Fitness, Science

The Deadlift – Execution, Benefits, and How to Incorporate it Into a Soccer Player’s Training Program

Written by Soccer Fitness Strength and Conditioning Coach Jacob Ceccanese, edited by Richard Bucciarelli.

The deadlift is an essential compound exercise within a strength and conditioning program. In general, the deadlift offers many positive contributions to an athlete’s training and functional abilities.  Because it is a closed chain exercise, the deadlift is  often used for preventative and rehabilitation purposes. The deadlift is often debated as being a high risk for reward exercise, however, leading researcher Dr. Stuart McGill clarifies the significance of the exercise for us in strength and conditioning programs for athletes.  Dr. McGill refers to the deadlift as a posterior shift exercise maximising the potential to activate the gluteus maximus, a prime mover with respect to hip extension (McGill, 2006).

Increasing the effectiveness of the deadlift is primarily based on achieving correct posture while performing the exercise.  A key postural cue for athletes in keeping a neutral spine, this position is transferred to all different variations of the deadlifts (Eg: sumo, stiff leg, dumbbell or bar). A neutral spine position pulls the spinal column in a normal curvature keeping tension on the muscles instead of ligaments.  Adams and Dolan (1995) provided insight to avoiding injury during an anterior loaded exercise such as the deadlift (Adams & Dolan, 1995). Muscles commonly used in a deadlift such as the erector spinea and latissimus dorsi are primary postural muscles which eliminate flexion of the spine. The research suggests that keeping a neutral spine will eliminate the possibility of shifting the muscle function to the ligaments which are not meant to resist high loads. Adams and Dolan suggest avoiding full lumbar flexion which may allow for decreased risk and increased effectiveness (Adams & Dolan, 1995).

For simplicity, the most common deadlift motion is powerful hip and knee extension through loaded posterior chain musculature. The muscles which perform these movements play a critical role in soccer-specific movements such as vertical jump in a header and explosive acceleration to chase a ball down or close down the space between opposing players while defending.  Including deadlifting into a soccer player’s periodization program would allow them to achieve great performance benefits, as it would allow them to improve the effectiveness of these movements.

Many top strength and conditioning coaches incorporate the deadlift into a soccer player’s regimen for several different reasons, but the main reason it is used is to build general strength to allow an athlete to generate power more efficiently. Strength and power are two terms commonly mistaken as being the same, however, many differences exist between the two.  The force-velocity curve (see below) is a graph that represents the hyperbolic curve relationship between force (y-axis) and velocity (x-axis). Zatsiorsky and Kraemer (2006) explain the specificity in periodization programs to allow athletes to attain the adaptions gained in training to transfer to their sport (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006). The training specific to one end of the spectrum sometimes allows adaptions at the other end. While trying to increase strength, one must lift heavy loads which can only be done at slow speeds, but when trying to increase power or speed, one must lift lighter loads in explosive style lifts.

Force-Velocity Curve

When taking a closer look at the force-velocity curve, it is critical that athletes train to shift that curve to the right, which means that as time gets closer to the season, players have increased their strength to a level which helps optimise their speed and power. A challenge with this type of training is that athletes cannot optimally train strength while at the same time doing power or speed work, and conversely, power cannot be optimally trained while continuing with strength training.  Vladimir Issurin (2008) found that using a “block” periodization for sports such as soccer that depend on key characteristics like speed and power, to be critical for players playing at high levels.  The “block” periodization model is based on training residuals and how long the training adaptions can be maintained without de-training (Issurin, V., 2008).  Physiological adaptions such as improving aerobic endurance, anaerobic ability, as well as maximal strength, all take longer to de-train opposed to motor skill adaptions such as maximal speed (Issurin, V. 2008). Therefore, those characteristics are trained earlier and as the athlete approaches their season, maximal speed and strength endurance work specific to the sport are added in. 

Moving through a block periodization program for a soccer player would begin in the offseason; accumulation phase is step one. A deadlift exercise would be incorporated into the accumulation phase as training focus is to build basic strength and hypertrophy to set up for greater training intensity in future mesocycles. The accumulation phase –  as the name suggests – is a high volume and low intensity phase. During this phase, the deadlift exercise would be done using low loads and more sets and reps. Variation throughout the first phase can be done using different types of deadlifting techniques throughout the microcycles (weekly) to add variation.  Athletes then move from the accumulation phase to the transmutation phase which incorporates more maximal strength and power work. During the transmutation phase, medium load and medium to high intensity is used. The reason for the transmutation phase is to focus the training stimulus to adaptions more specific for performance.  The last stage would be realisation phase; the focus during this phase is power and speed.  The training volume is to remain low and training intensity is to be high.  Lowering the training volume during this phase allows for the accumulated fatigue to dissipate and specific training adaptions to be realised (NCSA).

Through the use of a block periodization, with a progression from phases starting with accumulation, to transmutation, to realisation, soccer players can incorporate the deadlift exercise into their routines and achieve improvements in performance. A specific goal of the use of deadlifts in a block periodization is to move the force-velocity curve towards the right side of the graph. This will allow athletes to increase the amount of force they can produce, at any given velocity or speed, and ultimately will allow them the opportunity to achieve peak levels of strength, speed and power simultaneously through a residual training effect (Hoffman,J. 2012).



Fitness, Science

Hamstring Injuries in Soccer – Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation

Written by Soccer Fitness Internship Student Dante Blair, edited by Richard Bucciarelli.

Hamstring injuries are very common in the world of sports, and especially in the sport of soccer. Injuries to the hamstring muscles can have a drastic effect on an athlete’s career and quality of life.  Audits were done on English Professional teams over two seasons and found that about 12 percent of all soccer related injuries were hamstring related. A hamstring injury can effectively sideline a player for up to 90 days. (Woods, Hawkins, Maltby, Thomas, & Hodson, 2004). It is clear that hamstring injuries pose a problem to athletes so it is important, as with any other injury, for players to participate in preventive measure to reduce the risk of injury. If/when a hamstring injury occurs, players should also follow proper rehabilitation practices and techniques in order to return to play as soon as possible and to prevent re-injury.

The hamstrings consists of three muscles on the back of the leg. The semitendinosus, semimembranosus and the bicep femoris insert at the ischial tuberosity in the pelvis spanning across the knee joint and then inserting on the medial tibia. The hamstrings function to extend the hip and bend the knee.  Hamstring injuries usually occur when there is a quick change in direction during a sprint or a jump. Often the injury occurs during the swing phase of running, prior to the foot touching the ground (Goldman & Jones, 2011). Many risk factors for hamstring injury have been described, being classified as intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors. Intrinsic risk factors include muscle weakness, imbalances, fatigue, poor flexibility and poor technique. Extrinsic factors include insufficient warm up, training parameters and playing surfaces (Goldman & Jones, 2011). Factors like age, sex and ethnicity play a role but are unmodifiable in nature. (Bahr & Holme, 2003).

Preventative measures can be taken to reduce the risk of hamstring injuries by increasing eccentric strength on the hamstrings. Studies have shown a 13 percent reduction in in hamstring injuries by implement a protocol which includes strength training to increase eccentric hamstring strength combined with warm up and stretching. This conclusion makes sense based on the fact that most hamstring injuries involved poor flexibility and muscle weakness. However, it was made clear that to effectively reduce hamstring strains, one must implement both a strength and flexibility component in their training regimen (Arnason, Anderdsen, Holme, Engebretesen, & Bahr, 2008,). An effective exercise that have proven to increase eccentric strength of the hamstring is the Nordic hamstring curl. Furthermore, athletes have to take into consideration the muscle imbalances they may have. Another study concluded that players with strength imbalances where 4-5 times more likely to receive a hamstring injury (Croisier, Ganteaume, Binet, Genty, & Ferret, 2008,). Unfortunately, this type of strength imbalance is common in soccer, because of the fact that many players develop a dominant or stronger leg. It is important to recognise any potential imbalances and implement corrective training measures to solve this issue (for example, participating in uni-lateral strength and flexibility exercises).

In the occurrence of a hamstring injury it is important to take the proper rehab precautions in order to heal as quickly as possible and reduce the risk of re-injury. A hamstring rehabilitation program usually consist of three stages; the acute, subacute and functional stages. In the acute phase of rehabilitation the goal is to protect the injury and minimise motion and strength loss. A common protective mechanism used to reduce inflammation is ice, but ultra sound and laser are used as well. At this time isometric strengthening should be done, with the use of knee flexion exercise at various angles. Once knee flexion strength is greater than 50 percent of uninjured length, the athlete may proceed to the next phase.

The second phase of rehabilitation (subacute phase) consists of concentric and eccentric training to regain strength and neuromuscular control of the hips and pelvis. Exercise done at this stage includes straight leg deadlifts, single leg windmills and the aforementioned Nordic hamstring curls. At this point the athlete should be within 20 percent of full strength and have the ability to jog forward and backward at a moderate speed.

In the final (functional) stage the focus of the rehab is on functional movement and eccentric strengthening and lengthening.  At completion of this stage athletes should have full strength and rage of motion. Bands are used to test the lengthening capabilities of the hamstrings. While using bands, the hips must be in a flexed position as the knee extends to ensure that the hamstrings are functioning properly. Tests that are commonly used to assess if an athlete is eligible to return to play are the H-test and the lengthening state manual hamstring test. Both test are designed to demonstrate full strength and range of motion of the hamstrings. (Schmitt, Tim, & McHugh, 2012)

In summary, injuries, including hamstring injuries, are an unfortunate part of participation in sports including soccer. It is important for all athletes, including soccer players, to take preventative action to reduce the likelihood of any type of injury. In the case of hamstring strains, strengthening the muscle as well as increased flexibility goes along way for injury prevention. If a hamstring injury ever occurs, following a rehabilitation protocol can be beneficial for a healthy recovery and the reduction risk of of re-injury.

Nutrition, Science

Everything You Need to Know About Carbohydrates for Soccer


Written by Soccer Fitness Internship Student Jessica Deeth.  Edited by Richard Bucciarelli.

The word “carbohydrate” is synonymous with sports nutrition. The immediate impact of carbohydrate intake, or conversely its absence, on daily training and competition performance has been widely researched. Recent trends in society have suggested that low carbohydrate diets are beneficial for weight loss and other health benefits. In addition, different tactics based on fuelling for sports performance have become a popular discussion among scientists and researchers recently as well. Carbohydrates are a major fuel source for exercise, especially during prolonged continuous or high-intensity exercise.

Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen within the muscles and liver, however this storage capacity is limited. When these carbohydrate stores inadequately meet the fuel needs of an athlete’s training program, this can negatively impact their performance. Resulting in: reduced ability to train intensely, diminish competition performance, and reduced immune function. For these reasons, athletes are encouraged to ensure adequate carbohydrate intake according to their requirements based on training regime.

Dietary carbohydrate requirements are dependent on the fuel needs of the athlete’s training and/or competition program. Exactly how many grams are required is ultimately dependant on the frequency, duration and intensity of the activity. The chart below outlines some general requirements, based on activity level, that are recommended by the Australian Sports Institute (ASI):


Much like activity levels change from day to day, carbohydrate intake should vary based on these changes in training as well. On high activity days, carbohydrate intake should be increased to account for the increase in activity ultimately increasing energy expenditure. This will help to maximise performance from the training sessions and also promote recovery between exercise sessions. Alternatively, on low-activity training days and/or rest days, carbohydrate intake should be reduced to reflect the decreased training load.(“Carbohydrate – The Facts : AIS : Australian Sports Commission”, 2016).

An athlete’s carbohydrate requirements before, during and after training or competition will depend on a number of factors including: type, intensity, duration of exercise, frequency of exercise, body composition goals, training background and performance goals for the session. While ensuring an athlete is consuming a sufficient amount of carbohydrates it is also important to consider the timing of carbohydrate, specifically approaching competition. Carbohydrate ingestion before exercise should assist in topping up blood glucose levels and glycogen stores in the muscle and liver. This is especially important if the competition or training is taking place first thing in the morning or if the event will continue beyond 90 minutes in duration. Replenishment of carbohydrates during prolonged exercise can benefit the athlete’s performance in various ways. Carbohydrate replenishment will ultimately affect the muscle by delaying the onset of lactic acid build-up and fatigue. This will also directly affect the brain and central nervous system by delaying the decline in mental concentration, pacing strategies etc. Carbohydrate intake following exercise is essential for optimal recovery of glycogen stores. Often times, athletic performance is dependent upon the ability to recover from one session and perform it again and more efficiently in the next session. Incomplete or reduced replenishment of muscle glycogen stores between training sessions can lead to a reduced ability to train effectively, feeling fatigued physically and mentally and potentially leading to over-training. During competition, inadequate carbohydrate replenishment may also reduce subsequent performances where exercise sessions are repeated within or across days like tournaments, meets etc.

The rate of ATP synthesis is directly linked to the exercise intensity, which determines the substrate demands of skeletal muscle to generate ATP. During exercise, skeletal muscles use primarily Fat and Carbohydrates for energy, and at low exercise intensities, fat is the preferred substrate although there is always some glucose utilisation. At higher exercise intensities, ATP synthesis demand increases and fat is unable to meet the rate of ATP synthesis quickly enough therefore, glucose oxidation increases. Although the utilisation of fat for energy yields a much higher amount of ATP, glucose oxidation is much faster. This is why carbohydrates play a major role during exercise performed at high intensities. Fat cannot provide the required energy for ATP synthesis. Even at low exercise intensities carbohydrates are always being used. Therefore, for prolonged exercise lasting longer than 1:45-2 hours, proper carbohydrate and glycogen intake are crucial.

A potential benefit to a low carb diet is that it may help to reduce inflammation in the body. Sore muscles can sometimes hinder future workouts, and high levels of fat consumption can help to minimise post-workout soreness otherwise known as “DOMS” or “delayed-onset muscle soreness”. When carbohydrate intake is decreased below 50 grams per day, the response of the body is to produce ketones, which combat oxidative stress and have anti-inflammatory properties. This benefit can be important for high endurance athletes, because the intense training schedule pushes the athlete to their physical limits. As a result, oxidative stress builds up a tolerance in the body, and can lead to aging. But, with a low carb diet, the effects of oxidative stress can be reduced (“Can Endurance Athletes Thrive on Low Carb/High Fat Diet?”, 2016).

Multiple studies, however, have shown that fatigue and decrease in performance is often associated with low carbohydrate diets that result in glycogen depletion. When glycogen levels are low or there is glycogen depletion, the muscles then increase the utilization of protein and amino acids to produce glucose to use as energy. Since protein and amino acids are the building blocks of muscle, the muscle may become catabolic and break itself down. Essentially, the muscle starts to breakdown by increasing the amount of amino acids available to be used for energy. This situation can be harmful over time and may lead to muscle damage. It can further lead to chronic over-training, and after a prolonged period of time muscle damage can interfere with glycogen stores and synthesis.






Fitness, Science

Choosing the Right Aerobic Fitness Test for Soccer

Written by Soccer Fitness Internship Student Celia Palombella.  Edited by Richard Bucciarelli


Every athlete knows the importance of training specifically to the type of sport they play. The question is, which forms of training are optimal towards each sport, and why? Soccer is a sport that relies heavily on a combination of various energy systems, due to the nature of the sport. These components include: speed, agility, aerobic/anaerobic endurance, strength, power, and skill; utilizing all three energy systems (ATP-PC, Glycolitic/Lactic acid and Aerobic) (Baker, 2013). Aerobic fitness is a very important aspect to focus on when training for soccer players, with anaerobic fitness and agility trailing closely behind. Aerobic fitness is geared towards soccer players in the sense that they need to be able to sustain high intensities throughout the total 90 minutes of the game. Many different types of aerobic fitness training tests have been used towards prescribing intensities for soccer players during their training sessions. Some of these tests include the Yo-Yo test, the 30-15 intermittent fitness test, VO2max test, and various types of shuttle tests.

Sport-specific tests are tests that are used to mimic the nature of the sport. These field tests are often used to evaluate the effects that training has on their athletes, along with methods based on heart rate and rate of perceived exertion to establish the specific internal load needed when training. Modes of aerobic training have been proven to be an important component of physical training for soccer athletes. Studies have verified this showing correlation between athletes’ aerobic power (VO2max) and where they rank on a competitive level, as well as between their quality of play and how much distance they cover during a game. Aerobic training can enhance soccer performances including distance covered, time spent at high intensities and number of sprints and ball possessions during a match (Helgerud, Engen, Wisloff &Hoff, 2001). Training at high aerobic intensities has also shown to improve recovery during high intensity exercise, which is the typical type of performance and training a soccer player would undergo.

In terms of laboratory assessments, VO2max tests and blood lactate levels can be used to assess the condition of a soccer player when prescribing intensities for training. VO2max and lactate thresholds are considered accurate measures of aerobic power and capacity. Assessing these variables with the appropriate protocols when training, could provide coaches with useful information about the effect on the athlete’s central and peripheral factors (Impellizzeri, Rampinini, & Marcora, 2005). However, since most laboratory assessments, such as VO2max are difficult to administer due to equipment cost and time taken to perform them, field tests have grown more popular for coaches to be used towards their soccer training protocols specific to aerobic training. The 20-m shuttle run test can be used to correlate the maximal running speed reached at the end of the test with athletes VO2max (Impellizzeri, Rampinini, & Marcora, 2005). Equations have been made for field tests like this one to estimate one’s VO2max as an alternative to performing a full on VO2max laboratory test.

The 30-15 Intermittent Fitness Test was invented by Martin Buchheit. It measures the maximal running speed that can be used towards prescribing training prescriptions for athletes. This test consists of 30-second shuttle runs with 15-second passive recovery periods. When the test ends, the running velocity from the last stage completed is used as the maximal running speed or velocity. A calculation is done with the results to determine the player’s individual maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) (, 2015). These results can be utilized when prescribing training intensities for athletes since each value is individualized to the athlete performing the test.

The Yo-Yo test is another form of an aerobic fitness test that is used by many soccer /strength and conditioning coaches for their athletes. It evaluates each player’s ability to repeatedly perform intense exercise. The results of the Yo-Yo test correlate with the high-intensity running distance that occurs in soccer games (Haugen & Seiler, 2015). The results can also be considered more valuable than measures done for maximal aerobic power. The Yo-Yo aerobic field test is set up as a 20-m long run with a 5-m 5-10 second recovery break in between. Each run is signalled to start from a beep, with beeps increasing times per each level. If the player does not make it to the opposite side before the second beep, the test is completed (, 2015). Again, calculations for VO2max are done with a specific equation created for the Yo-Yo test.

Having an athlete’s VO2max results is very beneficial for coaches or trainers to know how to properly prescribe loads for athlete’s on an individual basis. For example, knowing the VO2max of one athlete can be incorporated into a training program using 75% of the athletes VO2max for a specific exercise intensity or load for a workout. Aerobic endurance levels of athletes can be tested in both laboratory and field settings. For players to be successful, aerobic and anaerobic capabilities must be at a certain level. Performance in soccer relies heavily on an athlete’s aerobic endurance. A study showed that individuals function at about an average of 70% of their VO2max, 80-90% of their HRmax, and blood lactate levels of 2-10 mmol/l, while covering a distance of 8-12km during a professional match (, 2015). These results can be obtained through sport specific laboratory and field tests, such as the ones previously mentioned, to prescribe proper training intensities for athletes. The importance of an athlete’s aerobic system can also be seen when viewing the rankings for competitive teams. We now can form a conclusion around the importance of aerobic tests for soccer athletes specific to training.