Football season is here again, so it’s time to get your body prepared. Being in peak physical fitness will require commitment, determination and motivation. Here’s some ideas for achieving optimum footie fitness and set you on the road to winning your club titles next spring.
Proper warm-ups for football are crucial if you want to avoid injuries. Unless you’re in the premiership league you probably won’t have the money to pay for physiotherapists so looking after yourself is even more important.
Good exercises will raise body temperature and get muscles moving freely. Overwhelming evidence shows that dynamic stretches, as opposed to static, are the best way to prepare the body and minimise injuries so stick to these.
If you want to copy the pros, try Reading football club’s warm up. Start with jogging and gentle movements, moving onto some dynamic movements which research shows ‘switches on’ neural pathways. As you jog, open the groin by lifting the knee up and out to the side, follow with some inner ankle taps, leg kick outs and then side stepping to finish. Follow with static stretches, more dynamic stretches such as mock strikes moving the leg muscles through all the possible ranges. Finish with a jog and you’re ready for action!
Don’t bother with long runs. Football requires lots of stop-start activity so drills using a combination of jogging, sprinting and walking are best, including plenty of fast runs with short rests. Two - five seconds (five to fifteen metres) is the usual sprinting time in a match so try to reflect this.
Some good ideas for improving your cardio fitness are:
Aim to train for three 45 minutes session a week during the main football season. Make 20 minutes of this hard work. This pushes your heart rate to around 90% of its maximum for the best improvements in your cardiovascular fitness.
Plyometric, explosive exercises are the best way to improve your sprinting times to help you reach the ball quickly. If you can accelerate fast you have a huge advantage over your opponent straight away and are more likely to keep possession. Build your power with:
Muscular strength is important for those sudden spurts of action like leaping and sprinting, as well as for reducing injuries. Building larger muscles will also give your body more power and endurance.
Exercises which use your own body weight are great for football conditioning. A combination of squats, burpies with a jump, lunges, press-ups and sit-ups, done with commitment for 20 minutes, would create a powerful circuit. Include some ball skills too. For example, sit-ups could include a header if you have a partner.
Don’t forget your core strength. Exercises like crunches, back extensions and the plank pose will maintain your solidity on the ball and reduce risk of injury.
Using your local gym will add further variety and challenge to your weight training. Good exercises for football would include leg extensions and leg curls. Try lifting medium to heavy weights, 5 reps over 3 sets for starters. Bench presses and pull ups are also beneficial.
A pro’s training regime
It’s always inspiring to peek (and gasp) at the training habits of the top footballers. For their sheer athleticism footballers can be considered among the fittest sportspeople around. The high levels of commitment demanded are often surprising, and also beyond most of us who also have to attend to other work and family commitments. For example, Cristiano Ronaldo, known for his intense schedule, trains 5 times a week at Real Madrid, for 3-4 hours each time. His workouts include much running to keep body fat low (that’s why you can see those abs so well!), explosive sprints, technical drills, and specific gym exercises to boost his body strength. He is a good example of the ‘no pain, no gain’ adage - the Daily Star previously reported him to do 3,000 sit ups each day while watching TV!
The great thing with football fitness is that whether you’re doing regular 5-a-sides on a Saturday afternoon or just enjoy kicking a ball around the park with your kids, you can be sure to see improvements in your power, flexibility, strength and agility.
Finally, don’t forget that although nothing beats hard work, steadfast commitment and determination to do your best and win will develop you into the best footballer you can be.
by Jessica Ward
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