Football is a complex sport in which a player’s performance is dependant on a large number of variables of very different natures. Of a physical nature, for example: speed or strength; or decisional: positioning, passing success, interceptions; amongst others. Does muscle volume affect performance in football?
The player’s ultimate performance will therefore not depend on whether they have covered more or less kilometres or whether they have completed a greater number of sprints at different speeds.
Maximum preparation and conditions for footballing success. What’s needed?
Currently, there is a big debate around the muscle volume of football players, with extremely diverse opinions being held on the subject.
Some believe a greater muscle mass will reduce the mobility and speed of the player, as we are used to the fact that the body composition of the football player has traditionally been rather slim, with a highly worked musculature, but with reduced volume.
On the other hand, some think greater muscle mass will allow them to carry out actions on the pitch with greater intensity while reducing the risk of injury in such musculature, as they’ll be able to support a greater load.
What are the most used muscles in football?
While it’s true that the lower body muscles will be the ones with the highest demands placed on them in football, we should remember that all the musculature of our body work in each and every action we perform.
We must therefore pay attention to our entire musculoskeletal system if we want our performance to be the best possible.
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.
It is useless to have a very powerful lower body or with high muscle mass if the musculature of our core, for example, is not capable of stabilising the movements that each action in the field requires of us, since this stabilising function will be just as necessary to carry out the action successfully.
The existence of such imbalances also results in a serious risk of injury for footballers.
Muscles with a greater risk of injury
As we have commented before, one of the greatest causes of risk of muscular injury in football is the existence of imbalances within the muscular chains demanded in each of the actions we carry out on the field.
These actions, such as running at maximum speed or jumping to the ball, will be no more than the sum of different muscular actions synchronised by our Central Nervous System.
Therefore, if one of the links is not prepared for the intensity that the chain will demand in an action, this will lead to an over-exertion injury.
If we’re talking about concrete muscles, literature coincide in that the most-common injury in professional football is a hamstring injury.
The latest review of Premier League injury epidemiology tells us that this injury accounts for 39.5% of muscle injuries sustained in football. According to this study, the second place would be the muscular injuries located in the inguinal zone (25%) and thirdly quadricep injuries (15.4%).
Is there a typical footballer profile?
The appearance in elite football of various footballers with greater muscle volume than we’re accustomed to seeing has brought about debate over whether the profile of a footballer is changing, with them becoming athletes with a more hypertrophied muscle mass, and greater volume than we’ve seen recently.
This has sparked a great deal of debate about whether or not players do enough strength work and whether this may be the factor that makes the difference to a player’s performance in the coming years.
However, I believe it is essential to stress that, as a general rule, all professional footballers carry out strength work specific to their sport, and even to their particular position on the field.
However, it is true that more and more players are realising that in an increasingly professional sport such as football, they must take care of every last detail, not only to reach the elite, but to be able to stay at the highest level throughout their career.
Traoré has a muscle mass almost unprecedented in professional football, as well as exceptional physical capacities, especially his power in the first metres of a sprint, as well as his strength.
Adama says that “he doesn’t do weights”, but specific exercises for improving his strength and power, using isoinertial technologies to help him, amongst others.
What benefits might high muscle volume bring to footballers?
As a rule, there is a positive relationship between the muscle cross-section area and the absolute strength of the athlete. This relationship is particularly beneficial for the athlete when this increase in muscle mass is produced by better contracted tissue (hypertrophy of the myofibrils of the muscle).
Within a contact sport such as football, another factor that must be taken into account when listing the benefits of muscular hypertrophy is that it will allow you to move with a greater “momentum”. The “momentum” being the product of multiplying Mass x Speed, a player with a greater mass, moving at the same speed, will have greater “momentum”.
This greater “momentum” of the player with greater muscle mass will help the player, in the event of a collision or clash with an opponent, to maintain stability and benefit from the clash, in relation to the player they have collided with. This is something that can be seen constantly in professional football, when a player stays standing even with their opponents colliding with them to try and take the ball away.
Is slenderness in the footballer an old characteristic? Is the profile of the football player changing?
However, this increased muscle mass will only benefit the player’s “momentum” if the speed does not decrease as the player’s mass increases. Therefore, as discussed earlier in this article, it is not the muscle hypertrophy itself that will be so important, but rather the improved abilities that will cause the hypertrophy that will benefit the player the most.
Another factor to take into account in an intermittent sport like football os acceleration. Both the strength and the volume of the player will play a fundamental role in this parameter, as Acceleration is the result of dividing the Strength by the Mass. The variation of these factors can therefore present 3 scenarios:
- If strength increases more than the footballer’s mass, their acceleration will increase.
- If their mass increases more than their strength, their acceleration will decrease.
- If the changes in strength and mass are proportionate, their acceleration will remain stable.
Just as important as acceleration in football is the ability to decelerate, which is vital when making the much-needed changes in direction in the sport. This ability will also be conditioned by the strength of the player.
So, relative to Strength, the main conclusion is that muscle hypertrophy is beneficial for the football player as long as it is accompanied by an even greater increase in strength, meaning relative strength (strength relative to body mass) is more important than absolute strength itself.
Another factor to consider within performance is speed, which is no more than the relationship between the distance travelled and the time taken to travel it.
The more strength we’re capable of applying to each step of our sprint, the more efficient our run will be.
Therefore, once again, it’s important that an increase in muscle mass is accompanied by an increase in relative strength, so that this increased muscle mass does not become a burden, but helps us generate the increased amounts of strength.
Other factors are also crucial to generate greater speed, such as inter and intramuscular coordination, whose improvement will come from specific strength training aimed at a neural improvement (at a nervous system level).
Finally, as far as the player’s technique is concerned, greater muscle mass will not, as is believed, be a limiting factor.
If muscle mass has been obtained as a result of specific training, the greater number of myofibrils and the greater neural control of these will make the movements more precise.
A study that sought to test differences in shooting accuracy of football players based on their muscle mass concluded that those players with greater lower body muscle mass made more accurate shots.
Risks of high muscle volume in football
The possible danger of a high muscle volume will never come from the muscle mass itself, but from the degree of specificity of the training that has given rise to that muscle hypertrophy.
Specific work adapted to the footballer and carried out in a football club’s gym.
However, if our training has been based on this type of action with different resistances, a greater muscular mass, far from being a risk, will protect us from suffering the feared muscle injuries.
Increased muscle mass will be beneficial to a footballer’s performance if it’s the consequence of training specifically for the actions of the sport, and not a goal of the training itself.
Bibliographic Sources used in this article:
- Jalilvand, F., Banoocy, N. K., Rumpf, M. C., & Lockie, R. G. (2019). Relationship between body mass, peak power, and power-to-body mass ratio on sprint velocity and momentum in high-school football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33(7), 1871-1877.
- Chelly, M. S., Chérif, N., Amar, M. B., Hermassi, S., Fathloun, M., Bouhlel, E., … & Shephard, R. J. (2010). Relationships of peak leg power, 1 maximal repetition half back squat, and leg muscle volume to 5-m sprint performance of junior soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(1), 266-271.
- Young, W., Talpey, S., Bartlett, R., Lewis, M., Mundy, S., Smyth, A., & Welsh, T. (2019). Development of muscle mass: how much is optimum for performance?. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 41(3), 47-50.
- Hart, N. H., Nimphius, S., Spiteri, T., & Newton, R. U. (2014). Leg strength and lean mass symmetry influences kicking performance in Australian Football. Journal of sports science & medicine, 13(1), 157.
- Marinău, M. (2017). Issues concerning the use of strength and power practice, during the preparatory period, for U19 youth football players. GeoSport for Society, 6(1), 7-13.
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