Cover photo credit: Football Paradise (FP)
When it comes to habits, it is hard to break the mold. You might have been doing something the same way for several years, but then someone tells you a different way of doing it and why it might be beneficial for you. You do not want to hear. If it is not broken, then why fix it at all?
Despite relying on comforts that you are used to as a soccer player, you might be doing it wrong and it is affecting your game. That being said, there still plenty of misconceptions that exist in training as a footballer, that is why sometimes attending a pro soccer camp or academy might be a good idea to take a new look at a player's training process.
A belief that many people have is that you will become slower with the more muscle you have. So that is why many footballers avoid weight training in the gym as they believe they will lose an advantage to gain yards on the football pitch.
Unfortunately, not being able to distinguish between bodybuilding and power training, will most likely make a soccer athlete avoid using weights, and there make them miss out on optimizing their performance. Even worse, increase the likelihood of a preventable injury.
Bodybuilders, for example, gain mass by repeating the same workout repeatedly. They are tearing down the muscle tissue to help build the muscle-up.
Soccer players use different resistance training to enhance power and speed qualities. These types of training can be more psychological than they can be physical; you can sometimes feel you are doing better than you actually are. To build up power and speed it is all about high-intensity repetitions.
Footballers will actively avoid any unnecessary time under tension, metabolic fatigue, and excess muscular damage because when using weights in training they stunt explosiveness. When this is coupled with the excessive amount of cardio that footballers do, for example running, jumping, the intense movement then they will struggle to gain mass.
It is important that all the way through training that the reps are good and executed well. If a player is showing signs of fatigue during a soccer workout, then the coach should immediately end a session.
To further enhance the neurological effect, a soccer player may combine their sets with an explosive med ball throw, jump, or sprint. This change in explosive movement will be more beneficial to how a player normally trains because they are not used to sitting down whilst training but constantly on the move.
The misconception here comes from people believing that if a person is slow, then they must be out of shape. Does Juan Mata look like he is out of shape?
The illusion of being out of shape stems from the simple fact - the player lacks a certain amount of speed. Trying to fix a lack of speed with increased fitness only highlights the true issue. Trying to use fitness as a way of trying to increase speed will frequently just leave the footballer tired and slower than when they started the exercise. This is an actual sign of fatigue damage and a lot of coaches are culpable for pushing players this way.
Charlie Francis, the former Canadian Olympic sprinter, coined the notion of “speed reserve.” The concept is fairly simple. If you can increase an athlete’s maximal linear sprint capabilities, all submaximal sprint capabilities improve as well.
For instance, if we compare two athletes against each other, one who can run a 4.5-sec 40-yard dash and the other can run a 5.0-sec 40-yard dash, it is reasonably much easier for the 4.5-sec athlete to run a 5.4 sec because it is an 80% effort, while the slower 5.0-sec athlete must apply 92% of a maximal effort to run the same 5.4-sec 40-yard dash. The faster athlete would appear to be considerably more fit.
The way to look at it is, rather than increasing the fitness demands on the footballer with needless miles on the clock and never-ending shuttles, a very structured method and plan to enhance starting strength, acceleration, and max velocity simultaneously would be a much more viable option and beneficial way of training. Though we have a detailed article on speed training, a short and a good example of this would be:
Monday: Acceleration Theme
Wednesday: Max Velocity Theme
An argument for those who completely use partial squats is one of two. First, full squats aren’t necessary because they lack the specificity regarding joint angles experienced while playing soccer. Second, they argue that the amount of impact a soccer player endures while training and playing; it is wise to avoid putting the knees under any more stress by avoiding squatting to full depth and possibly causing any further damage whilst training.
Conversely, limiting an athlete from using their full range of motion in any joint is not advisable. Remember that your weaknesses are still part of you and you still have to use them. From an injury prevention position, avoiding specific ranges of motion completely makes the ignored ROMs weak and could cause more harm than good.
Soccer is a unique sport and there are certain elements that are being used that you would not use in other sports. So with the need for an unlimited amount of freedom, telling an athlete that they need to restrict their movement is a dangerous game and could seriously affect how they fully perform as an athlete. The better way is to strictly follow a soccer workout plan developed together with an experienced strength and conditioning coach.
The ratio of full to partial should be specifically tailored to the individual and fully based on the ability of the athlete, as it would strongly suggest how capable they are of performing certain ROMs. One of the best ways is to start with primarily squatting to full depth until at least you achieve 1.5x bodyweight squat.
When playing a ball-based sport, you often find yourself on one leg. This is no different from soccer. However, it is important that you are as strong on one leg as you are on the other leg. It would be wrong to assume that you should only train one leg and that leg being your strongest one. The forces generated by unilateral efforts are far lower than those of bilateral efforts and also generate far less stress than systemically.
In theory, it sounds good because you can reduce the stress in training, but one must prepare soccer players for maximal sprints and swift changes in direction, which impose the largest stresses on them. By completely avoiding a huge multi-joint bilateral movement like heavy squats and deadlifts, you will only limit the athlete’s ability to both generate and manage the different movement that is required to play football.
Carl Valle, an expert in strength and conditioning coaching, states, “Stability is reducing unwanted motion, not providing the motion the athlete needs.” This means a well-balanced approach to developing an athletic ability in a footballer would showcase bilateral efforts such as squats and deadlifts and be supplemented by more stabilizing single-leg efforts such as the rear foot elevated split squats (RFESS), step-ups, and multidirectional lunges.
Prioritizing skill- and labor-intensive efforts such as sprints, plyos, squats, and deadlifts and integrating them appropriately around the athlete’s sport-specific training and competition schedule is best for optimizing performance.
Incorporating such a soccer leg workout will improve both legs and help the soccer player improve with their change in direction.
If an athlete competes on the weekend, the week could look something like this as they prepare and recover again:
This clichéd way of training, trying to improve a player’s agility, is very frustrating for a player as the drills become repetitive and lose their reasoning.
If you are exclusively leaning on footwork and choreographed change of direction drills (whilst avoiding building any strength or power with varied or complex loads), this will lead to a player becoming more susceptible to injury and therefore cause more problems.
To explicitly improve agility, high levels of eccentric strength and lightning-quick ground contacts must be developed, for example by doing cone drills routines. Eccentric strength allows the soccer player to swiftly decelerate and efficient ground contacts allow them to quickly redirect their trajectory to the direction they want to move in.
Some simple examples of this training would be:
If you prefer a more detailed analysis, check out our agility drills break-down.
Using instability to build core strength runs into the same load versus stability issue that only training on one leg does. Constantly fighting to stabilize on a BOSU ball (or dangling kettlebells from jump stretch bands) at the expense of larger compound movements such as traditional squats, deadlifts, speed work, and plyometrics limits the soccer athlete’s exposure to the forces and stressors typically seen on the field.
The core is often misunderstood and people often think it is just about the abs because that is where they feel it when they work on their core. However, the abs are merely a part of the athlete’s core group and there is more to it. It includes the entire musculature around the pelvic girdle, the glutes, hamstrings, low back, groin and hips.
Unfortunately, because of this common misconception on soccer strength training, much of the core musculature often goes abandoned and not thought about. People just aim for the abs area.
Remarkable core stability is a frequently overlooked “by-product” of becoming strong with compound movements. Good coaches will know where to aim and what will benefit a football player.
Some examples of how you are to enhance postural muscles while still working the powerful hip musculature would change a traditional back squat to a front squat, overhead squat, or Zercher squat, or even integrating cambered bars to alter the center of mass, etc. These alternatives would be far more potent at both forcing functional bracing and stability and imposing the forces a soccer player must deal with than low-intensity, high-volume instability training.
Football players do not reach top speed in a game, but they need to be able to speed up and change direction at that same speed so they have a compelling advantage over the opposition.
Developing top-end speed provides context for acceleration work. Monitoring and actively trying to improve an athlete’s max velocity with a simple speed exercise will enhance an athlete’s acceleration in a game situation. It is the very reason why good speed training routines are of great importance for football players.
Top-end speed development also makes a soccer player’s hamstrings more resilient to an injury, especially considering the hamstring is one of the most susceptible to injuries. At an athlete’s comprehensive maximum speed, their hamstrings are exposed to stress in the most specific manner possible, meaning a player might experience discomfort when they run. Being able to properly control this narrative in a fully rested training scenario prior to competition is important to make sure the hamstring is properly looked after.
Stretching is key to developing hamstrings that can withstand a lot of stress, especially with players wanting to reach their maximum speed.
Soccer is obviously all about being on the ball, and the ball is often at your feet. But, if you do not recognize what happens without the ball, you’re missing most of the game and leaving yourself exposed against an opposition side.
It is true you spend most of the time without the ball. If you really break it down, you will see 90-minute game and 20 outfield players. If they all had it for equal time (which obviously they do not), that’s 4.4 minutes or just a mere 5 percent of the time. So even if you are a player who gets a lot more possession for example central midfielders, you are still going to spend most of your time without the ball looking to help a teammate.
Then you have to think about how you get the ball back in possession for your team. It might be having to beat an opponent to the ball or creating open space with a run or tracking back against an attacker. These options require speed which should be developed on a regular basis through executing speed drills.
Finally, you will require quickness to move around small, tight spaces as you battle with an opponent, but if you are moving in open space, you cannot move any faster with the ball than your body can go. Your sprinting speed is limited to how quick you move with the ball within the limited amount of space, and here soccer agility drills may become of great assistance.
Many years ago there was a dogma that you could not teach a player to improve their speed; it would be the consensus amongst many coaches. It was made out as if there was a genetic lottery to determine whether one has it. This is simply not true.
It is fairly obvious that you need certain genetic qualities to run at a world-class 100m speed. However, speed is a very complex motor skill that comprises both motor control and force production capabilities, both of which can be taught and improved through good speed drills.
To help improve your explosive technique and improve your fitness along the way, you need to know that running is holistic, not just the legs. The best approach to running would be to coordinate the arms and legs with the opposite arm forward to the forward leg, e.g. left foot forward and right arm forward as the next step with the other arm to help with the explosive movement. It is also important to use all the energy from the standing leg to push forward and explode into the acceleration.
If a coach can teach a player how to run effectively, it can add vital seconds to their game.
If you want to gain an advantage over your competition at every level, you need to maximize your speed by running correctly. That means training your movement skills and force production capabilities.
Too often people think if you continuously carry on sprinting then you will just naturally run quicker. This is wrong. It is all about technique and working on that rather than aimlessly trying to run quicker than you did before.
Four factors you can train and teach to improve speed:
Good agility training helps players to achieve acceleration and change of directions without a significant reduction in speed.
To achieve anything it needs to be structured. Alongside being structured, it needs to have an outcome. Wise coaches always tell football players why they are doing an exercise or a specific routine and what the benefits are for them. They also rarely schedule the training session in the way that athletes are doing one skill at a time, instead, take a holistic approach.
The traditional way is coaches train with blocked, constant practice of performing just one skill before moving on a practice game. Players need to know how they can incorporate the skill and how this affects other skills.
This progression is highlighted by the shaded zone and directional arrow presented in the graph below.
A random practice schedule, while detrimental to short term performance, is better for long-term retention and learning than blocked conditions. The clear message is that to promote learning coaches should try to avoid repetitious, blocked practice by presenting a variety of skills within the same session (Landin & Herbert 2007)
When teaching a simple skill such as the instep pass they should ensure that it has a slight variation to the practice conditions by manipulating factors such as distance between each player, speed of the ball may travel, the height of the pass or direction of the pass. One can extract all these from a game situation and implement it into a practice session.
Feedback is the key for player’s development. It helps to promote effective learning, precise development of a skill and influences the soccer player’s motivation to persist with practice and eventually master the skill.
Unfortunately, to this day coaches have the belief that “More is better”. They offer far too much feedback and the player’s mind becomes overloaded with information, meaning they cannot process it in due. Sometimes, players' parents push coaches to give more feedback.
Yet, they can provide feedback in different ways. Feedback is always available as a natural consequence of performing an action; we know this as “intrinsic feedback”. Thomas Karapatsos offers several examples from his experience as a former player and now a coach. For instance, a player will be able to visualize a pass, feel a pass, and sometimes hear the consequence of a pass in soccer with receiving no feedback from the coach at all. It is learned behavior that they get through trial and error.
As mentioned, if you provide too much feedback on every drill attempt can lead to an “overload” of information. This then results in over-reliance on needing specific feedback and prevents the player from becoming adequately involved in the problem-solving process and figuring out the problem for themselves.
At Sportlane we offer different high-quality football academies and football camps all over the world. If you are interested in joining such a program and intensify your development as a football player, please, reach us by any means. You will get a football training which has nothing to do with myths :)