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Strength and Conditioning for Soccer

Sports science has had a huge impact on soccer over the past few years, with its various strands changing many aspects within the game. The days were players would simply run around a pitch for hours on end to boost their endurance levels are long gone, with modern coaches taking a much more technical approach to their training sessions. Professional soccer players now benefit from bespoke strength and conditioning programs that are tailored to maximise their performance throughout the season. These generally combine a handful of different areas which collectively have a positive impact on player fitness levels. Read on as we take a closer look at strength and conditioning for soccer. Strength and endurance training Pre-season soccer training has historically focused on establishing a solid aerobic base that will allow players to cope with the demands placed on them when the games get underway. It is important to maintain that base throughout the season, although it is not unusual to hear that some coaches still overplay this aspect. Soccer places some fairly unique demands on players and it is important that any strength and endurance training undertaken reflects this. Players cover 8-10 miles during the course of game, mixing short sprints with longer runs, jogging, walking and interactions with the ball. Training in this area should incorporate all of these elements, thus helping players to establish a greater level of all-round fitness. Strength training also plays an important part in soccer, offering benefits such as injury resistance, leaner body composition and more energy. Nutrition Studies have shown that consuming a healthy diet is a crucial part of a strength and conditioning program for soccer players. The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ has particular resonance in soccer, hence why most professional clubs take specialist advice from nutritionists. Players are given guidance on the type of foods they should be eating and information about the best supplements they can take to boost performance. Cristiano Ronaldo is a great example of how a healthy diet can have a significant impact on a player’s performance and also career longevity. The Juventus and Portugal star eats healthy foods and avoids things that are bad for him like alcohol, sugary sodas and processed foods. Ronaldo eats simple whole foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. He also eats lots of fresh fish for protein and stays hydrated with specially formulated sports drinks. Speed and power Speed and power training are two hugely significant elements of any strength and conditioning program for soccer players. The modern game is played a faster pace than was previously the case, so players who are quick clearly have a competitive edge over their opponents. Incorporating sprint tests into training will help all players improve this aspect of their performance and will be of particular benefit to the speedier types. Working on increasing power amongst players is also important, helping to positively impact both their strength and speed. Adding circuit training into the program is a great way to improve power, with squats, pulls, cleans and presses amongst the elements that should be included. Blending this with sprint and agility work – for example, the ‘ladder drill’ – will help to improve speed and power for soccer players. Rest and sleep Research featured on has shown that getting enough quality rest and sleep are important components of daily life. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was an advocate of the benefits of sleep, and he certainly knew a thing or two about being successful in soccer. He famously used the services of sleep coach, Nick Littlehales, who worked with United’s players to create optimal sleep routines. Littlehales advises taking five shorter sleeps rather than one long sleep, as he believes this is a more effective way of resting. He recommends sleeping in 90-minute cycles rather than in hours, in addition to taking shorter naps at key points during the day. The five 90-minute cycles don’t necessarily all have to be in one chunk. Littlehales says that you can have four cycles at night and then put the fifth cycle into the day as a 30-minute nap. If you get good-quality sleep in four cycles all the way through, that can be just as beneficial as spending eight or nine hours sleeping. Warming up and cooling down Head to any professional soccer stadium an hour or so before kick-off time and you will see the players undertaking their warm-up for the game. These are designed to minimise the risk of injuries to major muscle groups, ligaments and tendons, thus helping players to stay off the treatment table. The routine generally takes around half an hour to complete and is structured to ensure that players are ready for action when the first whistle blows. Players will undertake a variety of exercises and drills, mixing up stretches and cardio exercises to prepare their bodies for the game. Cooling down properly is also important, helping players recover more quickly from the strains placed on them during training and matches. Some clubs have used cryotherapy chambers, with research showing that their use can speed up recovery in athletes.
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