To be a successful soccer player, you need to be explosive.
Whether you’re playing pickup with your friends or scoring goals in the MLS, having explosive power can be the difference between scoring goals and getting your shots knocked away by defenders.
Soccer features rapid changes in direction, quick movements, and plenty of sprinting, making leg and core strength integral to being an all-around, explosive player. Sure, speed and agility are crucial parts of the game, but if you focus too much on getting faster without adding power to your lower body, you may find yourself the last pick among your buddies when you play on the weekend, according to Eric Dannenberg, C.S.C.S., X.P.S., performance manager and strength and conditioning coach at EXOS.
“At EXOS we believe doing simple things savagely well will lead to performance improvement,” says Dannenberg, who has previously worked as an assistant with the United States Men’s National Soccer Team. ““Being able to track the ball and then have the leg strength to explosively change direction is key to winning battles on the field. Core training for soccer players should focus on key areas needed for kicking and cutting. Injury prevention is extremely important and these exercises will help prevent common soccer injuries.”
Here’s a workout that Dannenberg uses at EXOS to help build leg strength, core strength, and explosive power in his soccer players.
Exercise 1: Mobility – T-Hip Rotations
Do 1-2 sets of 8-10 reps
How to do it: With a pole or bar in front of you for support, stand on your right leg, with your right foot facing front, and your left leg raised behind you. Lean forward at the waist, making your body and left leg parallel to the floor, and use your right hand to hold for support. Make sure to keep the leg you’re standing on slightly bent. Now open your hips and rotate your body towards the ceiling until you feel a stretch on the inside of your hip—hold that for 2 seconds. Rotate back down until your feel the outside of your hip stretch. Finish the set and then switch to the opposite leg and repeat.
What it does: This exercise helps mobility in your hips and helps players become more agile. “A healthy hip can go a long way to prevent injury, as well as allow an athlete to cut in and out of their hips,” says Dannenberg. “A key movement for players is being able to pivot and open their hips to run onto a ball or run with a defender. If you can’t do this basic hip mobility-based rotation, then trying to move in a more reactive and dynamic environment on the pitch will lead to injury or a decrease in performance.”
Exercise 2: Strength – Lateral Pillar With Leg Lift
Do 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps for each leg. Hold 3-5 seconds in lift position.
How to do it: Lay down on your right side with your right forearm on the ground, your left hand placed on your hip. The side of your body should be roughly parallel to the floor, and you should have your feet together. Raise your left leg (top leg) up, and hold in position for 3-5 seconds, feeling the the stretch in your hip/groin area. Repeat for amount of reps, then switch legs.
What it does: Core training is essential for all athletes, but especially for soccer players, Dannenberg says. Increasing strength and flexibility in your core adds more power and speed to your game, plus helps prevent injuries, like sport hernias, adductor strains, and groin strains. “It also reinforces optimal posture for running mechanics,” says Dannenberg.
Exercise 3: Movement – Carioca / Carioca with Knee Drive
Perform each movement over a 15-25 yard distance. 2 sets for each exercise, 1 for each leg/body side.
– For Carioca: Go across once with a your right/left leg as the lead leg. Repeat the opposite direction, using your other leg as the lead leg.
– For Carioca with Knee Drive: Drive your trail leg high with each side. Then repeat with the other leg as the driver on the way back.
How to do it:
Carioca: This is a side-to-side movement. Mark off the distance you want to move in the exercise with a towel or cone. Start with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Push off with your left foot and move your body to the right, stepping one foot in front of the other and then behind on each step—after pushing off, cross your left foot behind your right foot, then step with your right foot, continuing to switch on each step while turning your hips. Once you reach your distance, reverse direction with the opposite leg leading.
For Carioca with Knee Drive: Perform the same movement as the original carioca, but when you bring your trailing leg forward, thrust it upwards with a knee drive up straight, just above your hip. Continue until you reach your distance, then reverse direction, bringing the opposite leg up with the knee drive.
What it does: Carioca exercises help players with lateral movement, increase explosiveness with change of direction. Carioca also works out your quads, calves, hips, and thighs. “In these carioca variations, we focus on quickly rotating your belly button in the direction you need to move and then pivot back in the other direction,” says Dannenberg. “This mimicks game scenarios like when you make adjustments to the players you’re defending.”
Exercise 4: Lateral Bound Stability Hop and Lateral Bound with Quick Explosion
Do 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps for each drill.
How to do it:
Lateral Bound Stability: Start standing with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Keep most of your weight on your right leg. Push off with your right leg and jump laterally towards the left side, landing on your left leg, keeping your right leg in the air. When you land, bend your left knee slightly and hold the position for 2-3 seconds. Repeat back with the opposite leg.
Lateral Bound with Quick Explosion: This movement is similar to the lateral bound with stability, but instead of holding when you land, you jump back quickly to the starting leg for each rep. So follow the same instructions for the lateral bound, but after each landing, push back quickly and jump back to your original starting position.
What it does: This plyometric exercise builds explosive lateral power and lateral quickness in your legs, which helps players change directions and move powerfully out of cuts. It also can help prevent injuries by strengthening your lower body. “Lateral agility is key in soccer to be able to make fine adjustments while defending or to pounce on a ball as an offensive player loses control,” says Dannenberg. “It is also a very volatile position where many injuries occur. Ensuring you have the strength and control to stop and change direction, which these exercises demand of you, are perfect for injury prevention and performance enhancement.”
Exercise 5: Movement Skills – Base Rotations to 180-Degree Open Step
Do 3-6 sets, with 3-4 seconds of rotation for each set, then an open step in each direction. Check out this short video from Dannenberg for a demonstration.
How to do it: Start with your legs shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Jump up slightly off the floor and rotate your hips from right to left as quickly as possible with each hop. When rotating your hips, your arms should be on the opposite side—so if you’re rotating right, your arms should be to the left, and vice versa when you jump back. After your rotations, use your right/left leg to push off in the opposite direction. Repeat the rotations for the set time, rest, then repeat for amount of reps.
What it does: This exercise works the hips, so make sure you’re focusing on moving your hips and not your chest/torso area. It helps increase mobility and explosive power in your lower body. “This explosive drill teaches players how to attack the ground, quickly change direction, and cover ground,” says Dannenberg. “This drill will teach an athlete how to quickly open up and pursue a ball hit over their head or track a defender.”
Exercise 6: Strength – Shuffle to Lateral Lunge
Do 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps
How to do it: Start standing straight, holding dumbbells at your sides. Shuffle laterally to the right two steps, then lunge laterally, bending your right knee down and bringing the weights down towards the ground. Hold position for 2 seconds, then shuffle back in the opposite direction, lunging laterally to your left, and hold position again.
What it does: The lunges help with leg mobility, hamstring strength, as well as quad and thigh strength. “Being able to shuffle or track the ball on the pitch and then have the leg strength to explosively change direction is key to winning a 50/50 ball or being in proper position to score the game winning goal,” says Dannenberg. “This drill teaches you how to get in and out of your hips. Once it feels efficient and smooth, work on stopping as quick as possible and exploding out into the other side as quick as possible.”