Conventional soccer training usually involves a lot of running. This is for good reason, as soccer obviously involves a LOT of running. Even the line judge, if he’s doing his job well, breaks a sweat on a fall afternoon. One study that followed World Cup Soccer found that mid-fielders (at that level of play) cover 7 to 9 miles of ground per game. You don’t achieve that degree of fitness by eating hot dogs during half time.
With all the leg work that soccer demands, why would a soccer player bother with training their upper body? Other than the sporadic throw-in, athletes don’t have to throw, swing, strike, or lift with the upper body.It’s not as if large pecs and biceps are going to help haul them up and down the pitch.
Well, here are a few reasons why training the upper body is an unorthodox but effective means to giving athletes an edge for playing soccer.
- Soccer is a contact sport
There is, in fact, pushing, pulling, and bracing for impact. These are involved with all contact sports, and always begins with the ground and usually end with the hips and shoulders. There’s no polite way to put it; the smaller players, no matter their quickness, frequently get trucked by larger, stronger athletes. Well, until they learn to shy away from contact, becoming less effective players. Now, carrying a solid upper body does not mean looking like Larry the Lobster. But carrying a solid core and a strong push and pull of the upper body are critical for the
2. It’s better to spring from a rock than from mush
What I’m describing here is a midsection that is strong and stable from which the muscles of the lower body work most efficiently. Imagine the difference between sprinting through soft sand versus firm ground. Well, that’s what the hip muscles are dealing with when you have a strong, firm core versus a soft or hypermobile (overly flexible) core. This is also why athletes who already possess adequate hip and spine flexibility should not be doing yoga or Pilates type movements that demand extreme range of motion. More flexibility is not always better. Developing peak power is a delicate balance between mobility and stability. Involving the arms and torso muscles in direct upper body work is an essential part of creating a fast and explosive athlete.
3. Soccer mileage is a lot different than typical running mileage
For example, a 5- or 10K race is linear and sustained. These require endurance and a certain amount of grit to maintain a fast but efficient pace. But an equivalent number of soccer miles involves much player-to-player contact with acceleration, deceleration, and movement in every direction. There is REST as well as intense bursts of sprinting where the athlete has absolutely zero concern regarding efficiency and pacing.
That’s why I think that we should be less concerned with training these athletes like track and field distance runners, and more concerned with making them super efficient, effective, and explosive in their acceleration and deceleration, their change of direction, and their short-to intermediate sprinting ability. Strong and efficient lats, obliques (the side abs), and abdominals are all critical for explosive multidirectional movement, and easily accessible through smart upper body training.
4. There’s much to be gained from relatively little time and effort
The upper body training that I speak of does not have to be extensive in time or complexity. It can serve as a relative rest or light day from all the lower body conditioning and tactical training. Soccer players do not need to train like bodybuilders or Crossfit competitors. Most are already highly fit in terms of endurance, so don’t confuse the resistance strength and power movements with merely giving them more endurnace work with weights. Soccer players would benefit tremendously from getting brutally (relatively) strong in just a handful of upper body and core exercises. They should not miss out on this chance to legitimately improve their overall performance.
An upper body training program for soccer should include two to (at most) three days per week of the following
-an overhead press variation for anterior core and shoulder strength
-a dead lift variation for hips and lower/upper back strength and stabilization, building the hips and lats
-a chin-up and rowing variation for upper back and arm strength
-push up variations for core and chest strength
-Rotational movements (tubing, medicine ball, etc)
This may appear to be a lot. The devil is in the detail, of course, but training can and should be as simple as:
Push up variation (or yeah, you may substitute a bench press variation here if you must)
Single leg squats or lunges
Rotational ab work
Chin up variation
Overhead press variation like Dumbbell clean and press
Dumbbell “lawn mower” rows
Farmer walk variation or step-ups
Be consistent and don’t add a lot of variety to the exercises you pick. One or two warm-up and three to four “work” sets usually does the trick. Get strong and efficient in a few movements, keeping the reps relatively low while maintaining good form. Many athletes will benefit from adding some size to their upper body. But at some point, you are training the nervous system rather than trying to gain a lot of upper body mass.