The miles of running you undertake in a soccer game tends to boost your cardiovascular system rather than bulk up your leg muscles. For the kind of power you need to send the ball down the wings or cross it in, you need to schedule sessions at least twice weekly in the weight room or find body-weight alternatives. For balanced and timely results, your coach may give you an offseason strength program that also stresses core and upper-body strength activities.
Working in the Weight Room
Squats and lunges with barbells, kettlebells or dumbbells provide a bedrock level of leg strength for soccer athletes. These exercises recruit the quads, hamstrings and glutes. Each exercise has multiple variations -- for example, lunges can be forward, lateral, backward or rotational, notes college coach Greg Gatz in “Complete Conditioning for Soccer.” You can add calf raises or cable kickbacks to develop the lower legs and add the leg press machine to your circuit for quad improvements. One-legged exercises provide an excellent challenge to your balancing ability and can also help you strengthen your weaker leg. Options include the kettlebell single-leg deadlift, the split squat and the supported single-leg squat.
While colleges and most high schools have weight rooms, you can readily work on your leg strength if you are a recreational or competitive player in an adult league without gym access. In fact, even if you do have a weight room, Gatz advises starting with body-weight exercises. “This will help you to incorporate balance, stability and coordination in your training while learning proper execution,” he writes. You can do body-weight squats and lunges, raising your arms above your head for added challenge. Soccer strength writer Donald T. Kirkendall suggests carrying one of your teammates of a similar weight, an exercise called the partner carry squat, to develop complete leg strength. Squat in place once you have your teammate safely balanced on your back and holding on to your shoulders.
Jumping into Plyometrics
To increase your power as well as strength, explosive exercises known as plyometrics prove valuable. Box jumps work well, as do double- and single-leg landings focusing on stability. The Olympic lifts -- the clean and jerk, and the snatch -- can also help you explosively work the leg muscles. You can also perform exercises such as the 8-count, which combines squats, the plank, a split-feet position, pushups and a leap back to the standing position.
Your Year-Round Calendar
Your ideal strength calendar would begin about three months before the fall soccer season, giving you time to progressively increase your weights to reach peak strength before the competitive season begins. Switch to a maintenance strength program during the season, which seeks to strike a balance between holding onto your strength gains while avoiding excessive fatigue, given the demands of a 90-minute soccer game. Each offseason, you can once again focus on progressive overload -- increasing your strength program’s to become stronger. Look to apply the concept of periodization to your year-round strength training, which adapts the challenge level of strength work to where you are in your competitive calendar.
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