Strength Training for Football Players

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					              Strength Training for Football Players
The benefit of strength and strength training for footballers is well supported by research. For
example, De Proft and colleagues had one group of Belgian professionals perform extra
weight training during the season. Compared to a control group of colleagues who did no
extra training, the players improved their kicking power and leg strength. In addition, British
researcher Thomas Reilly showed that the stronger players outlasted the weaker players in
terms of a regular place in the team, and had reduced injury risks. He recommends that leg
strength in particular is developed, especially in the quadriceps and hamstrings, to help
stabilise the knee joint, which is the most frequently injured joint in football. Peter Apor, a
Hungarian researcher who has been involved in long-term studies of Hungarian professionals,
agrees, saying that knee-extension torque has been associated with success in the game and
that strong hamstring muscles in relation to quadriceps are crucial to knee injury prevention.
Another common football injury is hernia, for which the best protection is developing strong
abdominal muscles.

Strength Training

From this brief review of the research, we can conclude that strength and strength training,
especially in the legs and trunk, are important for footballers who want to improve kick
performance and reduce the risk of injury. To increase general strength, a workout consisting
of leg press, leg extensions, leg curls, bench press, lat pull downs, abdominal and lower back
exercises, would be ideal. This can be done with multi-gym equipment, which is also safe and
easy to use. In my experience, some professional players use the club's gym equipment to
perform this kind of workout after their official training session. Reilly found that players
who voluntarily performed extra strength training were the ones who suffered the fewest
muscle injuries. Therefore, since maintaining a fully fit squad can be a big problem, it makes
sense for clubs to encourage or schedule general strength training for all players.

And sprint times, too

Another piece of research - by Taiana and colleagues in France - showed that a 10-week leg-
strength training program for footballers improved their 10m and 30m sprint times and their
vertical jump performance. These motor tasks are obviously very valuable. However, this
study used a training program that targeted maximum strength with heavy resistances.
Although this type of training is a proven method for enhancing sprint speed and jumping
power, it is also difficult to include in the regular training program of a football team, because
the recovery required after heavy resistance training might interfere with the regular
competitions during the season.

As with strength training the value of good sprinting speed for footballers is well supported
by research. Ekblom found that the absolute maximum speed shown during play was one of
the parameters that differentiated elite players from those of lesser standard. This is supported
by a study with German division-one players by Kollath and Quade. They showed that
professionals were significantly quicker than amateurs over 10m, 20m and 30m. The
acceleration difference to 10m was especially significant. This suggests that better players
need superior acceleration and maximum speed to play at a higher level. Interestingly, the
30m speed was similar for the German professionals regardless of position.

The training regimes of footballers must therefore reflect this need for good acceleration and
maximum speed. Peter Apor suggests, in making fitness recommendations for footballers;
that players need to develop the musculature of a sprinter. I have already mentioned the
benefit of maximum leg-strength training with heavy resistances for developing acceleration
and speed. Taiana says that the players he trained for maximum leg strength were able to play
at the weekend without detriment if the strength workout was on Tuesday. This once-a-week
routine was still found to be beneficial. However, this type of training should be used with
caution. Two or three sessions a week during the off-season would bring about much greater
gains in maximum strength. Taiana therefore recommends that this type of training should be
used in the off-season and then maintained with one workout per week once the competitive
season has started.

Step by step

Another point to remember is that maximum strength training should be a progression from
general strength training with submaximal loads. Heavy maximal resistance exercise, while
very effective, is for advanced strength trainees only. Zatsiorsky recommends that good
abdominal and lower back strength are essential if heavy lifting exercises are to be used.
Thus, the first step for improved sprint speed is ensuring a good basic level of strength.
American trainers George Dintiman and Robert Ward recommend that an athlete should be
able to perform one maximum leg press of at least 2.5 times body weight, and have a
hamstring to quadriceps ratio of least 75-80%. Both these measures can be tested on the
standard gym machines. Good abdominal and lower back strength are also essential for
sprinting speed, as the trunk muscles are required to stabilise the sprinting movement.

Hop, bound and jump

Plyometric exercises are another proven training method that enhances leg power and
sprinting speed. McNaughton cites soccer as one of the many games where short, explosive
power is required, and that plyometric training is a useful complement or alternative to
strength training to achieve this. Once the players are used to it, plyometrics may be more
convenient than weights for speed development in terms of scheduling during the season.

Plyometric exercises are typified by hopping, bounding and jumping movements. These
exercises demand a high force of contraction in response to a rapid loading of lengthening
muscles. For this reason, they should be more accurately called reversible action or rebound
exercises. The training effort increases the force production in the muscles, but the
movements are performed at faster speeds than weight-training exercises. Thus rebound
exercises are more specific to the sprinting and jumping movements in football. These
exercises should be done in 3-5 sets of 8 repetitions for each leg, with at least one minute's
rest between sets. The quality and speed of the movement is the priority. The other training
element that is required for improving sprinting speed is sprinting itself. This should be done
with maximum efforts over 30-60m. Again, at least one minute's rest between runs should be
allowed so that quality can be maintained. Remember, with this kind of training the aim is to
develop the maximum speed; endurance should not become a factor. Sprinting done uphill,
with weighted jackets, or towing weights is also useful because it adds resistance to the sprint
movement, placing greater load on the muscles in the most specific manner. Again, short
distances with long rests are recommended.

Fitting it in I have discussed research that shows the importance of strength and speed for
elite football performance. From this, I have suggested four types of training:

   1. General strength training to help prevent injuries, improve kicking performance and provide
      the basis for good sprinting speed
   2. Maximal leg-strength training, which is a progression from general strength training for
      advanced trainees only, but one that is extremely useful for developing speed and power
   3. Plyometric training exercises, which complement strength training as an effective alternative
   4. Maximum sprint running over short distances with or without added resistances

The main question that now needs answering is how can this training best be scheduled into
an already full training and competing program?

Plyometrics and sprint training are usually performed when fresh. However, as it is a
requirement of football to be able to sprint when fatigued, one could argue that sprint work
should be done after a training session. One answer could be a short but high-quality
hopping, jumping and sprints workout after a skills session. For example, 3x8 squat jumps,
3x8 skips for height, 3x8 hops for distance each leg, 3 x 30m towing runs and 5 x 40m sprints
would be a short but useful workout if performed once or twice a week throughout the
season. Scheduling strength-training workouts is more difficult. If the program is weekend
matches only, then players could do a general strength-training workout on a Monday and
Wednesday afternoon, leaving plenty of time to recover for the weekend match. However, if
there are midweek fixtures, then strength training may have to be sacrificed or reduced to
light workouts purely to maintain strength .

The best way for a player to develop his strength would be to start a strength-training
program in the off-season. Three strength workouts a week would result in improvements.
Once the pre-season training starts, the player can reduce to twice weekly and then fit in
workouts when possible during the season. This way the player can maintain the strength
gains made during the summer.

Maximum strength exercises should only be targeted during the off-season. Afterwards, they
should be done only once a week to maintain strength during the season. Maximum strength
can only be achieved if it is concentrated on, and training for it can interfere with other
important activities.
With careful planning and careful selection of exercises, keeping sessions short but high
quality, extra training should be practicable, although sensitivity to the training status of the
players is important when prescribing extra sessions.

Different Phases of Strength Training for Football
 Over the course of a year your football strength training program should follow some
 well-defined phases or cycles.

 Unlike the recreational bodybuilder who follows a variation of the same routine week
 after week after week, strength training for football varies significantly depending on
 the time of year.

 Usually, the football season is broken into 3 major phases...

        Off-season - 6 months
        In-season - 5 months
        Transition - 1 month
        During the off-season the objective is to build the maximum of strength, size
         and power possible. But because the off-season is so long it's broken down into
         small macrocycles. We'll see exactly how later...
        In-season strength training for football is about maintaining the gains in
         strength gained over the off-season. Volume and intensity is reduced
        The transition phase is all about rest and recuperation. It's good to have some
         time off each year from weight training, to allow the body (and mind) to fully
        Even within each phase, the intensity and volume of each session varies...
        For example, over a 6 week period intensity might start off lower at week 1,
         reach a peak by week 3, taper off at week 4 and reach a peak again at week 6.
         This way you are proactively avoiding overtraining and burnout. If you try and
         train at 100% every session, sooner or later your body will force you to rest -
         and it's usually just before a big game!

Different Types of Strength Training for Football
 A bodybuilder's primary objective is to build size and definition.

 But contrary to popular belief, larger muscles are NOT always stronger or more
 powerful muscles. Not only that, too much bulk will reduce your speed, agility and

 When most non-professional athletes visit the gym or the weight room, what do they

 They follow a classical program of 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. They might throw
 in a few drop sets or super sets for good measure and they stick to traditional
 exercises like the bench press and dumbbell curls.

 Football players (especially linemen) do need bulk and a lot of bodyweight. But they
 also need high levels of strength and sport-specific power.

 Wide receivers, defensive backs and tailbacks need less bulk and more speed and
 agility. But they still need strength and power.
 So is the bodybuilding system the most effective for football players?

 On its own - no.

 But as a phase in the off-season, lasting perhaps 4-6 weeks, it serves a very
 important purpose.

 Training for maximal strength (which is just as important) takes something a little
 different than 4 sets of 10 reps. So does converting that strength into explosive
 power - perhaps the most important physical trait for all players to posses.

 We can break strength training for football into three separate categories. Here's each
 one in detail...

Functional Strength Training for Football
 Football, like any other competitive sport places uneven strains and stresses on the

 The right side may grow to be stronger than the left. Agonists like the quads may
 become more developed compared to the antagonists (hamstrings). And as prime
 movers grow ever stronger, smaller, stabilizing muscles get neglected.

 Regardless of how experienced a weight lifter you are it's a good idea to factor in a
 period of anatomical adaptation training. In fact, more experienced lifters are more
 likely to be out of balance than beginners.

 Novice lifters should spend at least 8 to 10 weeks in this phase. Weight lifting
 veterans should aim for about 3 to 5 weeks.

 The objectives of this phase are to prepare the body for more demanding sessions
 later on in the program. Tendons, ligaments and connective tissue are strengthened
 to withstand the heavy loads of subsequent sessions.

 One of the best set-ups for functional strength training is circuit training...

 Don't assume that circuits have to incorporate a cardiovascular element - that's just
 one example used in the fitness industry. Circuits can be purely strength based...

 You can devise a circuit using just bodyweight (beginners) or medicine balls and free
 weights. The number of stations can vary too - between 6 and 15. Also decrease and
 increase rest intervals to change the intensity.

The chart below offers some more training parameters for functional strength training for
Increase the intensity gradually over the course of this phase. By the final week,
intensity should be such that it leads naturally into maximal strength training

Hypertrophy Strength Training for Football
 Hypertrophy is simply an increase in muscle mass due to an increase in the size or
 each fibre...

 Football players are one of the few groups of athletes who genuinely need to train for
 increased bulk and lean weight - particularly linemen. Yet this is the only type of
 strength training that most athletes do.

 Although a bodybuilding-type program is the best way to increase lean weight and
 bulk, it is not the most efficient method for increasing maximum strength. As a
 result, even linemen should dedicate only about half of their total strength training
 routine to building mass.

 The off-season may last 6 to 7 months. To reach peak performance by the end you
 need to develop high levels of maximum strength, lean muscle mass and most
 importantly... explosive power.

 But you can't do it all in one go.

 Instead, split your pre-season into smaller macrocycles...

 A macrocycle is simply a period of time (maybe 4-6 weeks) in which you set a very
 definite outcome and follow a very specific type of training. Here's how...

 After a macrocycle of functional strength training (i.e. 4 weeks), you might then train
 for hypertrophy or increased bulk for 4 weeks (another macrocycle). Then you'd
 follow a maximal strength program for 4 weeks, then a power lifting program for 4
 weeks and so on...

 This will be much clearer to see at the end of this article when we tie everything

 Here are the parameters for hypertrophy strength training for football...
 There are some key differences between bodybuilding and hypertrophy training for
 sport. Here are the main ones...
     As a football player, stick to working the prime movers - bodybuilders target
       every single muscle group.
     You should rest for 3-5 minutes between sets - longer than bodybuilders
     Split the routine so body parts are worked only once or twice a week.
     Keep sessions to no more than 3-4 per week - bodybuilders train up to 6 days a
     Stretch at the end of each session and between sets. This helps offset muscle
       shortening which will decrease your speed and power.

Maximal Strength Training for Football
 What does it really take to build maximal strength?

 Increasing the cross-sectional area of each muscle (or to be precise, the contractile
 filaments within each muscle) greatly affects strength. You do that through
 hypertrophy training. But it doesn't end there...

 The bodybuilding or hypertrophy approach fails to adequately recruit the powerful
 fast twitch motor units. And this has a huge impact on your maximal strength...

 Only by lifting close to maximum loads will you condition your body to recruit fast
 twitch fibres.

 And remember why you are developing as much maximal strength as possible...

 To perform at your best, your ultimate outcome MUST be to acquire as much
 explosive power as you can. And power is closely related to strength.

 Here are some parameters for maximal strength training for football...
    For most athletes this is where their strength training ends - with maximal
    strength or hypertrophy. That's a big mistake. One more component of strength is
    essential to maximize football performance.

Power Training for Football
 It doesn't matter how strong you are, if you can't transfer that strength into sport-
 specific movements, it's next to useless. And sport-specific movements happen very

 To be a powerful player you must possess the ability to contract strong muscles very

 If two athletes meet head on at full force, it is the more powerful athlete that will
 prevail NOT necessarily the stronger of the two. So what's the next logical phase in
 strength training for football?

 Conversion to explosive power.

 Bodybuilding and maximal strength training doesn't adapt the neuromuscular and
 central nervous systems to rapidly recruit more fast twitch fibres.

 Power training does.

 As result you become faster and your body can apply more force in a shorter space of
 time - a huge asset to your game!

 Power training can be quite complex. There are several well-known methods such
 plyometrics, isometric exercises and ballistics. What is key to all of them is the speed
 and quality of movement...

 Effective power conditioning is relatively low in volume. This phase typically occurs
 when skill and tactical training predominates so it's important to preserve energy.
 Just a handful of highly specific drills that closely match the demands of the game are

 Here's a brief synopsis of three types of power training...

        Also known as jump training, plyometric training uses light loads (usually
        bodyweight) and very fast, explosive movements. At the crux of these
        exercises is a rapid movement from eccentric to concentric contraction. The
        shorter that transition, the more powerful the result.
        Caution needs to be exercised with plyometrics as its repetitive nature can
        lead to overuse injuries. Football players may benefit from the fewer
        repetitions and heavier loads in isometric training
 Plyometrics refers to exercise that enables a muscle to reach maximum force in the
 shortest possible time (3). The muscle is loaded with an eccentric (lengthening)
 action, followed immediately by a concentric (shortening) action.

How Plyometric Exercises Work
 A muscle that is stretched before a concentric contraction, will contract more
 forcefully and more rapidly (4,5). A classic example is a “dip" just prior to a vertical
 jump. By lowering the center of gravity quickly, the muscles involved in the jump are
 momentarily stretched producing a more powerful movement. But why does this
 occur? Two models have been proposed to explain this phenomenon.
 The first is the…

 Mechanical Model
 In this model, elastic energy is created in the muscles and tendons
 and stored as a result of a rapid stretch (6,7,8). This stored energy
 is then released when the stretch is followed immediately by a
 concentric muscle action. According to Hill (9) the effect is like that
 of stretching a spring, which wants to return to its natural length.
 The spring is this case a component of the muscles and tendons
 called the series elastic component. The second model is the…

 Neurophysical Model
 When a quick stretch is detected in the muscles, an involuntary,
 protective response occurs to prevent overstretching and injury. This
 response is known as the stretch reflex. The stretch reflex
 increases the activity in the muscles undergoing the stretch or eccentric muscle
 action, allowing it to act much more forcefully. The result is a powerful braking effect
 and the potential for a powerful concentric muscle action (10,11,12).

 If the concentric muscle action does not occur immediately after the pre-stretch, the
 potential energy produced by the stretch reflex response is lost. (i.e. if there is a
 delay between dipping down and then jumping up, the effect of the counter-dip is

 It is thought that both the mechanical model (series elastic component) and the
 neurophysical model (stretch reflex) increase the rate of force production during
 plyometrics exercises (6,7,8,10,11,12).

The Stretch-Shortening Cycle
 All plyometric movements involve three phases. The first phase is the pre-stretch or
 eccentric muscle action. Here, elastic energy is generated and stored.

 The second phase is the time between the end of the pre-stretch and the start of the
 concentric muscle action. This brief transition period from stretching to contracting is
 known as the amortization phase. The shorter this phase is, the more powerful the
 subsequent muscle contraction will be.

 The third and final phase is the actual muscle contraction. In practice, this is the
 movement the athlete desires – the powerful jump or throw.
 This sequence of three phases is called the stretch-shortening cycle. In fact,
 plyometrics could also be called stretch-shortening cycle exercises (1).

                How to Increase Your Vertical Jump

                                       One very quick and simple way to demonstrate
the effect of the stretch-shortening cycle is to perform two vertical jumps. During the
first vertical jump the athlete bends the knees and hips (eccentric muscle action or pre-
stretch) and holds the semi-squat position for 3-5 seconds before jumping up vertically
(concentric contraction) as high as possible. The 3-5 second delay increases the
amortization phase.
 On the second jump the athlete bends the knees and hips to the same degree but
 immediately jumps up without a delay. This keeps the amortization phase to a
 minimum and makes best use of the stored elastic energy. The second jump will be

Is Plyometric Training Really That Effective?
 By making use of the stretch-shortening cycle, movements can be made more
 powerful and explosive. Plyometrics is simply a set of drills designed to stimulate the
 series elastic component over and over again – preferably during movements that
 mimic those is the athlete’s sport. But what long-term effect does practising
 plyometrics have on the body and performance?

 A wide variety of training studies shows that plyometrics can improve performance in
 vertical jumping, long jumping, sprinting and sprint cycling. It appears also that a
 relatively small amount of plyometric training is required to improve performance in
 these tasks. Just one or two types of plyometric exercise completed 1-3 times a week
 for 6-12 weeks can significantly improve motor performance (13,14,15,16,17,18,19).
 Additionally, only a small amount of volume is required to bring about these positive
 changes i.e. 2-4 sets of 10 repetitions per session (14,16) or 4 sets of 8 repetitions

Plyometrics & Concurrent Strength Training
 A conditioning program consisting of both plyometric training and resistance training
 can improve power performance in the vertical jump (13,14,29,30,31,32) and 40yard
 sprint time (33).

 It appears that concurrent resistance and plyometrics training can actually improve
 power to a greater extent than either one alone (13,29,30,33). However, the overall
 program should be carefully planned as heavy weight training and plyometric training
 are not recommended on the same day (3). One way around this is to alternate upper
 body and lower body exercises as follows:

Plyometrics & Injury
 Strength and conditioning specialists are often cautious in their prescription of
 plyometrics due to what they believe is an inherent risk of injury. However, there is
 limited data to either confirm or reject this claim.
Several researchers have explicitly stated that no injuries occurred during their
plyometric studies (13,33,34). Most do not mention whether injuries occurred or not
or to what extent.
As a precaution it has been suggested that athletes have a substantial strength
training background. The criteria often cited is that the athlete should be able to back
squat 1.5-2x bodyweight (2,3,35) for lower body plyometrics and bench press 1x
bodyweight for upper body plyometrics (3,35).
If injuries are more likely to occur with this form of training it may be due to improper
landing, landing surface or depth jumps from too great a height (1). Several studies
have measured the height of depth jumps on vertical jump performance. Depth jumps
from both 50cm (19.7) and 80cm (31.5in) both improved power to the same extent
(13). The same results were found between jumps of 75cm and 110cm (31) and
between jumps of 50cm and 100cm (16). This suggests that there may be little or no
added benefits of jumping from heights above 50cm (19.7in) even though the risk of
injury is likely to rise.
Finally, landing surface is an important component of the plyometrics session. It
should posses adequate shock absorbing properties such as grass, rubber mats and a
suspended floor. Concrete, tiles, hardwood and crash mats are not suitable (35).

       Ballistics also uses relatively light loads at high speeds but differs from
       plyometrics. Force is applied through the full range of motion rather than for
       just a split second. A good example is throwing a medicine ball powerfully -
       force is applied from the start to the end of the movement.
       Isotonic Weight Lifting
       This technique simply incorporates traditional strength training exercises used
       in other phases. The key difference is that lighter loads (50-80% 1RM) are
       lifted in quick, explosive bursts. Weight lifting movements like power cleans
       and jump squats are more appropriate than bench presses and leg presses for
       example. Of course this assumes that you have been taught correct technique.
       Here are some key guidelines for isotonic weight lifting exercises...
Develop Your 12-Month Master Plan!
 Remember back to the start of this article? We split the football season into 3 phases
 - off-season, in-season and the transition.

 The charts below covers a complete 12-month program. It assumes the season
 begins late august ending in late December...

 Notice how different types of strength can feature in the same phase? There is always
 some overlap. What is important is that one form of strength training predominates -
 according to the outcomes you've set.
 During the in-season the number of sessions reduces significantly. The goal is to
 maintain the gains built up over the off-season while you concentrate on skill and
 tactical training.
 Finally to sum up...
 These are just examples of how you can set out your program depending on your
 position. For linemen more emphasis is placed on hypertrophy. But you may feel that
 even as a wide receiver you lack necessary bulk, so adjust your program accordingly.
 With this master plan in place why not look at some of the other articles for individual
 Anytime you find a sample strength program in a magazine (or online) look first at
 how it fits into the bigger picture.
 You'll even be able to cherry-pick the best exercises and adapt them to fit your own
 tailored routine - and that's what elite strength training for football is really about!
 Notice how different types of strength can feature in the same phase? There is always
 some overlap. What is important is that one form of strength training predominates -
 according to the outcomes you've set.
 During the in-season the number of sessions reduces significantly. The goal is to
 maintain the gains built up over the off-season while you concentrate on skill and
 tactical training.
 Finally to sum up...
 These are just examples of how you can set out your program depending on your
 position. For linemen more emphasis is placed on hypertrophy. But you may feel that
 even as a wide receiver you lack necessary bulk, so adjust your program accordingly.
 With this master plan in place why not look at some of the other articles for individual
 Anytime you find a sample strength program in a magazine (or online) look first at
 how it fits into the bigger picture.
 You'll even be able to cherry-pick the best exercises and adapt them to fit your own
 tailored routine - and that's what elite strength training for football is really about!

Football Strength Training The Hypertrophy Phase
                                        This is a sample football strength training
 program to build size and bulk...
 Why is substantial muscle mass important to footballers?

 Firstly, larger muscles have a greater capacity for maximal strength. Size is not the
 only indicator of strength but it helps.

 Secondly, as long as you can maintain your speed, the heavier you are the greater
 force and momentum you have - a must in contact sports like football and rugby.

 Unfortunately, most football players never see past hypertrophy training (similar to
 bodybuilding). But it's only one of four crucial football strength training phases...

Hypertrophy Training Guidelines
 Use this football strength training routine as a guideline only. Although this type of
 football strength training is fairly safe you should still prepare by following a phase of
 functional strength training. And that applies as to much experienced lifter as

 Football, like any sports places your body under uneven stresses and strains. A
 functional phase helps to rebalance the musculature avoiding injury further down the

 Here are a few guidelines for hypertrophy training:
     Duration of Phase: 4-6 weeks
     Sessions per week: 2-4
     Load: 70-80% 1-RM
    No. Exercises: 6-9
    No. Reps per Set: 6-12
    No. Sets per Exercise: 3-6
    Rest between Sets: 2-4 minutes
    Rest between sessions: 48 hours
    Speed of Lifts: Moderate
The volume of work in a hypertrophy phase tends to be higher than in any other
phase of football strength training. Keep other activities light during this time. Reduce
the volume and intensity of interval training and speed and agility drills.

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