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Advice Aug 06, 2013

A focused approach to offseason training, part 2

By Jennifer Schwartz

Editor’s note: Jennifer Schwartz is the owner of Impact Fitness DC, a professional private training company providing fitness services to female athletes, teams, individuals, and small groups in Washington, D.C. She holds a certified mastery in biomechanics with a specialization in resistance training and muscle activation techniques™, and is also a United States Soccer Federation-licensed coach with the Alexandria Soccer Association. Soccer Wire is very pleased to present Jennifer’s perspectives on biomechanics and injury prevention.

While strength and finesse coalesce on the pitch in a beautiful symphony of movement during the game, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach to getting us all there off the field. It falls upon our shoulders, as professionals and coaches, to guide our athlete’s expectations of speed and strength training to produce these results in the end.

Throughout my years as a fitness trainer for athletes, I’ve witnessed many programs begin to trend towards increasing the athlete’s speed. With that goal in mind, sprinting to the finish won’t help win this race. To start, you have to slow down, and then speed up!

In the previous article my goal was to establish the need for strategically strengthening with controlled exercises.  This means using machines and resistance equipment while staying away from on field body-weight exercises such as squats and ladder drills.

The fitness industry has promoted an attitude of testing an athlete’s limit within their workout as if to ask their nervous system: ‘How much can you handle in one single session?’ The goal of strength training should not be to induce total fatigue.  The total fatigue goal to ‘break them down’ should be considered dangerous especially if administered without the groundwork of a program that champions joint control and focus on realistic adaptation.

This perspective is not dismissive of explosive power exercises and plyometrics.  This perspective is an evaluation of evidence that questions what constitutes an appropriate workout.

A peer reviewed study from the Journal of Exercise Physiology Online examined current literature on the effect of explosive exercises transferring to increased athletic performance. The conclusion was that there is very little evidence that Olympic lifts, plyometric style, and traditional weight lifting training exercises performed at a fast cadence can enhance athletic performance.

In fact, there was no evidence that these training techniques were more effective than safe and slow weight training.  Some studies showed that slow weight training was more effective in enhancing strength and power. Also, there is considerable evidence that these explosive training techniques pose considerable risks and the reviewers deemed them ethically unacceptable for athletic performance goals.

What is then the practical thought process to increase power and speed on the pitch? Perspective in regard to joint motion is absolutely necessary. The amount of acceleration, optimal deceleration, and the rate at which one can sustain a workload are mostly genetic. The desire to compete outside your genetic boundaries is unrealistic. However!! The right combination and staging of training can unlock hidden genetic gifts.

Exercise is a blend of simple, simultaneous mechanics with layers of physics. The best results come when the experience is meaningful to a perceived adaptation and appropriate progression.

So what does a well-managed strength training regime look like in continuum? How can we balance the expectations of our athletes to keep moral and training up? Let’s break it down!

Stage 1 needs to start with joint control. Muscular imbalances, current abilities, and specific goals need to be identified. Mastering joint control is as important to the beginning of strength development as the first touch on the ball is to player development. Details

Stage 2 revolves around increasing the current abilities of tissues; improving a muscle’s torque producing capabilities. Details

Stage 3 adds in controlled eccentric loading-deceleration training. Here the focus is keeping a tempo at which control is apparent in every repetition. Details

Stage 4 is where we fine tune the training and begin to incorporate speed-progressing to explosive acceleration training-if, and only if the athlete is focused upon their recovery as well.  This is where we can challenge an athlete with a lot of stimulus, however the real result is in how quickly they recover from it. Details

Through personally working this program, as well as implementing it with my own athletes, I can testify that you will begin to see a net increase in speed after stage 2. The problem lies with a desire for instant gratification… skipping stages 1 and 2 will not get you to 3 and 4 more quickly. Take your time. Enjoy the journey of understanding your body’s mechanics and developing strength and speed with the use of these tools!

Stay tuned! The next piece will focus on the misconstrued soccer boot. I’ve spent countless hours working with designers and reviewing model after model.  When it comes to boot choices, us soccer players are extraneous.  Can the soccer market become better equipped for performance with a boot that resembles an actual foot?  I say without a doubt, yes!  The right soccer boot means optimal foot function, which means another net increase in speed!

Citation: Stewart, B., Smith, D. Explosive exercises in sports training: a critical review. Journal of Exercise Physiologyonline, 10(2007). [PDF]

+Visit the Impact Fitness website to learn more ]

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