This is the second half of a two-part series on getting ready for soccer season. In the first part, I talked about cardio fitness and preparing yourself for the jog and sprint nature of a soccer game. In this blog, I’ll talk about the two remaining elements that make you “match fit”: strength and balance.
Strength: don’t work hard, work smart!
The ability to bench press a Volvo is not a requirement for any position on any soccer team, other than my old school team (it was a pretty rough school). What is useful, however, is well-balanced overall strength. General strengthening will help you run faster, jump higher, and react quicker.
You can do this at the gym, where the staff will help you put together a program that fits your goals, or you can do it at home. Whatever you choose, my number one recommendation is this: don’t work hard, work smart!
The biggest and quickest gains in strength are usually made within the first 6 weeks of beginning a strength conditioning program. The reason for this is neural adaptation. In simple terms, the signals your brain sends to your muscles in order to make them contract will increase and improve with training exponentially over the course of about 6 weeks.
For best results, the trick is to get the muscles to do things that require lots of input from the brain.
A simple (yet complex) leg strengthening exercise
We’ll put this theory to work with a leg exercise that seems easy to do on the surface, but which requires a lot of input from the brain.
It is a fact that it takes much more effort to go down stairs than to go up them. The reason for this, is that in order to lower yourself down each step you have to contract and then slightly relax your thigh muscles (along with others). In order not to “clump” down the stairs you have to fine tune this contraction of your thigh muscles with a pretty high degree of accuracy.
The heel tap step down:
- Stand on the bottom stair and hold onto something that you can use for balance should you need it, the stair rail is fine.
- Put your left foot out in front of you as if you are going to step down.
- Slowly and under control, bend your right knee so that your left foot heads toward the floor (step down).
- Touch your left heel to the ground (keep your weight on your right leg) then slowly return to the start position.
- Do 10 of these in a row on the right side, then 10 on the left. Repeat 3 times.
You have just done the equivalent of “leg day” at the gym. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but you will certainly feel the difference after doing these three times a week for a couple of weeks.
Smart push ups
Push ups are perfectly acceptable as a general upper body exercise. To get more out of them, do your push ups on a BOSU ball, the unstable surface will make your muscles and nerves work harder.
Put the rounded side of the BOSU ball downwards, grip the sides of the platform, or place your hands on top of it, and perform a push up, holding your body in a straight line.
Balance: the mark of a great player
Watch any of the truly great players: Pele, George Best, Messi, Maradona (the hand of God), or David Beckham, and you’ll notice that game commentators constantly allude to their balance.
When George Best was playing for Manchester United in the 1970s, players were not nearly as protected as they are today. The centre half was expected to try to break at least one of your legs during a game, and most breakaways by a centre forward ended with him in a heap on the field. The greats very rarely suffered this end for one reason only: balance.
Great balance allowed these players to move back and forth with agility….
How do I improve my balance?
A particularly inspiring coach once imparted to me these great words of wisdom, “Practice makes permanent”, and therein lays our answer. We have already introduced the idea of adding a balance element to our strength training with the BOSU ball, now we can use it to improve our overall balance and awareness of our position in space.
Just standing on it, is the easiest way to start. Turn the ball flat side down and stand on the inflated dome. The reduced stability offered by this surface will make your ankles and knees work like crazy just to stay upright.
Now try a short squat, notice how much harder it is than if you were on the flat ground. Once you have your balance on two feet try standing on one foot. When you can squat to 45 degrees on one foot (you will be doing better than me), try putting in a distraction; throw a ball against the wall and catch it.
Here are some suggestions for BOSU ball workouts:
Become “match fit” in 6 weeks
From couch to pitch, you can become “match fit” in just 6 weeks if you follow the principles of this training program and train for 30 to 60 minutes, 3 times per week. Include an exercise for each of the three key elements in your workout and remember – it’s supposed to be fun!
David Bailey is a lifelong soccer fan who honed his physiotherapy skills on professional players when he worked for the Chelsea Football Club Academy and the First Team at Barnsley Football Club in Yorkshire.
Troubled by a sports injury? Please call our office at 604-228-1474 to arrange an appointment with David, or any member of our team, or use our online request form.