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Basic Strengthening Exercises

BASIC STRENGTHENING EXERCISES

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Strengthening exercises should be introduced to soccer players as early as age 9.  The following basic set of strengthening exercises, however, can be used for any age group from youth to adults.  This set does require players to place themselves on the ground for some of the exercises.  It is recommended that coaches not place young players on wet grounds in order to keep their clothing from getting soaked and to reduce the risk of getting ill.  Also known as the first set of “bodyweight” exercises, this training does not involve free weights, machinery and other equipment, or the use of a partner.  They are expected to be used outdoors, but can also be used in a gym.  These exercises focus on three main areas of the body:  1.) the arms and chest; 2.) the core (torso or abdomen); and, 3.) the legs.

 Arms and Chest

 The “Front-Leaning Rest” position can be taught independently as the precursor to traditional Push Ups.  After first lying prone on the ground, players should place their feet approximately 1-foot apart and extend their toes onto the ground with their heels pointed skyward.  The arms should be flexed with the palms of the hands placed approximately under the armpits.  Exact placement of the palms is not critical and is up to the comfort level of the player.  Players should be instructed to push up (extend) with their arms; keep their backs, buttocks, and legs in alignment (no arching or sagging); and then hold the position.  Coaches may challenge players to hold the position as long as possible, but after approximately 30-seconds, the players should be permitted to return fully to the ground.

 The “Traditional Push Up” starts with the Front-Leaning Rest position and then continues with the repeated flexion and extension of the arms.  Flexion should allow the front of the chest to just barely touch the ground.  Extension should be almost total without the elbows being fully locked.  Players should not be permitted to just flop to the ground upon flexion or allow their middle to sag.  Two-to-four sets of 10-to-25 push ups should be performed, depending upon the age group.  For maximum benefit, the push ups should be performed at a “slow” and even pace.  Very young players who may not be able to perform the Front-Leaning Rest or Traditional Push Up may be shown the “modified” version where the legs are flexed at the knee and the knees are in contact with the ground instead of the toes.  Players who are allowed to perform the modified version must be constantly challenged to ultimately attain the proper technique.

 Older players or players at higher levels may be challenged to perform push ups with their hands on a soccer ball placed on the ground under their chest, to perform push ups to either side of a ball placed under their chest, or to propel themselves off of the ground far enough to be able to perform a hand clap between each push up.  Also at the higher levels, coaches may establish a competition to see how many push ups can be performed in a two-minute period.  In order to do this, players may be divided into pairs so that one player may provide an “independent” count for the other.

 Core

The “Traditional Sit Up,”or the “bent-knee sit up,” starts with players lying on their backs.  The legs are then flexed at the knee in order to place the full soles of both feet comfortably on the ground with the feet approximately 6-to-9 inches (hip width) apart.  During the actual performance of the sit up, only the heels need to stay in contact with the ground.  The hips should be rotated to ensure that the lower back is in contact with the ground.  Although the hands may be placed behind the head (with or without the fingers being interlocked), it is recommended that the palms of the hands be placed in contact with the respective thighs and thrust forward and brought back during the sit up.  Performance begins with the flexion of the abdominal muscles to raise the chest as close to the thighs as possible.  The muscles are then relaxed slightly so that the back and shoulders are returned to the ground under control.  Players may exhale on the upward movement and inhale on the lower movement.  The head should not contact the ground.  For maximum benefit, the sit ups should be performed at a “slow” and even pace. Two-to-four sets of 10-to-25 sit ups should be performed, depending upon the age group.

 At the higher levels, coaches may establish a competition to see how many sit ups can be performed in a two-minute period.  In order to do this, players may be divided into pairs so that one player may provide an “independent” count for the other.  The player who is not exercising may also hold down the feet of their teammate.

 A modified version of the sit up is the “Crunch.”  A crunch is a partial sit up, exercising less of the abdomen.  From the same basic starting position as the sit up, the arms are folded across the chest and the chin is placed on the chest.  The upward motion goes only to the point where the arms touch the thighs and the lower back remains in contact with the ground.  The head should not contact the ground on the lower motion.  For maximum benefit, crunches should be performed at a “slow” and even pace. Two-to-four sets of 10-to-25 crunches should be performed, depending upon the age group.

 Unlike what the name implies, Leg Lifts are actually an abdominal or core exercise.  Also known as “leg raises,” the basic starting position for leg lifts is lying fully flat on the back, straight out, on the ground.  The arms may be placed alongside the body or outstretched at any comfortable angle on the ground.  Alternatively, the hands may be placed under the small of the back for support.  There are a number of variations for the actual lifts themselves.  The basic lift keeps the legs together, knees locked, and raises both legs with the heels six inches off the ground.  The lift is then held for a count anywhere from 5-to-10 seconds.  This can be repeated 10-to-15 times in two or three sets and by modifying the time.  Variations include, go to six inches, then:

       move the legs apart in a “V”-shape, then back together

       move the legs together to a 45-degree angle with the ground, then back to six inches

       move the legs together to a 90-degree angle with the ground, then back to six inches

       move the legs all the way overhead so the toes touch the ground behind the head, then back to six inches

       perform the variations above with one leg and then the other

Another, more difficult, variation would be to start in a half-sit up position (upper torso at a 45-degree angle to the ground, fingers interlaced behind the head), and raise the legs to six inches and hold.

 A V-Up represents a more challenging exercise.  Start by lying on your back with arms by the sides.  Keeping both legs straight and together, simultaneously raise the legs up to a 45-degree angle and lift the upper body to reach for the toes.  Return without letting the legs, arms or shoulders touch the ground.  Repeat a set of ten.

 Legs

 Squats exercise multiple muscle groups but are most effective for the quadriceps of the legs.  For the two-leg squat, starting from a standing position, the feet should be placed a little more than shoulder-width apart.  Arms may be placed straight out or elbows flexed at the side.  While bending forward at the waist and keeping the back straight, slowly flex at the knees as if sitting down on an imaginary stool.  It is extremely important to only go down only as far as the thighs (the femur) being parallel to the ground.  This is to keep the knees from being stressed.  Hold this position briefly and then slowly return to a standing position.  Players may inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up.  Ten repetitions may be performed in 2-to-4 sets. 

A more challenging variation from the two-leg squat is the one-leg squat.  The one-leg squat has two options.  The first option extends one leg out in front at the hip, in a “pike” position, while standing, and then the squat is performed as above.  The second option extends one leg out in front at the hip but the knee is flexed such that the heel of the foot as close to the back of the thigh as possible.  Again, the squat is then performed as above.  With either option, the legs are alternated to receive equal training.

 Toe Raisers mostly address the calf muscles.  From a standing position, with the feet shoulder-width apart, the feet are extended at the ankles such that the whole body is raised onto the balls of the feet.  A more challenging variation from the two-leg toe raiser is the one-leg toe raiser.  From the standing position, one leg is held out in front, or flexed at the knee to take it off the ground, and then the toe raiser is performed as above with the other leg.

 Combinations

 There are a number of strengthening exercises that combine some of the aspects of the drills identified above.  These include such things as Squat Thrusts, Mountain Climbers, and Lunges.

 For Squat Thrusts, start in a standing position.  Lower the torso by bending at the waist and flexing the knees in order to place the palms of the hands on the ground just beside each foot.  Throw the legs backward in order to achieve a front-leaning-rest position.  Return to the squatting position and then return to the standing position.  Repeat for sets of ten.

 For Mountain Climbers, start in a front-leaning-rest position.  Alternately flex each leg at the knee to bring the knee up to the chest.  Repeat for sets of ten.

 For Lunges, start in a standing position.  Thrust one leg forward and firmly plant the foot in order to flex the knee such that the upper leg (thigh or femur) is parallel to the ground. Return to a standing position and repeat with the other leg.  Combine in sets of ten.

 Coaching Tips:

 –  The combination exercises above, particularly the Mountain Climbers, can tear up natural turf because of cleats.  Care should be used to perform these exercises outside of the perimeter of practice or playing fields.

Any undefined soccer words, terms, or phrases may be found in The ULTIMATE SOCCER DICTIONARY of American Terms available at Amazon.com.

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John Harves

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