Soccer Conditioning: The 7 Key Factors
Soccer is a sport requiring athleticism, specifically, the ability to run and run and stop and run. Increasing your stamina and conditioning in practice (whether that be with a coach or on your own) is essential to becoming a great soccer player.
There are seven crucial elements when it comes to soccer conditioning. These are: warm-ups, power/explosiveness, strength, agility, speed, endurance, and cooling down are critical factors in a comprehensive soccer conditioning program. This article intends to explain each of them at a high-level without going into too much detail. Therefore, what I aim to accomplish with this post is to ensure that you understand what each area entails, how becoming proficient in each will be advantageous to the soccer player, and easy to implement steps to improve the soccer player's conditioning.
Warm-Ups in Soccer:
Before a game or practice, warming up thoroughly is critical to increased performance. Do not expect to warm-up during the first few minutes of play. You have so little time on the field during the game that you should choose to spend the time necessary to get ready for the action. Keep in mind that dynamic/ballistic stretches are ideal during a warm-up. Holding static poses/stretches for 30 second to a minute can decrease strength by up to 10%. Therefore, you are literally spending time before a game to reduce your strength during a game. Warm-up with jumping jacks, mountain climbers, light jogs that eventually become modest sprints. Practice jumping, changing directions by cutting, and shaking out your legs to prepare yourself physically for the game.
Warming up is important because it reduces the chance of muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries such as strains and sprains. Furthermore, it ramps you up gradually to ensure you perform to your peak physical ability as the game or practice begins.
Power is essential in many facets of soccer. From headers to shots and sprinting to jumping, being explosive is hugely important. Power is the amount of work performed per unit of time. Power is necessary to develop alongside strength because increased strength does not always translate into increased power. For example, strong legs can lift a lot of weight, but take the strongest men in the world and have them try to sprint and they are slow, at best. Power is using the strength you develop constructively to be able to explode from a dead stop. Explosiveness in soccer is beneficial because it ensures you change direction after performing a skill and can change your speed to get away from the defender successfully. However, power is not only applicable to running, but it is also essential for passing, shooting, and even heading the soccer ball. Increasing your strength and technique will produce the power you are looking to develop.
Strength is a critical in soccer in many situations such as shooting, passing, jumping, shielding, tackling, and appropriately marking (defending) a player on the other team. Most people believe power and strength are the same things, however, they are not. Strength is the ability to lift heavy objects, whereas power is coordinating your strength in a way that effectively allows you to accomplish a goal on the field (or in the weight room) as quickly as possible. Though, keep in mind that building your strength will help to develop your power and focusing on power will help to build your strength. However, certain moves and exercises do not help very much at all. Though doing wall sits for 5 minutes is excellent at developing strength (and endurance) in your legs, it does very little in improving your ability to generate power quickly on the soccer field. Use weight training to develop your strength and use explosive training (with or without weights) to build power.
When you think of agility, think about your ability to change directions quickly. Think about this as going from a sprint to a complete stop and then back to a full sprint in a different direction. Agility is necessary for every position in soccer. As an agile defender, it will be grueling to get around you, while maintaining possession of the ball. As a midfielder, this will improve their ability to use their foot skills to get around opponents efficiently. As a forward, it will increase your ability to fake out defenders and increase the number of goals and assists you get each game. To improve your soccer agility:
1. Play more soccer, obviously! Practicing what you want to get better at will help you get better at it.
2. Weight Train. Deadlight, Squat, Calf Raise, Leg Press,… Increasing your power will increase your agility.
3. Practice full sprints into dead stops back to full sprints. When I say full sprints, I mean it. If you give only half efforts in practice, it won't be time well spent and definitely won't increase performance on the field.
4. Take attacking touches. These alone can make a soccer player with average speed a seemingly fast soccer player. Therefore, a first touch underneath your body would make the quickest man alive into a slow soccer player.
Speed breaks down into two key components:
Acceleration – This is the time it takes you to go from a complete stop to a full sprint.
Top Speed – This is how fast you are traveling when you can no longer run any quicker.
There are factors that you can and cannot control when it comes to your acceleration and top speed. Something you can't control is the length of your legs. However, this article is all about what you can manage, which are your running form, the power/strength of your legs, and your mindset around how fast of a runner you are. We touched on power/strength. Without seeing your running form, it is hard to tell you exactly what would be the best tips for you. However, when it comes to your mindset, having a weak one will almost always ensure that you do not become a fast runner. By telling yourself that you are quick and growing faster, you increase the chances that you will take steps to improve your acceleration and speed. For example, a person that has the mindset of "I am not a fast runner" will not lift and practice sprinting. However, a person with the mindset of "I am a fast runner and becoming faster" will take the necessary steps to ensure that they become one of the fastest, if not the fastest player on their team.
There are two recognized types of endurance, but most people only think of one. Most soccer players believe endurance is your ability to run for a very long time. However, the longer you run for, the more you must reduce your speed to continue running. Therefore, when most people think of endurance, they think of a 2, 5, 10, or more mile run. Distance running is beneficial for soccer players, as their ability to avoid fatigue during a game is vital. However, soccer players should also train the endurance they have during a full sprint, not just a jog. Increasing your endurance during a full sprint is more applicable for most players on the field because soccer is a series of runs (not one long run). Let's be honest, your ability to sprint is going to be more impactful for defenders and forwards than their ability to run 2 miles straight, without stopping.
Cooling Down in Soccer:
Though many people see a cool-down as NOT glamorous, it is critical to aid in recovery and to increase your capacity to perform athletically in future games and practices. Yes, it takes time to hold a 30-second hamstring stretch, but it takes even more time having a pulled hamstring. Play the long-term soccer game. Do everything you can now to ensure you will be playing as much as you want later. Stretch your major muscle groups of the lover body (quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, tibialis, and hip flexors).
Check out the book Soccer Training to read more on these areas and other areas relevant to the soccer player such as foot skills, shooting, mindset, passing, defending, and many more.