|Leg squats for soccer players – A review of the popular leg exercise and how best to incorporate it into your routine
Soccer players are very unique athletes in that they use various muscle groups and energy systems when playing. With a combination of speed, power, endurance, strength and above all, talent, players are required to be capable of putting in 90 minutes. Their body is put under a lot of stress that involves running at high speeds and maintaining stamina, while being able to move with the ball. In order for a soccer player to be successful, he or she needs to be able to put everything together and show talent on the field.
Talent alone is not sufficient to be a good soccer player as there are many other factors involved. By far one of the most important factors which will be discussed here is going through resistance training. If a soccer player wants to be a good player, they need to have a good base of strength and endurance. This all starts with the lower portion of the body with legs.
The two main muscle groups here are the quadriceps and hamstrings as they produce flexion and extension and are responsible for various explosive contractions during a game. Training soccer players is not rocket science as there are several key movements that target the muscles in the thigh which are the most important in soccer. Since they are put under a lot of stress, it is important for them to be strong on their feet to avoid injury and succeed in the sport.
Having stronger muscles and coordination in the lower half of the body can help a player avoid a harsh tackle and prevent injury. Also, having strong muscles that are trained will allow for the player to have excellent endurance and provide a lot of power during the game. In order for this to happen, the player must train during the off-season and a little bit during the season. The movement that satisfies the movement of running and produces explosive contractions is the squat.
Depending on the player and what their goals are, they may want to work on gaining mass through hypertrophy, becoming stronger and explosive through strength and power training and gaining more stamina through endurance training. The training routine is modified for each and every player as the season goes on. Usually during the offseason, one will train on hypertrophy and endurance, and once the pre-season comes around they will start training with strength exercises and then power exercises for maintenance during the season.
The good thing about the squat is that it can be modified in many different ways to target different portions of the thigh. The squat is a very effective movement because it targets every muscle that a soccer player would use during a game, and it also trains the cardiovascular system. It assists in expanding the thorax which would increase respiratory capacity which is beneficial.
The traditional squat is when the bar is placed on the trapezius or the top of the deltoid while maintain the feet approximately shoulder width apart. The toes are slightly pointing outward, and then bend forward with the hips and make sure to avoid rounding the back. Drop down until the thighs are horizontal to the floor or also known as 90 degrees, and then straighten the legs and return to starting position. This would be the traditional back squat at 90 degree depth.
This version of the squat works the quadriceps, gluteal muscles, erector spinae, adductor muscles, abdominal muscles and the hamstrings. For this reason this type of squat is very beneficial as it targets many muscle groups needed in soccer. Since everyone is different, it is important that the subject makes modifications to complement their body structure or limitations. It is necessary to ensure that the feet are in line with the knees.
Since soccer is primarily a sport that uses speed, endurance, power and strength, the best squat for them would be the half squat or 90 degree squat. This is because this angle of flexion imitates jumping and sprinting in the best possible way which bodes well for soccer players. There was a very strong correlation between maximal strength in the half squat position with jump height and sprinting speed.
Players should focus on maximal strength training that heavily emphasize concentric movements because they directly affect how high a player will jump and how fast they will run. Since they are trying to improve overall maximal strength, the recommended load that many teams in Europe use are 4 sets by 4 reps. Strength training consists of 2-5 sets with 6 or less reps so this load proves to be effective.
What must be kept in mind is that since maximal strength is being tested it is important to lift with a weight that is closer to the 1 rep max and is heavier. Usually they should focus on training at about 85% of their 1 rep max. This is a half squat that is also a back squat and the feet must be shoulder width apart with the feet pointing slightly out. Although soccer players tend to be in a concentric phase majority of the time, this type of squat is essential as it targets major muscle groups and improves overall strength that will assist the player in the game.
When it comes down to performance and wanting to get stronger, the best squat for a soccer player would be a back half squat. In this position the soccer player will achieve maximal strength which will increase jumping height and speed. These are two key traits that a one needs to have in order to succeed. Depending on the training routine soccer players will have to modify their load as endurance requires more reps and less weight and the same goes for hypertrophy. But the main goal is for a player is to increase strength and for this reason the half squat if done correctly, is essential for every soccer player to perform.
Chelly, M., Fathloun, M., Cherif, N., Amar, M., Tabka, Z., & Van Praagh, E. (2009). Effects of a back squat training program on leg power, jump, and sprint performances in junior soccer players. The Journal Of Strength \& Conditioning Research, 23(8), 2241--2249.
Delavier, F., & Gundill, M. (2011). The strength training anatomy workout (1st ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Hoff, J. (2005). Training and testing physical capacities for elite soccer players. Journal Of Sports Sciences, 23(6), 573--582.
Wisl\off, 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.nd60
Victor Bojkov is an intern with SoccerFitness. Soccer Fitness Inc., is a soccer-specific strength and conditioning company located in Toronto. For more information about Soccer Fitness, please visit www.soccerfitness.ca.