Soccer is an intensive, gut-busting, cardiovascular workout that engages the entire body with massive movement patterns originating at the torso, hips, and knees. When we consider our body’s readiness to play soccer, attention must be given to the lower body’s strength and flexibility.
Injuries to hip, knee, and ankle joints are common, as are injuries to the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calve muscles. Preparing these injury-prone areas is crucial for ultimate performance and to avoid sidelining injuries. Too often, attention is only given to strengthening the lower body or to cardiovascular conditioning. Just as necessary is flexibility; time must be spent on increasing flexibility through stretching and myofascial release. Stretching and massage can improve your performance on the pitch. Consider what you can do pre and post-game that will reduce your risk of injury and discomfort.
Preparing the Lower Body for Play
All soccer kicks should originate within the core, but advising on a robust and functional core is a separate topic. Soccer movement is complex and requires the lower body to act fluidly. Most of the action involves functional movement patterns involving multiple joints. For example, the hip acts to move the leg in all directions and requires power and flexibility.
The muscles that act on the lower body must be in balance. For example, tight hip flexors prevent the gluteal muscles from working well. Consult your health care team to assess your muscle weakness and imbalances. Resistance training can address undertrained muscles such as the anterior tibialis and hamstrings. Consider using loop bands and pull up bands for resistance training; they can be used anywhere, require no setup, and strengthen the entire lower body. By training with multi-joint exercises rather than single-joint exercises, there is a better transfer to functional sports movement:
- Side to side band steps to strengthen the gluteal muscles and quadriceps
- Jumping Jack Squats with bands to strengthen hip abductors, glutes, and quads
- Band squats with leg lift to target hamstrings
- Band Squats to strengthen quadriceps and maintain knee position
- Side-lying band clamshells to target the medial glutes
- Side-lying band straight leg lifts to hit hip abductors
These are just a few of many effective exercises; check out the free video eguide that comes with your Physix Gear Resistance Training equipment for complete routines and detailed instructions on how to perform each exercise safely and effectively.
Providing Relief to Improve Performance
Myofascia is a tough connective tissue covering all our muscles and bones; imagine a robust, flexible fishing net that encases our entire body over the muscles and connective tissues. With intense physical activity like soccer, this myofascial material can become tight, inflamed, and inhibit movement. Releasing this tension will ease pain and increase motion, and can be achieved by seeing a massage therapist or physiotherapist. These health care experts will assess your symptoms and treat you accordingly.
Achieve relief at home by using massage balls and massage sticks. These are straightforward, inexpensive tools that will release tension and improve function and performance when used effectively. Using these carefully designed massage balls and sticks eases muscle knots and tension increases valuable blood flow and helps initiate healing. As you are the one applying the pressure, you will know precisely where and how hard to target those tender spots. If you have been cleared for exercise following an injury, consider the use of kinesiology tape to provide joint and muscle support, reduce pain, and control swelling. Additionally, the use of orthotic insoles within your cleats may provide significant lower body pain relief.
In addition to self-massage using balls and rollers, incorporate an intensive stretching program following training sessions and games. Effective stretches will stretch both the muscle and the fascia, improve your range of motion across all joints, and occur in all movement planes. When stretching, use soft belts or ties to provide traction, and focus on the entire joint and its full range of motion for optimal results. A pre and post-game training/relief routine will ultimately give you better game results and a healthier body.