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:

Monday

Push up variation (or yeah, you may substitute a bench press variation here if you must)

Deadlift

Single leg squats or lunges

Rotational ab work

Thursday

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.

Heel pain in soccer players



Heel pain is a common problem in any “cleated” athlete, and something often treated at my physical therapy office. This essay will focus on the most common cause of heel pain in young soccer players.
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Differential diagnoses includes Achilles tendinitis, stress fracture, recurring ankle sprain, nerve entrapment, and plantar fasciitis. Please do not assume that your Google degree has enabled you to reliably determine Severs disease from a stress fracture or achilles tendinitis.
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This problem is most often a condition known as apophysitis of the calcaneus (heel bone) or Sever’s Disease. This label describes a repetitive overuse injury, with inflammation of the growth area of the calcaneus which has not completely closed. It is most commonly seen in boys and girls between the ages of 10-15 who frequently participate in sports that involve running and jumping. The pain is usually present in the back and bottom surface of the heal.

Causes of Sever’s Disease Include:


1. Training Errors

The issue often occurs abruptly after a period of inactivity, when the athlete resumes running, cutting, and jumping activities too frequently or intensely. Other times, the condition develops gradually as the athlete continues to pound their joints with insufficient time for recovery between games and practices.

2. Footwear

Soccer cleats are intentionally created to minimize interference with foot feel and function. This is great for quick cuts and precision touches to the ball, but leaves very little between the foot and the ground. Cleats that are too small are often a culprit, as are shoes with less than four cleats in the heel area.

3. Foot Structure and Function

Biomechanical imbalances such as high or low arches, or very stiff or loose joints, can be the root cause of the abnormal strain across the Achilles tendon insertion point on the heel bone. The details are beyond the scope of this writing, but you should realize that the heel may be overloaded due to too much or too little movement in other areas of the leg.

Treatment: Beyond rest and heel cups

The most effective treatment usually includes measures to address some combination of the above problems.

1. Systematically apply stress to the body.

Plan ahead to gradually apply more stress to the foot and ankle before jumping into a lot of repetitive agility and sprint work. At least initially, apply a limited number of high impact activities to build resiliency in the foot and ankle.

Wear cleats around the house for “everyday life” and light skill work before using them for more intense training.

2. Address issues with foot structure

The details of foot structure and function are beyond the scope of this essay. This is highly individual, and demands a thorough orthopedic evaluation of the entire athlete (not just the foot). Not all “low arch” feet need orthotics. They may respond well to a few exercises and shoe modification. But some athletes certainly do require an appropriate off-the-shelf or custom orthotic device.

3. Modalities

Applying ice and massaging the calf muscles and the area around (but not directly to) the tender area often helps. I’ve found Ultrasound treatment to be worthwhile to decrease pain and inflammation. While these do indeed help manage the symptoms, they don’t address the root cause.

4. Taping Techniques

There are a few flexible- (aka kinesiotape) and traditional taping techniques that effectively reduce the overload of the heel bone. Sometime this is enough to get the athlete outside of the threshold of injury. Which technique and type of tape may work best depends on the static and dynamic (movement) patterns the athlete displays.

5. The quick fix. ***

I’ve hit upon a quick fix (of sorts), and will usually try this in combination with a few targeted exercises and temporary activity modification prior to considering an orthotic or other more intensive intervention.

The quick fix is a 1/4″ semi soft heel lift that runs from the heel and gradually tapers to the ball of the foot. This works far better than Dr. Scholls type insole because they don’t take up room in the toe box area where the athlete is accustomed to a form fitting shoe. And unlike gel “cushion” heel cups, they don’t slide around in the shoe. They also provide more lift than squishy gel. A quarter inch is usually enough to lift the back half of the foot and lessen the Achilles tendon pull on the calcaneus.

I make these in the orthotic lab and they often do wonders for athletes stuck in a rut of heel pain.

Try these tips and let me know if you have any questions.

Hell Week Survival Guide: Does standing tall help recovery?

tired sprints

 

This time of year finds nearly every athlete being pushed and tested by their coaches. There is nausea, gasping of humid August air, and bent over stances under blistering sun.

Tis the season! Hell Week is fine and well, to an extent. Team sport athletes need to bond and gain mental toughness. For coaches, interviews and tryouts provide little of the insight or natural selection process that comes respiration3from a few gut-busting conditioning workouts. Severe shock to the system can usually be minimized with a little off season training.

But here we examine the point in time immediately after the sprint, when the coach leans in to a small sea of dazed athletes and starts talking.

I’ve been there on more than a few occasions, utterly exhausted, trying to get my life together, when the coach delivers a nugget of inspirational advice or a scatterbrained diatribe. I’ve heard both. But one bit of barking from a particular coach stands out.

“Get your hands off your knees and stand up.”

“Stand up and breath, ya bunch of pansies.”

Yes, coach Painter repeatedly referenced pansies and advised rode us regarding standing tall when trying to recovery from strenuous activity. I’ve heard variations of this, minus the pansies, repeated by a handful of other coaches in the years since. Nobody ever questioned it. Does standing tall during recovery really achieve anything?respiration2

To say that recovering tall may score you a psychological victory over the opponent is one thing.  Feeling exhausted in a late-game situation and looking up to see the opponents showing no signs of fatigue can be mentally defeating. But what about the claim that standing upright is better for recovery because you can take in more air than leaning over?

It’s time for a lesson from Anatomy & Physiology 101.

The primary muscles of breathing (respiration) are the diaphragm, the internal intercostals, and the external intercostals. These muscle are active when you are resting and under light exertion. Some physical therapists and trainers go into great detail regarding the effects of spine position on the diaphragm, and this is true to a degree. But the leverage of the primary respiration muscles changes minimally with acute changes in torso position.

The accessory muscles of breathing do not play a significant role during normal breathing. These muscles around the upper neck and chest wall help move us around and generate significant forces on the neck, shoulder, and scapula. But when the neck, shoulder, and scapula are fixed, as when standing leaning forwardrespiration1 with hands on knees, these muscles essentially reverse their function, pulling the clavicle and ribs up- and outward. Viola, greater rib cage expansion and greater volume of air entering the lungs.

Side note: People with emphysema and other diseases of respiratory distress often sit and stand with hands planted on their thighs or a table. They naturally assume a posture that is most efficient for their struggling lung capacity.

The bottom line is that standing upright to recover offers no special physical benefits. When your legs are spent, it feels good to take a portion of your bodyweight through your arms. In fact, as compared to leaning forward, standing upright may effect a slight decrease in recovery and performance for the next physical effort. Coaches should consider, at least at times, allowing athletes to choose how they recovery. Slump, kneel, or lay down…let performance do the talking.

“I don’t care how you recover, let’s see who can complete a 3rd or 4th line drill in under 26 seconds.”

I have no doubt that coach Painter meant well. As much as I would like to go back and hand him a textbook or bouquet, I should also thank him. If you’re a team sport athlete, simply do as the coach says (within reason.) Stand on your head between sprints if he or she tells you to, with the understanding that optimal physical recovery may not be the main point.

 

Soccer: Save the knees

Today I learned that two players on one soccer team suffered ACL (knee ligament) tears in one day. The athletes will be having surgery and miss the fall season. This did not occur during intramural or middle-aged pick-up soccer, but in an NCAA D1 womens soccer team. Two major knee injuries in one day seems stunning. But according to the data, this truly is no surprise.

I have nothing against this university. In fact, I’m well aware that this particular university happens to be at forefront of teaching and research regarding musculoskeletal injuries. I understand that injuries in sports are inevitable. Accidents occur despite the most well laid out precautions and planning.

But I have some observations to offer. I’ve seen a fair share of collegiate soccer players over the years, in the clinic and around the house. Not hundreds of them, but plenty enough to notice patterns.

Fact#1: Soccer is a game of repeated cutting, sprinting, accelerating various directions, and even jumping.

Fact #2: Since the knee joint is the largest lever in the body, situated between the two longest body segments, the brunt of high stress tends to fall there. In soccer players, knees and ankles are by far the most common injured part of the body.

How are these athletes preparing for the demands of fall soccer practices and the upcoming season? They are jogging. Jogging long and slow. Jogging somewhat fast (yeah, I cannot run a 5-minute mile either). They are doing tedious interval sprints, mostly in a straight line. They are fearful of failing the timed mile, two mile, or other gut-busting tests of endurance and grit.

They choose not to do much in terms of plyometric or resistance training due to lacking the time, know-how, or means to build up gradually, and high intensity plyometrics and weight training leaves them too sore and tired for the running protocol. I don’t blame them. People are not machines. Who has the energy for resistance training, cutting, jumping, and quality-of-movement work, when they need to drop a minute off their timed mile?South Africa's Refiloe Jane, left, controls the ball challenged by Sweden's Fridolina Rolfo during the opening match of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament between Sweden and South Africa at the Rio Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

For more than a few years, we have known many of the risk factors to look for, and specific interventions that have been proven to lessen the risk of ACL tears. We know the demands of a typical soccer match, such as those found here and here. 726 turns during a single match, and still we have athletes focused on jogging. There’s a better way to do summer!

 

5 KEYS FOR PRESEASON SOCCER PREP

  • Sprint and change-of-direction/acceleration training, beginning with moderate speeds focusing on movement QUALITY, and gradually increasing in speed, impact, and repetition.
  • Plyometric training, with jumps, hops, striders, tuck jumps, etc, focusing first on movement QUALITY and gradually building in speed, impact, and repetition.
  • -Intelligent- application of strength training, building a base of hip mobility, leg and core strength, with gradual transition to fairly heavy/low repetition total body exercises. We’re not talking about nauseating cross training with weights. Neither do we speak of the typical leg curls and power cleans, which are completed on no legs or two legs. Most high level athletic movements (and virtually every non-contact ACL tear) takes place with bodyweight on one leg. Most soccer players will drastically improve performance and decrease risk of injury when they focus on strength and power in single leg movements in multiple directions.
  • Proprioception training. The literature states that not all athletes are lacking in their ability to feel and control body movements. But the ones who are lacking in this regard stand to benefit greatly from a handful of activities that fine-tune balance and body awareness.
  • Movement Screen (Assessment) While not being predictive of who will suffer injury, this is invaluable for determining exactly what the athlete should be doing and where they can enter in to the consoccer cut 3tinuum of strength training and conditioning.

Truly, it’s not difficult to include these in a weekly and monthly training regimen. Keep it simple and abbreviated. Quality trumps quantity, so resist the temptation to simply add these components to the status quo running protocol. An athlete’s time and ability to adapt and recover is finite, so something has to go.

I’m still relatively new to soccer culture. But I would love to see coaches adjust their preseason conditioning tests to reflect lower body power, and short bursts of multidirectional movement. A grueling test of endurance is absolutely called for in the preseason to use as a gauge of work ethic and grit. But this should not be the emphasis. Do not let the demand for running endurance rob the entire team of time and energy better spent elsewhere.

And the few high level players who show up to fall practice “out of shape?” Let them run distance with a ball, after practice. That’s the time to tack a mile or three of endurance work on to the athletes who need it. It should only take 15 minutes or so ; ).

soccer cut 2

 


Here are a few of the risk factors for ACL tear

  1. dry weather and surface
  2. artificial surface instead of natural grass
  3. generalized and specific knee joint laxity
  4. small and narrow intercondylar notch width of the femur (ratio of notch width to the diameter and cross sectional area of the ACL)
  5. pre-ovulatory phase of menstrual cycle in females not using oral contraceptives
  6. decreased relative (to quadriceps) hamstring strength and recruitment
  7. muscular fatigue by altering neuromuscular control
  8. decreased core strength
  9. decreased proprioception
  10. low trunk, hip, and knee flexion angles, and high dorsiflexion of the ankle when performing sport tasks
  11. lateral trunk displacement, hip adduction (collapse), increased knee abduction moments (dynamic knee valgus
  12. increased hip internal rotation and tibial (lower leg) external rotation with or without foot pronation

Is Specializing in One Sport a Bad Idea?

“You must play only one sport.”
“You cannot play only one sport.”
 What a difference one word makes! The first statement implies that the athlete must specialize and do nothing else. The secsingle sportond statement indicates that playing only one sport is not allowed. Both statement are heading the wrong direction.
It is easy to look down upon the parent or coach who highly encourages demands that an athlete devote their life to one sport. And rightly so. We know that specializing in one sport too early can be problematic in terms of health, and potentially adverse to their ultimate peak performance (see footnote below).  This is especially the case when the child or young adult has a desire to participate in something else. Childhood is short. Life is short. Kids can and should be encouraged to do what is healthy and fun for them. Anyone who demands that someone play exclusively one sport is off the mark and in serious want of perspective.
It has become common to criticize all single sport athletes in a similar vein. But what about the serious athlete who does not want to play another sport? Now more than ever, parents and athletes are asking for one year-round sport. If an organization does not offer it, they travel elsewhere, presumably to a place that takes the sport “more seriously.”
But what if truly respecting the total athlete, including their health and recovery, will ultimately help them reach the highest level in their *focus* sport?
“Club X doesn’t play year-round, they must not be too serious.”
Needs to be changed to…
“Club X doesn’t play year-round, they must be seriously smart.”
It is ideal for a young single sport athlete to play something else as well. Taking life in seasons, with a mental and physical shift, is a good thing for anyone. A break will do wonders for perspective and physical ability. Or, to put it in more marketable terms;
 What if gaining The Edge has to do with staying active but shifting gears, experiencing a different role (possibly not the star), and generally having a rhythm to the year? I keep saying that the next “Big Thing” in sports performance is to truly, like REALLY, optimize and respect recovery rather than just giving it lip service.
But let’s say the child, carrow not linearoach, or parent is still not convinced of the value of another activity. Do we strong-arm them into it? No way! Being a single sport athlete can be done poorly and can be done well. Single-sport athlete done poorly looks like playing with intensity 4 seasons per year. Leagues, tournaments, showcases, you-name-it, YES to all’ve it. Let’s fire it up and be perpetually ahead! And if there is a week off, let’s train twice per day, three, no, four times as hard!
Again, going hard in one sport year-round is not ideal. It increases the likelihood of injury and by no means guarantees a better athlete. A component of dominating may indeed be taking a (relative) break from that sport. Ironically, Single-sport athlete done poorly may also look like sitting around for three months playing X-box. Both of these extremes result in sub-optimal performance at best.
So to answer the question, specializing in one sport is not a bad idea, so long as it’s done well. Single Sport Athlete Done Well involves:
 -Identifying a peak season or event(s) and planning a build-up to it
 -Paying great respect to the stress-recovery process
-Acknowledging that being a single-sport athlete can be an advantage (more skill work and experience) so long as there are seasons of low physical and psychological stress.
 -Focusing on moderate-intensity deliberate skill practice in the off season.
 -Filling the off seasons with ancillary activities that specifically match the needs of the athlete to the demands of the sport. May I suggest a focus on targeted resistance training and conditioning as your “off season sport?”
An example:
My sons have caught soccer fever. The free time once reserved for fishing, basketball, flag football, biking, swimming, or practicing flips in the back yard is now ALL filled with juggling, playing small-sided games, arguing about small-sided games, soccer practices, and actual league games.
 If they wish to play only soccer, I will attempt to sporadically distract them with many serious and structured training techniques such as mountain biking, hiking, swimming, and obstacle courses. Later I will encourage them to hit the weights with methods that specifically support soccer.
In summary, single sport athletes need to understand the process of consistent effort and recovery.
They need to understand specific ways that they can improve at their sport for each day and season without playing the sport each day and season.
They need to learn the value of training to build resiliency, improve movement efficiency, and work on weak areas, but without involving the exact same physical stresses of the sport.
They need reminders and perspective to keep having fun, enjoying the process of working toward a greater end, and building life skills that transfer beyond the field.

Risks of being a single-sport athlete (presumably) DONE POORLY

Adult Inactivity: A study by Ohio State University found that children who specialized early in a single sport led to higher rates of adult physical inactivity. Those who commit to one sport at a young age are often the first to quit, and suffer a lifetime of consequences.

Overuse Injury: In a study of 1200 youth athletes, Dr Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University found that early specialization in a single sport is one of the strongest predictors of injury. Athletes in the study who specialized were 70% to 93% more likely to be injured than children who played multiple sports!

Burnout: Children who specialize early are at a far greater risk for burnout due to stress, decreased motivation and lack of enjoyment.