Jan 29, 2015
Soccer Preseason to In-Season

richjacobs-head.jpgBy Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS

With only three weeks of organized preseason strength training, time is of the essence for the Xavier University men’s soccer team. That’s why Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Rich Jacobs’s training plan includes orderly progressions that build to the first competition while accounting for the inevitable soreness that accompanies preseason workouts.

Division I soccer is a competitive and physical sport. Ideally, preparation for a long, rigorous season begins early in the summer. However, most of us don’t see the soccer team until about three weeks before the first game. Having only three weeks poses a challenge in helping athletes attain significant strength to prepare for battle and requires training priorities to provide the best opportunities to gain strength and confidence.

For Xavier’s men’s soccer program, our priorities are increasing field strength, re-introducing the body to lifting, and preventing injury. During preseason, the team will be engaged in strength and conditioning two days per week. The week consists of one day of lifting and one day of speed, agility and quickness combined with flexibility.

The lifting program focuses on the major muscle groups used in soccer: hips, hamstrings, and core. This is a preseason program, so the exercises performed are specific to the movements executed on the field–for example, doing a dumbbell diagonal lunge super set with a side-to-side quick feet reaction drill. The purpose is to strengthen the groin and hip in a multi-planar motion. Super setting with a reaction drill helps increase foot contact explosiveness and prepare the ankles for more physical play. The team also engages in squat jumps, where the focus is on vertical velocity, extending the hips, and then landing softly and under control.

Goalkeepers have a different program than the rest of the team. Unlike position players, goalkeepers perform a squat and press movement and a single leg rotational jump. They also focus more on shoulder prehab, because they use their upper bodies much more than field players.

During the first week of lifting, any new workout will result in soreness, and on-field success may be difficult because athletes do not feel fully functional. Early in preseason training is a good time to work through this soreness so the focus can shift to improving performance.

Working through the inevitable soreness means breaking up minor scar tissue and maintaining good flexibility, so our second week of lifting focuses on speed, agility, and flexibility. Speed days consist of ladder drills for footwork and coordination, foot reaction drills for foot speed, and team stretch with a foam roller session at the end. A combination of these modes has helped ease some soreness and mentally prepare athletes for competitive play.

Soccer players are engaged in a large amount of contact while on one leg. This can create more elevated injury risks if athletes are not prepared to withstand collision.

Most commonly, the glute medius and core (rectus abdominus, obliques, transverse abdominus, and back extensors) are correlated to knee and ankle stability. These components are trained as a unit to help synergistic firing of the muscles. One way we do this is by having pairs of athletes perform medicine ball tosses while standing on one leg. The object is to catch the ball thrown by the partner and stabilize the body using the glutes and core before tossing the ball back.

The neck is another important injury prevention area. On the first day of lifting, players are taught to perform manual resistance exercises for the neck. We do a lateral flexion for each side and extension for the posterior neck.

The transition from preseason training to in-season is basic. After meeting with Head Soccer Coach Dave Schureck, we decided to not lift on days before competition because of the volume of lifting athletes perform during practices. Despite limited time in the weight room, we’ve found it possible to increase strength with one day of lifting as long as a logical progression is followed.

As a result, our team continues the lifting program they used in preseason, rather than risking more soreness by adapting to a new program. Speed and agility are taken out because in-season practice provides the needed stimuli to produce positive gains in soccer-specific movements. As the season progresses, volume will decrease and intensity will increase, so we take care to prevent overtraining as athletes build toward peak performance in playoffs and championship competition.

Rich Jacobs, MS, SCCC, CSCS is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Xavier University. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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