“But I don’t want to get bulky,” whines every soccer player when they have to perform upper body exercises.
My sharp-tongued response:
“Here’s what will make you bulky: missing practices and games, performing zero cardio, training with high volume hypertrophy workouts only, and eating like a bodybuilder.”
You see, it’s funny hearing the “bulky” complaint from soccer athletes who accumulate 10 + miles of running a week between practices and games, produce more power than most sports, elicit a high metabolic response, and tap into their phosphagen system with actions like sprinting, jumping, turning, and cutting.
Moreover, if they’re working with a strength and conditioning coach who isn’t a total bro, or Jay Cutler, then they’re in good hands.
Anyway, where was I?
Oh! Upper body strength training. Yeah, it won’t make your players “bulky.” But also: define bulky.
Is it bad? It is just jargon?
I believe the latter.
Yes, upper body strength training will make your players bulky, or in more delicate words, “build muscle.”
Yes, they may gain weight. But it’s good weight that can be put to use, namely, for power, speed, resiliency, and efficient agility production.
And last I looked, what is the alternative to putting on muscle? Holding onto fat.
Yeah. Soccer players, start building strength through the entirety of the body, especially your upper body, which is neglected due to all of the load placed on the lower extremity from kicking, cutting, and sprinting.
With that said, here’s why upper body strength training is important for soccer players:
1.) Improving speed and power output.
Before I kick my first point off, here’s a visual to help you out:
Players not only need more mass to produce more force, they just need to be more robust.
So now that you understand the basic concepts of speed and power production, it’s fair to ask how the upper body 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, through the anterior core, chest, back, hips, and legs.
In order to optimize sprinting power through the arms, the muscles of the back must be dense, not soft and fluffy like fat.
Here are few maximal strength exercises to try:
Then produce more power.
Oh, and have some fun throwing med balls against the ground.
2.) Restoring posture and reducing injury risk.
Most soccer players have atrocious posture. I’m talking walk-onto-the-field-with-slouched-shoulders-and-their-head-down-and-looking-weak type posture.
And you know what? The opposing team is already eyeing your body language and taking note of how soft you look. They can already smell their win.
Beyond looking insecure, internally rotated shoulders and forward head posture are a human kinetic chain disaster, and will cause problems that permeate down to the lower extremity.
This could lead to a weak core, weak hips extensors, tight hip flexors, overloading of the knee joint, and decreased range of motion through the thoracic spine. This mess of problems limits rotational power for shooting, changing direction, and maximal speed sprinting.
Here’s a graphic to hammer this home:
Posture matters. And the only way to open it up 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, shoulders, and anterior core in some capacity every day, with a nice blend of maximal strength and hypertrophy work.
Here are a few to try:
You see? Training upper body strength is harmless. It’s not like I’m having soccer players train like the guys in the NFL and bench pressing 500 pounds.
Get outta here.
To that end, upper body strength becomes more about improving posture, shoulder stability, core stability, and total body strength so the rest of the body can perform soccer specific skills pain free:
And it also becomes more about ensuring players feel confident. Because when they feel good, then they play well.
3.) Resisting force and enduring the demands of the game.
In order to withstand the forces in the game, core and shoulder stability are key. Especially at the youth level, there’s a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the body, so you can’t go wrong with getting strong.
Sure, your kid can attend all the skills camps they want, and you can brag to your neighbor that they’re training with a dude who has thousands of social media followers, who rehearses your child through hurdles and rings and ladders, but the overuse black hole becomes inevitable when there’s no stability and strengthening work going.
So here’s my idea: get strong to prepare for the loading of the muscle and joints.
This also needs shouting for the people in the back: youth soccer is a year-round sport. What the hell are you doing to prepare for its rigor?
Expounding off of the strength exercises above, here are some more for shoulder and anterior core stability:
4.) Improving body composition.
More strength = more muscle = improved body composition.
So, what does this mean for soccer players? They’ll be able to do this:
Or take perfectly staged photos with chains:
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 winning a sword fight against the Night King. <—- I’ll find that PubMed reference for you, don’t worry.
5.) Increasing confidence.
Okay, so now you look like Cristiano Ronaldo or Alex Morgan or Zlatan.
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 doing weighted pull-ups with chains, or performing push-ups with dragon glass on your back.
Either way, you’ve conquered new feats of strength you never imagined. There’s something to be said about weight room gains translating to the pitch, so players know what they’re made of and capable of.
One more thing: a strong upper body will improve lower body lifts. Your lats will fire more so you can deadlift better, and you’ll pull more weight because your posture is nice and pristine:
Or your core will be stronger to increase your front or zercher squat, or you’ll have more range of motion in your shoulders to catch a power clean. It’s all good stuff.
To wrap up these 1,000 fiery words, I’ll say this:
If anyone can think of any reasons why it is is BAD for soccer players to train upper body, then crap. I’ll quit being a strength coach, and become a mirror selfie Instagram influencer girl.
I’m not confident or anything. ;-O