How to Strength Train for Soccer Effectively

How to Strength Train for Soccer Effectively

There’s a lot of information on the web when you type in how to strength train for football, or something of that nature, you get a lot of rubbish. Or it might not be rubbish, but a lot of methods which are from the textbook, like 10-20 years ago. Does that kind of training really reflect the modern game?

For example, most old school strength guys will say 1 rep max is a good reflection of your strength. But is that really relevant for a sport like soccer (football)? A performance specialist may say its better to judge on a three rep max, or a five rep max — more fairly reflecting the strength stamina demands required for an intensive game like soccer.

As a player myself that spends 1 – 3 sessions in the gym per week, I haven’t been quite sure if what I’m doing is the most effective way to strength train. So I consulted a real experts advice on his opinion.

Meet founder of Performance 47, Nick Harvey: Nick has had an 18 year career working as a physical performance coach in elite sport working for clubs like the world-renowned Southampton academy, Reading FC and the England Mens U/21 National Team. He’s overseen the physical development programmes which guided the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Adam Lallana into their professional careers.

He was a key part of the coaching team at Southampton which achieved back-to-back promotions to the Barclays Premier League and was responsible for the conditioning programmes of the likes of Euro 2016 winner Jose Fonte.

Nick encouraging his England U/21 players

 

​Nick now consults to the English Football Association as a Physical Performance Coach with various National teams and Performance Educator on various Coach Education programmes. This included working as Physical performance Coach for the England Mens U21 team.

Alongside this role Nick has been developing his vision of Performance 47 where anyone can access this elite level athletic training experience to help them achieve their own performance goals.

I asked Nick a series of 21 main questions in this wide-ranging comprehensive interview which really goes into the heart of how to train for strength in soccer.

 

21 Questions Answered: How to Strength Train for Soccer Effectively [Outline]

Nick will answer:

  1. How it was working in Southampton with Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) and Adam Lallana (Liverpool).
  2. Strength training if you’re not genetically gifted.
  3. Other sports that are beneficial in training for football.
  4. How to create a good soccer strength training program.
  5. What age you should start strength training.
  6. What age you should move onto heavy loads.
  7. How to start strength training at home.
  8. How to do a strength movement assessment for football.
  9. What a strength training plan looks like for a professional.
  10. How to train for strength in the off-season.
  11. What a good rep range is.
  12. How to set goals for football strength.
  13. How a centre midfielder train for strength.
  14. How to assess the results of a soccer strength training program.
  15. How to strength train for soccer without a gym.
  16. How to strength train for soccer without equipment.
  17. Whether you should or shouldn’t train when you’re sore.
  18. How players log their workouts and take notes.
  19. What it was like working with Gareth Southgate & Pochettino.
  20. Which footballers got substantial results with strength training.
  21. How long it takes to get results.

Want to download the audio version to listen to on your next commute? Click below.

Here’s the full transcript. Enjoy!

1. Nick Harvey on working with Gareth Bale & Co. at Southampton:

Effective: I saw on your website that you coached some pretty decent players, from what I read.

NH: Yeah. I mean, obviously working at Saints, really fortunate to work in the academy there at a time when you had some players of the likes of Lallana, Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott. So, you know, some big players who have gone on to have really good careers, so, yeah. And then, obviously, when working with the senior guys at Saints, some of those guys came through into the senior setup as well, and then you’ve got the likes of Jose Fonte, so, yeah, on or two uppers as well. So obviously with the England development team you’re working with some fantastic young players, so yeah. I’ve been fortunate in that respect.

Effective: Yeah, wow, that’s great. And back to when you were, I guess, were you involved individually with players like, say, Bale or Lallana?

NH: Yeah, you know, see, Bale was, I think so, he was, when I was with the academy, I first started he was kind of in the, maybe under fourteen sort of group I would have thought. So we had a satellite sensor at Bath, which is probably a few hours from Southampton. And so he was based there. And so we’d travel, we’d travel down there on a regular basis. One of the reasons, actually, he was, when we signed him, when he signed full time as a scholar, so at sixteen, one of the reasons was his physical profile was unreal. You know, it was, technically he was always good, but he kind of, he flourished when he started full time training. Incredible how as soon as he started full time he just, just went to another level. But physically he was one of those rare animals who’s got, kind of, all round physical capabilities. So he had not only really good speed, obviously, but good endurance levels as well, so yeah, obviously a superb physical profile.

2. Strength training if you’re not genetically gifted:

Effective: Do you think that was a result of training, that he was doing it early, period? Or that’s when he came into the academy full time?

NH: I think he was one who really sort of flourished when he went in full time training. But obviously the stuff he was doing as a younger child would have obviously helped him through the Saints academy. It’s one of them, he’s obviously very blessed, genetically gifted, so it’s all about just trying to enhance that and maximize it, you know? And whatever we’d have done, he would have come through it, showing those physical attributes, but it’s about just maximizing that and enhancing it. And I think if your, kind of, genetics, mean you’re quick, you’re always gonna be quick, but everyone can get quicker. So even if you’re not genetically gifted as, like, a Gareth Bale or Theo Walcott, you know, everyone’s got the opportunity to, you know, to get quicker. Part of that is getting strong, robust, powerful with some sort of good quality strength training.

Effective: Lallana. He’s sort of come to top form in recent times, hasn’t he? So, how was he when he was a younger kid?

NH: Yeah, and again, he was not as quick, never as quick as the likes of Bale or Walcott, so he wasn’t as gifted that way, but and amazing technician, as you can see in how he plays now. I think he’s worked really hard on the training bits just to maximize his physical qualities as well. So on and off the pitch. So, yeah, he’s one who’s a really hard worker, loves training. So, I mean, when I was working with him when he was a young cad coming through he was just, you know, you couldn’t get him off the training pitch, he just loved it. And that’s a massive, massive thing for me, you know? Having that enthusiasm for, to get better, to work hard and train every day.

3. Other sports that are beneficial in training for football:

Effective: Definitely. That’s something we actually preach on Effective, so, we always preach the 10,000 hour rule. Are you a big believer in that yourself, or…?

NH: Not especially in that I’m more a believer in it’s what you do more than in how much of, you know? So, I do believe that, obviously, kids need to train a lot to develop that, just those skills and refine those skills. I’m a believer that kids should be exposed to a wide range of different sports and stimulants, rather than specializing too early. You know, they need to be exposed to a range of different movement challenges that’s going to give them that, sort of, the foundation they need which is gonna help them later on as, within that football. So I think if there is danger if you do, if you completely specialize too early. You know, you can make less effective that, sort of, all round development, the motor skills development that’s gonna maximize your, sort of, physical progress.

Effective: And, say, I mean, let’s say the States are really into doing lots of different sports when you’re a bit younger, then specializing later, whereas, say, England, and Europe in general, kids tend to start playing football when they’re a few years old and then just keep playing it until they’re older. I read a few things in terms of, you know, some players might get, or, but there’s, you’re more prone to injury that way? Because maybe you’re more focused on, you know, specific muscle groups too much? Let’s review on that.

NH: Yeah, I would agree with you on that. That’s part of the early specialization problem that, you know, if you focus purely on one thing, there’s the danger of, sort of, as you say, overuse injury. So because you’re repeating the same movement patterns again and again and again, so that’s why I kind of think it’s important to, just to expose kids to a, just a wide variety of movement challenges, so you’re just going to increase their competency to be able to control their body and move their body in different ways in different situations. Does that make sense?

Effective: Yeah, it makes perfect sense. In terms of what sports would be beneficial for football, what would you say are the top, I don’t know, three or five? That could benefit?

NH: I think other team sports could be effective, because, you know, obviously there’s a crossover in terms of training and decision making and stuff. Something that can be effective. Sports that I quite like, like combat sports, stuff like Judo, things like that, can help with the grappling skills and the combat skills. Being able to control your body weight and working against somebody else’s body weight. They’re good for also teaching some discipline as well, so that would be a couple of examples. And also just, totally, like, tennis, things like that, so racquet sports. So, yeah, for me a wide variety f movement challenges is gonna help develop those, just those neural pathways that’s gonna help a player be more coordinated and it’s gonna move better. And also, again, just reduce the risk of that constant, kind of, similar type movement that’s gonna, as you said, possibly increase injury risk, or risk of psychological burnout as well.

Effective: Definitely. I feel other sports actually build your character when you’re younger. I think Rooney, I remember a story about Rooney doing a lot of boxing, or something, when he was younger.

NH: Yeah, I think, when he was growing up in Liverpool he did some of that. So, yeah, lots of good examples. Even stuff like Cricket, and then, the sort of, the qualities you can get in terms of psychological qualities in terms of coping with different things, I think that can be important. So for me, my belief has sort of been the more varied exposure to different types of physical challenges we can give kids as they’re growing up, the better. And it’s gonna result in a sort of, a lot more rounded long-term set of movement skills.

4. How to create a good soccer strength training program:

Effective: That’s fantastic. So, here’s the thing. There’s a lot of information on the web where, you type in how to strength train for football, or something, effectively, you get a lot of rubbish. Or, I mean, it might not be rubbish, but a lot of methods which are kind of from the textbook, like, ten, or, let’s say, twenty years ago. And when one of the performance specialists may be, like, for example, it’s better not to judge someone on a one rep max, but, say, on a three rep max, or five reps, a five rep max or something like that. So, I just wanted to kind of get your advice or your opinion on, say, if you were between the ages of, anywhere from, say, ten or twelve years old up to a senior level, I just wanted to really get your, because you’ve trained some top players, obviously, and worked with some top clubs, how you would go about starting off a strength program or, basically the kind of, say, three or five or seven steps to creating a good strength program for football. You can have a think about it if you—

NH: I might waffle on here, but I think you’re right. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, particularly around misconceptions around strength training. You’ll often hear, you know, strength straining can stunt your growth, it can damage growth plates, it can, you know, this, that and the other. So I think there’s a lot of misinformation. For me I think if you start with the point of modern game now, at top level, it’s becoming more and more dominated by high intensity actions. So if you look at the stats from English premier league, for example, I think in the last ten or so years, you know, you’re looking at around a thirty percent increase in high intensity run for example. So the high intensity demands that the game is getting, you get more and more, we need to give players the sort of robustness and strength and physical qualities, to me those demands, and that’s where I think strength training can be really crucial in preparing people for the run game. And in terms of specifically for youth players, the earlier you start, really, the better. But the key is obviously what are you doing at the different phases now, so, you would never start a kid off with heavy weight training. It’s all about starting developing really good quality movement patterns and getting a gradual increase in load in those good quality movements. So you should never progress people in load unless they’re technically competent. But without a doubt, in my mind, almost the sooner you start, the higher the training age is gonna be when they get into the, sort of, professional development phase, so around sixteen. And if they’ve got really good competency in terms of how they can strength train at that point, then I think that’s when you can get really really good performance gains, and how, as I say, give them the tools they need to really cope with the really high physical demands at that level. And the key thing really, as well as helping improve performance, is about preventing injuries and creating athletes that are resilient enough to cope with not only high playing demands, but high training demands, because in terms of their overall development the more you can keep them on the path and training and healthy, the more they’re gonna develop in all areas, technically, tactically. So it’s injury that’s, for me, the key thing that’s gonna, you know, have a negative impact on someone’s development. So if we can use strength training to help create those resilient athletes or players, that they’re gonna be able to get on the training pitch day in and day out and cope with those loads.

 

5/6. What age you should start strength training & what age you should move onto heavy loads:

Effective: What age should you start strength training? And then, what age do you move on to those heavy loads, heavier loads?

NH: There’s no hard and fast rule, so it’s very much gonna be down to the individual because I think one of the key things practitioners need to be aware of is not just to look at chronological age, but to look at biological age as well. Obviously at the same chronological age, kids can be very very different physiologically and biologically, so there needs to be that awareness that not everyone’s the same and you can’t just say there’s a hard and fast rule that everyone will start at nine, or everyone will progress at a certain level. So in terms of progression, there’s no real limit to, so, say they’re coming into the academy system at nine, I would say you can start getting them into some good movement patterns and trying to develop strength in terms of using their body weight and stuff like that. Certainly wouldn’t heavy load at that point. But you can start strength training, as in trying to develop their body’s ability to produce force, control force, and you can do that with bodyweight exercises and whatnot, using, you know, partner resistance stuff and whatnot. But you’re trying to, at that point, you’re trying to really groove really good quality movement patterns, so you’d be looking at developing good squat patterns, good, like, lunge patterns and stuff like that, so the players are then just really getting— You’re kind of training movement before you load at a later stage. But you can start adding load relatively early, there’s no, as I say, there’s no hard and fast rule. When the players are very competent in these movements, if they’re really competent at ten or eleven, then why not start adding a little bit of load? I think the key thing is that it would need to be very progressive and practitioners need to make sure that kids are really competent in any movement before you start loading them up. That’s absolutely paramount. Because if you load bad movement, you’re gonna get injured, and the whole thing we wanna do with good quality strength training is develop, like I say, is develop those robust athletes that aren’t gonna get injured. So for me it’s all about movement quality in the early stages. Ensuring the players are really technically competent in all the movements you’re asking them to do before you then, very gradually, can add load to those movements.

7. How to start strength training at home:

 

 

Effective: And you talked about form there. So, say you have a player there, maybe he doesn’t have a strength coach yet but he wants to start training at home, you know, after trainings or before trainings, or whatever. How can someone, kind of, check their own form? Do you get what I mean?

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NH: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s a tricky one. Yeah, so, you mean if they’re sort of trying to develop their own, sort of, they’re doing it themselves.

Effective: Yeah, for example on Effective, on the training platform we have, we have a whole entire, kind of, strength program just for using bodyweight, actually, with explosive movements. And a lot of the players that use it are doing this in their own time. So maybe they train twice a week with their team, and play a match, but they have other goals, like, you know, they want to play at a higher level, so they incorporate extra training into their routines. Maybe they’re doing some strength training at home and it’s important that they don’t have bad form. So, is it just a matter of videoing yourself and then comparing it to videos you see online? Or how, like…?

NH: Yeah, I think so, I mean, it’s just trying to find the right sort of resources that are gonna, you know, so, I’m just trying to think. If you look at stuff like this, the stuff around the FIFA 11, then some of those injury prevention programs, they’ve got, I think, a lunge in that, a squatting pattern. But again, if you can get someone to video, or look in a mirror, so, but really at some point, you know, ideally, you’d need to access some quality coaching just to, you know, even if it’s just people in their club who have some fitness knowledge, or whatever it might be. Because these booting patterns have got some good quality squat and lunges, and I guess there’s stuff on the web that you can find in terms of technical aspects of bodyweight exercises. And I’m just trying to think, I don’t really, I’m not really sure of any football specific sites or info. I’m sure it is out there, but I haven’t, I couldn’t really tell you off the top of my head. I might have to do some searching on that. It’s a good point.

That’s all right.

And, for example, in a club, if we were to give some young lads some work to do at home in terms of bodyweight stuff, we’d give them some video to access. But I’m sure there’s stuff out there people search online.

8. How to do a strength movement assessment for football:

Effective: And with your experience with training, say, the next generation of top players, so, what would you do, so, if you get a new player, what is the kind of step by step process that you’d do with them to make a strength program. So, I kind of outlined a few steps and I’d like to hear your opinion. The first step, and you can just, again, ramble on how you’d like because it’s really insightful, actually. I said that step one would be assessing strength levels. Step two would be establishing specific goals for strength, so your short, medium and long-term goals. Step three, creating a training plan. Step four, and then step four, assessing and reevaluating every eight to twelve weeks. Now that’s just what, the information I could find online, but obviously I’m not a strength expert. Maybe in your home where it’s just described, like, if, let’s say me, let’s say I was sixteen, just joined the academy and I was a bit weak so it’s time to get me stronger, what would you do?

NH: A great question, yeah. I mean, the first thing I’d probably do is try and get as much information from you as a kid abut your training history. So exactly what you had done in terms of strength training, so that would give us a starting point in terms of where we might start with the program, or how you’d fit in to, kind of, working with the rest of our program. The first step would be what is your training history, what is your, you know, what is your background in strength training, so where are you likely t be at. And then the first thing I’d probably do is more of a, rather than a strength assessment, more of a movement assessment. So I’d look at some of the key movements we would train with load in it in a strength program, so, like, squat, like a hip hinge, like a deadlift kind of movement, a lunge. Just with bodyweight, just to see how you move, how you can control your body, and that would give me a good handle, and then how quickly we can make progression in terms of strength. Kind of a movement assessment, how do you move in these different patterns, that we’d then look to develop your strength with. From there it would just be getting your work in, getting your movement, maybe look at, as I said, how you move in bodyweight and then gradually progress the load so get a real gradual progression in load. But I think the key things for me with strength training for football with programs would be developed around not isolating specific muscle groups, but working gross movement patterns, so the squats, the lunge, these kind of movements really transfer to performance. We need to be strong in these kind of patterns, and so we’d look to then get you started on a program which would, again, just gradually increase your load and develop your work capacity. It would take a lot, it’s a long-term thing, so you’d take a good amount of time before we’re really loading you up and working on that sort of maximal strength element. It’s all about initially grooving good movement, getting a gradual increase of load in, developing capacity, and also recognizing that adaptations occur very differently at different stages in development in kids, so before puberty, before they go through that, sort of, peak high velocity, all the adaptations are gonna be neural, rather than structural, so you’re not really growing muscle, it’s all about neuromuscular development. So you’re improving the link between the brain and the muscle, you’re improving someone’s movement competency, and they will get stronger, they will be able to lift more, but that’s through more neuromuscular adaptations rather than, sort of, structural, where, so, after puberty when you get that sort of flash of testosterone, that’s the time where, again, if you’ve developed really good movement patterns pre-puberty and they’re used to lifting, they’re used to the work, then they’re at decent training age and you can really take advantage of those, sort of, those hormonal changes to really get players strong post-puberty.

9. What a strength training plan looks like for a professional:

Effective: And what does the training— You said that you kind of create a sort of training plan for them. What does the training plan consist of? What kind of— You kind of already touched upon the exercises, but how many reps and sets do they do, or how many days a week do they train their strength?

NH: Again, that’s very individual and it would depend very much on, sort of, the rest of the physical demands of the player. And I would always urge coaches to not neglect strength work, so whatever the other technical or tactical demands are, you need to try and, through the youth development phase you need to really make sure that they are getting enough time to develop their strength and condition because, like I said earlier, that’s the foundation that’s going to get you the physical qualities they need to then not get injured and to train consistently so they can get all the technical and tactical improvement they need because no one’s gonna get better technically and tactically if they’re set in the treatment room. So I would say certainly you need to prioritize at least once or twice a week getting in the weight room and doing some strength work. And even if that’s bodyweight stuff, depending again on their technical competency, on their biological age, et cetera, they need to be working on their strength conditioning, I would say a couple of times a week.

10. How to train for strength in the off-season:

Effective: And does that differ, obviously that differs during, say, preseason period, in season, offseason period?

NH: Yeah, although, again it depends on levels. At senior level now, a lot of players don’t really have an offseason, they’re kind of… Now if they’re in the international, they’re kind of working all the way through, so we try and take an approach where it’s all about gradual long-term development. So rather than sort of having one point of the year where you can really really develop strength when training loads alone. For example, in American sports they love a quite long offseason, so that’s the point where they can really take advantage of that and get athletes strong. But in football it’s kind of, for me, it’s more of a long term gradual progression you need to see because the off season is so short. There may be times for younger players where they would have a slightly longer offseason, so again that could be a time where training loads on the field are lower. You can develop strength a little more and you could maybe do more sessions in terms of gym work.

Effective: So you could progress from, say—- We can talk, say, American soccer specifically because I know there’s a lot of people who will search this information specifically from the US. So, obviously they have quite a long offseason. If you say you had four months off before the season started again, or something like that, what could you do? So obviously one of the things you said is that the training load increases. By how much would that increase? So you said one or two, maybe three sessions a week for a player in season. Offseason, how much should they be doing, do you think?

NH: Yeah, I mean certainly they could do more volume offseason because, obviously, as I say, their training demands on the field would be less. Again, I keep coming back to it, it’s where every individual is different, and this is where, you know, it’s hard to say. Every individual will be able to cope with a different amount of load, but for me, if you’ve got a form of offseason, that’s the time when you can really focus on getting as strong as possible and maybe working on other physical qualities related to strength, like speed and agility, and maybe that would take the focus as opposed to technical and tactical. So you might get three or four sessions a week in offseason as opposed to maybe two in season, for example. In terms of, you asked earlier about sets and reps. For me a key sort of guiding principle in that is when players are starting a program is when their training age is quite low in terms of strength work, the reps should be fairly high because you’re trying to groove those good movements, so every rep is kind of an opportunity to get better, to learn and to sort of try to ingrain a good movement pattern. And then obviously as they’re getting older, and you’re looking for more structural change and maybe they’re post-puberty and they’re going into more of a senior program, that’s when you probably develop more of the strength side of that, sort of, strength-velocity curve and you’d lift heavier, so it’d be fewer repetitions. But again, even with that, it’s very much, it’s very individually based. Some players would do more reps looking for a greater hypertrophy. Other players you might do fewer reps who you’re looking to build that sort of pure, absolute strength.

11. What a good rep range is:

Effective: How many reps are we talking about here? What’s low and what’s high?

NH: So, I’d say a rep range, if I was working on strength, so players, maybe senior players or professional development players, sixteens to eighteens, they’ve got decent training age, they’ve got good movement patterns, and they’re looking to get strong and powerful, I’d look at probably working to a rep range of two to eight. Usually at a senior level, probably two to six, keep the volume fairly low, and look at lifting at different speeds within that range as well. But when they’re younger players are kind of just starting a program, just start getting into strength training I’d look to, as I say, higher reps, so you might work eight to twelve. Because as I say, every rep’s an opportunity to get better at that movement pattern.

12. How to set goals for football strength:

Effective: We talked through step one, which is kind of assessing strength level, step two we kind of touched upon with goals. We could go back to that. You talked really in depth about creating a training plan. Can you just touch upon, if you don’t mind, just the kind of goals you should set. How should you set goals for strength?

NH: I think the first point on that really would be you’ve got to relate it to performance. We’re not chasing numbers in the weight room. I’ve never said to players “I want you to squat two times your body weight”, you know. I’ve always tried to relate to performance measures, so when I first work with a young player, and we’re talking about – he might be new to strength training – you know, it’s important for me to give him the story of why he should strength train? Why is that important? What is the rationale behind it? So I kind of always— If we come back to— If we define strength as the ability to produce force and to control force, from that starting point you then look at, ok, so if I can improve my ability to produce force, then I will improve my ability to accelerate. Now, as we’ve said, acceleration is key in the modern game. You’ll be able to accelerate over short distance, beat your opponent to the ball, or whatever it might be. Not gonna affect to acceleration and to other speed qualities, so the ability to control force would be related to deceleration, so the ability to stop quickly and effectively and efficiently, and then multidirectional speed, so the ability to start, stop and then accelerate again, so that multidirectional speed. So I kind of try and sell it on, in terms of those performance factors, and then in the vertical plane you’re looking at jumping skills, landing skills, so being strong, producing more force into the ground, you can jump higher, beat your opponent to the header maybe. You can control force on landings, you can prevent injuries in terms of, we know that a lot of ACL injuries, for example, occur when players land in poor knee position, so if we can get really strong and stable and improve the body’s ability to control force, that might help prevent that type of injury. So there’s all these things I try and look for in terms of relating what we’re doing in the gym to their physical performance on the field. So in terms of performance measures you could then say, you could assess the effectiveness of your program by looking at things like vertical jump, like acceleration speed, like agility, that sort of change of direction. And also strength can have an effect on, if you’re stronger, more efficient, you’re running economy will improve, so it will also improve your endurance levels. You’ll be more efficient in how you move your body around the field. And the other big sell to players, obviously, strength in contact, so working on strengthening what I call the trunk, what people call the core, also the midsection, so strength’s not only about the ability to produce movement, it’s also about the ability to prevent movement so if someone’s smashing into you from the side, if you’re strong in the trunk, then you can resist that movement, then you’ll have good strength in contact, so that’s important as well.

13. How a centre midfielder train for strength:

Effective: And these are all knock on effects from doing the training. So can you give me an example of, I was a sixteen year old just joining the academy, I wasn’t great at—I didn’t have good form yet, but I wasn’t bad either, I was average. Lets say I played as a center mid. I don’t know, I’m just using an example there. What’s a specific example of a strength training goal that you would set?

NH: Ok, so you might say, for that particular player, ok, for his performance, what does he need? Okay, so central midfield player, so probably a lot of duels, so he’d need to be in a congested area, so he’d need to be strong in the challenge, so part of his program would be to improve his core strength, or trunk strength. He would need to change direction a lot so a lot of short or sharp explosive actions, so again we look at developing acceleration, so through, and deceleration, so getting strong leg strength is gonna be obviously a crucial aspect to that. And also he’s probably, endurance, so running economy. And again, all these things really— I’m a big believer in you can keep it really simple and be effective in that, so it’s not rocket science. If you’re, if you can get your legs strong and your core strong, then it’s gonna have a knock on effect all of these performance measures, sort of.

14. How to assess the results of a soccer strength training program:

Effective: And are you kind of assessing—- How do you assess the result of the strength training? Is it purely through the performance of the output on the pitch, on the training ground? Or are you looking at number? Specifically, say— You did talk earlier about, that you wouldn’t focus on numbers, but is there some sort of assessment?

NH: Yeah, definitely, I think I wouldn’t really focus on numbers, but there is an element of, for example, so what we wanna do, football is about moving your body around the pitch and controlling your body and being able to resist and be strong in contact with anther body, so relative strength support, so we might look at relative strength so a percentage of body weight. But again, everyone’s very different. I would look at different things. Obviously within the program, we’re always trying to get that gradual increase in load with good movement. So there’s a kind of natural testing is training, training is testing. By recording the numbers the guys are lifting within the gym, you’ll see that actual progression, you’ll see—

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So as they’re going through their program, you would see their numbers increase as you get that gradual increase in load.

So we talked about that. I was saying that there is some good technology out there in terms of devices that measure bar speed, so it gives you a good power output when you’re lifting, so that’s another good measure I’ve used quite a lot, sort of with more senior players and professional development phase players who are looking to get those fine improvements in power, power output, so lifting quickly and explosively. So that’s one way we’d measure. And also, as I said, look at that knock on effect, how quick they can accelerate, so look at, you know, the effect a good strength training can have on five-meter sprint times, or ten-meter sprint times. Or even endurance levels, like, say, is it affecting their performance testing, yo-yo test, things like that. Yeah, I would not do a lot of one rep max or three rep max testing, it’s more, sort of, continuously monitoring those improvements in load and how that relates to their performance testing.

Effective: And what’s a good time period to reassess? Is it every few weeks or few months?

NH: Again, that would depend on the number of sessions you’re getting in in a week, stuff like that, but as a general sort of rule of thumb, every couple of months. So every, say, maybe sixteen sessions, something like that. There’s no hard and fast rule, but I’d say it’s good to revisit these measures regularly, like with anything, to make sure you’re, kind of, on the right track and you’re getting the improvements you’re after.

 

15/16. How to strength train for soccer without a gym & no equipment:

Effective: Alright. So if you don’t have access to a gym and you want to do these exercises in your, you know, at home, first of all, is it possible to do that? And second of all, do you need equipment? Do you need equipment to do so? How would you do it if you were training from home?

NH: Okay, so good question. Certainly as a young player who has just starting strength training, for me you don’t need much equipment at all. So a starting point would be to use bodyweight exercises, so, for example, upper body push press-up and getting really proficient in these. But again, it’s worth trying to find a good technical model so you’re learning the right technique and the right movement pattern. So I’d look at things like squats, single leg squats, lunges. Start with bodyweight, doing it really controlled, say maybe twelve reps on different exercises, and then as you feel like that’s getting real easy, or quite easy, then there’s different ways you can overload that. For example, buy a medicine ball or you get a pull-up bar, you do pull-ups, that’s a challenging exercise even for senior players. Or even, you know, I’m a big fan of those suspension trainers you can get now, so for relatively low cost you can get a suspension trainer, hang it on any tree in your garden and that would increase the difficulty of any exercise in terms of creating instability. So it’s, again, maintaining technique through instability. So things like single leg squats, lunges, all of those sort of movement patterns, work on grooving those with bodyweight and then you can maybe introduce some load, but in quite an inexpensive way by, you know, like I say, buying some kettle bells or medicine balls or something like that. You certainly don’t need, for me, you know, it’s about doing the basics right, it’s about keeping it simple, doing good movement patterns, working the body as a whole, so big movements that are gonna train all the different muscles. So I think that squats, if you did squats, pull-ups, press-ups, sort of, kind of, lift from the floor, like a deadlift type thing, then you don’t need much else, really. Because a lot of the other stuff that you need from a physical perspective you’re gonna get within your football training, so you think of a normal session, you’re playing small sort of games, et cetera, you’re accelerating all the time, you’re decelerating all the time, you’re changing direction, you’re developing your endurance. So kind of, I always argue with coaches, if you’re gonna spend time doing one thing off the field, do strength training. Because all the rest of the stuff you can, if you’re, imaginative the sessions you’d get, you can train that within football.

17. Whether you should or shouldn’t train when you’re sore:

NH: No, I wouldn’t really advocate it. It’s one of them where, again, it’s a difficult question to answer because that can be, if it’s really general muscle soreness, I wouldn’t train— I would always— If you’re really sore, you probably have to recover rather than train. It’s a simple answer. Now, movement can help recovery, so you might do some, if you’re sore from, say, doing some loaded squats, you might then do some bodyweight squats through a really good range. So again, you’re grooving the movement pattern. And you try to help that recovery, try to get blood flow to those muscle groups. But, no. As a general rule, if you’re sore, your body needs to recover. It’s telling you, you know, I need a little bit of time to adapt and recover.

Effective: That really answers that. That was good. Another question I want to ask, what if you’re sore? What do you do when you’re sore? And should you be training when you‘re sore? Or strength training when you’re sore?

NH: No, I wouldn’t really advocate it. It’s one of them where, again, it’s a difficult question to answer because that can be, if it’s really general muscle soreness, I wouldn’t train— I would always— If you’re really sore, you probably have to recover rather than train. It’s a simple answer. Now, movement can help recovery, so you might do some, if you’re sore from, say, doing some loaded squats, you might then do some bodyweight squats through a really good range. So again, you’re grooving the movement pattern. And you try to help that recovery, try to get blood flow to those muscle groups. But, no. As a general rule, if you’re sore, your body needs to recover. It’s telling you, you know, I need a little bit of time to adapt and recover.

Effective: Ok. And what if this is even just, you know, soreness from you’re three weeks into a strength program and you’re just feeling it from the squats that you did two days ago?

NH: That’s a good question, and obviously you will get more soreness when you first start, but I’m a big believer that if you progress things and they’re really, you know, progressive, a very one box at a time approach, you shouldn’t get massive soreness, you know? Because you should gradually expose the body to the training stimulus. Although, you know, you’re always gonna, you know, when you do some of these training exercises you’re gonna get some soreness, and that’s a good thing, that’s the body adapting. Again, if you’re really sore and it’s really general sort of muscle soreness and you feel like you can train, then, you know, you kind of have to know your own body, you have to learn your own body. But if it’s very acute muscle soreness, maybe if it’s in specific areas, then that’s the point when you might have to train a different body part, or focus on a different movement that’s not gonna give you that soreness because obviously the body adapts and gets stronger while you are recovering. So if you keep training in a very fatigued state, in a very sore state, then you’re not gonna get the gains that you need. So it’s quality over quantity I would argue.

18. How players log their workouts and take notes:

Effective: Next question, is logging— Do you get your players to log their workouts?

NH: So I’ve done it in very different ways. Sometimes I’ve worked with programs where players will come and they’ll have a kind of paper program, and they’ll log what loads they’ve lifted, and then we’ll sort of assess that over time. Other ways of doing it is obviously, like, you might have a white board, and it’s a bit more public way you can get players to log their loads in that. So there’s different ways of doing it, but yeah. In answer to your question, without a doubt you have to record what you’re lifting so you can, again, obviously, so you can continue to get that progressive overload. And when you’re good at a certain load, that’s the time to get that slight increment and keep pushing yourself to get stronger.

Effective: Speaking of logging, I just saw a video the other day of a tour through Leicester City’s, kind of, training ground, center, whatever, and they had a board in the, I think it was the strength – the gym room, and they had a kind of leaderboard of everybody’s, kind of, stats in terms of strength. Is that a way that…Do a lot of clubs do that? Professional clubs in England?

NH: Yeah, I think so, I mean that’s a— I’ve seen…. Well I think a lot of what they do there is they’ll put their leader board for, say, leg strength on squat or leg press, and then next to it there’ll be the board for acceleration, so they’re linking the strength exercise to the strength outcome, to the performance outcome. And they’d have, say, squat and vertical jump for example, so that would link the numbers they’re hitting in the gym to the numbers they’re hitting in their performance as well.

19. What it was like working with Gareth Southgate & Pochettino:

Effective: And do you ever see, say, you’ve worked with first teams before, so I think, did you work with the first team at Southampton?

NH: Yeah, well the first team at Saints from 2006 to 2013. And then Reading from 2013 to 2016.

Effective: Ok, and some of the coaches, the first team coaches that you worked with, did you work closely with them? Or did some coaches work more closely with strength team compared to others?

NH: Yeah, very varied. And I’ve had a lot of managers. Nature of English football. So, yeah, very varied. Some managers are a lot more, you know, inclusive, less support staff, and other managers kind of got a very set way of working, it’s very difficult to sort of, you know, affect that I suppose. Other managers you’ve kind of, as a physical performance coach, you’re given the responsibility of managing the training loads every day, on the field as well. So it’s kind of a massive variance, really, is the short answer to that.

Effective: Can you give any specific examples of coaches the public might know? Just in terms of the style of working.

NH: Yeah, I mean, like, probably like the one I worked with, or the two I worked with who I’d say, three— let me think. It’s a good one. I worked with Gareth Southgate who’s now a manager with Senior England team. We did the Toulon tournament last year in France with the England under twenty-ones. He’s an example of a manger who’s very inclusive of his team, he listens to everyone’s opinion, he’s very much, he’ll, he’s a very good man manager, not just of the players but also of the support staff around him. He’ll give people their head and know that different people have different expertise in different areas and it’s all those areas of expertise coming together that’s gonna make the most efficient sort of support staff. Nigel Adkins I worked for four years at Southampton, he was very similar in that respect. Other good ones would be Pochettino was excellent, Steve Clarke, so there’s probably four. Four mains who I’ve been fortunate to work with who are really sort of good managers to work for.

Out of those four, let’s say, which college would really see…. I guess you could say some strengths, some managers will view the whole strength component of the training as more of a lower priority or higher priority. Is there any that you worked with that really made it a higher priority, or even a low priority? In their way of working. Or is it just really important for all coaches, for all managers.

Yeah, I think out of the ones I’ve mentioned there, obviously with Southgate we worked in International field, so you really didn’t have much influence in terms of the strength programs of those players compared to what they would obviously do with their clubs because you only have them for a very short period of time, so the focus is more tactical, technical, recovery kind of stuff. The club managers I’ve worked for, the two that I would say probably put the most emphasis on that would be Pochettino and Adkins.

Effective: And would they kind of give you guidelines of what to do, or would you kind of have your own independence, or, how would that..?

NH: Yeah, I would say a fairly independent sort of program. I think the best managers recognize that they employ a strength coach, or a strength conditioning coach, to give them the best advice possible on physically preparing their players. And if they’re not going to take on board that advice, then there’s no point in having that person in place. Kind of as simple as that, really, I would say.

Effective: All right, well, ok. Very, very insightful.

NH: I think, for me, I’ve always seen it as my role to support the manager and the coaching staff, and helping them develop the training program in such a way that the players are gonna be as fit as possible and as fresh as possible to perform week in and week out. It’s as simple as that.

20. Which footballers got substantial results with strength training.

Effective: Speaking of—the manager part you said was really insightful. Speaking of the players, were there any that, say, made really substantial, significant improvements with strength training? Any that come to mind? Any remarkable stories that just pop to mind?

NH: I’d say probably at Southampton we had a really, when we had, when I was there we had, sort of back-to-back promotions into the Premier League. I think we had a good strength program, and I would say, like, all the guys benefitted form it, but names that spring to mind would be, probably, Jose Fonte, you know, who’s now just gone to West ham actually, someone who really, sort of, bought into getting stronger. Interestingly, actually, a lot of the lads you would probably have the perception that southern European players would, kind of, coming from a culture where there’s probably not traditionally as much strength training, would kind of shy away from that work, but I’ve always found when they come into England, there’s a perception for them “I need to be strong to play in this league” and they really kind of love it, even though they’re starting from quite a young training age, they just love, they just really enjoy the strength training. And they feel like they get massive benefits from it because they’re probably starting from a level where they just haven’t had much exposure in the past, so you can get quite big gains quite quickly.

Effective: So, just for an example, I’ve played over in Holland, I’ve played over in Switzerland, and I went to the UK once to play a trial match against forest green roses, which were, I think, the conference. I think they’re still in the conference, it was just a couple of years ago. And we were playing a mix of players from the first team, players who can play on the weekend, stuff like that, but I just remember, I was playing as a winger and the defenders were just big. Much, much bigger than you’d see over in Switzerland or Holland.

NH: Morgan Schneiderlin. We got him as a young player from France, obviously, and he’d had no exposure to strength training, and he came over and, and he’s very slight, kind of, at the time, he was apparently “league one. We’re in league one”, and, like, similar to what you say there, he’s like “wow, these players are beasts”. So he kind of bought into it and he had some really good gains in terms of developing his strength over those few years, sort of, when we got into the top level.

21. How long it takes to get results:

Effective: How long did it take him, for example, to really get a significant performance increase with his strength.

NH: I would say you start to see performance improvements after, say, four or five months. Depending on where they started from. Again, for Morgan it was more of a real long-term thing where over the course of a few years we’re in league one championship, he just. You know, we saw improvements quickly, but then he really bought into in and we sort of, he continued in through the premier league, and by the time he got into the prem, he was a real sort of strong, robust, powerful player who covered a lot of ground for us.

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Nick Humphries

Challenging the status quo everyday. Australian, but played for clubs in Hungary, The Netherlands & Switzerland. Spreading the vision that you can become whatever you put your mind to as founder of TrainEffective.com.

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