At Evolution, we train a lot of soccer players. It must be the biggest population of a single sport that we have.
We are also lucky that we get to train these athletes that play at a high level. We will have an athlete playing at all 3 NCAA divisions along with multiple high school aged athletes that compete at a national level.
When it comes to strength training we like to look at the individual instead of lumping someone into their sport. If someone does not have the right stability and mobility to be performing a barbell squat then I do not want them performing a barbell squat just because they play X sport.
But despite that there are a couple of common themes when it comes to soccer players. The three areas that soccer players need to absolutely hammer on and own are the hamstrings, glutes, and anterior core.
Soccer players run a lot which makes their quads highly developed. This also results in their hamstrings being proportionately weak.
Every preseason there are a number of athletes that will pull/strain a hamstring. These soft tissue injuries are brutal to come back from. They require rest and patience. Most athletes are not willing to do those things.
A muscle strains when it is weak. The demands of the game placed on the muscle become too much for it to handle and something has to give.
The best way to combat this is through strength training. Strength training increases the amount of force the muscles can absorb and produce. Eccentric work is particularly good for increasing the force absorption of the muscles. Eccentric work is a slow lowering during a given lift.
This has made glute ham raises to be a crowd favorite for soccer players. For good reason, too. It is really effective at creating eccentric and concentric strength.
When we are looking at knee and ankle injuries, I like to start with the glutes. It is almost like cheating though because I know most athletes do not have strong glutes.
When the glutes are weak it becomes easy for the foot to collapse and the knee to move into valgus alignment. Both of these can contribute to ACL injuries and ankle sprains.
I think there has been a late push that valgus collapse isnt as important as previously thought and the navicular drop is much more predictive. I am just going to go with both for now because valgus still is not a good thing.
At the very least these two misalignments are going to compromise the stability of the joint. When joint stability is gone it is much easier to injure the joint.
Training the glutes are a good way to get the lower body in good alignment. A healthy dose of glute bridges, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and lunges will build strength and stability in the glutes.
Anterior Core Control
The two best basic screens for a lack of anterior core control are extension based back pain and rib flare. They usually go hand in hand.
The game is played upright which means that soccer players are commonly hanging out in low back extension. This makes it difficult to activate the core and get into a good alignment.
Playing pain free is important for performing at a high level. It is easy to have poor conditioning, speed, and quickness if your back is aching the whole time.
The goal here is to use Anti-Extension core exercises. The purpose of these exercises is being able to pull the ribs down and hold them there. This will allow you to run faster and play without pain.
My favorite exercises for controlling the ribs are leg lowers, pullovers, and rollouts. Rollouts are really hard to master though.