Soccer is, with no doubt, the most popular game in the World. The “downside” of this attractive game is that you need to be extremely good prepared to avoid injuries (like in any other sport, especially contact sport). If it’s the only one recreational physical activity (a common example is 1-3 times per week), an injurie risk increases because the ball is the LURE (small weekly frequency along with improper warm up = higher injury risk). People don’t like to warm up because they are mostly lazy for “boring” things, they don’t understand the importance of proper warm up.
There is a bunch of reasons why one pulled groins, muscle shortness is JUST ONE of them. There is also groins weakness, groins overuse, groins stiffness/tightness, abs/core weakness, decreased neuromuscular control, late muscular firing… That problems occur to pro players also. I need to mention here one interesting thing: “Groin muscles can be tricky. There are multiple reasons for tight groins, but one can be your chronically weak gluteus medius. This causes something called altered reciprocal inhibition or ARI. When one muscle is too weak, the antagonist (the muscle that does the opposite action) becomes too tight. So, for the groin, the adductors are the antagonists of the gluteus medii. If the glute medius is weak, the adductors tighten up. If the gluteus medii is tight, the adductors become weak.” – Tessa Gurley. It’s really important to know that stretching the groins will not help very often (an issue could become even worse).
There is a few specific movements in soccer totally inappropriate for groins health if improperly prepared:
- Reaching ball on side or forward;
- Shooting (especially with high leg-hip ROM);
- Splits after feints or slipping;
- Slide tackle…
Don’t get me wrong, if you are properly prepared small chance you will suffer is because groins pull is mainly a noncontact injury.
There is something common for all movements counted – groins stretching in various directions. Everyone understand the mechanism of stretching with side leg reaching because we know that groins attach at pubic pelvis area. But you can stretch them with reaching ball forward also (splited legs like on the first pic above). Here is why, rear leg is trying to keep anterior pelvic tilt (m. iliopsoas is stretched out) and this is the reason why the pubic is staying a bit back while reaching forward with another leg. It means that groins are elongated.
If you have enough strong and flexible groins, as well as strong core muscles, probably nothing will happen. But here is where coaches are missing the logic. If abdominal muscles (deep and pelvic floor muscles also) are weak, groins will try to take over a role of pelvic stabilization and then that’s the risk for overuse injury (tearing or inflammation). Hip mobility is decreasing because of stiff groins (pelvic stabilization is not the groins first role)… They become stiff (the well-known feeling of stiffness) not because they are short, but because of pelvic stabilization needs (don’t stretch it, trigger points are with reason in the muscles). Therefore, smart strategy would be CORE strengthening FIRST, along with GROINS strengthening and working on HIPS mobility (foam rolling and dynamic flexibility at the beginning of the session; a proper exercise technique and range of motion of various types of lunges, rotational squats, squats, deadlifts, split squats, hip adductions, cossack squat…; and slight static stretching or foam roller at the end of session). And, of course, “X band side walk” for m. gluteus medius strengthening (one good example).
“Learn to stabilize your body and joints then watch your mobility and quality of movement drastically improve.” – Dr. Joel Seedman
Ok, I am going to list now some usefull exercises for groins tearing prevention/reduction. You can start with dynamic flex. exercises (warming up): Split stance adductor mob., Frog variations, Half-kneeling add. dyn. flex… Groins strengthening along with dynamic stretching – ecc-conc. m. contraction (the most functional way of strengthening): Lateral squat, Lateral lunge, Rotational squat, Cossack squat, Cossack lunge, Sumo squat – a bit better than sumo deadlift, Band resisted lateral lunge… Isometric strengthening (or almost ISO): RNT split squat, Feet elevated side plank – top leg only, Feet elevated side lying adduction… Concentric m. contr. strengthening: Band resisted cross steps, Side lying hip add, Standing band resisted hip add… Abdominal strengthening: Any core stability exercise is good, plus especially reverse crunch and hanging leg raise variations… At the end of sessions, you can also do some static streching if you prefer for any reason, but I would avoid it. You can “kill 2 birds with 1 stone” with “squizzing swiss ball/med. ball crunches/reverse crunches” (groins ISO + abs dynamic strengthening)…
You need to find a fine line between groins strengthening and static stretching if you prefer that (because strong and exhaustible static stretching can decrease muscle power with small effect on increasing ROM of hip abduction).
Decreasing power is not good because m. adductor magnus is a hip extensor also beside hip adduction. And they need to be explosive also (beside other important muscles) in common soccer movements like shuffling, cross leg acceleration, changing directions… That’s why I don’t like excessive static stretching and prefer soft tissue work, dynamic flexibility and proper ROM (very often full ROM for warming up exercises, this along with proper groins activation by compound and isolated movements can prevent injury caused by poor neuromuscular control and late muscle firing).
The next thing I would like to say is highly correlated with the paragraph above (the one before “You need to find a fine line…”). If the pelvis is stuck in anterior tilt, the hip will be limited in internal rotation as well in flexion. If you add core stability exercises (the ability to hold the pelvis in posterior tilt in this case) you can quickly make the change to hip ROM. That’s so important, powerful and helpful! HIP MOBILITY, we know how important it is in soccer.
Even high-knees sprinting (a proper technique) is risky by itself for pulling groins because groins are stretched when one knee is up and another down and if groins are weak or too shortened and stiff – problem occurs. An injury is not often in this case – can occur with people with abnormally stiff and/or weak hips for example. From stretched position (when knee is up) m. adductor magnus (along with other back thigh muscles) needs to stop movement and explosively push the leg down. Such a big effort for unprepared muscles/tendons (explosive transfer from eccentric to concentric muscle contraction makes sense only if movers-muscles are strong and flexible enough)… heavy compound lifts – max strength training can even strengthen tendons so you can conclude now why it’s so important in soccer among the other huge benefits. If glutes are not strong the risk is much higher – strong glutes and hams can save groins in this case. The same stretch-shortening injury mechanism may explain some groins injuries after explosive forward or on side leg reaching and quick leg stop or moving back – even worse with weak and(or) inflexible groins for sure.
During the first acceleration phase (while accelerating), try to fully extend hips and shortly squeeze pushing-leg-side butt each time. On that way you are making a fuller contraction and “pushing hips forward” (which should move your muscle force and movement speed up a bit), and making posterior pelvic tilt a bit (which should reduce m. adductor magnus straining a bit). All of this is just an assumption, so you can try.
Plus, if you got weak or improper motor control (late firing for example) of glutes and hams – groins can take over more about hip extension and that can be a cause of overuse injury after a while. Lower back muscle could also take over hip extension a bit. That means glutes and hams are the most important hip drivers (especially glutes because they are prime and the strongest hip extensor) and they need to be strong. If glutes have a weak or late activation, hams could get injured also because of the same reason (taking over the primer role of hip extension). Because of the same last reason, one can “earn” a low back injury also.
I know that hamstring strain is not a topic but everything is correlated. If you want to understand the simplified complex mechanisms take a look at the awesome research below and everything will be more clear.
Remember, weak and uncontrolled core muscles (which produce undesired APT) is the strong reason why soccer players pull groins. Very often, the secret lays somewhere close or a bit further away of pulled muscle – muscle by itself is not a problem always.
Thanks for reading and all the best,