On The Pitch: The 2 Most Important Stretches You Aren’t Doing

Muscles can generate the optimal amount of force when they can operate through their intended range of motion. Excessive tightness can also result in injury. Soccer involves the passing and striking of a ball. It also involves a lot of lateral movement and cutting. All of these movements lead to extremely tight inner thighs and outer hamstrings (adductors and biceps femoris).

Try these 2 stretches out and you will see what I mean. They will help you dodge some injury bullets and let your athletes play their best!

On The Pitch: Diagonal Bounding for Cutting Speed

Most people have heard the term plyometrics, but don’t truly understand the meaning behind it more that it is “jumping type stuff”. To keep things simple a plyometric is anything that trains or takes advantage of the stretch shortening cycle to produce force. The stretch shortening cycle (similarly called the stretch reflex) is the simple fact that when muscles and tendons are rapidly stretched, there is energy stored in them that can be used during contraction (think of quickly stretching a rubber band then releasing it)

For example if I told you to jump straight up you would quickly descend (stretching) and then explode up quickly. Conversely if I told you to descend into the bottom position of the jump and then wait 4 seconds before exploding up, you would find it much more difficult to jump, due to the fact that you didn’t use the elastic energy during the stretching to propel you up.

Here is a bounding drill that we use to put more horsepower behind the quick cuts a player makes with the ball.

 

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Crossover

One of the things I love about soccer is the speed, agility, and quickness involved in the sport. At Raw Fitness we break up the movement skills necessary into 2 main categories; tactical or reactionary. Tactical is much more offensive minded where you control the action and make self-predetermined movement. Reactionary is movement that is dictated by the flow of the game. Many times it is defensive although it could be offensive like reacting to the ball and sprinting to receive a pass.

Today I want to cover a technique that is essential for good defensive play. A defender who is marking the ball must be able to move laterally to intercept penetration, while maintaining the option to rapidly change direction while doing so. The key here is that their field of vision must remain facing the action the entire time. The primary weapon of choice should be the lateral shuffle as it keeps the defender in the most neutral position with the ability to quickly react to any change of direction. However, the better the attackers 1v1 skills, the harder it is to keep up simply by shuffling due to the difficulty of covering ground fast enough while doing so.

Enter the crossover step/crossover run. Depending on the angle of play, the defender will need to cover more ground than the shuffle allows, but they can’t completely commit to turning and sprinting with no way to recover. This move will keep the defenders shoulders and field of vision toward the action and help the athlete to move a lot quicker than a side shuffle can. Here are a couple of videos of some progressions we use to engrain this in our athletes.

On The Pitch: Lower Body Strength Progressions for Soccer Fitness

I specialize in strength and conditioning for soccer players. I can’t tell you how many lower body injuries I have seen that could have been prevented. I have also seen a ton of kids who come to me because they are extremely slow and need to be faster. Both of these problems have a fix that is ignored far too long by many kids and parents. The solution is this: get them stronger!!!

Most non-contact injuries occur during deceleration (stopping). The reason for this is very simple physics F=MV (force= mass x velocity). If I have 140lb athlete and they can run 18 mph and they have to stop rapidly to change direction, there is a ton of force necessary to slow them down. Under a weak musculoskeletal system, things will tear/fracture/dislocate etc.

Speed is an expression of how quickly an athlete can apply force into the ground. So the stronger the athlete, and the quicker they can generate that strength, the faster they will go. This is particularly true for acceleration which is the most important component of speed training for soccer (1-15yds). Top end speed is slightly different where some weaker athletes can rely on the elasticity in their hamstrings to help them achieve very fast absolute speed velocities (this is a different topic that I will expound upon in later posts).

The following videos outline some baseline progressions that can be performed with NO EQUIPMENT right there on the pitch as the fitness portion of your practice. Some kids are stronger than others and will need more advanced progressions. All of these can be overloaded with external resistance if need be and if you have access to dumbbells, barbells, Med ball etc.

The Truth About Developing Speed and Agility For Soccer

The cold hard reality is that you can have the best touch on the ball in the whole world, but if you are too slow to beat the other player to it, it is all for nothing. Speed kills. It is a game changer. It builds excitement, confidence, and helps control matches. It is our #3 focus here behind building character, and injury prevention.

There are a lot of speed and agility camps out there for kids to participate in. They run around cones, jump over hurdles, and dash through ladders in hopes of reaching their fullest potential. We make full use of all of these methods, however this model is extremely limited in its ability to produce the jaw dropping results we are accustomed to here.

I would like to point out a couple of key facts before I expound on things.

#1 This is not the product of ladders and cones

ronaldo

Ronaldo is one of the best footballers in the world right now.

#2 Speed is a product of the ability to produce force into the ground very rapidly.

#3 There are still a lot of misconceptions about building strength for sports performance. Those misconceptions are formulated by the bodybuilding world being a source of fitness information while the industry was evolving. You would never see anyone who looks like Schwarzenegger being quick and agile on the pitch. That does not mean that the right type of weight training isn’t highly beneficial for speed development.

Kids who I train see jumps in their speed and agility almost instantly when they enter the weight room. This does not mean that they should continue to just lift weights to make them faster and more agile. Regular static strength from lifting weights actually does not always translate to the pitch because the only things that matter on the pitch are really power and quickness. Power is F x V (Force x Velocity) In laymen’s terms it is strength and speed combined. It measures not only how much force do you create but how quickly can you create it. It is this quality to which we surround almost everything we do. Strength is not automatically power, but it leads to power.

Please watch this short video and I will explain further.

 

So when I hear that someone does speed and agility training for soccer players, I am really hoping they have access to strength equipment. It takes a ton of force to have a 130lb athlete running at 15 mph stop and change direction, particularly if they don’t want to get injured.

Here are a couple of our power development techniques that help bridge the gap between regular strength training and speed and agility. The first is on the Vertimax unit. We make good use of it here and it works wonders.

 

The next is of one of our athletes doing a hang clean. The clean and jerk is an Olympic event and takes a massive amount of power to perform. We use the lift from the hang position instead of lifting from the floor so it is easier to perform, much safer and has a lot of carry over to sport. The athlete learns to produce an incredible amount of force into the ground quickly in order to get the barbell up.

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