Manchester United star Wayne Rooney lifts weights according to a custom plan developed by his team trainer. The players for DC United perform a combination of lifting in the weight room and resistance exercises out on the practice field. London pro team Arsenal relies more on plyometric and isometric exercises to increase explosiveness than on lifting, and has players who look skinny and fast as a result. Other more muscular teams, including Man U, Chelsea and Liverpool, get away with powering Arsenal’s speedsters off the ball as lifting takes hold in soccer.
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Old School, New Soccer
Old school soccer players and a few modern coaches speculate that strength training makes players inflexible and slow. The editor-in-chief of "Sports & Fitness" magazine disagrees: “The opposite is actually the case, as you need strength to be fast,” writes Ralf Meier in “Strength Training for Soccer.” With American college football as their inspiration, soccer players have discovered the bench press, lunge and squat as means to better strength performance on the field.
Meier stresses the need for strong leg muscles to jump in the air and to get to loose balls more quickly on the ground. Strong muscles also protect the legs, particular the knees and ankles and allied tendons and ligaments, from injury. Robert G. Price, author of “The Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Soccer,” focuses more on the core as essential for sports performance. He counsels tight abs and a strong lower back to provide a means to run faster, become more explosive and achieve twisting, turning runs through your opponents.
Agility, Speed and Strength
Greg Gatz, who serves as strength and conditioning coach to the successful University of North Carolina soccer teams, takes a broader view than Meier and Price on the benefits of lifting for soccer players. Gatz advocates building total-body strength. This can springboard into improvements in agility, speed and quickness, he writes in “Complete Conditioning for Soccer.” You can apply and absorb more force as you kick, jump and move the ball during games. He advocates lifting even during the competition phase of the season and especially in the offseason and preseason.
Women who play soccer need to focus even more than male athletes on strength building. UNC strength and conditioning coach Gatz explains that women should maintain their lifting work for longer periods to counter limited upper-body strength. Female soccer players typically have lower testosterone levels than male players for developing muscle. Lifting focused on strengthening the legs can help women and girls avoid anterior cruciate ligament injuries. Gatz notes that weight-room work can include rotational movement that mimics match play to protect the female athlete’s knee.