Specific Strength and Fitness Training

Training for soccer is very different than training for almost any other sport, for a variety of reasons. Soccer-specific, sex-specific strength and fitness training presents some interesting challenges for both the athlete and the strength coach involved in developing and implementing the program. Over the next week, I will propose several alternative programs, both male and female-oriented, that you may use to get ready for the upcoming season.

Summer Leagues, Camps, and ODP

I realize many of you are probably playing straight through the summer, particularly those of you who are playing at the highest levels, going to camps or are involved with your state association’s Olympic Development Program (ODP) state, regional, and/or national team. For that reason, and for others, I will attempt to develop alternative strategies for those of you who may be playing either throughout the summer or for part of the summer, both with an eye toward the next competitive season.

Overall Considerations: Balance and Flexibility

First of all, a soccer-specific training program must balance anaerobic and aerobic activity, combined with a strategy developed to enhance overall flexibility. Flexibility is extremely important, both in male and female athletes, for a variety of reasons. When designing and implementing a soccer-specific, sex-specific strength and fitness training program, overall muscle balance is a key consideration. Therefore, the proper program will balance strength training with stretching, combined with aerobic and anaerobic interval training, along with periods of intense circuit training to fully engage the athlete’s musculature as well as his or her cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary systems. The combination of affects, if and when the overall program is implemented properly, will peak athletic performance in time for the next soccer season.

Nutrition and Dietary Habits

Nutrition is also a vital component in any off-season soccer strength and fitness training program. Because the soccer athlete will be burning a great deal of energy, and consequently calories, it is imperative that meals are taken 4 to 6 times a day, usually 3 hours apart, with adequate amounts of water and nutrients, particularly proteins and carbohydrates, during periods of peak energy expenditure. If nutritional guidelines are not adhered to, an athlete will soon overtrain and/or will reach the point of diminished returns, at which time risk of injury goes up exponentially. While I am not a dietitian, yet I have been training and advising athletes for more than three decades and will make certain recommendations I feel are appropriate. Of course, it is up to you to either follow them or not, but for optimal results, nutritional guidelines and dietary suggestions should be adhered to, particularly as they relate to the frequency of meals and protein intake. You will be breaking down muscle tissue and, if you do not provide your body with adequate resources, it will begin to use your own muscle tissue for fuel, never a good situation. Nutritional supplements? If you are eating properly and taking a multiple vitamin, one I will recommend in an upcoming article, you should have no problems with energy or overtraining. Additionally, the use of protein supplements may of may not be a good thing, with much depending on your individual circumstances. We will discuss the use of protein supplements in an upcoming article, as well.

Medically Cleared: Get a Physical!

To get started, every athlete should have a complete physical. Fortunately, most athletic departments, both at the high school and college level, and particularly at the professional level, require a physical prior to competition. It is also important to be medically cleared before engaging in a strenuous anaerobic and aerobically demanding soccer-specific strength and fitness training program, male or female. We will discuss some of the considerations particular to males and females in an upcoming article but there are myriad differences and there are considerations for one versus the other when implementing the proper strength training regimen, and we will deal with those variations, as well.

Where to Workout: High School Gym to Cushy Health Club?

Finding the right facility is so important! If you do not have access to a high school or college weight room, the YMCA or YWCA is usually extremely reasonable and quite accessible. Many of the commercial training facilities will also have special seasonal rates for students, generally three months in length. Do your homework, find a workout facility you feel comfortable in. Also, talk to the staff and the manager of the facility you are considering, a friendly yet serious training atmosphere is crucial to your success. Make sure they not only sell memberships to young people, particularly athletes, but that they welcome you too. Some gyms will take your money, they are after all in business to make money, but they will make you feel less than welcome. Avoid those places like the plague! One bad trainer or manager can ruin your workouts and your overall training focus.

Training Partner, Accountability Partner, and Spotting Partner

Having a training partner can mean the difference between succeeding and failing. It’s always beneficial to be accountable to and pushed by a workout partner. If all else fails, ask a family member to at least be your spotting partner, because you will be working with heavyweights at times and a spotting partner is necessary. In commercial establishments this is usually not as much of a problem, as there are trainers or employees on hand to help you out. It may also be possible to ask for a “spot” from someone else training there. There is an unwritten code among individuals who train a great deal, particularly strength athletes (bodybuilders and powerlifters) and they will provide assistance in return for a reciprocal “spot,” when needed. It is a good system but you should not count on someone being available. If at all possible, have your own spotting or workout partner, it will also improve the effectiveness of your program and up the intensity.

Coming Attractions!

So, you understand a little bit about what is ahead and what is expected of you. We discussed nutrition and diet, not necessarily the same thing, and we also talked about where you should work out, at least for the weight training. There is always a track and/or a soccer pitch somewhere around. If not? “Got field?” Little “Got Milk?” joke there! In the next article, we will go into a detailed stretching and flexibility program, one that should be integrated into your daily routine, particularly prior to workouts, and hopefully twice a day. The rest is up to you, if you follow the program, by the time the fall season comes around you will be a different player. If you simply go through the motions, you might as well save yourself the time and energy, because you will get little or nothing out of it at all… it is up to you.

I have been training athletes for more than 3 decades. In that time I’ve trained amateur and professional athletes, a 10 year old soccer player lifting weights for the first time in his life to a seasoned 35 year old professional football player nearing the end of his career, and almost everything in between. The athletes I have trained have gone on to win national championships, win all-state and All-American honors, and full scholarships to the colleges and universities of their choice. My methods are at times unconventional, and usually controversial, but they always work. They work, provided the athlete, male or female, young or old, football or soccer, bowling (yes, bowling) or basketball do what I tell them to do.