Not a big surprise today’s post is on soccer. It’s my life. It’s my passion. It’s my career. And probably the reason why I’m not married.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way and I’m thrilled I can write about all things soccer training for a living.
But to be less predictable in the future, maybe one day I’ll write on killer whales, 24 karat gold condoms, tupperware parties, or dad bods. Wait…already did the dad bod thing.
On an unrelated side note: I love dad bods. Check out my article on the topic here.
Okay, back to soccer. What’s different about this piece is it deviates from my usual soccer themes of leg strength, youth psychology, technical skills, and ass power.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of these things are awesome, especially ass power. Sorry if that sounded sexual.
However, looking beyond training legs alone means you’re doing your due diligence as a trainer. Personally, I would be a terrible ambassador to soccer performance training if I didn’t address the elephant in the room.
That being, the importance of upper body strength.
I mean come on…what’s more sexy than a ripped backside, biceps, triceps and shoulders? Even for female athletes, a strong upper body does a tremendous service to overall athleticism. And you won’t look like the Incredible Hulk on steroids either.
In today’s soccer culture, there’s still a misconception that training should focus solely on legs. Team coaches “oooh” and “ahhhh” at injury prevention programs that involve leg strength, fancy balance drills, and a myriad of mini-band walk variations.
While there is merit in this stuff, they’re better for filling in the cracks to a training program.
Youth, high school, college and elite soccer players go through rigorous training schedules, so it’s best to get the most efficient use of time. Focus on strength first, then fill in the cracks with accessory work.
So let’s get started. Here are 5 reasons why soccer players need upper body strength:
1.) Improving speed and power output.
Maybe I’ve been redundant in my posts on speed development, but the more strength you have, the more speed you will be able to produce. Honestly, I’m done giving basic physics lessons on force development. I’ve been spewing out content long enough that you guys should trust me. But here’s a visual to help you out:
Now that you understand the basic concepts of speed and power production, it’s fair to ask how the back muscles actually play a role in sprinting.
Since running at maximal speed is done by a simultaneous contralateral action of the arms and legs, the upper body must be able to “keep up” with the force of the legs. The muscles of both the contralateral lat and glute must fire in concert with one another for efficient and rapid force production.
Individual muscles of each human movement subsystem must be doing their job in order to function as one, strong unit. Are you kicking a ball? Are you making a long throw-in to the goal line? Or are you running at maximal speed? Great. All of these involve transfer of force from the upper to lower extremity.
Here are few maximal strength exercises to try:
For a compound movement like the pull-up, I like to keep reps low and intensity high while still achieving full range of motion. Anywhere from 3-5 sets of no more than 5 reps is a good sweet spot for strength gains. Single sets are excellent as well.
2.) Restoring posture and reducing injury risk.
Chances are, most kids have piss-poor posture.
So why is it important to ensure soccer athletes don’t look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame?
Internally rotated shoulders and forward head posture are a human kinetic chain shit show, and will cause problems down to the lower extremity. This could lead to a weak core, poor running mechanics, weak hips extensors, tight psoas, and limited range of motion through the cervical spine. The body is connected so everything and I mean EVERYTHING needs to be doing its job.
Posture matters. And the only way to open up the chest and restore it is by challenging posterior chain muscles through progressive overload (both strength and hypertrophy exercises).
And it’s safe to say you can train the back in some capacity every day, but it doesn’t need to be balls-to-the-wall. Maybe one day of high load, low rep and the other days medium to light intensity. Even if you wake up and do unloaded prone I’s, T’s, Y’s, and W’s you’re doing your posture a huge service without overtraining.
Here are a few to try:
Performing 3 sets with 10-15 reps is a good start.
3.) Resisting force and enduring the demands of the game.
Soccer isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Some games, you fight gusts of 40 mph winds. Some games, you battle through monsoons. Other games, you play against unskilled, physical opponents. And sometimes, the biggest bitch on the field is marking you.
In order to withstand the forces in the game, core and shoulder stability are key. It’s basic physics.
Here are some upper body stability and strength drills to try:
4.) Improving body composition.
More strength = more muscle mass = improve body composition.
So, what does this mean for soccer players? They’ll be able to take off their jerseys post-match to show off their abs to the crowd.
Besides aesthetics, improved body composition provides a host of benefits for the athlete, such as improved speed, better resilience in contact situations, and improved chances of getting laid. <—- I’ll find that PubMed reference for you, don’t worry.
Setting new PRs with uppder body strength lifts, such as push-ups and pull-ups will get you started with improving body composition, but adding in accessory work is the icing on the cake. Try face pulls, cable rows, overhead presses, chest presses, seal rows, or variations of the renegade row:
5.) Increasing confidence.
Okay, so now you look like Cristiano Ronaldo or Alex Morgan. You’re totally “feeling yourself.”
Get your mind out of the gutter. What I really meant was your confidence has skyrocketed.
Not only will upper body training improve the way you look, but you’ll gain a newfound confidence that you didn’t possess before. Maybe you’ve never gotten a pull-up in your life, or maybe you’re finally do weighted pull-ups with chains and a blow-up doll hanging from your waist. Either way, you’ve conquered a new feat of strength which is pretty damn empowering. You now know you’re capable of being a badass.
One more thing: a strong upper body will improve lower body lifts. Your lats will fire more so you can deadlift better, your core will be stronger to increase your front squat, or you’ll have more range of motion in the shoulders to catch a power clean. It’s all good stuff.
If anyone can think of any reasons why upper body training is BAD for soccer players, then fuck. I’ll quit being a strength coach and become a stripper.
I’m confident that won’t happen though. ;-0