As the World Cup reaches its climax, only the best teams are left to fight for this coveted trophy. There are many others, like England and France, who have left South Africa with their tails between their legs after disappointing performances.
The post-mortems will go on for months. Heads will roll, stories from training camps will emerge and preparations and training methods will be analysed in order to try and find out what went wrong.
Today’s soccer players are idolised by children and adults alike. Their profiles extend beyond the pitch to clothing lines, aftershaves and magazines and this helps to bulge their wage packets.
The players’ talents and media profiles mean that they become role models for many children, whose wish is to emulate these footballing gods.
International strength coach Charles Poliquin has said that soccer is 40 years behind other sports in its training methods. The biggest and most common myth about training for soccer is that it is aerobic in nature.
It is true that it is aerobic in duration, but it is actually anaerobic in intensity. For the most part, soccer players only run in very short sprints, during attacking or defensive play, for example. When not moving into an offensive or defensive position, the player recovers by walking or slowly jogging.
Studies have shown that during the course of a 90-minute match, a player will run over six miles at an average intensity of 80pc of their maximal heart rate. This implies that while soccer players may cover great distances throughout
This has been ratified by Donald Matthews and Edward Fox in their revolutionary book, ‘The Physiological Basis of Physical Education and Athletics’.
Traditional training tends to involve long runs, especially if players need to lose weight. But since most soccer players today play year-round, extended periods of endurance training is not conducive to a positive outcome. Large training loads of jogging for long distances can increase a player’s likelihood of developing injuries.
England’s David Beckham, Chelsea players John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, Jose Bosingwa and Michael Ballack all missed the World Cup after picking up injuries following a long season of football. Aerobic training, in its nature, is catabolic, meaning it eats the muscle that stabilises joints. That is why you don’t see many players weighing 90kg.
When we run, the muscles on the front of our thighs get stronger and shorter while our hamstrings on the back of our legs, used in sprinting and decelerating and changing direction, get weaker and longer.
These imbalances can reduce the stability of the knee and lead to repetitive strain injuries or anterior cruciate ligament (known as ACL) injuries, as the hip and knee joints have to absorb more pressure because the muscles are too weak to do their jobs.
So it is not an aerobic base that soccer players need, instead they should concentrate on getting strong and lean by hitting the weights room in pre-season and maintaining their muscle mass during the season.
I’ve witnessed many elite Premiership soccer players too weak to perform a basic chin-up. In my opinion, the work ethic of soccer players towards physical training has not yet reached its potential. They should take their cue from Olympic sprinters, who alternate between time spent at the track and in the weights room. This would give footballers a lean, strong physique that would ensure they reach their potential and remain injury-free during their career.
Roberto Mancini, the Italian manager at Manchester City, was met with resistance when he arrived at the club last year and told his new players that they would have twice-a-day training sessions.
The pampered Premiership players were up in arms that they would have to work as hard as other sports stars in rugby and athletics!
Mancini recognised what everyone else sees, from the local five-a-side manager to the armchair critic, that you cannot play the sport at the highest level unless you are in great physical condition. The more body fat a player has, the more oxygen it requires as fat is just dead weight.
Wayne Rooney is an exceptional player but he did not fulfil his potential at the World Cup and judging by his physique in the recent Powerade ad, he is not going to adorn the cover of ‘Men’s Health’ any time soon. He is carrying way too much excess fat for a player at that level.
You could not imagine a sprinter coming to the blocks of an Olympic final looking like that. Sprinters get as lean as they can as it reduces friction between the muscles so they can move faster.
Although varying degrees of aerobic conditioning are required in soccer, studies have shown that a high level of aerobic fitness can reduce a player’s ability to perform high-intensity, intermittent activities.
The muscular strength and power used to shoot, throw, and kick in soccer come from type IIB muscle fibres. These are developed through strength training, not endurance training.
Research confirms that the more you increase your VO2 max, which measures aerobic efficiency, the more your vertical jump will decrease.
That’s why players need to use exercises like squats to improve kicking velocity and jumping power, and not your average leg extensions. A leg extension machine only uses a single joint and concentrates on the quadriceps, which is where many coaches believe kicking power and accuracy comes from.
In actuality, maximal shooting and passing accuracy and power stem from the muscles involved with hip extension and flexion, not the quadriceps.
To test this, sit on the ground with both legs flexed at approximately a 90-degree angle. Kick a soccer ball from this position, as if you were performing a shot or volley.
When performed properly, you will feel the hamstring and gluteal (buttocks) muscles being recruited. These are the muscles used during a shot or volley and are best trained by using the barbell squat exercise and its many variations.
Sprinters get respect not only for their physiques but also for the weights they lift in the weights room. Increased strength will improve your ability to overcome inertia, and therefore it will improve a soccer player’s short-term speed. By improving these you will start to become a better player.