Strength Training for Football

Strength Training for Football

We’re going to analyse the importance of Strength Training in Football and its transference to increasing performance.

Training football

Considerations in Football

Football is a mixed sport, considered as such because of the participation of the three main ways of energy production: aerobic, lactic anaerobic and alactic anaerobic.

And it should be noted that training in football is mainly based on the game itself, on technique and tactics; so, far from being a main training method, strength development should be considered as a basis for physical preparation.

During a 90-minute match, elite players run 8-12km at an average intensity close to lactate threshold

However, it is known that this intensity is not maintained in a constant and continuous way in time, but that there are intermittent and repeated efforts. As an example, the following graphs show the type of effort and its duration throughout a match:

Football match efforts

 

Graphic 1: Distribution of effort in a football match among players in different positions (modified from Cometti, 2002).

If we extrapolate these graphs to the 90 minutes duration of a match, we see that the sprint constitutes about 11-14% of the total distance of the match, which is equivalent to 3-4% of the effective playing time.

Assuming each sprint lasts a minimum of 2 seconds, the number of sprints per player per match would be 36±2 (>21 km/h) for a professional level, with an average distance covered of 5-18 meters.

In addition to this, there would be other explosive forces such as about 50 direction changes and turns or numerous jumps performing powerful contractions to maintain balance and/or control of the ball.


Substrate football match

 

Image 1 and associated graph: General distribution of effort according to the predominant energy pathway (above); number and distance of those efforts in a football match (modified from Cometti, 1999).

In this way we can understand more clearly the important role of training explosiveness/power and strength for football.

Relationship of strength and acceleration with its use in the game

Generally, an increase in peak force (%1RM) is linked to an increase in relative force and therefore to an increase in power capabilities.

This maximum strength/power performance ratio is supported by results from both jumping tests and short sprint test results. Just to name a few examples:

Peak strength training protocols (4 series x 5 repetitions @ 85-90%1RM) over 2 months in football players have resulted in an increase in 1RM at half squat of 33-50%, expressed in terms of improvements for football in:

  • Sprint times of 10 m improved by 5%, which is equivalent to half a meter of improvement distance.
  • Sprint times of 40 m improved by 2%, which is equivalent to approximately 1-1.2 m improvement distance.
  • Jump height increased by 5%, which is equivalent to 3-5 cm with respect to the initial values.

Maximum speed strength

Graphs 2 and 3: Maximum force relationships with speed (left) and time spent (right) in sprints of different distances. The higher the max, the higher the speed and the less time spent on it (Andersen, 2011).

Although these medium-term improvements may not seem particularly remarkable, they are significant; and more importantly, over a 9-10 month season with concurrent strength and endurance training within physical preparation, they could be even more so

How to improve acceleration in football?

On the other hand, and given that explosive efforts in football are very short in terms of time, with the maximum speed reached in a sprint or the maximum height in a jump, it’s especially important to achieve a greater acceleration that allows you to anticipate the rival, which can make the difference.

Speed in football

A player can play 90 minutes and be less effective as someone who plays less time but whose minutes played are of a higher quality.

Based on this, I understand that physical preparation in the sport aim to improve the efficiency of each of the actions. Or what is the same: to jump higher, to run faster and to shoot with more power; and all this, while being able to execute it as quickly as possible (acceleration).

Activation of the different types of fibres

It’s very common to think and take resistance training as the main method to improve in this sport.

Although it’s true that it’s a fundamental pillar, perhaps we should begin to consider giving a little more importance to strength training, since according to the data found, the percentage of fast fibres of a footballer is around 60%.

Fiber activacion

 

In addition, using the principle of muscle fibre activation size, it’s understood that without performing strength and/or maximum speed exercises, not all muscle fibres will be activated, unless we reach fatigue due to glycogen depletion; and, as you can imagine, efforts in fatigue are less effective.

Activation threshold

For these reasons, I believe it is necessary to reverse the pyramid of priorities and situate explosive strength as the basis of physical preparation, working on resistance in second place, though by no means neglecting it.

Training methods

The training methods in physical preparation for the improvement of strength and power must be those that optimally improve the whole: muscle size + neural factors.

According to the following graph, this is easier with players with a relatively low to medium level of concurrent training experience (strength + football, not just football).

The training should therefore use exercises such as

Heavy loads or maximum intensities I or II training methods

(Badillo and Gorostiaga, 2002).

MethodObjectivesIntensitySetsRepsRest between sets
Maximum Intensity IMaximum Strength90-100% 1RM4-81-33-5 min
Maximum Intensity IIMaximum Strength85-90% 1RM4-53-53-5 min

Short sprints

(With resistance, such as a sledge push, small parachute or companion).Short sprints

Intense plyometrics

(Boxes, hurdles, with partner loads, etc…).Intense plyometrics

Complementary electro-stimulation

In this aspect, the greatest improvements per muscle group have been seen through complementary exercise and localised electrostimulation (lower limb) at different times; i.e. not using it during voluntary exercise.

If used before exercise, the intensity of each programme should be lower than if used after exercise

Strength power graphic

However, intensity levels should increase over time (as in voluntary exercise)

Exercises

Not forgetting the core and upper limbs, exercises involving the whole body (snatch, loaded) and principally the lower limb and core are the most useful for performance improvement in football.

Squats

Squats have demonstrated this relationship the most (partly because they’re also the most studied).

Other knee thrusts

Press, forward striding lunges, step ups, pistol squats…

A particularly useful exercise to avoid common injuries such as fibrillary breaks or contractures in the ischiosural region is the Nordic Curl, which emphasises the eccentric phase. Although the help of a partner is recommended, it can also be performed alone by fixing the heel to some fixed support. Nordic curl

Hip Thrusts

Hip thrusts, and even dead lifts (in this case, a hexagonal bar is preferable), which has shown a medium-term improvement in knee extensor strength (quadriceps and football shooting) and horizontal displacement power.

Lateral force and power

Lunges lateral or diagonal steps with loads, squatting lateral steps with weighted waistcoat, lateral steps with resistance band, lateral step ups. Lateral force power

Outstanding methodology: training by contrast

Whether it’s a specific gym session where no training takes place on the pitch, or a training session on the football pitch itself, we find training by contrast to be the most interesting in terms of its direct application to the game.

Contrasting method example in a specific weights training (after warmup):

EXERCISESETSREPSINTENSITY (%1RM)TIME
Squat1 and 22-3902:0:1:0 / Maximum
38-1050Maximum
44852:0:1:0 / Maximum
5 and 68-1060Maximum

Contrasting method example with combination training on the pitch: Combination training football

Strength Warm-up

It’s quite common to see the warming up begin with slow (aerobic) efforts that progressively increase the intensity as they go.

It’s great that this method still work for people, but based on the Russian warmup method developed by Mosterovoi in 1966, I think that it’s much more interesting to avoid injuries and take advantage of the post-activation potentiation (PAP) and what it brings to the initial moments of the match.

This method consists of:

  1. After alternating joint mobility exercises, dynamic stretching and low intensity strength exercises as a pre-warm-up.
  2. Strength exercises are performed at medium-high intensities.
  3. Finishing with speed and/or shooting exercises.

Eccentric strength of hamstrings in football

Many footballers suffer from hamstring injuries in football. These muscles, located in the back of the thigh, don’t seem at first sight to be the most important muscles in football, but they are, and very much so.

Hitting sequence

The shooting sequence is divided into phases as follows:

  • Pre-phase. Hip extension and knee flexion of the shooting leg. Support from the supporting leg.
  • Phase 1. Internal rotation hip support. Hip flexion begins (knee flexion is maintained): quadricep pre-stretching.
  • Phase 2. The flexion of the hip continues by starting “the reduction of the angular velocity of the thigh” and the knee extension begins. In this phase, there is a lot of muscular activation (80%):
    • Eccentric hamstring and gluteal contraction (stopping knee extension and hip flexion).
    • Concentric contraction of the quadriceps.
  • Phase 3. Shot and accompaniment (Speed of the ball 18-30 m/s).

Shot

As you can see, the hamstrings have to perform constant eccentric actions when hitting the ball, whether it’s for a pass, a clearance or a shot on goal.

This means the force to which they are subjected is very high, as all known that muscles can exert much more force in an eccentric action than in a concentric one.

Energy transfer

When the speed of the thigh decreases, it transfers its stored elastic potential energy to the lower segments by means of the knee extension.

This results in an increase in the speed (linear and angular) of the leg – increasing its kinetic energy – and the maximum speed of the foot just as the ball is hit.

From this we can conclude that the faster the leg pulls backwards to start going forward, the higher the impact speed with the ball, which is the ultimate goal of anyone striking the ball. Part of this pulling, as we have pointed out, is a function of the hamstrings.

Energy transfer

Sequence of speeds in the different joints involved in hitting the ball.

Type of run: anterior cycle vs. posterior cycle

The previous cycle run is the ideal one for fast sprints and jumps because, although it is not the most economical style from an energy point of view, it allows the highest efficiency of movements and the hip is in a neutral position (without anteversion) during the whole run cycle.

On the other hand, the posterior cycle sprint is much more economical from an energy point of view, and the backward impulse is more easily produced as the hip is in anteversion. However, this type of run is usually used at jogging speed.

Type of run

Anterior cycle vs. posterior cycle

The problem is that not all players know how to use the anterior cycle run in sprints, and continue to use the posterior cycle run, adding more stress to the hamstring zone on top of the hits

Recommendations and strengthening exercises

The main recommendation to avoid a hamstring injury is to be cautious and avoid overexerting yourself when you notice signs of possible contracture, strain or rupture.

Using the anterior run cycle will help improve efficiency in the sprint and will also prevent the hamstrings from being the main working muscles.

As strengthening exercises of the eccentric phase, lower body plyometrics could work well. In terms of specific exercises in a weight room, the hip thrust is certainly the star exercise, but squats, dead lifts or femoral curls can also be used, emphasising the eccentric phase of the movement.

Introduction of strength training in planning

Example of micro-cycle planning for 1 match per week (in season)

  • Monday: strength gym session (75-90 minutes)
  • Tuesday: rest
  • Wednesday: tactics, technique, aerobic session (90-120 minutes)
  • Thursday: tactics, technique, aerobic session (90-120 minutes) / in the afternoon: combination gym session (gym, plyometrics, sprints) (75-90 minutos)
  • Friday: tactics, technique, aerobic session (90-120 minutos)
  • Saturday: principally technique-tactics training (60-75 minutos)
  • Sunday: match 

Example of micro-cycle planning for 2 games per week (in season)

  • Monday: strength gym session (75-90 minutes)
  • Tuesday: technique-tactic + aerobic training (75-90 minutes)
  • Wednesday: Tactic training and travel / afternoon: match
  • Thursday: afternoon: combined strength training (gym, plyometrics, sprints) (75-90 minutes)
  • Friday: tactics, technique, aerobic session (90-120 minutos)
  • Saturday: principally technique-tactics training (60-75 minutes)
  • Sunday: match 

Example of long-term strength training distribution (pre-season + season)

Macrocycle season

Sources

  1. Andersen, J.L. (2011). Strength-training in Football.
  2. Badillo, J. J. G., & Gorostiaga, E. (2002). Fundamentos del entrenamiento de la fuerza: Aplicación al alto rendimiento deportivo (Vol. 302). Madrid. Inde.
  3. Cometti, G. (1999). Fútbol y musculación. Madrid. Inde.
  4. Cometti, G. (2002). La preparación física en el fútbol. Barcelona. Editorial Paidotribo.
  5. de Villarreal, E. S., Suarez-Arrones, L., Requena, B., Haff, G. G., & Ferrete, C. (2015). Effects of plyometric and sprint training on physical and technical skill performance in adolescent soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.
  6. Hermassi, S., Gabbett, T. J., Spencer, M., Khalifa, R., Chelly, M. S., & Chamari, K. (2014). Relationship between explosive performance measurements of the lower limb and repeated shuttle-sprint ability in elite adolescent handball players. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 9(5), 1191-1204.
  7. Hoff, J., & Helgerud, J. (2004). Endurance and strength training for soccer players. Sports medicine, 34(3), 165-180.
  8. Ramírez-Campillo, R., Meylan, C., Álvarez, C., Henríquez-Olguín, C., Martínez, C., Cañas-Jamett, R., … & Izquierdo, M. (2014). Effects of in-season low-volume high-intensity plyometric training on explosive actions and endurance of young soccer players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(5), 1335-1342.
  9. Váczi, M., Tollár, J., Meszler, B., Juhász, I., & Karsai, I. (2013). Short-term high intensity plyometric training program improves strength, power and agility in male soccer players. Journal of human kinetics, 36(1), 17-26.
  10. Wisløff, U., Castagna, C., Helgerud, J., Jones, R., & Hoff, J. (2004). Strong correlation of maximal squat strength with sprint performance and vertical jump height in elite soccer players. British journal of sports medicine, 38(3), 285-288.
  11. Arnason A, Andersen T.E, Holme I, Engebretsen L, Bahr R (2008). Prevention of hamstring strains in elite soccer: an intervention study. Scand J Med Sci Sports; 18(1):40–49
  12. Departamento Biomecánica Deportiva de la Facultad de Cc. Actividad Física y Deporte. INEF Madrid (UPM). Año 2013.
  13. DM Jenkins, N. (2013). Functional hamstrings: quadriceps ratios in elite women’s soccer players. Journal of sports sciences, 31(6), 612.
  14. Izquierdo, M. (2008). Biomecánica y bases neuromusculares de la Actividad Física y el Deporte. Ed. Médica Panamericana. Madrid
  15. Mercer T.H, Gleeson N.P, Wren K (2003). Influence of prolonged intermittent high-intensity exercise on knee flexor strength in male and female soccer players. Eur J Appl Physiol; 89(5):506–508
  16. Greig M, Siegler JC (2009). Soccer-Specific Fatigue and Eccentric Hamstrings Muscle Strength. J Athl Train; 44(2): 180–184.
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About Mario Muñoz
Mario Muñoz
Mario Muñoz is passionate about everything that is related to the world of fitness. But what he enjoys the most is the research field.
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