Specific Strength & Fitness Training

Soccer-specific strength and fitness training for soccer players is a hotly debated topic. Off season strength training for soccer athletes has been the source of debate for many years and it still unresolved. The first question to be addressed is whether there really is an off season for top flight soccer players? At any level? Male or female? In my opinion the answer is no! Should there be? Well, that’s a topic for another article or series of articles and is part of an ongoing and intense debate.

For the purposes of this article, let’s assume there is something of an off season, even if it is simply a period when a soccer player plays less often. Once established, then the next issue to be addressed is: What sort of training will provide the greatest edge when the next season begins? The answer is complex but, in addition to continuing to keep your foot on the ball, and yourself on the pitch, at least a couple of times a week minimum, it is time to hit the gym!

I receive interesting questions and comments from time to time on this topic. Interestingly, many soccer coaches are still in the Dark Ages when it comes to strength training for soccer players.

I routinely receive and letters from colleagues and the information I receive generally falls into three categories:

1) The old soccer training school: “All you have to do is play soccer!”

2) The conservative soccer training school (usually voiced by parents): “My child is already doing too much, he (or
she) doesn’t need any more training!”

3) The informed soccer training school: “I realize the players are bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before and if I want to compete at the highest levels, I need an edge!”

It shouldn’t take a genius to guess which position I take on this subject? Yup, number 3!

The most misinformed comment I have received to date came from a “coach” who was critiquing an article I wrote on leg training is illustrative of the first school of thought, the old school. The coach maintained that because soccer players do not engage in muscle movement similar to the muscle movement used in the performance of a specific exercise, or use the muscles to prompt such movements in exactly that way on the pitch, there is no need for leg extensions and leg curls!


That’s like saying football players don’t need to bench press because there isn’t a bench on the fifty yard line or goalkeepers don’t need to be aerobically fit because they almost never leave the box! I could go on for days on this one but you get the message…I hope? It is old school and misinformed.

The old school point of view not only neglects to take into account the synergy between muscle groups and their actions, it fails to take into account that muscle movement is complex and not only involves other muscles, other than the ones you are working, it impacts the connective tissue as well.

And where do most profound and career ending soccer injuries occur? The knees! And what portion of the knees are most profoundly affected? The connective tissue! And how do we strengthen the connective tissue? By engaging in strength training directed at strengthening the muscles and the connective tissue associated with those muscles and the adjacent, synergistic musculature!

The fact is, if you do not strengthen the overall musculature, and the associated connective tissue, you are more susceptible to injury and, and this is the big one for this article, for the soccer players who are engaging in strength training? They are going to be what? Yup! Bigger! Stronger! Faster! And, if not faster…certainly more…Powerful!

So, hit the gym but do it right. Find a knowledgeable strength and fitness coach, someone familiar with sport-specific, and, in particular, soccer-specific strength and fitness training, and start hitting the weights and the machines (there are benefits to both).

Ultimately, it depends on how far you want to take it but competition is intense and to play at the highest levels, you need an edge.

Just go to any soccer complex in almost any city or town across the US, and certainly abroad, on a Saturday morning and ask yourself these questions:

1) What makes me so special?

2) How am I going to stand out against all of this competition?

3) What do I have to do to gain an edge?

The answer is quite simple really and is two-fold:

1) Play often and at the highest level possible.

2) Find a competitive advantage and then work at it until it separates you from the pack!

The combination of the two will pay dividends you can only hope for at present but from one who has coached soccer athletes at every level, on the pitch and in the gym, you have to remember that one question: “What makes me special?” Answer that and you will be among the top 1% and will have an opportunity to play when everyone else is sitting on the bench or in the stands.

Sport-specific training programs to be effective must be tailored to an individual’s needs. I have had over 30 years experience training athlete at all levels, amateur to top-level professional. I hope the article above helps or at least informs you. Perhaps it will also inspire you to take action.