Today we are going to talk about strength training for soccer. In an ideal world, all soccer players would begin their training at a very young age, and make the same number of touches, passes, strikes and execute all other ball control and manipulation with both feet. Equally. Every single time they train and play. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world, and in the world in which we do live, all soccer players begin to favor one leg (some more than others) almost from the moment they begin playing the game. Even more unfortunately, over time, the favoring of one leg (using one leg to kick, strike, and control the ball more than the other) leads to significant imbalances in strength, power, stability, flexibility and mobility between the left and right legs, which in turn can often cause a cascade of injuries, from the feet all the way up to the lower back. In my years as a soccer fitness coach, I have seen this left/right asymmetry in almost every single soccer player I have ever worked with, from 8 year old house league players all the way up to seasoned professionals and national team members. If you’re a soccer player and don’t believe me, try this simple test:
– close your eyes, then stand on one leg. Hold the position for 2-3 seconds, then repeat by standing on the opposite leg. Continue the sequence for 5 repetitions with each leg. Then ask yourself – which leg felt more stable – the “planting” – or “non-kicking” leg – or the “kicking” leg?
If you’re like 99% of the players I’ve worked with, you were probably much more stable and balanced on the planting or non-kicking leg. The reason for this is simple: the planting leg has been doing just that – planting – firmly into the ground, over-and-over again, while the kicking leg has been swinging and bending in all sorts of directions, over several years, and several million kicks. As a matter of fact, typically the size of the muscle on the planting leg will be noticeably bigger than that of the kicking leg, for the same reasons. Need more convincing? Think about this fact: soccer is the only sport in which almost all of the movements (all of the running and kicking, and the majority of the jumping) are done exclusively while standing on one leg at a time.
Taking this asymmetry into account, it has occurred to me that soccer players are really not very well suited to performing traditional lower body strength training exercises, like squats and dead lifts, which are done with both feet planted on the ground. As long as there is a strength difference between right and left, and all strength training is done with both feet on the ground, the strength difference will always be there and never change, and the weaker leg will always be weaker and more injury prone. Thus, soccer players should focus their lower body strength training on performing single-leg exercises. Over time, this will allow players to ensure that they are not allowing one leg to compensate for the other during the movements, and also can allow for extra strength and stability training (more repetitions) on the weaker leg, to try to even things out.
I have had tremendous success in correcting muscle imbalances and improving strength and performance in soccer players using almost exclusively single-leg strength exercises. Stay tuned for my future blog posts, where I will give examples of simple and effective exercises and movements that can be incorporated into a player’s or team’s strength training routine.
I’d love to hear your opinions on this subject – drop me a line here to get the conversation started!