How many of you have seen professional soccer players posting their latest workout on Instagram, or a club sharing footage of their latest strength training session?
I see top teams and players falling into the trap of over-programming stability balls and light weights thinking it will make them lean, balanced and fast. Some are simply following the latest gimmicks and fads popping up inside the general fitness industry. This should not be the case! There’s a place for stability balls and light dumbbells, but it’s big, explosive lifts that’s going to really move the needle for soccer players.
For some reason, soccer has been the slowest of all the major sports to catch onto strength training. Strength training is such a taboo subject within the soccer community. Unlike a sport like football or basketball where pretty much every respectable program from high school up gets inside the weight room, the commitment to strength training is much more varied in soccer. Some teams and athletes fully embrace it, while others barely do any strength training.
But Won’t I Get Big and Bulky?
I think this is one of the biggest fears soccer coaches and athletes have when it comes to legit strength training. Somewhere along the line, moving heavy weight got associated with having the physique of a powerlifter. A typical powerlifter’s physique doesn’t exactly scream “fast, sleek and great endurance”, so it’s a scary association for soccer players.
Yes, with the right nutrition and loading strategies, weight training can help you put on pounds and pounds of muscle. However, this does not happen overnight, nor does it happen by accident. A couple hours inside the weight room each week is not going to turn a teenaged midfielder into Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Achieving such a physique takes hours of training each day and more food and calories than you can even imagine. And you have to follow that routine for years on end to get something resembling a “powerlifter” build. With as much as soccer players run in training and games, their body just isn’t going to pack on huge amounts of muscle quickly.
Ok. But Can I Just Lift Light?
For the soccer players who do strength train, many are afraid to lift heavy. In this case, let’s call “lifting heavy” using a weight that you could perform no more than 10 consecutive reps in a set before failing or having your form break down. In some of the videos I referenced earlier in this piece, soccer athletes are using weights so light they could probably knock out 50-100 reps before failing. My answer to this question is no, you can’t just lift super light weights and expect that t to do much for you out on the field.
For one, soccer is becoming a very high-speed game. Soccer players run approximately 10-13km per game depending on their position. However, most of that time is spent walking or slow jogging. The majority of important moments are always defined by an explosive action that equates in a tackle or a shot on goal. This is where big lifts come in. Heavy lifting allows your motor units to fire at a higher rate and “turn on” quicker. This results in a higher force output, which then results in more explosive actions (such as breaking into that sprint quicker or jumping for that header higher.) Should soccer players spend a ton of time grinding out slow one-rep maxes? No. But should they practice moving moderate-to-heavy weights fast and explosively on a regular basis? Absolutely.
Second, soccer players need strong reactive tendons just as much as they need strong muscles. Big lifts help create stronger tendons to transfer force from muscle to bone. Strength training also increases bone density. The myths that strength training will stunt growth or that it’s exceedingly dangerous for young athletes have been thoroughly debunked. If anything, a well-designed strength training program can help a young athlete build a more injury-resistant body.
There are some great soccer players out there who don’t strength train. The reality is that talent is sometimes enough. However, the number of players this applies to is just a fraction of the greater soccer player population, and there’s an argument to be made these magicians could be even better with a well-designed strength program. Why leave improvement on the table. Don’t believe the myths about strength training somehow ruining your game. Any increase in strength and muscle mass will come on so gradually that your body will be able to adapt. It’s not about being skilled vs. being strong. It’s about being skilled and strong, fast, explosive, etc.
Urlando, A. and Hawkins, D. (2007). “Achilles Tendon Adaptation during Strength Training in Young Adults.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(7), pp.1147-1152.
Bangsbo, J., Mohr, M. and Krustrup, P. (2006). “Physical and metabolic demands of training and match-play in the elite football player.” Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(7), pp.665-674.
Mendell, L. (2005). “The size principle: a rule describing the recruitment of motoneurons.” Journal of Neurophysiology, 93(6), pp.3024-3026.
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