Why you need to be thin for soccer? (And some random thoughts)

Howdy,

Soccer is the most popular sport almost anywhere on the Planet. Popularity is fast raising even in the USA. In my opinion, during the last 15 years has been becoming even more popular because of the one fact – S&C professionals noticed how much a proper strength is important for faster soccer. Faster soccer = higher popularity (like in almost any other sport).

Strength is not an only reason for sure (better facility technologies, better equipment, better movement economy, better endurance, better technique-tactics…) but plays a big role.

Hmmm, better endurance and movement economy? I have to say that strength plays a huge role in that. Proper strength = proper movement economy = more energy = better endurance. Proper strength exercise technique = better movement economy on the field; or, proper/better endurance = less fatigue = better technique-tactics-decision making and movement economy consequently. As you can see, everything is in correlation here!

Why should you consider being thin if you are a soccer player is because soccer is sport where you need starting and acceleration as fast as possible. Only a thin players with a proper amount of muscles can do it properly (the rate of reaction is innate of course, but an anticipation with experience also plays a big role here). Soccer players need to be very light because the physics says that you can start to accelerate a really fast only on that way (starting and acceleration phase). You can be light enough with body fat percentage below 12% (8-11% is an ideal for soccer players – any position) and with no excessively amount of muscles. Look at sprinters in the other side. They are a very muscular because they need it for speed. Physics says (inertia rule) that speed will maintain on better way when weights is higher. Muscles are weightier than body fat, that’s why sprinters look like an animals and have a huge advance in full sprint comparing with a thin guy.

Majority of sprinters look like bodybuilders 🙂

In short, you need to be thin for better acceleration and more muscular for full speed with the other hand. Because the full speed is really rare in soccer, you don’t need excessive muscles on your arms and legs. Yeah, “arms drives legs” – that’s the reason why sprinters have a lot of muscles at arms (besides their weight in general needs to be higher). But that’s another topic. At the end, everything depends on the strength training type. If you train for hypertrophy by the most usefull methods you will be slower during acceleration; if you train for strength endurance (around 15 reps) at the beginning and for max strength (2-5/6 reps, which is highly recommended in soccer) later during preparatory period (and plyo training, of course) you will be faster during acceleration. Even if you gain some hypertrophy after that (not too much for sure), that’s the “functional soccer hypertrophy”. Not to mention you will be much more confident, explosive, injury resistant and so forth.

You have probably heard for “blood flow restriction training” – the recent trend in fitness industry. You can get the same physiological effect on muscle hypertrophy with around 20% of max load like with around 80% of max load. So it’s good for hypertrophy after surgery – when it comes to rehab. training (after muscle atrophy in any case). Of course, I don’t recommend it during normal training protocols when it comes to athletes (for example, in soccer, hypertrophy is not the primary goal). Otherwise, it’s very good when it comes to general population – same effects with less effort (but after consultation with physician).

Soccer players need to be thin (light) also because the soccer ball is light – they also don’t move external load (except their own body weights of course). Lower the body weight (with optimally developed muscles of course) = faster body moving during acceleration phase and all parts of agility. On the other side, powerlifters need to be big by all means (not only big muscles, because of better stabilization) because they lift “crazy” external loads during COMPETITIONS!

There are another small trick. Sport science would not be interesting without tricks everywhere 🙂 . However, you need a little bigger muscles on legs because with a fast acceleration and deceleration both you need a huge strength. A good strength is important for good speed legato. Plyometric training also plays a role. Beside acceleration and deceleration, the most important things are quick starting (first step) and stopping (last step) also! For quick starting (after the rate of reaction) and quick stopping you need a huge rate of force development (RFD). More muscles – better force (read maximum strength) – better starting and stopping. When I say more muscles, I mean no more than optimal for soccer (everything should be optimal in general). When it comes to starting acceleration, tendons elasticity in first step is very important besides strength/max strength because muscle pre activation makes muscles even stiffer than tendons in elite athletes – which means that tendons elasticity plays a big role. Ground contact time decreases from 0.2 seconds during acceleration to 0.1 seconds at top speed – that’s why important is to have an acceleration ground contact time as fast as possible. Training at following periodization row would be of great help when it comes to injury prevention/reduction and improving performance: strength endurance – a bit hypertrophy (during strength endurance shows up a bit also) – max strength (up to 5 reps, a bit of hypertrophy can occur here also – when it comes to 5 reps) – power/speed strength/plyometric/SAQ.

RFD is something important you need just in one small part of one second (for quick start and quick stop after fast running mostly). It’s also important for an acceleration, but less. You need a muscle mass for that FORCE (max strength) because those situations are so often in soccer. You need force (max strength) for starting/stopping and strength/power for good acceleration/deceleration and speed later (to develop speed, build power; to develop power, build strength and max strength – high RFD consequently, P=FxV). Simply, everything is in correlation!

When I say strength, I mean mostly on neural strength (more than 80% of 1 rep max) because this type of strength is good for RFD development (if executed with “high speed” – effort). This is the base for soccer (also for injury prevention/reduction, after basic bodyweight and lighter weights exercising). Don’t worry, you will gain enough (necessary) hypertrophy through the short strength-endurance training phase at the beginning of the preparatory period and through the neural strength training after that (80 – 90-95% of 1 rep max). There is not necessary to have one special phase for that during preparatory period. “During hypertrophy, muscle fiber type shifts from a faster (less oxidative) to a slower (more oxidative) proportion (yes, you did read that correctly). It is very common to find strength coaches chasing hypertrophy with their athletes, because they think it will help. Focusing on hypertrophy often doesn’t improve high-velocity strength as much as we might hope, since fast-twitch fibers are many times faster than slow-twitch fibers. My view is that we should therefore use training methods that add muscle mass more slowly (such as power training or low volumes of heavy loads) in order to preserve fast fiber types as much as possible. This view is not popular among coaches who are wedded to the idea that more muscle is always better. There is good evidence that heavy strength training can help improve endurance running and endurance cycling by improving running/cycling economy, which is a measure of how efficient the athlete is. In other words, it improves how fast they can go for a given metabolic output.”Chris Beardsley

Remember, almost everything important in soccer is the product of the proper strength! Last but not least, don’t forget a feet stiffness and good plyometric training base (also the products of the proper strength/max strength).

Some researchers have shown that concentric training causes greater increases in explosive strength (RFD) – jump squats for example. That’s fine, but we rarely start the movement without using the “energy of elastic deformation” (ecc-conc).

A common thread in most injured athletes??? They aren’t very strong. Their bodies are not able to handle the loads that they are having to withstand in sports.

Strength makes an athlete more resilient. They are able to handle higher loads and speeds.

Sports activities (sprinting, jumping, cutting, etc.) use a percentage of an athletes absolute strength. Submaximal is another term to describe the nature of sport activities.

One study showed an injury rate of 6.2 per 100 participation hours, one of the highest rates of injury across all sports. Guess who often neglects strength and loves skill work? …please share this to all high school soccer coaches.

Strength is the basis of all athletic qualities.

Want to be a better athlete? Get STRONGER!

Want to get faster? Get STRONGER!

Want to throw harder? Get STRONGER!

Want to jump higher? Get STRONGER!

Want an “injury free” body? Get STRONGER!

You can read the full article here – High School Athletes Need More Strength and Less Skill!

“The basics are still the single most important part of any program. If you don’t have the “big rocks” in place – your squats, your rows etc, the rest is just details.” – Alwyn Cosgrove

Slight muscle hypertrophy is needed for duels with opponents, especially when it comes to arms, shoulders, pecs and upper back (with majority of soccer players just legs are strong). Compare soccer with football. Football players need more hypertrophy at legs and arms because they have to possess SAQ abilities under heavy equipment, and because of hard contacts with opponents (arms and legs both included). That’s a true combat compared to soccer.

Also, a proper core strength (everything from the mid-thigh to the neck) is something essential. How can you expect strong limbs without strong core, or proper SAQ (speed-agility-quickness) ability if the basis-core isn’t strong enough? If core isn’t strong, it certainly won’t effectively transfer force from your lower body nor can be the solid support for fast and strong limbs moving (let’s make a good metaphor – how can you jump high from inconsistent ground? Or, deflated ball can’t bounce up a lot from the solid ground!).

I know that core is not a topic, but I need to say something important for better understanding the core function. Core needs to stabilize pelvis with abdominal and back muscles mostly, when it comes to fast legs moving – sprinting for example. Because all the hip drivers (the most important muscles for sprinting: hams, m. gluteus maximus, m. adductor magnus, hip flexors…) are attached (partly) somewhere on the pelvis and pelvis needs to be consistent/stiff/stable support. Of course, both strength and proper hip stabilizers firing (6 small external hip rotators mainly) are very important also because in opposite the prime movers would give a part of their strength in order to stabilize hips – which means losing a full prime mover’s potential as far as losing a good hip mobility. A good core strength can relieve stiff hips also because in opposite some hip muscles are trying to stabilize the area around lumbar spine (which naturally should stay stable) which makes them stiff along with hips consequently. As you see, everything is in correlation and acts like a chain! Proper strengthening of hip drivers, around lumbar spine muscles and hip stabilizers (along with a proper hips ROM) is a crucial base for powerful legs.

“In order to move efficiently, youth athletes should be participating in coordination training that targets all four human movement sub systems. Rarely, do muscles work in isolation, so it’s important kids train their bodies in a way that hones muscle synergy and connection. As an example, when striking a powerful shot, the hip extensors and hip flexors of the shooting leg are working together with the core in order to transfer power from upper to lower extremity. The ankle and hip stabilizers of the planted foot are there to maintain balance and pristine biomechanics throughout the shot.” Erica Suter

“During a soccer strike the core must be stable in order to keep the torso from falling forward. Here, the obliques also play a role by ensuring there’s no lateral shifting of the torso. This all allows the hip flexors, hip extensors, and leg muscles to do their job: produce as much power as possible on the ball strike. The plant foot is also able to stay balanced through the hip and core stabilizers, and this could reduce chance of knee and ankle instability.” – Erica Suter

If you want to know what I mean by proper core strengthening (particularly the area around lumbar spine) you can read my previous blog post HERE.

One more thing, it’s perfect if you have much thicker upper parts of thighs and very thin lower legs (genetics plays a role here) because it’s definitely make sense that your legs will be a little faster. According to the first, can you imagine reverse situation – almost thicker calves than thighs?! Horrible… Compare that on pendulum – which one will be faster? The PURE PHYSICS, isn’t it? Momentum is something very important here and in sport in general, and is related to injuries sometimes because you need more muscle force/strength for stopping and starting limbs QUICKLY and FREQUENTLY (constantly) during fast running in this case (something not comfortable for potentially unprepared hip flexors and extensors for sure). Plus if soccer player possess lower center of gravity of the body (shorter legs = more stable), he/she can be “faster” for the SAME reason – legs movement frequency can be higher which is good for acceleration. We know how Messi do this (he has pretty lower center of gravity of the body). Shorter legs will move faster around hips, right? As I said, the pure physics. You can lose stride length with shorter legs for sure, but stride frequency is more important when you dribble the ball with acceleration.

 Lionel Messi

If you have a very thin lower legs (calves also) that’s mostly mean that you possess very POWERFULL tendons – which is of crucial importance when it comes to soccer (and any sport where you need a power ability in general). That means also that you possess a very apparent Achilles tendons also (also one of the signs of good power). If you have both things, probably you possess high percent of fast twitch fibers (suitable genetics for “speed-power” sports, like soccer for example).

Apparent Achilles tendons

Yeah, you need a muscle mass but the golden middle is something every time wins. That’s mean you can’t be too much thin or with too much muscles. If you are too much thin, you are probably more injury prone (strength training is a preventive training also – a huge role of S&C coaches). If you are with too much muscles, you are getting little slower (with speed up) because of viscous muscle’s component, stiffness (especially with no flexibility training – an optimal flexibility is one of the most important muscle strength preconditions) and robustness.

Thin players are more agile (which is the most important ability in soccer), the inertia force could make a problem in opposite. Thin players can lose enough strength for duels but with good an actor skills they can get a free kick – or a yellow card 🙂 . Thin players can be more durable within agility, multiple starting, stopping actions because they don’t lose additional energy on inertia (it’s important for 90 mins game). Yeah but if someone got more muscles = more energy stores you would say. Yeah but what if that stores aren’t properly replenished? More injury prone athlete consequently because of fatigue + high ecc. load. We know that most athletes suffer because of proper food intake ignorance and improper recovery (they don’t know what and when to eat/drink and how to recover), they are not aware of that very often. They are not aware of the fact that it’s their hidden problem maybe…

Last but not least, everything is individual again! Sport science is too complex, you can’t claim that some pro soccer player needs anything more or less so easy – maybe his/her body works almost best on the present way (never say best). There is a lot examples of very fast (any speed component) players with the BIIIG leg muscles (Hulk, Branislav Ivanovic…). Look at Angel Di Maria above, he is a REAL PRO (not Real Madrid C.F. anymore 🙂 ) soccer player who is too much thin on upper body – maybe he would be better in duels in the opposite but his beautiful skills don’t need duels 🙂 . His quick acceleration mixed with technical skills and anticipation are well known.

Other important things play role (fast twitch fibers percentage, a proper flexibility, smart “game and/or opponent reading” – ANTICIPATION…). Otherwise, take a look at Di Maria’s eyes from the blog’s cover photo – looks like someone in deep focus/concentration? Definitely!

Lee Taft always comes like a cherry on the cake: “Speed (linear, lateral) is a result of the environment around the athlete at any given moment. Influence on the sagittal, frontal or transverse plane are a result of perception by the athlete, in other words, what just happened and how do I react to it. In early stages of speed development by young athletes they have not developed a warehouse of past moments of reactive speed (they have not seen a “move” or action enough times to have high levels of PREDICTABILITY). Over time, young athletes become older more experienced athletes and their perception of what is about to occur (predictability) gets stronger. And their reaction to it becomes more fluid”. – Lee Taft

Thanks for reading and all the best,

Luka

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