by the opportunity to embarrass the All-Mighty United States of America for all the world to see.

We were playing their brand of football, and we sucked at it.

Now, we play soccer, and soccer has become an American Game.

All the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team needed were a reason, a will and a little time. Being laughed off the world stage provided the reason. The will was always there, maybe just buried a little. And time has passed, the growing pains have stopped and our game has come of age.

Young American phenoms now fill our massive stadiums. The faces on our posters and magazines no longer belong to men whose names we can't pronounce. When overseas, our national coaches are rushed by European soccer enthusiasts with questions about our players. Our National Team ranks as one of the top five in the world.

The team is making its final preparations before heading to Germany for the 2006 World Cup. Soon they will test their game against the rest of the world. It's too early to tell whether the nations that used to control the soccer field fear us, or even respect us. But we do know they hear us coming.

Leading the charge for the U.S. National Team is internationally recognized soccer star Landon Donovan. The team's forward has his mind set on big goals for this summer's tournament. "We all know that American fans don't care about what happened four years ago," he says. "They care about the present and want us to do well again. If we want our sport to keep growing, we have no choice but to keep succeeding at the international level. That's what we're going out to do."

Since the late 90s, the American Game has become faster and more athletic. These improvements fuel Donovan's confidence. "There were some great players back then, but they had more time to make plays in a game. Everything happens so much faster now," he says. "Our players get to their places faster, they think faster, and they move faster. This makes us more competitive on the world stage, because that is how the game is played around the world."

Pierre Barrieu, the National Team's fitness coach, has prepared the team to compete at an unprecedented level, after driving them to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Donovan says, "Pierre came in about six months before the last World Cup and helped us tremendously in Japan and Korea. I was in the absolute peak shape of my entire career. I had never been fitter, stronger or felt better. I always assumed I was in pretty good shape, but I wasn't near the level to which Pierre brought us."

Barrieu's program works to build healthy, strong and blazing-fast athletes specifically for the pitch. Proof of the plan's effectiveness: Donovan netted two goals in the '02 Cup and earned a spot on the tournament's Honorable Mention Team. "Landon improved every aspect of his body—it was truly amazing," Barrieu says. "He always had the speed, but the strength training allowed him to play at a higher level and stay healthy."

Donovan also experienced a mental boost from Barrieu's training. "Landon's improved strength has increased his confidence in his physical abilities," Barrieu says. "He refuses to back down from any challenge."

One challenge from which Donovan refuses to back down is convincing people to believe in the new American Game and National Team. If you're one of the doubters, he's got some choice words for you: "We are miles ahead of where we used to be, and I know soccer will completely catch on here. You can either deal with it, enjoy it and educate yourself about the game, or you can be ignorant and left behind."

If you want to keep up with the new Game, you have no choice but to devote yourself to the training that sparked the revolution.


Speed warm-up

Barrieu's speed warm-up goes well beyond casually stretching out and loosening up the team. It's all about getting them fast. "I have found that one of the best ways to improve speed is to use speed technique exercises as a warm-up," Barrieu says. "Improving speed is not complicated, because we know how to train an athlete to be a good runner. Correctly performing these speed- and track-inspired movements daily will make the players faster. It's that simple." Donovan understands and makes the most of the speed warm-up. "We don't relaxingly go through this routine to stretch out," he says. "These exercises work speed by building muscle memory in your fast twitch muscle fibers to react quickly." Focusing on the following coaching points will help you gain the fast twitch effect.

Pierre's Coaching Points

1) Keep your toes pulled up toward your shins to maintain tension in your calves
2) Keep ground contact time as short as possible—be quick off the ground
3) Stay on the balls of your feet; never allow your heels to touch the ground
4) Work to get full extension in the hips

Skip with Arm Swing

• Skip forward while swinging arms forward and backward

Zigzag Shuffle

• Shuffle right at 45-degree angle for three strides
• Plant right foot, pivot, then shuffle left at 45-degree angle for three strides
• Repeat pattern in continuous fashion

Ham Kicks

• Rapidly kick heels to upper hamstrings while running
• Cover as little ground as possible with each step


• Skip by driving right knee up as you push off with left leg
• Drive right foot down as you raise left knee
• Continue in skipping fashion


• Skip by driving right knee up as you push off with left leg
• With knee still elevated, extend right leg and accelerate it down by contracting hamstring
• Repeat with left leg
• Continue in skipping fashion

Knees to Shoulders

• Stand with hands at shoulder level
• Alternate driving left and right knees up to hands

Skip with Clap

• Perform A-Skips while clapping hands under raised knee each skip

Groucho Walk

• Arch back, push butt back, and bend forward at hips until chest is almost parallel to ground
• Take long step with right leg by reaching out with heel; make sure to keep right leg straight
• When heel reaches ground, extend foot so that ball of foot touches ground
• Without allowing shoulders to rise or body position to change, pull yourself forward with right leg
• Repeat with left leg and continue in walking fashion

Low-level plyos

After the speed warm-up, the National Team goes through three to four minutes of plyometric exercises. "The plyos teach the guys to react off the ground quickly and prepare them for practice by getting their central nervous systems to fire fast," Barrieu says. "We keep the plyos at a low level, so we don't create any soreness at the beginning of practice."

Donovan says, "These drills help us work on exploding, which is necessary for the game; that's how it's played. You need to work on explosion regularly so it comes more naturally in a game."

Barrieu's speed warm-up coaching points apply to these drills as well.


• In continuous fashion, explosively bound from one leg to other
• Cover as much ground as possible and achieve maximum hang time with each bound

Tuck Jumps

• Lower down into quarter-squat and explode vertically for maximum height
• Pull knees into chest while in the air
• Absorb landing with soft knees, then immediately explode into next jump

Hurdle Fast Leg

• Begin facing row of six mini-hurdles placed one yard apart
• Line up right leg with middle of first hurdle and place left leg outside of it
• Skip over each hurdle with right leg, making sure to drive right foot into ground between hurdles
• Keep left leg straight and use as support during each skip
• Repeat drill with left leg

Hurdle Fast Leg Lateral

• Stand to right of row of six mini-hurdles placed one yard apart
• Position feet so right foot is lined up with middle of first hurdle and left foot is back 12-18 inches
• Skip laterally left over each hurdle with right foot, driving it into ground between hurdles
• Keep left leg straight and use as support during each skip
• Repeat drill with left leg

Agility training

Once the players are warmed up and their central nervous systems are awake and ready to fire, Barrieu ups the intensity with change-of-direction work. "Forcing the guys to change direction makes this training sport-specific and improves their reaction," Barrieu says. "And I always make sure the guys initiate every movement from the hips, not the knees."

According to Barrieu, kyphosis (rounded shoulders and forward lean) is a common condition for many soccer players. "This posture makes it difficult to fully extend the hips, because the shoulders are in front and the back is pushed back," he says. "So I try to get the guys in the habit of moving from the hips, getting full extension and being straight through the back."

Hurdle Lateral Shuffle with Sprint (see diagram)

• Stand left of first row of mini-hurdles
• Without crossing feet, shuffle laterally right over each hurdle, leading with right leg so each foot touches once between hurdles
• When right leg steps over last hurdle, plant with right foot and explode into short sprint straight ahead to begin shuffling laterally left at next row
• Repeat through entire pattern of hurdles

Hurdle Lateral Shuffle with Diagonal Sprint (see diagram)

• Stand left of first row of mini-hurdles
• Without crossing feet, shuffle laterally right over each hurdle, leading with right leg so each foot touches once between hurdles
• When right leg steps over last hurdle, plant with right foot and explode into diagonal sprint to opposite end of next row
• Begin shuffling laterally right at next row
• Repeat through entire pattern of hurdles


"We run hard in practice so we can run past people in games," Barrieu says.

"That's what we're known for as a team—great runners. Improving running ability and capacity is quite easy to achieve, but it's physically and mentally demanding."

Barrieu's conditioning plan is based on decreasing the duration of runs while increasing the intensity over a period of time to improve the players' lactic threshold—the point at which lactic acid accumulates in the muscles and impairs movement. A higher threshold allows a player to run harder and longer.

Donovan says, "When Pierre first gets us back in camp, his big thing is increasing our lung capacity and getting us ready to play. He uses a lot of distance running and game-like recovery runs to get our hearts and lungs to handle more."

"We start with longer duration and lower intensity, because the guys are coming back from a long season," Barrieu says. "Starting their training with sprints would be counterproductive and increase the risk of injury. The running gets more intense and aggressive toward the end of our progression."

However, the team's early, less-intense work never includes jogging, which Barrieu likens to walking. They're always moving at a nice clip.

Barrieu highlights the effectiveness of his progression by means of a body-fat test. Simply put, the U.S. players are fit, with an average body-fat percentage of 6.9.

Conditioning Progression: Aerobic Phase

40-45 min.

2x20 min. or 3x15 min.
Rest btw Sets
3 min.
When the players can handle this tempo, Barrieu increases the intensity about two percent each workout throughout the phase.

Conditioning Progression: Intense Phase
5-7 min.
5x15 sec.
Rest btw Reps
25 sec.
Rest btw Sets
3 min


Strength exercises

Barrieu sets two main strength goals for the National Team—prevent injury and improve explosiveness. "To keep the guys healthy, I have them do a large number of exercises on one leg or on stability pads. This strengthens the stabilizing muscles in the ankles, knees and hips," he says. "For the upper body, we do rotator cuff work to protect their shoulders from the joint injuries that are common among soccer players."

Donovan was never really a "weight guy" until he started working with Barrieu. "I always thought weights were more for football and baseball players," he says. " But we're not in there trying to bench 300 pounds. That's not relevant to soccer. We focus more on the core, hips and shoulders, because that's where we need strength to hold someone off or get to a ball."

Donovan saw immediate payoffs from the weight work in Barrieu's strength program. He says, "When we were in Korea in '02, I was at my strongest—not just physically fit in my lungs and heart. I could run at a higher intensity without my muscles getting tired or sore." The National Team lifts two to three times a week during their training camp.

Stability Pad Squat

• Begin in athletic stance with stability pad under each foot
• Keeping knees behind toes, slowly lower into squat position until thighs are parallel to ground
• Drive up into standing position

Stability Pad Lateral Jumps

• Standing on left leg with stability pad under foot, jump laterally right and land on another pad
• Absorb force by softening right knee and stabilizing with ankle, knee and core
• Jump back to left and repeat for specified reps

Single-Leg Medicine Ball Stability Pad Reach

• Stand on slightly bent right leg with stability pad under foot
• Hold medicine ball in front of chest
• Without dropping chest toward floor, bend right knee and rotate upper body to right until medicine ball is outside of right knee
• Return to start position and repeat for specified reps
• Perform on left side

Resisted Hip Flexion

• Attach surgical tubing to foot and stationary object behindyou so there is tension in tubing
• Drive resisted leg forward into high knee position
• Hold, then return leg back to start position with control

Explosive lifts

Barrieu uses Olympic lifts—such as hang cleans and push presses—to train the players' central nervous systems to react faster, teach them to extend their hips and correct muscle imbalances. "The demands of soccer require a lot of quad and abductor strength," he says. "When the quads and abductors are stronger than their opposing muscle groups—the hamstrings and glutes—muscle imbalances result, which can lead to common soccer injuries. So besides the explosive benefits, these lifts load the hip extensors—the hamstrings and glutes—to help correct the imbalance."

Donovan says, "Even though you feel your upper body working, because you're holding weight, the motion is all about that explosion. If you learn to bring your hips through faster, you will run faster, jump higher and lunge better—all of which improve your ability to get to the ball."

Dumbbell Push Press

• Begin with slight flex in knees and dumbbells at shoulder level
• Drive dumbbells straight overhead by extending hips, knees and ankles simultaneously
• Finish with arms straight overhead and knees slightly bent

Dumbbell Split Jump with Twist

• Assume split stance with right foot forward
• Hold dumbbell in both hands at chest level outside of right shoulder
• Jump straight up and switch position of legs while rotating dumbbell from right to left shoulder
• Upon landing with left leg forward, perform next jump and rotate dumbbell back to right

Dumbbell Lunge to Single-Leg Row to Press

• Holding dumbbells at sides, step into lunge position
• Lower until back knee is just off ground
• Bring back leg forward and raise knee in front to assume single-leg stance
• Keeping dumbbells close to body, pull them up by driving elbows toward ceiling
• When dumbbells reach shoulder level, drop elbows under and press dumbbells overhead
• Return dumbbells to sides and repeat by stepping with opposite leg

Dumbbell Lunge to Single-Leg Row to Press with Rotation

• Same as left, but hold position after press, then rotate with tight core away from grounded leg


As evidenced by the multitude of core exercises, Barrieu thinks that a strong core is one of the most important pursuits in the weight room. "Our core training is another remedy to the problem of weak hamstrings, glutes and abductors caused by overdeveloped quads," he says. "Strong quads and weak or tight hamstrings create a deficiency in the lower abdominal region, so we focus on that area.

"The hip and core complex is a complicated system, with many parts, so we make sure that all the corresponding muscles know how to work together simultaneously. This is accomplished through stability-based exercises rather than straight strength-building ones."

Even the exercises not specifically designed to improve core strength benefit the region. "For all of our standing exercises, the players must maintain a stable stance with knees bent and hips and core tight, without rocking," Barrieu says. "Stabilizing your bodyweight with additional weight is a tremendous challenge."

Donovan realizes this work's carryover to the pitch. "Everything is predicated on how strong your core is," he says. "The stronger it is, the more explosive you are. It enables you to cut that much quicker and get to the ball a half-second sooner. That could mean a goal—or even the World Cup. It sounds like a cliché, but trust me, that kind of stuff happens, and it's this training that makes the difference."


• Begin on all fours, with knees directly under hips and hands directly under shoulders
• Without arching back, raise and straighten right arm and left leg so they form straight line with body
• Hold position; lower limbs; repeat for specified reps; then switch sides

Stability Ball Forward Roll

• Kneel with forearms resting on stability ball
• Raise hips so that only feet touch ground
• Maintaining straight line from shoulders to feet, roll ball forward until past shoulders
• Roll ball back and return to start position; repeat

Stability Ball Cross

• Place shoulder blades on stability ball with feet on ground
• Assume bridge position by raising hips to form straight line from shoulders to knees
• With tight core, bring arms to side, then raise and straighten left leg so it's in line with upper body
• Hold, lower leg and repeat with right leg
• Repeat for specified reps

Charlie's Angels

• Place shoulder blades on stability ball and feet on ground
• Assume bridge position by raising hips to form straight line from shoulders to knees
• With palms together, straighten arms so they point toward ceiling
• With tight core and without shifting hips, rotate arms and upper body left, then back to center
• Rotate right, then back to center
• Repeat for specified reps

Stability Ball Supine Bounce

• Lie on back with legs straight and stability ball between feet
• Without allowing back to arch, raise legs so that ball is two inches above ground
• Release stability ball so it bounces off ground
• Catch ball between feet off one bounce
• Hold; repeat for specified reps


• Sit on ground with knees bent and feet off ground
• As partner tosses med ball, catch it, stabilize and throw ball back without twisting hips

Stability Ball Back Extension

• Lie on stomach on stability ball with chest hanging over ball
• With hands behind head, lift chest off ball
• Hold, return to start position, repeat for specified reps

Stability Ball Hip Raise

• Lie with back on ground and feet on stability ball, with knees bent at 90-degree angle
• Raise hips so that only shoulder blades touch ground
• Form straight line from shoulders to knees; hold
• Lower to start position and repeat for specified reps


Willkommen nach Deutschland. Mögen wir Sie auf dem Feldverprügeln?

Welcome to Germany. May we spank you on the field?

In the 2002 World Cup finals, the German National Team battled Brazil and came up short. To prevent any similar happenings this summer, coach Jeurgen Klinsmann called on Shad Forsythe, head athletic trainer at Athletes' Performance Los Angeles, to physically prepare his squad, so, ultimately, they win the whole thing. Forsythe and his APLA staff lead the L.A. Galaxy's performance training. Here he shares the goods that have put AP's services in demand worldwide.

Why they're tough

Beyond the home field advantage, these guys rely on their history of technical mastery. They really dominate in that area. In addition, they will outwork anyone. They don't ever quit or stop trying to win. The entire German program has been founded on outworking everyone.

This mentality extends to their training. The German players seemed very open-minded and excited when their coaches decided to bring an American strength coach over to train them. They were confident that if an American strength coach could train NFL, NBA and NHL players to be quicker and faster, then he could improve their game.

How they've gotten better

The first thing we did was perform a movement screen test with each player—an examination of the fundamental movement patterns needed to play sports—to detect any asymmetries in mobility, flexibility and stability. The German players tested well in mobility and flexibility, but they were very unstable. You can't build strength, power or speed without stability, so we corrected that first.

Most people think of building core strength and stability through crunches and similar ab exercises. If you look at the posture of many soccer players, you'll see that they are already hunched over. That often results from a lack of thoracic mobility and subsequent hip flexor stiffness. Crunches can actually worsen this condition. When you cut or perform elastic or explosive activities, you don't want to crunch or collapse your midsection. You want to maintain good posture with an activated core, which enables you to use your hips—the strongest, most explosive muscles in your body.

Exercises to improve core stability

• Plank
• Side/Pillar Bridge

Check yourself

Since a high school soccer player doesn't have access to a movement screen test, he can measure the symmetry of his strength and stability by testing his balance. Stand on one leg, keeping some flex in the standing knee and holding good posture without letting your knee cave in. (Even at the elite level, some players struggle with this.) Next, progress to the Single-Leg Chair Squat.

Single-Leg Chair Squat

• Assume single-leg stance with chair behind
• Without allowing knee to cave in, lower and sit back into single-leg squat until butt barely touches chair
• Rise into starting position
• Repeat on opposite leg

Soccer players are often more stable in their plant leg, because they use it to drive through the ball. So, a right-footed player often has a more stable left leg. This stability plays a huge role in an athlete's cutting ability. Our data show that a right-foot dominant player usually doesn't cut as well off his right leg. These asymmetries need to be corrected; they could be a precursor to injury.

Big hitters

The Germans have a 6'7" central defender named Per Mertesacker. Great agility is required at his position, but our test revealed that he was lacking in that area. Through a personalized plan, he increased his side-to-side movement so much that both sides were almost equally agile, and he dropped his test time by almost a half second. Midfielder Sebastien Deisler has gone through knee surgeries in the past, so he's had some single-leg issues. But now, when you look at the team in terms of speed, fitness and every other physical attribute, he's the best athlete on the pitch. I feel really good about what he's going to do.


It's always an honor to take the field against teams like England and Brazil, because they have so much talent, skill and athletic ability. Germany had some great battles against Brazil and Argentina last year in the Confederation Cup. They outplayed Brazil but lost 3-2. We think they'll repeat that performance but come out on the other end this year.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock