26 May Off Season Soccer Speed, Strength and Conditioning for Girls Soccer
Originally published by Erica on Girls Soccer Network
Summer off season soccer training is the time to become fast, explosive and strong.
When games and practices come to an end, it’s an excellent opportunity for girls to implement a performance training plan. This must encompass all the things that keep female athletes healthy, and that turn them into fast, explosive, and strong players.
This plan must also apply sound training principles. It shouldn’t be a random cacophony of workouts where players just wing it with sets, reps and work to rest times. It must be a plan that makes sense. It needs to be diligently thought out and executed so players don’t risk over training. It needs to have an appropriate progression so they’re at their best and freshest for preseason.
This blog will address non-negotiables for off season training for girls’ soccer players. Let’s first start with the main training pieces that need to be within this plan.
Off Season Training Menu
The four areas that need to be the focus for girls’ soccer players in the off season are strength, deceleration, speed, and conditioning.
Girls must strength train for several reasons. Having strong muscles is protection. If girls are weak, then the high forces from the game go to the bones, joints and ligaments. Strength allows their bodies to handle the rigorous demands of sprinting, changing direction, jumping and landing, so they don’t tear a knee, or roll an ankle. According to Tim Hewett, PhD, who is one of the top ACL researchers with over 200 publications, strength training reduces ACL injuries by over 60%. Strength must be a non-negotiable part of every soccer girl’s training regimen.
Beyond the injury reduction component, strength helps to build muscle mass to have more horsepower for high-speed running. It improves acceleration and max velocity, which are two crucial components that decide wins in soccer. The fastest players beat opponents to the ball, gain possession, and score. Girls can’t go wrong with getting strong.
Some of my favorite strength exercises for soccer players hit each major muscle group. For the quadriceps, I’m a huge fan of unilateral movements such as split squats, lunges, and pistol squats. For the hamstrings, I love RDLs, hamstring curl variations, and good mornings. We mainly do unilateral movements, meaning on one leg, but if we do bilateral, we do Hex Bar deadlifts to load the hamstrings more.
The upper body needs love, too, because it improves posture, lean muscle mass, as well as control of the lower extremity. Pull ups are one of the best upper body movements a soccer girl can do. Mind you, they’re downright empowering! Pull ups work the core as well. A strong and stable core makes it less likely for the knees to be unstable and for a girl to lose her balance. My favorite core movements include exercises that work on intermuscular coordination of multiple muscle groups (because the core is more than the abs!). The core is the low back, the hips, the obliques, and the entire area that wraps the torso. Planks, side planks, bear crawls, crab walks, and Copenhagens are some of my go-to’s.
Sit-ups are obsolete at this point and they’re not the best for soccer players. Not to mention, a high volume of sit-ups can take its toll on the spine and cause back aches later in life. Scrap the sit-ups and start to train for function and good spinal health.
Injuries occur due to a lack of deceleration, or the ability to pump the brakes and control the body’s momentum. This happens from lack of eccentric strength (when muscles lengthen). If you know someone who has torn an ACL, they probably told you it happened during a quick cut. That’s deceleration in a nutshell.
To train it, girls need to work on their motor control during single leg plyometrics.
Single leg broad jumps, lateral jumps, bounds, and depth jumps are my favorite deceleration exercises. The focus should be crisp landings with the knee softly bent, the hips piked back so the hamstrings fire and stabilize the knee.
Taking the conversation back to core stability, it is critical for proper deceleration. If the core is flimsy, weak, and sways side to side during a braking movement, the entire body loses balance, and the load placed on the knee is far greater.If the core is flimsy, weak, and sways side to side during a braking movement, the entire body loses balance, and the load placed on the knee is far greater Click To Tweet
Knee valgus torque will be much higher if the core is unable to stabilize. This is why I continue to shout to the rooftops, “stop doing sit-ups!!” because it does not train proper core stability. Yes, you may get six pack abs, but don’t confuse good aesthetics with proper function to handle game demands.
To take deceleration to the next level, agility drills that are spontaneous and not over-coached will help immensely. This is because the brain needs to be trained under unpredictable environments in conjunction with controlled deceleration training. Cognition must be sharp, otherwise a slow reaction time can cause lower body mechanics that lead to injury. I’m no longer a fan of formal drills that tell the athlete how to position their body when decelerating. I’d rather have them play a game of tag, mirror an opponent, or do some sort of reactive or chase drill in a competitive setting.
Most soccer players train speed wrong. If they’re not timing their sprints, performing a max effort sprint for less than 6 seconds, and resting for 3-5 minutes in between efforts, they’re NOT speed training. Speed training requires athletes perform an all-out linear sprint (over 30 yards distance), timed and tracked, and then plenty of recovery to replenish lost ATP – the main energy source for sprinting. When rest times aren’t long enough, then players make a speed drill a conditioning drill. Speed must be trained separately, and preferably, at the beginning of the workout as the first thing everyone does. This is because for athletes to train the Central Nervous System for improve speed outputs, they need to be totally fresh. Never do a speed workout after a skills session, a lift, or after a game. The nervous system will be too fried at that point.
Speed sessions must be electrical – max outputs of less than 6 seconds, with a lot of standing around. The focus should be on jumps, mechanics, and sprints. Here are some drills to go all-out on:
Keep in mind, all sprints must be timed, otherwise how will you know if you’re getting fast? I like to use the Freelap timing system because it is the gold standard in the speed and track community. It’s well worth the investment because it’s accurate, but it also motivates my girls to go fast and compete (you can get one HERE).
Speed will never improve if it is not tracked. I truly believe players who know what their numbers are become more motivated to improve. There’s something about objective data that fires athletes up to go faster and show up for speed training consistently.There's something about objective data that fires athletes up to go faster and show up for speed training consistently Click To Tweet
Let me get this out of the way first: stop jogging miles around the track. This is one giant “miss” in the soccer community and is sadly still going on. Soccer specific conditioning is far, far from long distance runs, and often, soccer players fill the aerobic bucket enough with playing year-round. They spend plenty of time doing light to moderate cardiovascular work in warm ups, technical drills, and some forms of small-sided drills.
Conditioning for the game must be more transferable, meaning players perform explosive efforts for 10-12 seconds in duration, then rest anywhere from 30-90 seconds. In this case, I love tempo runs that cover 60-80 yards in distance so players can work on clean sprinting mechanics (so they get FASTER from conditioning), while also getting a higher heart rate effect.
To progress conditioning, you either increase volume (# of sprints), or in the final phase of off season, you decrease rest time in between efforts, with harder changes of direction.
Small-sided games and playing pick-up soccer (4v4s or 6v6s) are excellent forms of conditioning that bring in agility and the cognitive component. These are great to sprinkle into the off season plan a few weeks out from preseason.
Sample Off Season Schedule
So how do we put all these pieces together in a schedule and progression that makes sense?
I like to train 4x a week in the off season. When I tell parents this, some reply, “wow, that’s a big commitment!” Yes, it is because physical adaptations take time and consistency. We can’t do a smart progression if we don’t take our time. If we rush an off season plan we are limited on how much we raise our strength, speed and conditioning ceilings.If we rush an off season plan we are limited on how much we raise our strength, speed and conditioning ceilings, while risking injury Click To Tweet
We also risk injury by bunching too much load in a short period of time with no chance for the body to adapt, recover, and build.
Sure, players can squeak by with 2 days a week, and I would say that is an absolute minimum to truly improve. 1x a week is useless in the off season and not enough frequency to provide an adaptation to the body. Think about it: soccer coaches don’t hold practice 1x a week. Most train 2-4 days a week because the body needs repetition and progression to improve.
With that said, here is a sample template at the micro level:
Monday – Speed and Conditioning
Tuesday – Total Body Strength
Wednesday – Speed and Conditioning
Thursday – Total Body Strength
The Mon-Thur template has worked best for my girls because they’re able to get in quality workouts during the week, then they have 3 days of recovery. A lot of soccer players are under-recovered, and they think they have to plow through the entire week to get a leg up. The truth is recovery is where the gains happen. The athletes that do the best do less, but of quality. They don’t burn the candle at both ends.
After a workout, the muscles are in a catabolic state, meaning they have mini injuries called “microtraumas.” For repair to happen, the muscles need a break from loading. They need low impact activities to get the blood flowing. Additionally, muscles need replenishment with plenty of protein (20-30 grams a meal!)
Most girls don’t get enough protein. It’s a disgrace how protein deficient the majority of adolescent girls are. It’s no surprise there’s a plethora of inflammation, auto immune, chronic muscle soreness, mood swings, anxiety, depression, and overuse injuries in young girls.It's a disgrace how protein deficient the majority of adolescent girls are Click To Tweet
Real talk: their game and LIFE would change tremendously if they ate twice as much protein as they’re currently eating. Ideally, they should aim for a minimum of 20-30 grams a meal. More won’t hurt anyone (medical doctors recommended below on this topic).
Red meat is one of the most nutrient dense, bio-available and complete protein sources out there. It has B12, B6, zinc, omega 3s, and iron – vitamins and minerals critical for energy, focus, endurance, and muscle recovery. Oh, and better mental health!
Meat is also rich in carnitine which reduces the build up of lactic acid, thus bolstering endurance and recovery capacity (say goodbye to sore muscles)! Carnosine in meat has a similar potent impact by fighting lactic acid build up and improving muscle elasticity (no more tightness)! Other amazing protein sources: chicken, pork, salmon, bison, lamb, turkey, and eggs are your best bet in terms of nutrient dense and bioavailability to be absorbed.
Expounding further, these are nutrients female bodies crave during the back half of their menstrual cycle so inflammation is reduced, mood is regulated, sugar cravings are crushed, energy is abundant, muscle protein synthesis increased, and sleep is improved. I can’t reiterate enough how crucial animal based protein is for female athletes. Daily. At every meal.I can't reiterate enough how crucial animal based protein is for female athletes. Daily. At every meal. Click To Tweet
I highly recommend looking at some of my favorite female medical doctors on this topic, Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, Dr. Jamie Seeman, and Dr. Mindy Pelz, and go down the rabbit hole yourself. They discuss how hormonal balance can be achieved and athlete performance boosted. Also, check out Dr. Paul Mason, Dr. Shawn Baker and Dr. Anthony Chaffee’s research on animal based protein for improved endurance, muscular power output, and strength.
Nutrition is a big piece of recovery, so be sure to be extra diligent with it in the off season after workouts. Off season workouts can be long and intense, so fueling through food must match energy expenditure.
Here is an off-season template at the macro level (recommended 2 months at a minimum planned and progressed out):
Month 1 – general focus, more linear run conditioning with minimal decelerations, build aerobic capacity, increase volume each week (reps go up for strength, reps go up for conditioning)
Month 2 – sport specific, more change of direction conditioning (shuttle runs), build speed, increase intensity each week (reps go down for strength, rest times go down for conditioning)
Now that you have an idea of how to implement and off-season program, it’s time to get after it. I am sure you will come out of the summer stronger, more conditioned and more explosive than ever before. It takes commitment, but it’s so worth it. Please comment below or shoot me a message and let me know how you do.
Join Erica’s community of strong female soccer players in her signature online off season and in season training program SPEED QUEENS.
For more on female athlete specific needs like training, nutrition and menstrual cycle considerations, get her book, THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE