The U.S. men’s national team didn’t qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but there are plenty of other reasons to tune in to the action in Russia, like witnessing underdog wins (like Korea’s two-zero win over Germany) and learning about fan culture around the world (like Nigeria’s lucky chickens).
The tournament may even inspire you to improve your own skills, or at least train like a soccer player, which will make you more agile and powerful no matter what your regular workout routine entails. To get you started, Furthermore talked with four former competitive and pro soccer players (all current Equinox trainers) about their favorite workouts. Here are the strength and conditioning drills that helped them step up their games.
Since players have to be ready to change speed or direction at any moment, the game is played largely on the balls of the feet. If your heels touch the ground, you’re one step behind, says Dae Green, a Tier X coach at Equinox Sports Club San Francisco, who used to compete professionally in Brazil. Jumping rope is a great way to develop quick feet and learn how to time your jump for a head ball, she adds.
How to do it: Start with basic jumps for 2 minutes. Then do alternating skiier jumps on each side, 10 to the left and 10 to the right, followed by 10 single-leg hops (do all on one side, then switch sides and repeat). That’s one set. Do 4 sets with 60 seconds of rest in between. If you want to practice your skills in a class environment, take The Cut: Jump Rope at Equinox.
This loaded exercise strengthens the lower body (which adds power to your kicks), makes the hips more flexible, and improves endurance, says Steven Hutchison, a Tier 1 trainer at Equinox East 85th Street in New York City who played for Ayr United Football Club in Scotland.
How to do it: Stand with spine tall, feet shoulder-width apart, and grip a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest. Sit back and down as if you’re lowering onto a chair until your thighs are parallel to the floor, with knees and toes pointing forward. Press your weight back into your heels and mid-foot, then push heels into the ground to return to start. That’s one rep. Do 4 sets of 6 reps with a heavy load to improve strength, or 4 sets of 15 to 20 reps with a lighter load if you’re focused on endurance.
In soccer, players are more likely to be running in a zig-zag fashion than in straight lines. Their ability to change direction and burst forward at a clip is crucial to their game, says Green.
How to do it: Set two cones five to 10 yards apart. Start at the first cone and dribble a soccer ball to the second one, fitting in eight to 10 quick touches. Complete one fake or cut to change direction (180 degrees), then dribble back to the first cone. Repeat for 60 to 90 seconds. Or dribble the ball around each cone in figure eights, maintaining a low center of gravity with each turn, completing 3 complete figure eights in each direction for one set. Do 3 sets. This variation will help you make quick sharp cuts to dodge opponents on the field, Hutchison says.
Soccer players need core control and trunk strength, says Shannon Fay, a Tier 2 trainer at Equinox East 54th Street in New York City who played Division I college soccer at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Your arms help you sprint and put more force behind throw-ins and shots on goal. Front plank rows prepare your body to move in all the various directions demanded of you during games, she adds.
How to do it: Come into a forearm plank, with hips parallel to the floor, elbows directly below your shoulders. Grip a cable with 10 to 20 pounds in one hand with palm facing toward the body, then pull your elbow toward you and slowly release. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps on one side, then switch and repeat for one set. Do 3 to 4 sets.
These jumps make you faster and more powerful. But perhaps more importantly, they teach you proper landing techniques that keep the ankles, knees, and hamstrings strong and mobile, Green says.
How to do it: Start on the left leg with the knee bent. Bound to the right, exhaling on the jump and landing on the right leg with bent knees to help you balance. That’s one rep. Do 5 to 8 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
“This move makes you load your legs and core while maintaining control on the landing,” Fay says. “It’s important for preventing injuries from change of speed and direction that occurs during games.”
How to do it: Place a resistance band around your thighs and stand to the right of a box just below knee-height. (Progress to a taller box once you master the move at this height.) Bring the left leg behind your body and use the momentum to jump off the right leg, landing softly with your left foot on the box. Balance for 3 seconds, the step down and return to start. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps on one side, then switch and repeat for one set. Complete 3 to 4 sets.
Increased leg strength and postural control help players go from jogging to sprinting toward the goal once they, or a teammate, secure the ball, says Fay.
How to do it: Hold the kettlebell upside down at its base, keeping back straight and leaning slightly forward to replicate the body’s alignment during a sprint. Lunge backward with one leg. Focus on keeping the core engaged and make sure the front knee stays above the front ankle. Push off the back leg to return to start. Switch sides and repeat for one rep. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.
Agility ladder drills improve speed, balance, and footwork, especially when you do them with a partner, says Momodou Sawaneh, a Tier 1 trainer at Equinox Bryant Park in New York City who played Division II soccer at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.
How to do it: Stand with your right side next to one end of the agility ladder. Quickly step right foot, then left foot, into the square to the right. Repeat, moving at a quick pace to the right, one square at a time. When you reach the other end of the ladder, have your partner throw you the ball with some force. Catch it, then throw it back to them. Repeat the shuffle, this time moving to the left and leading with left foot, back to start. That's one rep. Do 10 reps.
Photo: James Acomb/thelicensingproject.com