Football players: better, faster, stronger?

02/11/2013 10:58

I was sitting in the train a couple of weeks ago, reading some train station paper some old man gave me when I entered the station. Normally this papers are full of gossiping and non underpinned articles. But there was this article that draw my attention immediately as I saw it. The title was: “Too muscular!!”. I began to read and found out that the article was about football players which are too muscular. They spend hours and hours at the gym, becoming bigger and bigger but their performance at the pitch becomes worse.

I noted to myself to pay attention the next couple of weeks, so I could see if their arguments were true.
Not really long after the article was spread into my country, I heard something on the radio about a defender at an elite team playing at the top of the Dutch league (Eredivisie). This defender is becoming an elite player of this team, even as he becomes an elite player for the Dutch national team. He is a professional, training week in week out at the club to become better and better and taking big steps in his process. But there was some annoyance at his club. The problem was, that he went out to the gym, executing strength programs without telling the club what he was doing there. So the club wasn’t aware of his strength program, didn’t know which muscles he strained and couldn’t be sure if he was doing the right thing over there. That wasn’t professional and he lost his status of being the captain of the team.

Now it is of course not professional to strain your muscles and don’t tell your club what you are doing. But I began to think: how does it come, that an elite player from the top of the Dutch league, player of the national Dutch team, has to train his strengthening outside the club? The club also told to the press, it was all right that he trained there, but the program he followed must have been communicated with the club, so they could measure it and tell the player if he wasn’t straining his muscles too much. So he could get injured or something like that.
But this is where the football clubs (at the Netherlands) are missing the boat. Because when players go the a private gym and tell the trainer they want to get stronger, the club lose the supervision. And it is important that player train in the right way.

After this enormous explanation, I come to my point. I think that football clubs in the Netherlands need to invest more in specific strength training. You see them a lot right, football players showing their muscular (tattooed) bodies after the game. Trained a lot at the gym, swinging the iron bars all around trying to get bigger and more muscular. But is in this case bigger always better? I don’t think so.

For example, one player is really strong. He can bench press 120 kg without any trouble. But when does this bench press move occur in the game? And at what time in the game they use their muscles on this specific way? This are questions coaches need to ask themselves before they send players to a local gym, with the purpose to ‘get stronger’.

There are a lot of ways to train strength, but the eye must not be on the weights in the first place. The eye must be on the specificity and the transfer to the game. My opinion is that football (especially football in the Netherlands, don’t know how it is in other countries) is far behind on the part of strength training. There is getting more and more knowledge available and there are more methods revealed every day. My advice would be to check out on that knowledge and invest in that. Because in the end, strength is an important factor deciding if your becoming an elite athlete or not.

As I said there must be a transfer to the game, the focus must be on the specificity. Like the hamstrings; when does a player train this part of his body? Core stability, another underestimated part of the body. Often I am watching a training of some elite soccer players and see them doing sit-ups and push-ups. No offence, but these exercises are almost useless. Doing squats with only their bodyweight, at a really slow speed, no effect on their performances whatsoever. These muscles are not used in that way during matches or practices. I can write a full lesson with exercises that would have a bigger influence on the performances of players and that would reach the goal of specific strength training way earlier. But that would be too easy of course, and I would be spoiling to much information where other strength and conditioning coaches earn their money with.

My advice for football teams is: take strength training serious. Keep it to yourself and don’t source it out on private gyms. Invest in a strength and conditioning trainer who has an eye for specificity and makes a transfer to the game with his exercises. With this in mind, strength training can reach more purposes than simply having a good body to show after the game.