Updated: Feb 13, 2021
Soccer is a sport that combines all aspects of fitness. Endurance, strength, power, speed, agility, balance and coordination, and flexibility all need to be top of the line to have the best performance and smallest risk of injury.
Unfortunately, soccer ranks high in injury rates (defined as the number of injuries per 1000 hours of player activity time), higher than field hockey, volleyball, handball, basketball, rugby, and boxing.¹ Most of these injuries occur in the lower extremity and during the competitive season.¹ What is even more surprising is the fact that most injuries to soccer players are non-contact. It is not the sliding, tackling, and colliding into other players that causes the most injury. It is the running, twisting, turning, jumping, and shooting that were linked to the most injuries.
Honestly, there are most likely more injuries in season because of the increase in intensity on all levels, the competitive nature of the athletes, and the drive to win.¹ That being said, it is not enough to practice the game and skill of soccer.
Strength training must be incorporated into all aspects of training, including preseason and postseason. And with strength training comes improvements in nearly all aspects of fitness.
How does strength training help other aspects of fitness?
Strength training obviously makes you stronger, we all know that. The stronger you are, the more stability you will have around your joints. This develops a larger barrier to injury, especially when it involves high speed or intensity and unpredicted movements, such as in a soccer game.
But strength training does not stop there.
It also improves your neuromuscular system, or your ability of your nervous system and your muscular system to work together. Your neural drive, or the signal from your brain to your muscle, increases in intensity and efficiency, allowing your muscles to work towards maximal strength and power. This increase in neural drive also improves muscle fiber recruitment. This includes the magnitude and rate of force development, firing rate, timing, and pattern of your muscle fiber activation, especially during high intensity muscular contractions.²
In addition to strength gains, strength training also promotes muscular growth with increasing size of the muscle fiber. Strengthening also facilitates transitions between muscle fiber types, from glycolytic to oxidative and fatigue resistant, ultimately resulting in even more strength, power, and endurance gains.²
Strength training can even improve the strength of bones and connective tissue including ligaments and tendons. Not only will your muscles gain strength, but these other very important structural components will gain strength to help provide stability to joints, decreasing the risk of serious, season ending injuries.²
Clearly, strength training is a very important aspect of any athletic career, especially for soccer players.
Specific Benefits of Strength Training for Soccer Players
Soccer involves many high intensity and highly skilled movements; jumping, sprinting, cutting, changing direction, forceful kicking, etc. And strength training can be programmed to improve all of these motor tasks, to improve performance, and to decrease risk of injury.
As we have already learned, strength training carries forward adaptations to so many other aspects of fitness. With focused and detailed training, strengthening exercises can take you from 0 to 100.
To make it easy to grasp the importance of strength training, let’s look at one aspect, focusing on an athlete’s 1 rep-maximum (1RM) squat and all the benefits that can come from this one movement.³
Increasing squat strength results in improvements in a soccer player’s sprint ability and quality. Research has found that on average, an improvement of a 1RM squat by 23.5% equated to a 2% improvement in sprint performance at 10 and 40 meters. Some studies showed that even a 17% increase in 1RM resulted in similar improvements.³
So, squat heavier and you will sprint faster. And we all know how important it is to be able to sprint down the field in a soccer game.
Jumping ability is directly related to the ability of a soccer player to generate explosive power and to kick at maximal speed.⁴ The countermovement jump and squat jump are both ways to measure an athlete’s explosive power.
Research has found that on average, a 24.4% increase in 1RM squat equated to a 6.8% increase in the countermovement jump height. Similarly a 21.8% increase in 1RM squat resulted in a 6.8% increase in squat jump height. This was after only 6-10 weeks of training.³
Change of Direction Speed
Many things factor into a soccer player’s ability to quickly change the direction that they are running or sprinting in. But, the ability to quickly and safely perform a change of direction is linked to a decrease in non-contact injury rates in soccer.¹
Strength training, focused on improving squat strength, can also help fine tune and speed up this valuable soccer skill. On average, a15% increase in 1RM squat results in a 1.3% improvement in change of direction speed after 5-6 weeks of training.³
Sport Specific Skill
One of the other most important soccer skills is the ability to quickly and powerfully kick the ball. Strength training in general can increase a soccer player's ability to kick the ball more powerfully and therefore increase the speed of the ball, with or without a run up.³
Improvements in soccer specific skills coincide with strength training and are really developed in all aspects of soccer and fitness. You cannot really dissect a strength training program and say, this part is dedicated to skill. Skill is developed throughout the whole training program.
As long as you are strength training appropriately, you will be without a doubt, be making gains and improving your skills across the board.
But won’t strength training hinder my performance?
There are so many myths out there when it comes to strength and conditioning. The most common (and frustrating one) is the myth that strength training will make you bulkier and slower.
Strength training that is properly prescribed for a soccer player will not result in a “bulky” frame. Neither will it result in slower speeds. We just read above that increasing your 1RM squat can increase your sprint time! In fact, having more muscle may result in you actually losing weight as having more lean muscle mass increases your resting metabolic rate.
There is this notion that strength training will make you look like Arnold Schwarzeneger in his younger years. But that is not true, unless you purposefully train and eat like him. With a knowledgeable coach and trainer, this won’t happen. Instead, you will work towards your goals and improve your performance in your specific sport. And you just can't deny all of the good things that come from strength training.
So if you are worried about improper programming, injury, or not hitting your goals, reach out to us today to find out how our Certified Strength and Conditioning Coaches and Performance Specialists can help you improve your soccer game.
2) Haff, G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Fourth edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics