by Taylor-Kevin Isaacs, MS, FACSM on Jan 01, 2003

Score big with all client age groups by introducing them to the multitude of training benefits that the world’s most popular sport has to offer.

The sports world witnessed many upsets in 2002.

American basketball fans were stunned when the star-studded U.S. national team got licked by the likes of Spain and Yugoslavia to finish a gasping sixth in the World Championships. American soccer fans were equally unsettled, albeit pleasantly, when team USA reached the World Cup quarterfinals.

Landmark sports performances and events have a way of inspiring the masses and hatching dreams of athleticism in even the most sedentary couch and pub potatoes. When a sport gets hot, bubbles over and sears itself into the public consciousness, why not seize that opportunity to inject your training programs with some challenge, fun and interest related to it? The excitement generated during last year’s World Cup offered me this opportunity; most of my clients developed a new love for the sport.

Case Studies: Anyone Can Play

Soccer is the only sport that does not discriminate. You can play, whether you’re fat, thin, rich, poor, gay, straight, male, female, young, old, hearing- or vision-impaired, or mentally or physically challenged. You don’t need much equipment or space to train, and you can work solo or in a group. An assortment of populations can use a soccer-specific conditioning program to achieve a variety of action-oriented goals. Three diverse client groups with unique goals are represented in the following case studies.

Case Study #1

Client: Walker Shelven, 14, is a nationally ranked junior tennis player who is competing in the under-16 division and wants to improve his flexibility, footwork, speed, agility, acceleration and endurance to compete with the older, stronger, faster and more coordinated players.

Challenges: Walker is going through puberty. Because his bones are growing faster than his ligaments and tendons, the muscles around his shoulder, hip, knee and ankle joints have adapted to a shorter stature. Consequently, he has developed patella femoral joint compressive syndrome (pain in the front of both knees due to structural misalignment of the axial and appendicular skeleton).

Training Strategy: Walker trains for 1 hour, 3 times per week. Dynamic flexibility drills develop his stride length and leg turnover and reinforce proper running form. Interval training, specifically pattern running, increases his anaerobic capacity to enable him to increase the length of his work bout. Functional strength training helps Walker overpower and outperform his opponents, and plyometrics develop his speed and power. Strength training increases the stability of his shoulder, hip, knee and ankle joints: Restoring muscular balance within and between muscle groups is optimized, and the transference of force from the muscle to the joint improves his performance and significantly decreases his knee pain. Finally, passive static stretching successively improves his joint flexibility.

Soccer Training Outcomes: The regular, supervised stretching has improved Walker’s posture. His foot/hand/eye coordination enables him to hit the ball less on the run and more from a stable hitting position. Because his racquet point of contact with the ball allows him to move his shoulder joint through full range of motion (ROM), his shot selection has broadened to include topspin, slices and drop shots. Furthermore, his first step is more explosive, allowing him to accelerate forward, backward and laterally to reach with confidence drop shots, overheads and acutely angled balls on either his forehand side or his backhand side.

Case Study #2

Client: Elaine Van Ness, 40, is an office worker who wants to improve her flexibility, strength and endurance and decrease her total body weight.

Challenges: Until Elaine looks as though she “does not stand out as a deconditioned person among physically fit gym-goers,” she does not want to join a gym.

Training Strategy: Elaine trains for 1 hour, 4 times per week, alternating low-intensity days and high-intensity days. She progresses her performances and advances through her program by executing each movement with top form and moving from slow to fast, simple to complex, stable to unstable, low force to high force and general to specific. (Remember that perfect practice makes perfect permanent!) This type of training helps Elaine stay in shape and, by increasing her neuromuscular conditioning, makes her a better athlete.

Soccer Training Outcomes: Elaine has improved her self-efficacy and increased her strength, endurance and flexibility. After 5 weeks of training, she has also decreased her total body weight by 10 pounds.

Case Study #3

Client: Edward Lloyd, 74, is a retired senior who wants to improve his balance, flexibility, strength, endurance, quickness, power and neuromuscular coordination and increase his fat-free mass.

Challenges: Three years ago, Edward had a mild stroke that impaired his balance and shortened his stride length during ambulation. Because he now has to look at the ground when walking, he has developed secondary postural deviations (forward head, forward shoulders).

Training Strategy: Edward trains for 1 hour, twice per week. A 12-to-15-minute warm-up allows him to concentrate on proper walking mechanics and prepare his body for the optimal state of readiness. Dynamic flexibility exercises shift his center of gravity over his support base, especially when he raises his knees to his hips and raises his arms over his head. The speed ladder, step hurdles and lateral resistor strengthen his lower extremity musculature specific to walking. Plyometrics, especially medicine ball exercises, strengthen his core musculature to enhance his trunk control and improve his balance. Strength training develops a stable strength base. Passive static stretching improves his joint ROM. This training strategy is designed to improve Edward’s structural joint integrity, flexibility, strength and power to improve his activities of daily living overall.

Soccer Training Outcomes: Because the program has forced Edward’s proprioceptive neuromuscular mechanisms to work harder than normal, his sensory feedback and proprioceptive input have improved. In addition, the ground-based exercises have improved his somatosensory system tremendously. Edward now stands ramrod-straight; walks with lightness in his step; and feels more stable when turning to each side, walking sideways or walking backward. He is better able to initiate movement, especially standing up from a seated position. If startled while walking, he can now stop without fear of falling; he controls his environment instead of being controlled by his environment. His improved endurance manifests itself in his increased time and distance to fatigue. Because of his improved physical conditioning, Edward’s technical skills for ambulation and balance have also seen dramatic improvement.

The Body’s Response to a Soccer Match

Soccer is played on a field 120 yards long and 75 yards wide. A soccer match lasts 90 minutes, divided into two 45-minute halves with a 10-minute halftime period. (This does not include the 20-minute golden goal overtime, which occurs in the event of a draw at the end of regulation time.) During a match, players commonly cover total distances of 2,000 to 9,000 yards at speeds of 6 to 8.6 yards per second while turning quickly, dodging, twisting, weaving, jumping, leaping and accelerating from stationary or near-stationary positions.

In the course of a match—both to engage in multiple high-intensity sprints and to run for long periods at a low intensity—soccer players rely on two major energy systems that function in muscle tissue: anaerobic and aerobic metabolism. Each system generates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which can metabolize rapidly to meet energy needs during intense short-term exercise.

After a few seconds of intense exercise, the body uses up its small stores of ATP and turns to glycogen, which can be metabolized within muscle cells to generate ATP for the contraction of the working skeletal muscle, as an energy source. Because both ATP and muscle glycogen can be metabolized without oxygen, this energy system is called anaerobic metabolism. As exercise continues, the body has to rely on the metabolism of carbohydrates (glucose), protein and fat to generate ATP. Because this second energy system requires oxygen, it is called aerobic metabolism.

The intensity and duration of activity determine the degree to which the two energy systems are involved. Short bursts of muscle contraction, such as those occurring in intense sprinting, predominantly use the anaerobic system. Endurance events, such as slow, continuous distance running, depend mainly on the aerobic system. Soccer involves a 1-to-3 ratio of intense running to walking/jogging. Therefore, improving both your client’s anaerobic energy system and his aerobic energy system is important to his success.

Of the many approaches to enhancing both energy systems, interval training is considered one of the most effective to meet the specific demands of soccer. Interval training subjects the body to repeated fast-paced but brief exercise bouts interspersed with short rest intervals. During interval training, working heart rate should reach 85 to 100 percent of maximal heart rate. The duration of the rest interval should be based on the client’s conditioning: As anaerobic capacity improves, the length of the work bout can be increased and the length of the rest interval can be decreased. Interval training procedures can be adapted by manipulating the intensity and duration of work bouts, the number of repetitions in each workout, the duration of the rest interval between work bouts, the type of activity performed during rest intervals and the weekly training frequency.

Analyzing the Push Pass

Quality passing is crucial to successful upfield advancement of the ball. To maintain possession, players use the push pass, a kicking technique that employs the medial aspect of the foot as a striking surface to play the ball over a short distance (less than 30 yards), more than any other ball manipulation skill. The following anatomical and kinesiological analysis of the push pass illustrates the musculature involved for a right-footed player. You can use this analysis to learn the importance of matching the training to the target activity to develop the best carryover to your client’s performance.

The Sum of the Parts

My training philosophy for all populations (physically disabled, diseased, injured, apparently healthy and athletic) has one paramount goal: developing athleticism. Although I am interested in the absolute strength gains of my clients as they progresses through their programs, power qualities and athletic movements are my priorities. The development of functional strength is so important to me that my testing procedures reflect my emphasis on physiological milestones and psychosocial issues obtained as a direct result of training.

I look forward to the moment when my clients tell me how the athletic movements performed in training have been useful in their activities of daily living. I recently received from one of my clients a card that simply stated, “The soccer starts here—to life.”


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About the Author

Taylor-Kevin Isaacs, MS, FACSM

Taylor-Kevin Isaacs, MS, FACSM IDEA Author/Presenter

Taylor-Kevin Isaacs M.S., CPT, CSCS, MELT, is a highly credentialed, award winning Kinesiologist/Exercise Physiologist and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. This former professor of Kinesi...