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Tweak your systems: Excel on the pitch

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Soccer is the “king” of endurance sports. However there is more than running for hours to soccer, you need a skill set. Not a skill set like how to finish, pass accurately, play defense, etc. Although that is important, it is also important to build your body’s fitness levels; if you can do this you will have an advantage against the opponent who doesn’t put the same amount of work into refining their game as you do.

Now there are five categories that aren’t trained by most soccer players, that if you dedicate some of your training session to these areas you will improve significantly on the pitch. The five areas are: Plyometric, Olympic lifting, Agility Training, Weight Training, and Cardiovascular Training.

Now you may be saying to yourself, “Come on, I trained these areas before”. However like the old saying goes: There more than one way to skin a cat. First area you need to work on is plyometric. Plyometric allows for your body to explode on the first step. This is extremely important in soccer, when it is you against an opponent for a head ball, or maybe a foot race to the ball, no matter the situation if you can get the first step on your opponent, you will have a dramatic increase on winning the battle.

Now how do we conduct plyometric training? Here are a few example moves you can do that will build explosive speed and even better endurance (who doesn’t like to kill two birds with one stone!) The three example movements for plyometric exercises are:

Depth Jumps to Standing Long Jumps
Sets/Reps: 3x5

The key to this drill is to make the transition from landing to long jump as quickly as possible. Your heel should not have time to make contact with the ground during the transition, reinforcing the action of putting the reaction movement into a horizontal plane conducive to sprinting.

  • Start on a box or bench at least 12 inches above the ground
  • Step off and land on two feet
  • Upon landing, quickly execute a standing long jump as far as possible
  • Repetitive Standing Long Jumps
  • Sets/Distance: 3x20 yards

Coordination and drive are produced by both the lower body and the arm swing. This drill trains you to lessen your ground contact time while maintaining forward momentum.

  • Perform a standard standing long jump; do not stop when landing
  • Quickly transition to another standing long jump
  • Keep continuously moving forward, staying on the balls of your feet, pushing off explosively
  • Forward Bounds
  • Sets/Distance: 3x20 yards

In this drill, you create forward momentum by alternating pushes that mimic the sprinting stride. Take long powerful strides and focus on driving off the ground with maximum power output. As you bound forward, maintain proper arm swing and body position. All foot contact should be on the balls of your feet. Maintain full backside extension and front side knee flexion through each push. This drill takes the concepts of force production and puts them in a sprint-specific movement pattern.

Now that we have covered a few examples of plyometric movements, the next category you should infuse to your workout is Olympic lifting. Now as I say this I know that these movements are a bit more difficult to figure out how to do. So you may want to get a coach or fitness professional to check your form. But we will create a stronger player and stronger players can create more force, which parlays into speed and power on the pitch.

The Clean and the Snatch, both of which are contested at the summer Olympics (hence the name Olympic lifts), are the ultimate measure of power and the best way to improve an athlete’s explosive strength and power.
An athlete creates power first in the Clean, through the pull off the floor, in which he or she moves the weight from a complete stop (similar to a start in track). In the Snatch, power is generated through the pull, which starts just above the knees while the bar is already moving (like accelerating from a slower speed or moving into a jump position).

When moving the bar during both exercises, the athlete must use the hip and gluteal muscles to move it at high speeds. This action is similar to what athletes encounter while jumping. It is also similar to the hip extension, which propels each step during acceleration and high-speed running—great for athletes who want to gain speed.
Jumping ability is also developed. Athletes doing Olympic lifts must “rack” or catch the bar either at the chest or overhead (depending on the exercise) to complete the lift. This final phase is often overlooked, but it’s an extremely important part of the lifts.

Catching or racking requires the athlete to receive the bar in a position similar to landing on the ground after a jump or decelerating before a cut. By doing this exercise, athletes are preparing for the forces that act on their joints when they make such rapid deceleration moves during games. The finish position of these Olympic lifts requires athletes to receive the additional force of the bar and thus preps their bodies for game conditions—while helping to prevent knee and ankle injuries (a common problem in the deceleration phase).

To properly perform Olympic lifts, an athlete must be prepared to take off and land with an external load. First perfect your technique for jumping and landing. By simply jumping and then landing, athletes learn to produce force into, and receive force from, the ground.

The athlete should produce force primarily by using a hip hinge (moving the hips backward and the chest forward), and not a knee bend (moving the knees forward and keeping the chest straight up). Extend the hips forcefully to propel upward. Once their jumping form is perfected, athletes can try these movements with a bar in their hands. Do not concern yourself with arm movement; instead, just keep the arms in a straight and extended position on the side of the body.

Simply get into position with the bar above the kneecaps, and then jump. This motion adds part of the external load that will be used in the full lifts, and starts to develop the power and landing mechanics necessary for improved speed and jumping ability.

To dramatically improve power—and therefore speed and jumping—athletes need to do Olympic lifts. Spend time learning the basic skills first and watch improvement go through the roof as power increases.

Now to explain how to do the Clean and the Snatch:

The Clean
(As per bodybuilding.com guidelines)

With a barbell on the floor close to the shins, take an overhand (or hook) grip just outside the legs. Lower your hips with the weight focused on the heels, back straight, head facing forward, chest up, with your shoulders just in front of the bar. This will be your starting position.

Begin the first pull by driving through the heels, extending your knees. Your back angle should stay the same, and your arms should remain straight. Move the weight with control as you continue to above the knees.
Next comes the second pull, the main source of acceleration for the clean.

As the bar approaches the mid-thigh position, begin extending through the hips. In a jumping motion, accelerate by extending the hips, knees, and ankles, using speed to move the bar upward. There should be no need to actively pull through the arms to accelerate the weight; at the end of the second pull, the body should be fully extended, leaning slightly back, with the arms still extended.

As full extension is achieved, transitions into the third pull by aggressively shrugging and flexing the arms with the elbows up and out. At peak extension, aggressively pull yourself down, rotating your elbows under the bar as you do so. Receive the bar in a front squat position, the depth of which is dependent upon the height of the bar at the end of the third pull.

The bar should be racked onto the protracted shoulders, lightly touching the throat with the hands relaxed. Continue to descend to the bottom squat position, which will help in the recovery.
Immediately recover by driving through the heels, keeping the torso upright and elbows up. Continue until you have risen to a standing position.

The Snatch

Begin with a loaded barbell on the floor. The bar should be close to or touching the shins and a wide grip should be taken on the bar. The feet should be directly below the hips, with the feet turned out as needed. Lower the hips, with the chest up and the head looking forward. The shoulders should be just in front of the bar. This will be the starting position.

Begin the first pull by driving through the front of the heels, raising the bar from the ground. The back angle should stay the same until the bar passes the knees.

Transition into the second pull by extending through the hips knees and ankles, driving the bar up as quickly as possible. The bar should be close to the body. At peak extension, shrug the shoulders and allow the elbows to flex to the side.

As you move your feet into the receiving position, a slightly wider position, pull yourself below the bar as you elevate the bar overhead. The bar should be received in a partial squat. Continue raising the bar to the overhead position, receiving the bar locked out overhead.
Return to a standing position with the weight overhead.

Next Step to training would be Agility training. This is important to be able to stop on a dime and change directions, either offensively or defensively, this is a very important skill. The ability to change direction quickly and efficiently is one of the most lethal weapons an athlete can possess. Rarely do athletes cover a long distance in a straight line. Rather, most sports require frequent cuts and changes of direction as athletes attempt to elude opponents.

A Lot of agility drills can be introduced into your routine simply by adding in some cone drills. There are an abundant amount of cone drills, so I would suggest picking only a few you feel comfortable with, depending on your skill level and becoming proficient at them before adding in new drills to your system.

The Next step is weight training, now if you are searching bodybuilding chances are you have done a few workouts before. However if you are brand new and looking for something that can keep you interested in fitness than here a few tips when it comes to workouts:

1. Always listen to your body, some days you will need extra rest. (this rule is even more important if you are brand new to working out)
2. Always allow for the muscles you worked to rest, give them proper warm up and proper cool down as well.
3. Remember to always challenge yourself!

*Also any training you can do on one leg you should aim to try it on one leg, squats being one example). It will build you into a more complete player than most because this is a rarity in most individuals training.
Just by tweaking a few different points in your workout program you can become a stronger, faster, and more complete player.

These changes will help fix any deficit in your skill level on the pitch as it relates to your fitness. Always remember to keep putting your best foot forward every day, and to always challenge yourself with progression on each exercise.

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