Skip to Content

Why Soccer Players Have Big Leg Muscles

Professional athletes depend on and invest in their bodies, and how athletes maintain and develop their bodies depends largely on what sport they play and what position they plan in that sport.

Since soccer is a game defined largely by the fact that players are running near constantly throughout the 90 minutes or more of the game, it stands to reason that soccer players’ legs would be a focus for them.

As such, soccer players can have very developed leg muscles, and there’s good reason for that. Professional soccer players literally make their living from not skipping leg days.

Why do soccer players have big leg muscles? Soccer players have big leg muscles because they train them not only by running around on the soccer field, but in the gym and other workouts. The legs are the most important body part of a soccer player, and that’s the reason why most soccer players have big leg muscles.

Types of Leg Muscles

Before we dive into why soccer players have large leg muscles, it’s crucial to understand, in a very simplistic way, the musculature of the leg and what the muscles do.

The thigh is made up of two muscles, one on the front side of the leg and one on the backside. The front of the thigh is the quadriceps, and the back of the thigh is the hamstring. These muscles work in tandem, with the quadricep being longer when the hamstring is shorter and vice versa. 

These muscles are critical to walking, running, and climbing stairs in daily life. When you have your foot up on top of a stair, you activate your quadricep muscle to press down into the floor and lift your body onto that step. 

On the other hand (or leg), if you stand on one foot and flex the hamstring of the elevated foot, it will contract, and you should notice your lower leg moving, with your heel lifting towards your bottom.

In the lower leg, the calf is made up of two muscles, the largest of which is the gastrocnemius. This is the muscle that you can see moving when you straighten your leg and point and flex your toes. The calf muscle is also crucial to walking and provides a lot of movement and stability in the foot and ankle.

Obviously, the mechanics of the leg is much more detailed and nuanced than this, but the basic breakdown of the leg muscles is those core three muscles: quadriceps, hamstring, and calf.

Well, They Run A Lot

Professional soccer players run between seven and nine and a half miles per match, which is a staggering amount. Taking into account that they also run in their training so that they can maintain their stamina, it’s no secret that soccer players have big legs, right? 

Of course, runners have big legs!

Well, that’s not entirely true. Sprinters certainly have large leg muscles to create that burst of power that they need to maintain over a relatively small distance, but look at one of the most successful distance runners in the history of the sport: Eliud Kipchoge. 

This Kenyan professional runner holds the records in both the official and unofficial marathon times. He won the Berlin Marathon in 2018 with a time of 2:01:39, and he and some of his sponsors created a private event where he ran a 1:59:40 marathon and became the only person in known history to travel 26.2 miles in less than 2 hours.

But look at his legs. His thighs and his calves are smaller than most professional soccer players, and this is common in distance runners. So it isn’t running itself that builds big legs.

Soccer players exist in a strange physiological space between sprinters and distance runners. They have to have the endurance to run up and down the pitch for miles and miles at a time, but they also need to have enough power in their muscles to sprint for short distances and kick the ball across the pitch.

They Need Explosive Power

Whether players are chasing the ball, dribbling it faster than a defender can keep up, or turning and stopping after putting on a burst of speed, soccer players need their legs to be powerful.

In addition to being powerful, they also need to be controlled because there is no point for a soccer player to be able to outstrip a defender only to fall over under the speed of their own legs or if they charge out of bounds because they can’t put on the brakes after stepping on their gas pedal.

But soccer isn’t just a running activity. The ball is crucial, and players need to be able to kick the ball along and across the field, to jump high to head the ball into the net or away from their own goals on set pieces, and to have the balance to navigate with the ball at speed and then balance on one leg while striking the ball.

Nature vs. Nurture

Do players pick their sport, or do sports pick their players? Many sports or positions seem to favor a certain body type, and while there are always exceptions, those people who have naturally large leg muscles, or at least the ability to develop those muscles when needed, may gravitate to playing soccer because their bodies lend them to be naturally good at it.

Of course, those who are not naturally predisposed to be good at soccer can overcome their physiology and still have successful careers on the pitch.

But whatever their genetic luck is, soccer players spend a lot of time nurturing their legs as well. Spending time in the gym and doing lower body exercises such as squats, presses, curls, and deadlifts helps build those big leg muscles. 

In addition to weight lifting, soccer players additionally do running as part of their training and balance and coordination exercises, all of which contribute to the hypertrophy found on most soccer players’ lower bodies.

Soccer depends on the legs of the players. The game would not be as exciting if the players all jogged slowly up and down the field, never breaking away or chasing down a play. It would be dull without explosive diving headers and crosses that carry the ball half the length of the field.

But similarly, it would not be the same game if soccer players couldn’t recover quickly from those impressive plays and have the endurance to carry on throughout the match. 

Soccer players have large leg muscles because they have trained them to be the powerful tools that they need to excel at all of the aspects of the game, both the endurance and the explosion needed out on the pitch.

They have finely tuned the machinery of their bodies to perform exactly how they need them to, and as fans of the game, that’s absolutely something to admire.

If you want to be as strong as the pro soccer players, I listed some of the most effective exercises in this post.