When’s the last time you saw a professional soccer player and thought “Wow that person is out of shape,” or “Wow that person is just unathletic”? Probably never, because unlike being a lineman in football or being 7’2’’ in basketball, you have to be lean, athletic, and in shape in order to excel at soccer.
Soccer players train in a very specific way to get their bodies ready to play, and it shows in their physique. I’m not saying that training like a soccer player will make you look like Cristiano Ronaldo, but it will definitely help get you in the best shape of your life. Through interval training and high volume lower body lifting with core work, training like a soccer player will help you lose body fat while building up strong leg and core muscles.
In terms of cardiovascular fitness rankings, soccer players are at the top of the list. Not only must soccer players be able to run multiple miles per game but they also need to be able to accelerate to a high speed sprint instantaneously. So the cardiovascular arsenal of a soccer player needs to range from long term stamina, to short term power, and everywhere inbetween.
Without getting too scientific, there are two types of energy systems in the body; aerobic and anaerobic. The aerobic system requires oxygen to create energy, and is mainly used in long term endurance exercise. The anaerobic system on the other hand, does not require oxygen, and does not last as long, so it’s typically used in short term, intense exercise. Soccer players, then, need to train both of these systems, and the way they accomplish this is interval training. Interval training is a type of exercise that combines short periods of all out, extremely intense effort with periods of active rest in between. There are many ways that interval training sessions can be completed. From alternating speeds and inclines on a treadmill, to going for a street run and sprinting up every hill that you come upon, to repeating 400 meter sprints on a track with a minute rest inbetween, the options are quite varied and usually only require 20-30 minutes to complete.
The final advantage that interval training brings to the table is that it is an excellent fat burner. All the cardio equipment pieces these days have these “fat burn zones” and “cardio zones” that are well intended, but don’t really make much sense. The machines act like cardiovascular training and fat burn training are mutually exclusive categories, when in reality if the exercise is done properly, they can go hand in hand. Interval training accomplishes this because its unique requirement on the body activates hormones in such a way that fat tissue gets broken down quicker to be used for energy. Interval training also increases certain hormonal activity that continues to break down and utilize fat even after you have stopped exercising for that day. So interval training’s unique ability to burn fat, AND work both of the energy production systems make it an amazing workout tool.
* Disclaimer * Interval training is meant to be very intense, and should only be performed 1-3 times per week in order to let the body recover.
Although interval training will certainly work the legs, soccer players require very strong legs in order to sprint faster, hold off defenders, and strike the ball harder. Soccer is also a contact sport, and contact sports require lots of agility, so having a strong core is invaluable. Strong legs and core are not just for athletes, though, because everyone can benefit from a strong foundation. And besides, who doesn’t like having a nice butt, nice thighs, and some washboard abs to show off at the beach?
Most people know what the phrase “lower body lifting” entails… squats, lunges, step ups, plyometrics etc. But what does high volume mean? The term volume, when it comes to weight lifting, is the product of the sets, reps, and weight of each specific lift that is performed. So, if I squat 3 sets of 6 reps at 200 pounds my volume lifted is 3600. If a strong-man competitor squats 3 sets of 2 reps of 600 pounds, then his volume is also 3600. Most of us are not strong man competitors, though, so we will have to rely on a high number of sets (3-6) with solid numbers of reps (8-12) but lower weight in order to get our volume up. Again because of the toll that lifting will take on the body, lower body lifting should only be done 2-3 times per week so the body can recover. So, get your high volume squats in a few times per week and you’ll be ready to throw on your short shorts.
The final aspect to training like a soccer player is core work. Your core is defined as all of the muscles in your trunk and torso that help stabilize the body, so this includes your lower and middle back, your glutes, your abs, and your obliques. Core stability and strength plays a large role in athletic agility, so soccer players can attribute some of their agility to the core strengthening that they do multiple times per week. Crunches, planks, sit-ups, russian twists, leg raises, and back extensions are all important exercises that can be done daily to strengthen the core. These core exercises coupled with the fat burning capabilities of interval training will have your stomach looking better than ever.
So, the key to getting in great shape: training like a pro soccer player. Combine 1-3 days per week of interval training, with 2-3 days per week of high volume lower body lifting (with upper body lifting another 2-3 days as well to keep the body even), and finish with some core training. The ‘futbol’ training method will have you in great shape before you know it!
Written by Zach Soderberg, youth athletic trainer & fitness specialist at Elite Sports Club-West Brookfield.
Zach is a nationally licensed soccer coach, and played one year of college soccer in Tennessee and 3 years at Minnesota. He currently coaches at Milwaukee Sport Club where he has a U12 boys team.
This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.