An army may march on its stomach, but a soccer team marches on its legs -- kicking, running, sprinting, dribbling and finally shooting on the goal. From ankles to glutes, you need your legs ready to go by game time. If you start in the preseason working on leg exercises, you can be ready, when the league calendar starts, to survive a typical five miles or more of running during the 90 minutes of a full soccer game.
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At the beginning of the preseason and at points thereafter, you may want to see how your leg strength is progressing, and in particular if the right leg is becoming more or less powerful than the left. Squat on one leg, getting down as low as possible, with both hands on your hips and the opposite leg extended out in front of your body, knee locked. Have an evaluator notice whether the balancing leg’s heel stays in contact with the ground during the squat and measure the depth of the squat, as well as compare differences between the legs. Address differences in apparent strength with ankle and hamstring stretches, recommends University of North Carolina conditioning coach Greg Gatz in “Complete Conditioning for Soccer.”
Strength training that targets the legs prepares you for soccer. For example, the squat works to strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals and ankle muscles. You can perform squats with barbells, dumbbells or your own body weight. Lunges maintain the theme of working the hamstrings and gluteals, and you can perform them forward, backward, laterally or in a rotation. Keep working the hammies and glutes with forward step-ups, holding dumbbells at your sides as you step up on a knee-high step one leg at a time and dismount the step one leg at a time.
Plyometric drills, originally developed for track and field athletes to get them explosively out of the blocks and down the track, have migrated to other sports, including soccer. Even as simple a drill as jumping up on a box and jumping off to land can develop the stabilizer muscles in your legs and core to make you safer during games, especially during leaps for headers. The actions may seem trivial, Gatz writes, but very gentle landings train your hips, knees and ankles to deal with the stresses of these motions, and good use of the arms to jump up gives you better power production.
Sprinting drills provide yet another facet to conditioning your legs. Stair sprints work the quads and translate into quicker strides on flat ground. Find stadium steps wide enough to take your entire foot. Accelerate from the bottom to the top. Drive up your knee and foot on each step, stand with tall posture and cock your elbows, Gatz advises. Another means to higher stride frequency includes running with harnesses and sleds, note the authors of “Strength Training for Sport.” Or try game-like situations to work on sprint speed, such as racing to the ball in a one-on-one drill.
- Complete Conditioning for Soccer; Greg Gatz
- Strength Training for Sport; William J. Kraemer, et al.