Heading into the weight room is just as important for soccer players as hitting the pitch to practice plays and passing drills. Many amateur soccer players may overlook the gym, but rest assured that professional soccer players do not.
We know all the machines and exercise options can be overwhelming, so here’s a list of nine exercises that will provide effectively for soccer players looking to increase their strength and speed, balance, and muscular endurance.
What are the most effective exercises for soccer players? The nine most effective exercises for soccer players are broken into three categories:
- Strength and Speed
Below are the most effective exercises for each category.
Strength and Speed
Increasing strength in your muscles will allow you to put on bursts of speed on the field when you need them. For exercises like this, try to focus on explosive movements and add enough weight so that your sets are between six to eight repetitions.
Make sure to follow safety procedures and have a spotter, since there is increased emphasis on moving heavier weights.
1. Barbell Back Squats
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
- Place the barbell on your upper back
- Use your arms to help balance the weight
- Bend your knees and squat downwards until your legs make a 90-degree angle
- Raise back up to a standing position
- Repeat (8-12 Repetitions, 3-5 sets)
Squats are a great exercise that hit the quads, hamstrings, and calves. They’re also great at increasing hip mobility, which is key for soccer players.
Using either a squat rack or a Smith machine, position yourself under the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Some people prefer to squat with their shoes off to provide more contact between their feet and the ground, but this is not necessary.
Position the bar on your shoulders and grab it with both hands, keeping your arms and elbows at a comfortable angle. Keep your chest and head up while bending your knees and hips as if sitting down.
Stop when your hips drop below your knees, and drive with your feet up through your legs to bring the bar back up. Focus on exploding from the bottom of the movement and lowering the weight more slowly towards the ground.
2. Weighted Sled Drags
- Place an appropriate amount of weight plates onto the sled
- Tighten your core and keep your back straight as you bend the hips
- Take a firm and secure grip on the handles
- Take a step back with one of your back legs
- Keep your arms straight
- Continue walking/running the desired distance
- Turn the sled around, and repeat
If you have access to a sled, doing heavy drags are a great way to train the muscles that you’ll use on the soccer field, but you’re adding extra resistance by utilizing a weight sled.
These can be done while walking forward and backwards, and soccer players should focus on really driving their legs through the movement.
On a flat surface, add your desired amount of weight and attach the sled to your body around your shoulders or waist, depending on what equipment your gym has available. Walk or run forward for a predetermined distance.
Go back the way you came by walking backwards, making sure to not use your arms to pull the weight, but rather generate the power with your legs.
3. Deadlifts (Trap Bar)
- Approach the trap bar
- Grab the bar with a firm grip
- Bend your knees and keep your back straight
- Lift the bar, while keeping the back straight and squeezing your chest up
- Lower the weight
- Repeat (6-10 Repetitions, 3-5 sets)
Deadlifting is simply the act of picking something up off the floor, and the trap bar puts less strain on your back, since you’re in the center of the weights rather than having all the weight in front of you. With the trap bar frame loaded, step into the center of the frame and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
The way the bar is set up also allows you to have a neutral grip, which some may find more comfortable than in a traditional deadlift. Keep your spine neutral, and push against the floor with your feet while also pushing forward with your hips as you bring the weight up.
Again, try to explode from the bottom of the movement and lower the weight back down as slowly as you can.
Since soccer players change direction on the pitch, making sure that their balance and core strength can support performance on the field.
These exercises should be done slowly and with the full range of motion, even if that means decreasing the amount of weight used in each exercise.
1. Dumbbell Step Ups
- Put a bench or box in front of you (knee height)
- Place one foot on the bench, and keep the heel flat on the step
- Step up, keep your back straight, and brace your core
- Step down, keep your shoulders back and lower your leg down slowly to the ground
- Repeat (8-10 Repetitions on each leg, 3-5 sets)
For this exercise, you will need a box or a bench that comes to about knee height. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and place your left or right foot on the top of the surface.
Raise your body as if you were climbing a stair, hold at the top of the movement, and then lower your body back down without touching your opposite foot to the top of the box. Pause with your foot on the floor and then repeat.
When you’ve finished with one leg completely, move to the other leg instead of switching off. Your working foot should stay on the top of your bench or box for the entirety of the set.
2. Turkish Get-Ups
- Lay down with a kettlebell in one hand (straight arm)
- Bend the leg on the same side as the kettlebell
- Sit up (keep the arm straight during the whole motion)
- Drive your hips in the air by pushing from the heel of the bent leg
- Sweep the straight leg back – and through to a half-kneeling position
- Take the hand off the floor and straighten your body by folding sideway at the waist
- Push from the front heel and stand up
Start conservative with the weight here, as the weight will be going above your head!
Lay on the floor with a dumbbell in one hand. Straighten your arm completely so that the weight is in the air.
Keeping your arm extended above your head, use your legs and arm to push yourself into a fully standing position from laying down. Complete the action in reverse without ever lowering your arm.
Returning to the starting position on the ground will constitute one rep of this movement. Make sure to do sets on both sides in order to get the full benefits for your shoulder mobility as well as increased core strength.
3. Pistol Squats
- Stand on one foot
- Extend the opposite leg in front of you
- Hold your chest and pull your shoulders back
- Bend your knee and hold your arms forward
- Hinge forward at the hips to lower into a squat
- Keep your back straight during the full motion
- Slowly stand up by pushing with your heels
- Repeat (3-8 repetitions on each leg, 3-5 sets)
These one-legged squats will increase balance and hip mobility. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lift one foot off of the floor.
Extend this leg outward while bending the your other knee. Press the dumbbells out while you lower your body and extend your leg.
Ideally, you will progress to where your hip is just above your ankle. Reverse the movement and continue your set without placing your foot back on the floor if possible.
This is an advanced movement, and you may roll backwards, so practice these in a safe, open area.
Soccer games are 90 minutes or more, and it’s critical that soccer players be able to play all of those minutes.
Combining endurance exercises into your gym routine will complement your running and other cardiovascular training activities. Perform these exercises over longer durations with lower weights as necessary.
1. Weighted Plank
- Get on the ground
- Place a weight on your lower back (look at the picture)
- Go into a push-up position, but bend your arms at your elbows
- Brace the core, and keep your back straight
- Hold as long as you can
- Repeat (3-5 sets are recommended)
Hold a plank position by placing your forearms on the ground. Tighten your core and brace yourself on your toes and forearms, keeping your back straight. Look down towards the floor to keep your entire spine neutral.
Once you can hold a plank relatively easily, have your partner place weight plates on your shoulders to increase the level of difficulty as you both hold the weight and balance the plate simultaneously.
For a side plank, place one forearm on the ground directly under your shoulder. Stack your feet on top of one another and press through your hips and shoulder, pressing your body up off of the ground.
For added difficulty, place your non-working arm above your head to open up your chest while holding a weight. Again, start conservatively, as the weight will be above your head and body.
2. Walking Lunges
- Grab some weights (dumbells or barbells)
- Stand hip-width apart with your feet
- Take a step forward with one foot
- Slowly bend both knees until your back knee is just above the floor
- Without moving the leg in the front, move your other leg forward (repeating the same motion)
- Repeat (6-10 repetitions on each leg, 3-5 sets)
This can be done with either a barbell across your shoulders or a dumbbell in each hand. Begin walking and bend your forward knee down as close to the floor as possible.
Push your body back up and take a step forward, now bending that knee as close to the ground as possible.
Keep your back straight and walk a predetermined distance or a number of steps to complete your set.
3. Military Press
- Stand up (or sit on a bench if you have back problems)
- Start with the barbell resting on your collarbone (shoulder height)
- Keep the back straight and brace your core
- Lift the barbell up until your arms are almost fully extended
- Finish the repetition by slowly lowering the weight back down to your collarbone
- Repeat (6-8 Repetitions, 3-5 sets)
The military press involves pressing a bar in an overhead motion. For this movement, keep your feet hip-width apart and hold the bar at your collarbone height as you get set.
The working movement will have the bar start and finish at the level of your chin. Keep your wrists straight and your thumbs over the bar. The key is to keep your core tight and your body static.
When you’re ready, move the bar upwards in a straight line, bringing your head and neck slightly forward at the top of the movement. Be careful not to use your hips to press the bar forward or assist you on the way up. If you find yourself doing this, drop to a lower weight.
Scheduling Gym Workouts As a Soccer Player
Soccer is too grueling of a sport for players to hit the gym regularly during the season. Most are going to move to a lot of maintenance work, and that is when bodyweight exercises come in handy. Most of these exercises not only help with strength and endurance, but they can also help with flexibility.
Save some of the heavier weights for offseason training, and also step up the number of times going to the gym. A few days a week makes sense during the season, but four or five days a week is perfectly fine in the offseason.
Remember to work different body parts on those days to prevent injury. Everyone has certain parts of the body that they are looking to work on more than others, but too much work can do a lot more damage than good.
Why Weight Training Is Important For Soccer Players
Weight training will help your performance on the soccer field and help you prevent injuries by building a stronger overall body.
The weight room is incredibly diverse, and these nine exercises will help build explosive strength which translates to speed on the field. Improve your balance for when you’re cutting and handling the ball around defenders, and increase your endurance so your muscles can last the whole 90 minutes.