Training the upper body for soccer – why bother?

Conventioupper-bodynal 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.

  1. Soccer is a contact sportronaldo39

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 punishment  tactful- aggression demanded in soccer

2. It’s better to spring from a rock than from mushlarry-lobster

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)

-Loaded carries.


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.

Crooked Toes are not Random



Misaligned toes and bunions are fairly common, but there are numerous misconceptions about this. Most fail to realize that their crooked, calloused feet and their ankle and foot pain like achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis go –ahem– hand in hand

My patients often look down at their feet and blame the problem on their mom. But bunions, spurring, and drifting and overlapping toes are not random occurances like a cyst or a plantar wart. These structural issues are the body’s typical response to mechanical forces. What’s inherited is not the bunion itself, but a faulty foot or lower leg structure and gait pattern that causes repeated abnormal strain through the entire kinetic chain.

“Okay so it’s not just a bunion. The bunion is there because something else is misaligned or not working properly.”

Before giving me a”Who cares?” eyeball roll, please consider the relevance to deciding the best way to treat a structural toe or foot problem. You could…

A. See callousing and bunions primarily as cosmetic issues that need to be treated at the spa or through surgery.


B. See them as biomechanical problems in need of biomechanical correction or at least some supportive work away from the actual bunion.

For example, treatment for someone with a mild to moderate bunion and/or hallux valgus (first toe migration) may include:

  1. Placing a splint or spacer between the first and second toes.
  2. Appropriate width footwear that doesn’t perpetuate the sensitivity with pressure on the area.
  3. Custom or semi-custom orthotics (shoe inserts) that correct for structural misalignment in the midfoot or rearfoot and allow for straighter forefoot (front of the foot) alignment as the patient rolls off the ball of the big toe.
  4. Stretching and select strengthening of the foot, and more likely, the ankle and the hip, which promotes a better gait patter which unloads the part of the foot that’s taking a beating.
  5. Gait training aimed at forming a “new groove” of walking that places more normal forces at the hip, knee, and foot and again, minimizing the biomechanical forces which cause the deformity.

Pain relievers help relieve pain and surgical correction is absolutely needed at times. But can you see how a toe splint and anti-inflammatory drugs is a short sighted fix for something that may be due to biomechanical forces all the way up at the hip? Orthotics and surgery are even of limited benefit if you walk like Donal Duck. Donald seriously needs some hip work.



When your back “goes out”

I’m guessing that it went something like this:

You reached or twisted quickly.
You went to pick something light off the ground.
You lifted a heavy couch, sack of birdseed, or barbell, with or without good form.

Immediately or shortly thereafter, you experienced a dagger in or just below the spine. The pain went from nothing to searing. You held your breath. You swore that a bone or muscle must have cracked right in two. You didn’t want to think about moving.

You, my friend, as they technically say, have thrown your back out. I’ve been there. On more than one occasion. What exactly is going on in there? It’s difficult to say exactly what tissue is at fault. But we can make a few basic assumptions with some degree of confidence.slinky back

First let’s try to define what kind of injury we are dealing with:

-There was a relatively abrupt onset of symptoms.
-The quality of the pain was sharp and intense.
-There was no numbness, pain, or weakness down either leg.

When this is the case, we are most likely dealing with one of three things:

-Strained muscle, tendon, or ligament. With these you can almost always palpate (touch or point out) the site of injury. The pain is very consistent, just like when you pull a hamstring or hip flexor after sprinting in the cold. Maintaining a rigid brace of the spine when you move often increases the pain because this places demands on the stabilizing muscles that are in question.

-Stress fracture. This is fairly rare but it happens. This pain is also very consistent, increasing with almost all loaded movements (standing on your feet). Almost all unloaded movements (laying down and sitting) cause minimal pain, though transitions back to sitting and standing will be difficult.

Lumbar stress fractures are seldom related to forward bending activities. They occur more commonly from extension overload, over arching, where the spine repetitively or traumatically undergoes compression with backward rotation (as when running, jumping, and tackling with a weak anterior core and/or tight hip flexor muscles).

Disc derangement. As the years roll by and I manage hundreds of people with lower back pain, I’m certain this is the most likely culprit for backs that “go out” during and after flexion based activities. Keep in mind that not all disc herniations cause referred pain or numbness to the lower extremities. It is well known that tears within the disc, with or without an actual “slipping” of the disc, may produce a sharp or intense pain without pressing on the nerves that go into the legs.

The pain is almost always increased with forward bending and prolonged sitting because you are reproducing the mechanism of injury. But otherwise, the condition is fairly inconsistent. Sometimes there’s no pain at all and you’re like, “whew, smooth sailing!” Then, just when you let your guard down and go to put the milk back in the refrigerator, **BAM** you’re shot by the lumbar sniper.

With all things considered, here’s the ironic kicker. Whether your abrupt, severe, lower back pain is due to a disc injury or a muscle/tendon/ligament injury, you should treat it nearly the same way.

The absolute best things to do in the short term are as follows:

1. REST. Lay off it already! No, literally, lay flat on your stomach or on either side and take it easy. One way or another, you literally have injured tissue. There’s no manipulation or particular exercise that’s going to make it heal faster in the short term. Again, seriously, stop running for the manipulations and wiggling around when what’s most likely needed is REST. Try not to sit for prolonged periods. You can try some gentle press-ups and ice. Massage and modalities like electric “stim” and ultrasound may alleviate muscle pain for a short while. But the main thing you need to do is quit nagging it and give it a chance to heal.

Press-ups are often indicated in the instance of acute, flexion-based back injury.

The mullet is not necessary.




2. Ice is usually best in the first few days. But truly, with back pain there are no hard and fast rules. When I experienced acute lower back pain, ice made me feel stiff and a hot shower was almost miraculous. If you tolerate anti-inflammatory medications, take them. Nobody is impressed with anti-medication heroics. Taking a moderate dose of Advil for a few days is usually worthwhile.

3. Avoid flexion/bending activities. I have found that in the acute phase of lower back pain, most people underestimate the importance of staying away from the type of movement that stirred up the issue in the first place. Avoiding slumped sitting and the recliner chair posture is critical. If you feel significantly shifted to one side, and it’s hard to straighten up, try laying on the floor and getting straightened out. Shift your hips to the side that leaves you in line with your shoulders, and simply lie there for a while then try to stand upright, without the lateral shift.
lateral shift   This type of lateral shift needs to be corrected ASAP.
To be clear, avoiding flexion means NOT standing and reaching to your toes. It means NOT kneeling and pushing your chest to the floor. It means NOT laying on your back and pulling your knees toward your chest. All of these stretches cause lumbar flexion and you should not do them! I’m amazed at how many people strain their lower back while bending forward or lifting, and then continue to stretch it by bending forward.

Yes, the bending forward movements do indeed stretch tight muscles. But it also reproduces the mechanism that got you into trouble in the first place! The relief of stretching those muscles will be temporary at best. At worst you will further aggravate or progress a disc problem to a full herniation.

So technically, these three things “to do” when your back goes out are actually non-doing things. And in the immediate short-term, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered to allow time for healing. But after 3 to 5 days, you need to get moving. You need to DO some things and still be careful to avoid doing others.


By the numbers, you probably will get better with this simple advice. You will naturally take it easy, partly because you can’t go hard, partly because you will be more cautious. For a while. But did you know, also by the numbers, that chances are that after you improve and get back to what you like to do, you will experience a more severe episode of similar or progressive symptoms in the future? The last I read on this topic, there is a 90% chance that symptoms will return, and they are usually progressive in nature. What once was a disc tear will have progressed to a full blown disc herniation with sciatica, and you won’t be trying to call that a simple muscle strain.

Above all else…

Given the grim statistics on the natural progression of acute, localized lower back pain, let your personal episode of misery serve as a warning. Once you rest and ice and be very careful to avoid forward bending movements, it’s time to get active. There are plenty of things you should be doing to mitigate or altogether avoid the natural progression. But that’s another essay!