Soccer is the most popular sport worldwide. More than 250 million people play soccer regularly, and more than 700 million people follow club soccer closely.
There is a wide range of soccer fitness tests that measure different aspects of physical performance. Scientists and coaches use these tests to assess the change in functional capacity over time. The aim is to improve individual components (such as running speed and jump height) rather than general fitness.
The direction of change can be negative (injury risk), positive (improve performance), or a combination of both.
5 Principles to be Fit for Soccer in 2022
The aim is to monitor the fitness profile and change it in a way that improves soccer-specific performance. Monitoring does not mean planning a training sequence in which you aim to increase, for example, your vertical jump 1 cm every week until you reach 40 cm. This would result in an unbalanced fitness profile. The focus should be on improving performance during soccer-specific drills. It is more important to improve the function of movement patterns than to increase single components (such as muscle strength). To reach your full potential, you need to train like a player–but even better!
You’re only as good as your weakest link; if you have bad technique or are weak in certain areas, then you will never reach your full potential. If you want the best results possible, it’s vital that all aspects of physical preparation are looked at and improved upon so they work together towards a common goal—on-the-field success.
A well-designed training program can help prevent injuries and promote sports-specific skills by taking into account the physical demands of the game.
The following five training principles should be a part of your soccer-specific fitness program.
1) Balance between strength, endurance, and power
Training for strength, endurance, and power can improve movement patterns as well as reduce injury risk. For example, using an unstable surface such as a Swiss ball during core exercises reduces stabilization requirements from muscles that help control spine posture and thus enables you to train for low back stability more specifically. In addition, it will improve balance and proprioception–important qualities that all athletes possess. All current scientific evidence suggests that there is no major difference in improvement in any component (strength, power, or endurance) between stable vs. unstable surfaces; however, there might be benefits to performing certain types of exercises with unstable surfaces.
2) Optimizing movement patterns
It is important to include drills that mimic the functional requirements of soccer in your training sessions. For example, sidestep running (a drill used by elite players to improve change-of-direction ability) can be used as a marker for agility; it also requires rotational power and flexibility. Overload different zones of the foot or even areas further up the leg (e.g., anterior vs. posterior chain), depending on how you want to improve your game.
3) Soccer-specific strength training
Players need targeted strength training exercises that are matched to their specific needs, which will vary depending on position played, body size, tactical demands, etc. For example, if you want to improve your ability to shield the ball, you should perform exercises that increase the strength of the upper body. If you want to become a better header of the ball, then strengthening exercises for the neck is necessary. Although there is no one best exercise for any muscle group, studies have shown differences between dynamic vs. static lifts when it comes to training adaptations.
4) Address energy system imbalances
It’s unlikely that any soccer player will be equally good at aerobic and anaerobic performance–the demands placed on players differ throughout a game or season depending on positions played, tactical demands, etc., so they need different physical qualities. It would be unproductive if every player in a team has exactly endurance capacity because this would lead to ineffectiveness when the game changes (e.g., you need to score in the last few minutes of a game).
5) Speed development
Although not always related to soccer, speed development is vital for optimal performance on the field. The ability to change direction at high speeds is important because it enables players to move quickly toward another player or intercept a pass. Sprinting exercises should be part of your program to improve your speed and acceleration during sprinting.
Fitness training should not just focus on developing one physical quality but instead work towards improving all components that are needed for success in modern-day football—this means optimizing movement patterns, strength, endurance, power, energy system imbalance correction, speed development, and neural control through specific drills that are relevant and meaningful to the game.
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