A Football specific strength training should improve core strength and stability, helps develop lower limb stability, strength and muscular balance, help reduce the risk of injury and assist in the development of muscular strength, power, speed and agility. All critical elements to the game of Football.
Particular attention should be given to the areas of the body that are most commonly injured among footballers. These areas include ankle injuries, knee injuries, groin injuries and muscular strains such as hamstring injuries.
In addition to strengthening the weak areas and body parts that are most likely to be injured it is imperative that the tight areas are also mobilized through appropriately implemented mobility drills.
The goal is an athlete who is balanced, is able to function and move freely, is less likely to suffer from preventable soft tissue injuries (e.g. hamstring injuries) and is able to apply force to the ground more efficiently resulting in improved speed, power and agility and possess the necessary core strength to hold off defenders in tight areas.
My top 5 strength exercises for Footballers in no particular order include:
The Bulgarian Split Squat
(or Single Leg Split Squat or Back Foot Elevated Split Squat)
Muscles worked: quads, glutes, hamstring, core and stabilizers
Single leg lower body exercises address muscle imbalances that may be present between the left and right sides of the body.
NOTE: always perform the weak side first. If required perform an extra set on the weak side of the body.
Place the top of the back foot flat on a bench and lower that knee down to the ground so that you are in a half-kneeling position.
The front foot should be positioned far enough in front of the body so that the shin is vertical when kneeling on the ground. Additionally, more of the weight should be in the heel of the front leg.
Keep the head up, chest up and look straight ahead during the movement.
NOTE: If the foot is not far enough in front of the body the toes of the front foot will be pushing out the front of the shoe and the front knee will be forward of the front foot placing excess pressure on the knee cap.
Easier – bodyweight only with hand on the hips 3 x 8-10 reps per side
Moderate – use light resistance – dumbbells or hold a med ball at the chest height. 3 x 6-8 reps per side
Harder – perform the exercise with a weighted Olympic bar on the shoulders or elevate the front foot. Perform 3 to 4 x 4-6 reps per side
To increase the activation of the stabilizer muscles in the lower leg, position the front foot on a balance disc.
4 Way Lunge
Muscles Worked: adductors, abductors, glutes, quads, ankles, core and stabilizers as well as balance and core stability.
This exercise incorporates 4 distinct movements per set:
The forward lunge. (12 o’clock) Head up, chest up, eyes looking straight ahead, take a big step directly forward (right foot) and while keeping the torso tight drop the back knee down to the ground before driving through the front heel to return to the start position.
Side lunge to the right side (3 o’clock position).
As above but take a step out to the side with the right foot
Reverse Lunge (6 o’clock)
As above take a big step back with the right foot and drop the right knee to the ground, drive through the front heel to return to the standing position.
Side Lunge to the left (9 o’clock)
As for the second movement but take a step out to the left.
After completing the first set of 4 movements perform the second set in the opposite direction – starting with a forward lunge with the left foot, followed by side lunge left, reverse lunge left and side lunge right.
Perform 2 sets of each rotation.
Easy – Bodyweight only
Moderate – hold a light dumbbell or medicine ball
Hard – Increase resistance
To improve ankle stability the lunges can be performed onto a balance disc or Bosu ball
Explosive Step Up with Knee Lift
Muscles worked quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, core and stabilizers
Stand straight up while holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides
Step up with the right foot onto a bench and drive through the heel of the right foot extend the right leg completely while simultaneously lifting the left knee up in front of the body with the knee bent at 90 degrees.
Lower the left leg back down to the ground in a controlled manner.
Repeat the movement while stepping onto the bench with the left foot.
Perform 2 to 3 sets of 4-6 repetitions per side 8-12 total reps per set.
Easy – Perform bodyweight only
Medium – Add a light resistance such as a dumbbell
Hard – Use an Olympic bar or add resistance bands
This exercise can also become an explosive movement by explosively stepping up and driving into the air before returning to the start position.
The Nordic Hamstring Exercise
Muscles worked: hamstring, core and stabilizers
Eccentric hamstring strengthening is a great way to increase the posterior chain and reduce the likelihood of hamstring injuries.
Start by kneeling on a pad with both feet and knees positioned shoulder-width apart.
Position the heels under a pad or have a partner hold the ankles. While maintaining a tall position with your arms by your sides and your eyes looking straight ahead lower your body down as far as you can before using your arms to catch the body and push you back to the starting position.
An alternative to the above is to perform the exercise using a glute/ham bench. The further back your knees are from the top of the pad the easier the movement will be.
The eccentric nature of the Nordic Hamstring movement places intense stress on the muscle fibers of the hamstrings and should be progressed slowly into the program. The result of this will be significantly stronger hamstrings that are less prone to injury.
Perform 1-3 sets of 5-8 repetitions.
Easy – only lower down a small way before using the hand to assist with the rest of the lowering movement. Use the hands also to push the body back to the starting position. You can also attach a band around the chest anchored behind the body to lessen the resistance of the upper body during the lowering phase of the movement. You can also raise the knees on the ground by placing them on a thick pad to make the movement easier.
Moderate – lower to body further and use the hamstring to pull back to the starting position.
Hard – hold resistance or perform the movement with arms extended above the head.
Single-Leg Glute Bridge on Bench
Muscle worked; glutes, hamstrings, lower back, core and stabilizers
Lie on the floor with the right knee bent at 90 degrees with the foot resting on the bench and the left foot flat on the floor.
The left leg is held off the ground and in line with the torso.
Perform the movement by driving through the heel of the right foot and contract the glutes to raise the hips. At the top of the movement the knee, hip and shoulder should be in a straight line. The hips are square and the left leg in line with the body.
In a controlled fashion lower the body back to the starting position.
Perform 2-3 sets of 6-12 repetitions per side.
Easy – bodyweight only
Moderate – Perform the exercise across two benches or position the shoulders on a bench and the foot on a Swiss ball
Hard – position a weighted bar across the hips during the movement
In addition to my main 5 exercises for football, I always incorporate core strengthening and stabilization exercises.
In developing the musculature of the core I like to break the core into 3 distinct movements that replicate all the functional movements of the body (anterior, rotational and lateral core as well as glute function)
Anterior Core – Plank
(or Prone Hold or Bridge)
Lying face down raise your body so you are balancing on your toes and elbows which are positioned directly under the shoulders, ensure your neck and head are held in line with the torso. In addition, tighten the core muscles and keep the hips up. Imagine you are bracing your core to prevent someone from hitting you in the stomach. Do not hold your breath
Perform 2 to 3 sets of 30-60 second efforts
To progress the exercise raise and arm or leg or the opposite arm and leg at the same time. Alternatively, perform the exercise while balancing on a stability ball.
The half-kneeling chop and lift is a great functional exercise that activates core, glutes and upper body pushing and pulling muscles and can be performed from a high to low position or low to high position using a cable machine.
Kneel side on to the cable machine with the front foot on the ground with the knee at 90 degrees. The leg furthest away from the cable machine is kneeling on the ground with the foot behind the body.
Imagine you are balancing the front foot, back knee and back foot along a very thin line. Keep the head up, core tight and focus on contracting the glute of the leg furthest away from the cable machine. You should feel unstable.
With the arms kept straight, body square and looking straight ahead
Pull the cable from either a high or low positing, directly across the front of the body and push across the opposite side of the body.
Perform 2 to 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions per side
Lateral Core – Side Plank with Leg Lift
This exercise helps to develop the external obliques, glutes, hips and lower back.
Lie on the left side of the body and balance on the left foot (with the right foot resting on top) and left elbow – held in line with the shoulder.
Ensure the hips are kept up at all times and in line with the torso.
Keep the upper arm straight above the body, at the same time slowly raising and lowering the right leg (ensure that the foot is point forwards not up to the ceiling).
Perform 2 to 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions per side
This exercise can be performed with the back of the body against a wall to ensure the body is kept straight during the movement.