After winning the gold medal in Beijing and stirring the nation with their performance in last year's World Cup, one thing was clear about the U.S. Women's Soccer Team: Their training and preparation weren't broke.
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But they had to fix it, anyway—their packed calendar demanded it.
While most teams do heavy strength workouts comprised of Olympic lifts in the off-season to build overall strength, the national team hasn’t really been off-season in awhile—they went straight from competing in the World Cup to training for and qualifying for the London Olympics. And while it may seem like a lack of iron-slinging wouldn’t hurt a soccer player, that’s precisely what it can do.
"Strength work is really crucial for soccer players, first and foremost for injury prevention," says Heather O'Reilly, a 10-year veteran of the national team. "Leg strength is obviously super crucial, but so is our core, and we're battling with our upper bodies as well."
To compensate for the lack of weight room time and to have a consistent tool on the road, the team has incorporate the TRX suspension trainer in the past year.
Defender Heather Mitts says she likes the TRX for building core strength (see some of Mitts' and O'Reilly's favorite exercises, with instructions, in the sidebar), but also in replacing some of her Olympic lift training with bodyweight alternatives.
"The atomic pushups [an exercise combining a pushup with a jackknife] are one of my favorites," she says. "You can do the inverted pushups, the y-fly, t-fly. Those are awesome, and we're still getting good bodyweight strength work in.”
Of course, it’s not just strength work the ladies will need to win gold. Soccer players run around 6 miles per game, and not at a jog—to keep up an Olympic effort for 90 minutes, they’ve got to sprint. And playing lots of soccer isn’t enough to keep that level of conditioning.
To supplement it, the team’s fitness coach, Dawn Scott, has players perform half-mile intervals on the treadmill. Get a feel for their training by trying this workout: Run hard for three minutes, then rest for three. Repeat this sequence as many as 10 times.
Workouts like that, paired with on-the-road strength training, means the team’s training hasn’t waned. But more than preparation, the players hope that new, dynamic skill shines brightest in London.
"Our generation of American players wants to prove that not only are we putting in the work, but that we're more sophisticated soccer players," O'Reilly says. "Our game is becoming more possession-oriented, and we're scoring in a lot of different ways."
"Our hard work is always going to show," Mitts adds. "But how we're evolving as a team--that's what we'll really be showing on the field [in London]."
Their Favorite Moves
Grab a TRX at your gym and try these suspension moves, favorites of the U.S. national team's Heather Mitts and Heather O'Reilly.
Place your feet in the foot cradles, with your legs together, and assume the classic pushup position, with your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Bend your elbows so that you start at the bottom of the pushup position. As you press up, bend your knees and pull them towards your chest without allowing your hips to hike far into the air. Return your legs to plank position as you bend your elbows and return to the floor.
Y Deltoid Fly
Stand facing the TRX with arms extended toward it at shoulder height. Your entire body should be aligned from head to heels. Keep the arms straight and lift them smoothly until they are in a “y” position, wide and overhead. Lower back to the start position with control, and repeat.
T Deltoid Fly
Stand with your arms wide in a T position so that the handles of the TRX are out to each side, and the trainer is taut. This will be the finishing position of the exercise. Keeping your body straight and your feet in this position. Lean back as you close your hands together with arms straight, maintaining a straight body line and taut TRX as your body goes back to a 45-degree angle. Still with arms straight, pull your hands apart so that you return to the standing T position. Repeat.
Stand in front of the suspension trainer with the handles interlocked. Place your right foot behind you so it rests in both foot cradles with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Bend your standing (left) knee and lower your body toward the floor. As you lower, your suspended leg will drive backwards; keep the 90-degree bend in this knee. Continue lowering until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Press through your left heel back to start, and repeat. Switch sides.
Stand facing the TRX with arms extended toward it at shoulder height and hands angled to 45 degrees. Your entire body should be aligned from head to heels. Pull your body toward the handles until the hands are drawn into the mid torso area, keeping your upper arm at a 45- to 90-degree angle to the torso. Lower back to the start position.
TRX Single-Leg Squat
Stand facing the TRX with your arms extended, slightly bent, and at shoulder height. Extend one leg to the front and lean back slightly. Push your hips back to perform a single-leg squat, using the TRX to maintain your balance. Press back to start, and repeat.
Place your feet in the foot cradles of the TRX, and extend your body so it forms a straight line from head to heels, with your arms directly beneath your shoulders. Brace your core as if you were about to be punched. Hold this position for 30 seconds.