2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Spain – Keep Possession, Complete Passes, Create Shots on Target, Conserve Energy, and Win


Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Spain, the current World Cup holders, who are trying to become the first team since Brazil in 1958 / 1962 to repeat as World Cup champions.  Spain has drawn a tough group that includes Holland, Chile, and Australia, and plays their first match against Holland on June 13th.

In a recent study conducted by Castellano et al (2012), ball possession and pass completion percentage were rated as 2 of the 4 variable most likely to determine success of national teams at the World Cup (the other 2 were total shots taken, and shots on target).  The Spanish national team consistently ranks as one of the highest in ball possession, and pass completion percentage, and they were the best team in both of those categories at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (which they won).  A high pass completion percentage is necessary in order for high ball possession to occur, and Spain have become masters at keeping more possession of the ball than their opponents, by completing many more passes than their opponents during games.

From a physical standpoint, a team with more possession of the ball is able to rest more than its opponent.  This does not mean that the team in possession does not run, because keeping the ball requires players off the ball to be moving constantly.  What it does mean is that the opposing team, which will be spending much of the game defending, will expend more energy than the team in possession.  Over time, this will cause the opposing team’s players to fatigue quicker, make more mistakes, and eventually concede goals that will likely cause them to lose the game.  Spanish players and coaches have realized these facts, and have spent countless years developing a style of play that tires out and frustrates opponents by forcing them to defend for the majority of the game, often keeping them inside their own half and under constant threat of conceding shots on target.  Interestingly, since shots on target was also one of the top predictors of success in World Cup games, the fact that Spain are able to keep so much possession of the ball in the opponent’s 1/3rd of the field has been instrumental in allowing them to generate more shots on target than most other World Cup teams.

If Spain are to be successful this year, they will likely have to stick the the strategy and tactics that have worked so well for them for the past 6 years.  Keep possession of the ball, complete more passes than the opponent, and try to do both of those things as close to the opponent’s goal as possible, which will allow for more shots on target.  We will have to wait and see what happens in 3 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


The One Thing Your House League Coach in the 80’s/90’s Got Right


Remember the orange slices from your house league games?

Most dieticians and fitness professionals tell people – even athletes – to limit their dietary intake of sugar, because consumption of excess amounts of sugar can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and other negative health effects.  For soccer players, however, there is one particular time and place that consuming sugar is actually good for you: half-time.

Muscle glycogen, which is the body’s stored energy in the form of carbohydrates, can get significantly depleted over the course of a 90-minute soccer game.  Several studies have even shown that more than 50% of the body’s muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrates) can be depleted by half-time.  Unfortunately, once muscle glycogen in the body gets too low, optimal athletic performance becomes impossible as a result of muscle cramps, decreased strength and power, and aerobic fatigue.  The good news is that the quickest and most efficient way for soccer players to restore muscle glycogen is to ingest carbohydrates in the form that is most easily absorbed into the body’s blood stream – sugar.  Furthermore, because half-time represents a natural, sustained break from play, it is the perfect time for soccer players to get the sugar their body needs.

There are several different sugary half-time options for soccer players to choose from.  Among my favorites are:

  • Gummy bears (personal favorite of the Canadian National Women’s U17 team at the 2012 World Cup in Azerbaijan)
  • Starburst candy (used successfully with the UOIT Ridgebacks Women’s Varsity Soccer Team for the past 2 seasons)
  • Dried fruit (tastier upgrades to the traditional raisin include dried cranberries – “craisins” – and blueberries)
  • Orange slices (the one thing your house league coach in the 80’s/90’s got right)

Now that you are aware of this good news, please use caution when deciding what type, and how much, sugar you will consume at half-time.  In general, you will get all the carbohydrate replenishment you need with 1 regular sized handful of any of the above food items.  Eat too much sugar at half-time, and you will probably just end up starting the second half with a stomach ache.

I’d love to hear your opinions about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.



Fitness, Matches

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Cameroon – Speed Kills


Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Cameroon, an African side with a German coach, who have a history of pulling off upsets in the World Cup and have drawn a tough group that includes hosts Brazil, Croatia, and Mexico.

Cameroon’s best player is 32 year old striker Samuel Eto’o, who is widely considered one of the fastest soccer players in the world. In my business, we spend a lot of time working with athletes to develop speed using a variety of training techniques, including high speed/high incline treadmill running, plyometrics, strength training, and running mechanics training. Without getting into all the details, what I can tell you is that Samuel Eto’o exhibits all of the athletic qualities that good speed training seeks to develop. Among these are:

– Powerful legs and a low starting position that elicit explosive starting speed
– Foot contact on the balls of the feet to maximize propulsive forces
– Strong hamstrings that produce a very long running stride
– Quick and strong hip flexors that snap the knees up quickly for a fast stride frequency
– A strong and stable core that keeps the hips square and neutral during upright running
– A relaxed arm swing to maximize total body range of motion

Of course, developing these skills and abilities takes years of hard training, however, soccer players aspiring to get faster should watch this video of Eto’o in action and try to copy the way he runs. At the World Cup Brazilian, Croatian, and Mexican defenders will certainly have their hands (and feet) full trying to stop him. We will have to wait and see what happens in 3 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


1-Leg Bosu-Ball Alternate Arm Dumbbell Bicep Curl/Shoulder Press

A great exercise that combines single-leg balance and stability with upper body strengthening.
To perform this exercise, stand on the middle of the Bosu Ball with your knee and toe pointing forwards. Hold dumbbells with arms at sides. Maintaining balance on the ball, slowly curl the dumbbells upwards by bending at the elbows. Position the dumbbells for a shoulder press by facing the palms outwards and fists towards the ceiling. Slowly press one arm upwards by straightening the elbow and bringing the dumbbell up and inwards towards the mid-line of the body. Keep balanced and slowly lower the arm back down, then repeat with the other arm.
Perform 2 sets of 5-10 repetitions with each arm. Do the first set on the right leg, and the 2nd set on the left leg.

Matches, Science

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Mexico – The Altitude Acclimatization Advantage


Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations.  In this installment, I’m going to take a look at Mexico, traditionally one of the strongest nations in CONCACAF, who have qualified for 14 World Cups, and have not missed out on the tournament since 1990.  They are in Group A (along with hosts Brazil, Croatia, and Cameroon).  They play their first match against Cameroon on June 13th.

Playing soccer in Mexico City, the nation’s capital, can be very tiring. I know, both because I played there myself in an international youth tournament in 1996, and also because I worked as Fitness Coach with the Canadian Women’s National U17 team during our  training camp there in December of 2011 (where the team played two matches against the Mexican U17’s).  The city is situated atop a small mountain, almost 2.5 kilometres above sea level.  At such a high altitude, the partial pressure of oxygen in the air is much lower than it is at sea level, and as a result there is much less oxygen available for the body to breathe (and for working muscles to use).

What this means for soccer players who travel to play there is that they will get tired a lot sooner during games than they normally would, and they also will not be able to recover as quickly between the runs they make over the course of a game.  Mexicans who have grown up in the city, however, have spent their entire lives becoming acclimatized to the high altitude.  Their cardiovascular and respiratory systems have gradually evolved to become more efficient at oxygen intake and delivery to working muscles.  When these players travel and compete in parts of Mexico – or other countries – that are closer to sea level, their more efficient hearts and lungs allow them to perform better by improving aerobic endurance and off-setting fatigue.  Sports scientists have coined the term “live high, train low”, to describe this very effective training strategy.  Several research studies have shown significant improvements in aerobic endurance in athletes who have followed a “live high, train low” protocol, even in as little time as 4-6 weeks.

For the Mexican National Soccer Team, the increased aerobic endurance gained from their acclimatization to high altitude could be a secret weapon that helps them to progress out of their group.  If they can hold other strong teams in their group, like Brazil and Croatia, to a close scoreline in the first 60-80 minutes of their matches, they will likely have a slight performance edge in the final 10-20 minutes and could steal a goal to secure a tie or a win.  We will have to wait and see what happens in 3 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Single-Leg Side Plank Dips

Another great single-leg strength exercise. This one is very useful because it strengthens the core muscles as well as the muscles on the outside of the thigh.
To perform the single-leg side plank dip, start by going into a side plank position. Lay on one side, with hips square, and one leg on top of the other. Contract the core muscles and move the hips off the ground, forming a straight line from the feet to the shoulders. Slowly lift one leg off the ground, while at the same time pushing into the ground with the outside of the bottom foot. Holding this position, slowly lower the hips towards the floor (“dipping” them down) until they almost touch the floor. Slowly raise the hips to the starting position before repeating the movement for the next repetition.
This exercise can be done on the field, and may be more effective if done prior to the start of training because it helps to engage some of the core muscles that are involved in running, jumping and kicking. Perform 2 sets of 5-10 repetitions on each side.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Matches, Science

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Brazil – Relax, Relax, Relax


Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations.  In this installment, I’m going to take a look at Brazil, 5-time world champions and 2014 World Cup hosts, who will be opening the tournament on June 12th against Croatia.

Brazil are considered favorites not only in that game, but in the entire tournament.  The pressure that goes along with being the favorite can be overwhelming.  In my last blog post, I looked at Croatia, and discussed the importance of mental excitation strategies, and how they can help the underdog stay motivated and focused in big games.  For the favorite the opposite strategy, involving mental relaxation, is often the most effective one.

Nerves before big competitions can unsettle a team that is favored to win, so learning how to calm the body down is a very valuable skill.  A great strategy to help with mental relaxation is self talk.  The key is to find a word or short sentence that is brief and concise, yet at the same time delivers a powerful message that helps the body relax.  When engaging in self talk, players must make sure that they really believe that what they are saying will help them to stay relaxed under pressure.  Individual players need to take some time to think about what word or short sentence will have the most powerful relaxing effect on them.  The word “relax” itself can be very effective, but of course there may be other, less obvious words or phrases that will work just as well.

If Brazil are to do what the world expects them to do, which is to beat Croatia, finish first in their group, and reach the final (at least), then relaxing self talk may be an effective addition to their training regime.  We will have to wait and see what happens in 3 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness, Science

2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Croatia – Excitation to Pull Off the Upset

ImageBecause this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations.  In the first installment today, I’m going to take a look at Croatia, who will be opening the tournament on June 12th against host nation Brazil.

That first game could be pivotal for Croatia, and if they can come away with at least a draw, they could be well on their way to qualification for the next round.  Croatian Head Coach and former captain of the team, Niko Kovac, said “Brazil will have a big support, not only at stadium but also from 200 million people in front of their televisions.  But at the same time it is a pressure for the host which could be our advantage.”

It is this pressure that I am going to speak about briefly.  Opening matches at the World Cup typically involve either the previous champion, or the host nation.  In the past few World Cup opening matches, there have been some notable upsets.  For example, in the 2002 World Cup opener in Korea, previous champion France lost 1-0 to newcomers Senegal, who were playing in their very first World Cup game. Several years before that but still relatively recently, in 1990 in Italy, champions Argentina lost 1-0 to Cameroon in the opening game.  Could Croatia pull off a similar upset by defeating favorites, 5-time winners and host nation Brazil?

From a sports science perspective, the team that is the underdog  – Croatia – must take measures to increase motivation and mental alertness (“excitation”) prior to the start of the game.  Excitation can be accomplished with a technique as simple as a self-slap on the wrist.  If done with enough force, slapping your own wrist will cause just enough pain to force the body to release adrenalin, a hormone that “excites” the body by preparing it to perform physical activity through a multitude of functions (for example, raising heart rate, diverting blood flow away from the digestive system and into the working muscles, and sharpening vision, to name a few).   Coaches and sports psychologists have been using several different versions of the wrist-slap (anything that raises athletes’ adrenaline levels) for decades.  For an extreme example, Google the ‘Haka’ performed pre-game by New Zealand’s ‘All-Blacks’ National Rugby Team.

In general, excitation strategies help to take the pressure off your team by keeping them pumped up and ready, while at the same time can increase the pressure on opponents (mostly through intimidation).  If the Croatian team is to be successful against Brazil on June 12th, mental excitation strategies might be a useful addition to their training regime.  We will all have to wait and see what happens in 3 months’ time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

For Parents, Uncategorized

3 Reasons Why You – and Your Children – Should Watch the Canadian Women’s U17 Team Tomorrow

If you are like most soccer fans who live in Canada, you are probably unaware that the 2014 FIFA Women’s World Cup begins tomorrow, Saturday, March 15th.  Canada has qualified for this tournament, and they begin tomorrow with their first match against Germany.  The game will be broadcast live on Sportsnet World, at 10:00pm Toronto time (8:00pm Costa Rican time).  Below are 3 reasons why you and your children should watch the game:

  1. The game will be exciting.  I’ve experienced the excitement this kind of event can provide first-hand.  I was the Fitness Coach for the Canadian National Women’s U17 team at the previous U17 Women’s World Cup, in Azerbaijan in 2012.  Our first match against Nigeria drew over 30,000 fans to the stadium in Baku.  The noise from the crowd was so loud that I had to scream to players who were standing only a few feet away from me just to make sure they could hear me.  The tournament also provides a platform for a lot of future stars to display their talents.  Current Canadian Senior Women’s National Team centre-back Kadeisha Buchanan starred for the U17’s at the 2012 World Cup.
  2. Canada not only had to qualify for this tournament, they are considered one of the favorites.  Remember, to get to a World Cup means that the team must go through a difficult qualification tournament.  This year, because Costa Rica are hosts, there were only 2 spots available for qualification through CONCACAF.  Perennial women’s soccer powerhouse the United States missed out, losing to Mexico in their CONCACAF semi-final match. Canada, on the other hand, has been the most consistent CONCACAF nation at the U17 World Cup, having qualified for all 4 of the tournaments to date.  Although they have a tough group that includes Germany, 2012 finalists North Korea, and Ghana, the writers at had this to say about the Canadian team: “Despite suffering defeat to Mexico in the final of CONCACAF qualification, the young Canadians did not concede once in the regional tournament, losing the final on penalties after a 0-0 draw in normal time.  Canada’s solid performance in qualifying suggests they will be one of the tournament favorites this time around.”
  3. These girls can play.  And they are in better shape than you.  The talent and fitness level of the players in the Canadian Women’s National Team is higher than ever.  Our national programs have benefited greatly from the hiring of John Herdman, who took over as the Head Coach of the Senior Women’s team in 2011.  When I worked with the National U17 team, our average Yo-Yo test score 1 month before the 2012 World Cup was 17.4 (equivalent to 1,560 metres of high intensity running per game).  The fittest players in our team had scores over 19.1 (over 2000 metres high intensity running per game).  When you consider that the average distance of a sprint in soccer is 10 metres, this means that the fittest players are doing more than 200 sprints per game.  Trust me, there are very few soccer payers in Canada not playing professional soccer (male or female) who can get to a score of 19.1 on the Yo-Yo test – or do 200 sprints in a single game.  Combine that world class fitness level with excellent technical skills, and you have an exciting and entertaining soccer team.

If you are Canadian and you have a daughter who plays soccer, at any level, you need to make sure that you watch tomorrow’s game.  Any other soccer players, parents, or fans should also give the game, and the Women’s U17 World Cup tournament, a shot.  You will not be disappointed.  I’ll be watching.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.




Spain v. France: Blueprints for Developing Soccer Talent?

A great article written right before the Spain vs. France Quarter Final match of the 2010 World Cup…we can learn something about youth development from both of these countries!


By Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff

The author is a historian in the Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State.  Her forthcoming book, “The Making of Les Bleus: Sport in France, 1958-2010,” (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books) examines the history and evolution of French soccer and basketball development.

France plays Spain in the Euro quarterfinals tomorrow inUkraine.  Both sides have demonstrated results in recent memory:Spain’s Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 titles, andFrance’s 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro victories.  Much is made of each side’s Generation ’87, players born in 1987 who are prominent fixtures in this year’s tournament.  For Spain, this includes Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fàbregas, and Pedro Rodríguez, and for France, Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri, Jérémy Ménez, Blaise Matuidi, and Hatem Ben Arfa.  While indeed gifted athletes, they (and their teammates) are products of similar yet different youth programs.  By the late 1990s, the French development system was acclaimed…

View original post 1,163 more words


Soccer Players Should Run. And Jump. And Play Soccer.


Having worked in the fitness industry for my entire adult life, I have been exposed to hundreds of different fitness trainers, with equally as many different types of fitness training methods.  It seems that every few months, a new fad (be it a new piece of equipment, exercise video, training theory/methodology, etc..) gets hailed as the next “big thing” that will revolutionize the way people train.

While I do believe there is scientific merit to several of the new and popular types of exercise equipment out there (for example, the TRX trainer, or vibration plates, to name a few), I also think it is imperative for athletes to be wary and skeptical of new methods of training or equipment.  A lot of time, effort, and money can easily be wasted on training that does not follow the one principle of training which is the cornerstone of sport-specific strength and conditioning: the principle of specificity. The principle of specificity dictates that the human body will undergo specific adaptations to training, that are specific to the imposed load placed on it by the training stimulus.  Simply put, you will become good at what your are training. 

Soccer players should interpret the principle of specificity to mean that, if they want to become better at playing soccer, they should play a lot of soccer.  As much soccer as they can, in fact.  Their fitness training, although focused on improving their physical ability, should also involve playing a lot of soccer.  Their fitness training that does not involve playing a lot of soccer, should be centred around improving the specific physical abilities that the sport requires, namely, running and jumping.  Other types of training that do not involve playing soccer, running, or jumping, are not really the most effective and productive use of a soccer player’s limited time.  This is especially true for elite youth soccer players between the ages of 12-18, who are in their mid-to-late stages of physiological and neuromuscular development. Players in this age category will require a strong focus on developing the key areas of soccer-specific fitness (aerobic endurance, running speed, and jumping power) in order to achieve peak physical ability in time for opportunities to participate in higher level soccer after high-school (university, professional, and international).

To become physically better at soccer, the best thing any soccer player can do is to play more soccer.  Running training, especially high intensity aerobic interval training, is the next best kind of training, because it will help soccer players meet the high aerobic demands of the sport.  Finally, a combination of speed training (fast running and sprinting), and plyometrics (fancy word for “jumping”) are the most effective ways for soccer players to meet the other physical demands of soccer.  

I encourage all soccer players – and all other athletes – who are looking into any new type of training method or equipment to always consider the training principle of specificity.  If you want to become better at flipping tires, then flip tires.    If you want to become better at lifting heavy weights, then lift heavy weights.  And if you want to become better at soccer, then run, jump, and play soccer.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Medicine Ball Alternate Side Squat

Another in our series of single-leg strengthening exercises. This one is very useful to strengthen the quads, hamstrings, adductors/groin muscles, and glutes, while at the same time improving hip mobility and flexibility.
To perform this exercise, stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and toes pointing forwards, holding a medicine ball (or soccer ball) with both hands. Slowly lower the body to one side by bending one leg at the hip and knee, keeping the foot planted on the floor and toe pointing forwards, while at the same time moving the weight of the other foot onto the heel, pointing the toe upwards and straightening the knee. Stop when the thigh of the bent leg is parallel to the ground, before slowly raising the body to the starting position, and repeating to the other side with the other leg.
Perform 2 sets of 10 side squats to each side, with 1 minute of rest between sets.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Where Did My Yo-Yo Go?

ImageAnyone who knows me well knows I love running fitness assessments.  In my business, we conduct fitness assessments on soccer players 1 day per week, every week, for 50 out of the 52 weeks of the year.  Among the tests we use is the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test, which is still the best and most accurate predictor of aerobic endurance performance in soccer.  Simply put, the Yo-Yo test tells players how good their endurance is, and also how much fast running they should be able to do over the course of a 90-minute game (the higher the Yo-Yo score, the more fast running you can do).  The other great – and perhaps more beneficial – aspect of the Yo-Yo test is that it is very sensitive to training.  This means that the harder you train, the better your score will be on the test.

One of the unique aspects of the training programs I use with all of my athletes is that we frequently schedule re-assessments, typically done at 8-10 weeks intervals, throughout the year.  This allows us to consistently and accurately monitor the athletes’ progress, and to determine whether or not they are training at the right intensity.

Yesterday morning, like all Saturday mornings at Soccer Fitness, was a fitness assessment day.  Among the group of athletes we tested was a 1997-born (U17) male player doing a re-assessment.  This player has been training with us for over 1 year now, so the test we did yesterday was actually the 3rd fitness test we had conducted on him in a 12-month time span.  Since the first test (in February of 2013) he went through a 16-week training period with us (to get ready for the 2013 season), did a re-assessment in July (with excellent results), then took a break during the outdoor season, then came back for 8 weeks in the fall of 2013.  Around the end of November, he sprained his ankle, thus missing over 6 weeks of training.  Finally healthy in January, he resumed training with us for another 8 weeks.

All of this led us to the re-assessment yesterday morning.  We had set a target for him, for the Yo-Yo test, of stage 19.1; a decent score for a U17 player, which corresponds to a total distance of 2080 metres of high intensity running.  In June of 2013, he had scored 18.5 (1920 metres of high intensity running and very close to 19.1).  His actual score on the test yesterday was only stage 17.1 (not good enough for U17 boys, and only 1440 metres of high intensity running).  We discussed his results afterwards, and he seemed confused and disappointed by his performance in the Yo-Yo test, especially considering he had already scored much higher on the same test almost 9 months ago, in June of last year.  My explanation of his results was that they were not really surprising to me.  The only way to ensure consistent improvements in physical performance, I told him, is to do consistent, high intensity training sessions, for the majority of the calendar year.  The reason his results on the Yo-Yo test had gone up and down, I told him, is that he simply had not been training consistently.  In the past 9 months, he had basically done only 4 months’ worth (16 weeks) of high intensity aerobic training, interspersed between a long break in the summer, and a short break with his ankle injury.  Unfortunately, the end result of all this time off is that he had returned almost to the same fitness level he had been at when we started his training program over 1 year ago.

Believe it or not, similar scenarios occur with elite amateur club and university soccer players in Canada all the time.  They frequently are unable to maintain a consistent training schedule due to injury, busy periods of school and work, or social/family commitments.  The problem is that it is extremely difficult – almost impossible – to achieve improvements in aerobic fitness (and Yo-Yo test scores) with inconsistent training, no matter how hard or intense the training may be.  Many players in will frustratingly end up spending long periods of time training just to maintain their present fitness levels, often slightly decreasing their fitness and rarely showing any sustained improvements.  The take-home message from all of this is simple: to improve aerobic fitness, you need to train all year.  It may be acceptable for a high level soccer player to have intermittent breaks of 2-3 weeks throughout the season (during off season, or holidays, for example) but other than that, the rest of the time must be spent doing consistent, high intensity aerobic training.  Otherwise you too may be left asking yourself the question “where did my Yo-Yo go?”.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

Fitness, Nutrition

Time to Add Some Salt


Soccer at the highest level can be very physically demanding.  Over the course of a 90-minute game, top level players can run up to 15 kilometres, including 2000-3000 metres at high intensity.  All that running has another important effect on players – it causes them to sweat.  A lot.  More, in fact, over a 2-hour time period than most healthy adults will sweat over the course of several days.  Recent research has shown that top level professional players can lose up to 5 grams (5000 Mg’s) of sodium during a regular 90-minute game in hot temperatures.  Sweat is the body’s mechanism for preserving its core temperature.  When we sweat, we are getting rid of excess heat in the form of water, while at the same time, also losing large amounts of one other important nutrient – sodium.  Sodium is an electrolyte – a form of salt – that is used by the body for muscle contraction, as well as other functions.  When sodium levels in the body get too low, proper muscle function becomes impossible, and there can be a serious risk of several different dangerous side effects, including seizures, coma, and even death.  Soccer players can be at risk of low sodium levels, based on the aforementioned large amounts of sodium they can lose through sweat when playing in the heat.

Now that you are sufficiently scared about the consequences of low sodium levels in soccer, here is the good news: most sports drinks, including Gatorade and Powerade, contain sodium.  Consumption of sports drinks during soccer games played in the heat, when a lot of sweating occurs, is thus a useful and recommended practice for soccer players.   The only problem with conventional sports drinks is this: most contain only 250 Mg’s of sodium in a standard sized 500-750Ml bottle.  As a result, players who sweat a lot in the heat (losing up to 5000 Mg’s of sodium) would need to consume an inordinate amount (16-20 bottles) of Gaotrade or Powerade in order to replenish all the sodium they lose.  So what’s the solution to this problem?  Simply add salt to your sports drink if it’s hot outside.  Salt, or sodium chloride, contains a high and concentrated dose of sodium, which is just what the body needs when playing soccer (and sweating) in the heat.  The exact amount of salt needed will vary greatly from person to person.  Start by making sure you consume 1 bottle (500-750Ml) of sports drink over the course of a 90-minute game whenever temperatures exceed 25 degrees Celcius.  The best way to determine exactly how much salt you need is to weigh yourself before and after a game.  If you lose less than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) you will not need to consume more than 1 bottle of sports drink, and water.  If you lose more than 1 kilogram, it is likely that you are dehydrated, and would need to supplement your sports drink with a bit of extra salt/sodium.  A good guideline would be to start with a small amount (200-300 Mg’s).  Add this amount of salt to your sports drink, and see if the weight loss goes to under 1 kilogram.  If not, try adding another 200-300 Mg’s for the next game, and continue supplementing at this rate until you find the amount that works for you.  Once you find the right amount of salt/sodium, you should notice a significant improvement in performance and reduction in fatigue.  Always remember to drink as much water as possible in hot temperatures, regardless of how much sports drink you consume.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.     


Bulgarian Lunge

Another great single-leg strengthening exercise that can be done anywhere, including on the pitch – all you need is a bench. The Bulgarian lunge helps to stabilize the hip and knee, while at the same time strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps, one leg at a time. To perform the Bulgarian lunge, stand on one leg, a few feet in front of a bench or step. Place the other leg behind the standing leg, with the toes contacting the bench. Make sure to stand far enough forward that the foot and knee of the standing leg are in front of the hip, keeping both toes pointing forwards. Maintaining an upright posture and flat back, slowly lower the body towards the floor by bending the front hip and knee, keeping the knee in line with, or slightly behind, the toes. Lower the body until the knee is bent to a 90-degree angle, then push through the heel of the foot to straighten the hip and knee and return to the starting position.

Perform 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions with each leg for optimal results.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

For Parents

How Knowledgable is Your Coach?


In a recent study conducted by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), in conjunction with the Clinical Exercise Physiology program at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, researchers interviewed 70 youth coaches, asking them questions covering these seven health/fitness related subject areas:

  1. exercise physiology
  2. practice design
  3. nutrition
  4. hydration
  5. basic first aid
  6. concussion care
  7. strength training knowledge

The survey also asked for demographic information including age, education level, major field of study, age level coached, paid or volunteer position, and highest level of sports participation.

Below is a summary of the results of the study:

  • average score was 28.7 out of 40 questions correct, or 72%
  • health science majors scored significantly higher than others who earned a college degree with any other major
  • 9 questions were most often answered incorrectly; of those, 4 were related to hydration, and the others related to strength training, nutrition, and concussions
  • 50% of participants were unaware of second-impact syndrome, a dangerous and often fatal concussion-related complication

While this study was conducted by interviewing coaches from a variety of youth sports, including soccer, the results are certainly interesting for anyone involved in youth soccer.  Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, and ACE Chief Science Officer, summed it up by stating “the results of this study suggest that many (volunteer coaches) would benefit from receiving educational information and training on safety and injury prevention as it pertains to young athletes.”

I’d love to hear your opinions on this subject.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


How to be the Ultimate (Weekend) Warrior


My facility, the Soccer Fitness Training Centre, is located inside an indoor soccer facility.  Since I spend a lot of time in my facility on weekends, I get to see a lot of people participating in weekend indoor adult soccer leagues.   These people, because of their propensity for playing soccer only on weekends, have earned the nickname “weekend warrior”, and it is an apt nickname (anyone who has ever seen, or played in, weekend adult soccer leagues can attest to their intensity and competitiveness).  The problem with this intensity, however, is that at times it can be the cause of problematic, nagging, over-use injuries.   Furthermore, because weekend warriors typically only play soccer on the weekends, they are much more likely to get hurt due to lack of proper physical preparation and fitness.

The good news is that there is a simple solution to the weekend warrior’s current or future injury problems.  Do a 5-10 minute dynamic warm-up prior to the start of the game.  In the past 20 years, a lot of scientific research has supported athletes warming up prior to participating in more intense physical activity such as soccer.  Weekend warriors, athletes in their own right, should follow the same guidelines.  In particular, a good pregame warm-up should include the following:

1. Low/moderate speed running for 3-4 minutes, including running forwards, backwards, and sideways.

2. Dynamic stretches of 2-3 different major muscle groups, with 4-5 repetitions per leg.  I prefer the following ones:

  • hamstring high kick: walk forwards and kick high with a straight leg, touching the toe to the hand of the same side (example: right toe touching right hand).
  • walking lunge: take a long step forwards, bending at the knee and keeping the knee and toe facing forwards.  Bend the knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor, before pushing upwards through the heel and repeating the lunge forwards with the opposite leg.
  • heel-toe walk: walk forwards, stepping on the heel with the toe facing upwards, then rolling the body weight forwards and pushing downwards into the floor and supporting the weight of the body on the toes, with each step.

3. High speed running for 1-2 minutes, including 5-6 short (5 metre) sprints.

This simple, 5-10 minute dynamic warm-up, should be enough to help prevent injuries during weekend adult soccer, thus transforming the traditional weekend warrior into the injury-proof ‘Ultimate Warrior”.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Single Leg Romanian Dead Lift – Holding Stick

This is another example of an excellent single-leg strengthening exercise. This one is focused on the hamstring muscles. Hold a stick (broom sticks work best) behind your back, with one arm held over the head and the other arm behind the back. Stand on the leg opposite to the hand that is over the head (for example, left hand over the head – stand on the right leg). Keeping the back held straight, slowly lower the torso towards the floor by bending at the hip, maintaining only a slight bend in the knee. Once the torso is lowered to a horizontal position (parallel to the floor), slowly raise it back up by pushing through the heel of the standing leg, using the hamstring muscles to extend the hip and get back to the starting position.

Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions per leg, with 1 minute of rest between sets.

I’d love to hear what you think. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.