Football has come a long way since the golden age of Pele and George Best, and while the rules of the sport haven’t changed how it is played has. The implementation of strength and conditioning has seen a dramatic shift in the player’s speed, agility, endurance, and overall dynamic ability, taking them from the talented players of old to the current generation of high performance athletes.
While the outcome of outpacing a defender, delivering crucial tackles or scoring a goal might be in the forefront of your mind when discussing football, the athlete development that a football specific strength and conditioning plan will promote cannot be overlooked.
In this article you and me (a qualified strength and conditioning coach) will be looking at the importance of strength and conditioning for football and setting you up with a brief outline on how to structure your training.
3 Big Reasons why strength and conditioning is important in football.
In the modern high paced game of football Strength and conditioning is fundamental to the competitive ability of football players of all positions. The ability to enhance your strength, speed, power and endurance can make all the difference on the score board come game time. The stronger you are the faster you can sprint, the higher you can jump, the harder you can kick and the more of a physical presence you will have on the field, additionally the better conditioned you are the longer you will be able to maintain these higher levels of physicality throughout the course of a 90 minute game of football.
In fact, back when our head S&C coach Alex was working with Leeds Beckett Universities’ women’s football team, we saw dramatic improvements in on-pitch performance after only a few weeks of gym-based training.
In terms of the idea of strength and conditioning for enhanced performance the evolution of a players strength and power serves to help gain a competitive edge against their opponents, with conditioning serving as a means to maximise that competitive edge for as long as possible both through overall endurance and through in match recovery, between bouts of intense exertion.
One of the most overlooked aspect of strength and conditioning, particularly in football, is injury prevention. Football as a sport has a physical demand on the body, from the repeated sprints which typically culminate in a sharp stop of movement and rapid changes of direction mimicking the flow of play to jumping and challenging for the ball often at higher speeds and in conflict with your opponents as such injuries are fairly common from minor muscular injuries and tendon and ligament damage to overuse injuries like stress fractures.
One of the main benefits of a well designed and implemented strength and conditioning plan is the significant injury risk reduction it provides, for example, research has shown that the strengthening of the muscles and tendons related to the legs with particular focus given to the hamstrings will significantly reduce the risk of training and on field knee injuries caused by high risk movements such rapid deceleration and swift lateral changes of direction.
Long term development and longevity
The beneficial effects of effective strength and conditioning training progress further than the immediate results of a match, extending further than current performance and injury prevention. Strength and conditioning plays a crucial role in the long term development of younger players as well as significantly increasing the longevity of those more experienced. Injury can play a huge role in the overall length of your football career.
Younger athletes who do in strength and conditioning training alongside their technical football training in a concurrent manner will adapt to their training in a more “fluent” manner, giving them a greater sense of physical efficacy, body awareness and overall athleticism during development. Plus, as with any investment these benefits will compound throughout their years of training leading to a much greater potential yield in terms of on pitch performance.
“When people succeed, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success.”Diego Maradona
As you age your injury risks naturally increase, but with strength and conditioning this risk will be reduced which will allow you to not experience long term lay offs from the sport (and trust me – as your age increases these become significantly harder to return from!) and while strength and conditioning may not serve to stop the slow decline of athletic performance that comes with the aging process, a well structured plan will serve to minimise the impact that these changes may cause, allowing you to extend your physical peak for longer as well as increase your overall ability to remain competitive in their later years of your career in such a fast paced sport.
Football strength and conditioning training (Example Workout)
When creating your strength and conditioning plan as a football athlete there are a number of considerations that need to be taken; first and foremost you need to determine whether the plan is to be used concurrently (alongside) with technique training and or sporting matches or to be completed during an off season period. Secondly you need to account for the nature of the specifics of the sport for example the predominantly unilateral (one-sided) nature of the sport and the requirement for deceleration and rapid change of direction. Lastly, you need to consider the correct workload of each training session to minimise the risk overtraining
For exercise selection in any strength and conditioning plan for a football athlete there are a few characteristics that take precedent;
1) Power exercises that focus on improving the hip and knee extension and directional change and deceleration underload.
2) Strength exercises for improving body control under load which will serve as joint protection.
3) Balance exercises that strengthen and improve musculature of the joints and increase on field stability.
Any training session whether it is a strength , conditioning or football session needs to be preceded by a dynamic warmup. Following RAMP guidelines (Rate, Activation, Mobility, Potentiation)
I won’t go into too much detail in terms of how this should be laid out, however typically aim to increase your heart rate, activate your muscles through body weight exercises (think lunges/squats) work through the full range of motion you intend to train during that session and finally move towards a number of plyometric exercises to get those muscles firing at full force and ready for the upcoming training stimulus.
Below is a fairly straight forward strength focussed session for a football athlete.
*please bear in mind that this session would be at home during an off-season training programme, as such it may have too much volume to be completed during periods of significant physical stress like during season, which would shift to a lighter load, lower volume, more explosive approach to training.*
|Dumbbell Split Squat||3||8-12|
|Cable Hip Adduction||3||8 (each Leg)|
|Assisted Nordic Curls||3||8|
|Barbell Overhead Press||3||8-12|
|Training Type||Layout||Rest Period|
|Metabolic conditioning||4 x 4mins Interval runs –|
90-95% maximum heart rate
|Active rest 3 mins –|
70% maximum heart rate
Example strength and conditioning program for football
When creating your long term strength and conditioning plan as a football athlete, it is important that the nature of the concurrent training and overall sporting activity is taken into account, as such the different phases of the training plan would need to be tailored in terms of exercise type, exercise volume and intensity. These individual phases are (known as mesocycles) are typically 2-6 weeks in duration and form together to create the overall training program (or macro cycle)
Here’s an example structure that our head S&C coach Alex has used with teams across the year:
|General Preparatory Phase||Sport Specific Preparatory Phase||Competition Phase||Transition Phase|
|2-6 weeks||3-4 weeks||30-35 weeks||3-4 weeks|
|1-2 Mesocycles||1 Mesocycle||6-8 Mesocycles||Rest|
|Traditional Periodisation||Traditional Periodisation||Undulating Periodization||Active Rest|
Traditional periodisation: Utilises the standard progressive overload principle where the intensity or volume (weight or reps) gradually increases over the course of the mesocycle.
Undulating periodisation: Utilises a less traditional approach to intensity and volume, increasing or decreasing weekly or daily depending on the current competition and training schedule.
|GPP Goal||SSPP Goal||Competition Phase Goal||Transition Phase Goal|
|Increase strength-endurance through hypertrophy.|
Increase mobility and balance.
Increase aerobic power
increase maximum speed
Increase anaerobic power
|Maintain strength |
Increase aerobic and anaerobic power and capacity
|Rest and recover|
Non-sport specific activities
(think yoga, hiking, swimming etc)
Frequently Asked Questions About Football Strength & Conditioning
What does conditioning do in football?
Conditioning is very beneficial for a footballer, it will Increase your bodies energy systems, this will allow you to perform at a higher level for longer during training and competition, as well as allow the body to recover quicker during brief periods of inactivity.
why is muscular endurance important in football
Muscular endurance serves to allow your body to function at peak performance for longer, if your muscles become fatigued during the course of a football match, not only will your overall performance suffer, but the risk of injury increases, Increasing your muscular endurance serves to help mitigate this.
How much does strength matter in football?
Strength in football is important in any position, whether it’s a goalkeeper having to push through offensive players to intercept the ball during a corner or a defensive midfielder challenging for the ball, being stronger than your opponent will often give you the edge needed to come out on top, a perfect example of this is the Man City striker Erling Haarland, who uses his physicality and strength on pitch to great effect.
Why is speed important in football?
Speed is important, like really important. An athletes speed is very much a determining factor in their on field effectiveness, the ability to out run your competition is essential in midfield, defence or up front, even a goal keepers ability to cover ground in a short period of time can be the difference between a win and a loss.
If you’ve read this article and you now understand the importance of strength and conditioning in the sport of football, get out there and take the principles I have explained and put them into practice.
Until next time!
Pérez-Gómez, J., Adsuar, J. C., Alcaraz, P. E., & Carlos-Vivas, J. (2022). Physical exercises for preventing injuries among adult male football players: A systematic review. Journal of sport and health science, 11(1), 115–122. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2020.11.003