Why Strength Training is Important for Soccer Athletes

Too many soccer players are afraid of strength training. They fear that if they focus on lifting weights, they will become too bulky and slowed dow

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Too many soccer players are afraid of strength training.

They fear that if they focus on lifting weights, they will become too bulky and slowed down, which will affect their performance. Because of this fear, a lot of players that hit the gym will avoid certain types of workouts, or may even neglect strength training altogether.

Unfortunately, this means that they also neglect building their bodies properly for the sport.

In this post, I will tell you the importance of strength training and why every soccer player should incorporate it in their program.  Additionally, I will provide  a few exercises that can get you started on your strength workouts right away.

Strength Training Will Not Turn You Into the Hulk !

The main reason why soccer players believe they shouldn’t strength train is that they think they will build heavy muscle that will slow them down on the field.

However, strength training is not harmful to soccer players.

The process of building muscle is a very S L O W one. When you strength train, it does not mean you must follow the same workout as a competitive body builder. Building heavy muscle mass would require a player to train  up to 4 – 5 times per week on strength alone.

They also would have to be on a very disciplined diet, with the inclusion of a supplement program. Strength training without a supplement regime would take roughly 3-6 months before building heavy muscle mass.

So no need to freak out! You will not become one of those strong men who all of the sudden can pull a truck.

The On-Going Battle Between Cardio & Strength 

Soccer is very cardio dominant. Therefore, it is not surprising that many players and coaches stress cardio conditioning programs over strengthening programs.

When a soccer player only chooses to focus on cardio they are neglecting to strengthen their muscles. While cardio increases the strength of your heart and lungs, it mainly burns calories, which overtime prevents players from building muscle. It is taught to us that lean muscle makes players lighter and therefore faster on the field, so it’s no wonder players devote all their time to conditioning.

While it’s great to work on cardio, it is also important to work on muscular strength. Strong muscles facilitate powerful movements on the field such as, sprinting, jumping and shooting. It allows us to continue to perform quick, powerful movements (like kicking or sprinting) with correct technique. Strength training also allows us to beat out opponents and be strong when we shield the ball.

Cardio and strength occur in concert, not in isolation. Soccer players must achieve a perfect harmony between them if they want to be prepared to perform at their peak for 90 minutes.

Benefits of Strength Training

Incredible players such as Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are masters of their craft. They have sculpted their bodies to perfection. While their looks are definitely a plus, every muscle they exercised is calculated and has a specific purpose to give them an edge over their competitors.

1. Facilitates Explosive Movement

Soccer requires aerobic fitness, which means it requires an ability to contract the muscles with mild intensity for a long time. This type of fitness can be improved by cardio. However, it also requires anaerobic fitness, which is the ability to do short bursts of high intensity contractions. These high intensity contractions are what allows players to jump high, sprint, or kick.

If players don’t strengthen and build their muscles, they risk compromising their muscular endurance (the ability to produce maximum force for a maximum amount of time). When muscles lack strength it affects the rate at which a player can produce energy successfully for a given amount of time. As the load on the muscle increases, it reaches a point where the external force on the muscle is greater than the force that the muscle can generate.

Having weak muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, calfs, etc) restricts your muscles from producing  the energy needed in order to support the external force on your muscles. Therefore, the more muscular you are, the more energy there is available to be converted into strength, making it possible for your muscles to support the external load and not reach muscle failure. As a result, you will be more successful when completing complex movements such as, sprinting, jumping for headers and taking powerful shots. 

2. Helps Beat Out Your Competition

The goal behind strength training is to use resistance to force your muscles to contract, which builds strength. The stronger you are, the more power and energy you have to beat your competitors.

If you’re not strong enough to hold off your opponents you risk getting pushed off the ball and losing many one on one challenges. Even if you’re a very technical player, if you aren’t physically strong to push away your defenders, what’s the point?

Being strong allows for players to be more explosive in their sprints (beating your opponent to the ball) , jumping higher for headers (heading the ball before your opponent does), having strong shots on net (beating the goalie), and out dribbling your opponents.

In this video, you see Bale out powering his opponent in both strength and speed.  It is a perfect example of how strength and speed are packaged together. If Bale wasn’t as strong, I believe he would not have beaten his defender, and his incredible goal would have never happened.

3. Reduces Injuries 
By strengthening the muscles in your body, you are helping to protect the ligaments and the tendons. Our muscles are connected to our ligaments and tendons to help support our joints. If our muscles are strong, they can help keep our joints strong. This means there is a lower risk of suffering from things like ACL tears, or achilles ruptures, and we can avoid loose joints that could dangerously pop out.

When we put our muscles under a similar strain as they would face when we’re on the pitch (by lifting weights), we are preparing them for the challenges of a match. This means that not only will we be able to perform better, for longer, we will also become less susceptible to muscle strains and tears because our muscles will become accustomed to the “work load”.

Finally, if you’re conditioning your body, you will be stronger in tackles, and less likely to be the one on the losing end of a bad challenge. With a strong body, you will be able to handle tough collisions with other players much better.

Are you convinced yet that strength training is necessary for soccer?

Now what are you going to do about it?

Three Exercises to Start Strengthening Right Away

1. Squatting
This exercise is great because it is quad dominant. While also working on hamstrings, adductors and calves. This is great for supporting sprints, jumps and shots. You can do this with dumbbells, barbells, or your own body weight. For barbell you can do a front squat or a back squat.  Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

2. Planking
The plank is an excellent exercise that requires your full body and is very taxing on the core. This is very important  because a strong core promotes stability. A strong core helps you avoid getting pushed off  the ball. With the plank you can add a bumper plate on your back for added resistance. Do 3 sets of 1 minute reps.

3.  Dumbbell Bent Over Row
On the field you need strong arms and powerful shoulders to generate explosive speed when sprinting. This exercise focuses on shoulders, the upper back (trapezius) and biceps.  Watch this video to learn how to properly perform the exercises. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

How Often?
If you’re interested in working on building strength, I recommend one strength workout minimum a week. If you’re able to incorporate two workouts, then that is even better. No more than two are needed. It also depends if you’re in season, or if you are in off season. If you’re in season chances are they have a strength workout already in place, so no need for more than one workout on strength. If you’re in your off season, you should definitely be working on strength twice a week, with the possibility of having an optional third workout. Your off season is designed to give you a break from the pitch while keeping you in shape, making it affordable for you to work hard in the gym.

Please let me know which exercise you work on to improve your strength in the comments. Also let me know in the comments if you have questions about the exercises. I look forward to hearing your results !

Best of luck!



  • comment-avatar

    Good informative article. It’s surprising how many people think strength training isn’t necessary when it comes to football/soccer. Just to elaborate on one point you touch upon is how key muscle stability is to avoid injury and you’ve suggested a great exercise re. dumb-bell rows. This helps with shoulder-blade stability a great deal. It doesn’t need to be a big weight at all either for these purposes.

    Anecdotally, I’ve heard mentioned that Bale’s legs are too fast for his body which is why he suffers with so many injuries. I don’t know if that’s true but I thought I’d share that fun ‘fact’, ha!


    • comment-avatar

      Hello Dan,

      You’re absolutely right about not needing to lift heavy when exercising. Many people feel they need to lift heavy in order to feel they are getting the full affect from a specific exercise. However, athletes must lift accordingly to their strength ability;it must be relative to them.

      I did not know that about Bale. That is very interesting. Ill have to read up about that. Thanks for sharing that !



  • comment-avatar
    Katie 12 months

    Larissa, thank you for this in-depth look at strength training for soccer athletes. I would definitely agree that it helps players on the field. Soccer games are long! And I believe when you work out in the gym it not only builds strong muscles physically but gives a mental edge too knowing that you have done everything to prepare yourself well come game time. Thanks for sharing this!

    • comment-avatar

      Hello Katie,

      Yes, soccer games are very long, and not only are they extremely physically demanding but mentally as well. Your point on building strong legs as a contributing factor for giving athletes the mental edge they need, is a great one. Training hard in the gym forces the athlete to reach an uncomfortable state where they have the choice to either push through the pain, or give up. And over time, mental strength is created. I am glad you enjoyed this article.

      All the best,


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