As the world comes together to witness countries compete for the ultimate prize in soccer, viewers are universally blown away by the awesome display of skill and athleticism onscreen.
The crazy shots, the masterful ball handling, the amazing goalie saves — all of these extraordinary sights could only be possible with years of training and dedication. Star players often show off their chiseled physiques after a win, but how do they achieve such near-perfect aesthetics and the strength and endurance to last an entire 90-minute match? With lots of exercise, of course. Here’s how you can train like the pros.
Before getting into the serious stuff, all soccer players must prepare their bodies for intense physical work.
A proper warm-up usually consists of low- to moderate-intensity exercises that get the blood flowing and loosen up the muscles. Stretching — of the dynamic and active variety — is an ideal warm-up for just about any type of exercise. It enhances flexibility, which reduces injury and improves athletic performance.
The areas that give players the most problems include the hips, lower back, and groin, so those areas need the most stretching. Some common flexibility drills include squat walks and straight leg walks using mini-bands around the ankles. One-legged toe touches or jumps boost balance and coordination. Another effective warm-up involves doing drills on a treadmill. With the machine set at a moderate pace, practice jogging, reverse jogging, and side-stepping for about six to 10 minutes total.
Running is an essential part of soccer, and players must develop the stamina required to endure the hour-and-a-half matches.
During training, going all out is considered to be risky, so an exercise called striding is used instead. Rather than running the length of the field at top speed, the players are taught to do laps at 80%. This intensity level is high enough to increase lung capacity and build muscular endurance, but the odds of slipping, falling, twisting an ankle, or receiving some other injury is definitely reduced.
Stretching and running is great for conditioning, but to become better at the sport means playing it as often as possible.
A professional team is often divided up into four-on-four or five-on-five teams for mini-games. These games force players to use all of their skills and allow them to tweak any strategies that don’t seem to be very effective. They get to practice their footwork, passing, kicking, and more. During these small games, players often play at close to full intensity to simulate a real match.
In addition to training for stamina and technique, soccer players also need to develop strength in order to deliver powerful kicks.
Weightlifting is one of the best ways to increase muscular size and strength. For soccer, the core and legs are the focus. Exercises such as front levers, hanging leg raises, and medicine ball slams tighten the abs. For the legs, weighted jump squats appear to be a favorite. Upper body training is also done, and explosive push-ups are usually part of the routine.
There you have it — a workout routine fit for a hardcore soccer athlete. Soccer players are some of the most fit and athletic of any sport, and they owe it to their intense training to develop the bodies and skills necessary for optimal performance. With the exercises above, you’ll burn fat, build muscle, and undoubtedly refuse to sit out the next neighborhood pick-up soccer game.