Having a strong and powerful upper body is more important for soccer players than most give it credit for. Having a powerful upper body will help you be able to win a position on the field more often. Being in a better position on critical plays can be the difference between winning and losing.
Intelligent upper body strength training will also help soccer players be resilient to injury. Simply put, being stronger can help your body hold up better to the wears and tears of soccer season.
Let’s be clear though, upper body strength training for soccer is NOT about getting jacked and pumped up like a bodybuilder. Training the upper body for soccer is all about functionality – using exercises and movement patterns that will help translate to success on the soccer field.
So, you are not going to see a lot of bodybuilding biceps and triceps exercises here. (Compound movements train these muscles naturally anyways.)
In this article, I will be going over the 10 best upper body exercises for soccer players to help you stay healthy and perform better on the field (or pitch as they say overseas)!
Soccer Upper Body Exercises
Because the first two exercises, Push Press and Single Arm Snatch, are a bit more technical I’ve included detailed instructions for both. If you’d like to see detailed instructions like that for any of the other exercises listed, simply click on the link in its description to go to a full page dedicated to that exercise.
I’m a big believer in utilizing the Olympic lifts to develop power with soccer players. The Push Press requires coordinating the upper and lower body – hips, core and shoulders – to generate power and drive the weight overhead.
If you want to train like an athlete (and not a bodybuilder), exercises like Push Press should be in your soccer workouts.
Pro Tip: If you’re not comfortable with the technique, you can do the exact same movement with a medicine ball instead (Med Ball Power Jerk).
- Multi-purpose lifting rack
- Bumper Plates (technically possible to do with Iron Plates, but Bumper Plates are highly recommended)
- Set the barbell at the height you would normally front squat with. (Barbell 1-2 inches below the flexed elbow, still on the hooks).
- Grab the barbell with your index finger on the knurling or just outside the knurling. (Flexibility and what feels comfortable are important here).
- Flex the elbows up slightly and keep your knuckles fairly vertical to the ceiling.
- You are not taking a “Front rack” position here. The elbows will be slightly up but the bar is not resting on the anterior delts.
- To unrack the bar, take a deep breath and brace the abdominal muscles and upper back. Use a staggered stance to unrack the bar.
- Take 2 steps backward and be sure that you will not hit the hooks or anything above your head when you start to press.
- Initiate the movement with a “dip” or bend of the knee that will help you propel the barbell up with momentum. Do not bend the knee forward onto the toes.
- Think about how you initiate a squat. The knee bend should be very similar to this movement.
- This is a quick movement that helps get the barbell moving upward.
- As you extend the legs, push the barbell up. Be sure not to hit your chin. Lock the rep out by holding the barbell overhead for about 1 second.
- Some coaches use the queue “push your head through the arms” to help lock out the rep and stabilize the bar overhead.
- Slowly bring the barbell back down to prepare for the next repetition.
This lift is very technical, uses the entire body, and requires patience and persistence. Never sacrifice technique to add more weight to the bar.
Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch
Another explosive exercise that I love for soccer players is the Single Arm Dumbbell Snatch. (It’s really more of an upper and lower body exercise, but it still counts.)
It’s easy to learn, it’s unilateral (one side working at a time) and is a great Olympic lift variation to develop power that can help improve your explosiveness. What’s not to love?
- Grab a dumbbell and stand with feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Stand with knees slightly bent, brace the core and set the back – shoulder blades pulled back, lats engaged, chest out.
- Hinge forward by pushing the hips back and let the dumbbell slide down right in between the knees, coming at a stop just below the knee.
- You are now in the ‘power position’.
- From here, drive the feet through the floor and aggressively extend the hips, driving the shoulders up and slightly back.
- As you reach triple extension of the hips, knees and ankles – use a quick, powerful shrug and allow the elbow to break and begin the pull with the arm.
- Keep the dumbbell close to the body as it travels up.
- Once the dumbbell reaches the highest point of the pull, rotate at the elbow to catch the dumbbell overhead while simultaneously dropping the hips into a quarter squat and shift the feet slightly out.
- Finish the rep by standing tall and lowering the dumbbell down to the shoulder first and then back to the starting position under control.
- Repeat until all reps are completed and then switch arms.
The dumbbell should travel close to the body all the up until it gets about head height, then rotate the elbow, drop the hips and catch. Don’t allow it to swing forward out away from the body.
The second technique flaw is not staying braced through the return of the dumbbell to the starting position, oftentimes from being in too big of a hurry to knock out reps. Letting the dumbbell, especially the heavier you get, yank the shoulder down at the bottom of the rep is asking for trouble.
Push Ups get a bad wrap sometimes because they’re looked at as, well, not “advanced” enough. However, there are very few exercises that are as effective at building upper body strength and muscle mass as Push-ups.
I love the push-up for soccer players because it is a horizontal push, that can be overloaded, and is very shoulder-friendly. Because the scapula is free to move, you will find the weighted push-up to be very shoulder-friendly.
Once you’re able to do sets of 25 quality push-ups, load this movement with bumper or iron plates along the midback (Chains work well too if you have some) to increase the challenge. Another option once you’ve become proficient with regular push-ups is an explosive variation – clapping push-ups (pictured above).
A strong posterior chain is essential for shoulder health and upper body strength. The Pull-Up trains this posterior chain (Lats, upper back, rear delt, rotator cuff) to be strong and resilient. Another added benefit of the pull-up is core and lower back stabilization.
A full range of motion in your pull-ups is critical for success here. I like to progress athletes into pull-ups. We initially will start with an eccentric phase, followed by an isometric, and finally a concentric one. I sometimes have athletes use bands to help with their pull-ups initially.
If you’re not ready for the pull-up, don’t worry! You can start with Inverted Rows and Lat Pulldowns to gain strength. I also recommend straight arm hanging and isometric holds with your chin over the bar. These are great alternatives that will help you in the pull-up progression.
Once you’re able to cruise through sets of 10 to 15 pull-ups, add in extra challenges like a weight vest or pausing at the top of each rep.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench
One of my favorite horizontal pressing movements, the Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press is a great option for soccer players. This pressing movement is great because it can be overloaded, trains single-arm strength, and is extremely joint-friendly.
It also acts as an anti-rotational movement forcing the core to stabilize with weight only being pressed on one side at a time. This is much more likely how soccer players are going to use their upper body strength on the field fighting for position.
The Inverted Row is a staple movement in any healthy strength training regimen for a soccer player. As you can probably tell from three of the exercises I’ve listed, I’m a big fan of soccer players training relative strength (using your own body weight to build strength).
An inverted row is tremendously beneficial as it trains the posterior chain as well as core stability. These are both sport specific, will help enhance performance, and mitigate injuries.
Pro Tip: Inverted Rows can be done with a barbell placed on a squat rack at about waist height or with gym rings or a TRX Strap. Personally, I prefer gym rings (pictured above) because it allows the shoulder to move more freely.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press
In addition to bodyweight-based exercises, I also really like single-arm movements because of the demand for stabilization needed. The Single-Arm DB Overhead Press is another great single-arm exercise.
You can execute this exercise seated on a bench, on the ground, half kneeling, tall kneeling, or standing. All of these options are great and can be progressed within a strength program. Focus on core stability, neutral grip palms facing in, and finishing with a great overhead position with the bicep near the ear.
One Arm Dumbbell Row
A classic horizontal row that I love for soccer players, is the One Arm Dumbbell Row. This is a great rowing variation for single-arm training and one of the best exercises to pack on lean muscle mass.
An awesome benefit of this variation is the non-rowing shoulder needs to stabilize as the other performs the row. Because your positioning is perpendicular to the floor, you are also training cross-body tension, engaging that core, and resisting rotation.
We know anti-rotation in the gym will aid in our ability to display rotational power on the field, so this is a great movement to train often!
Single Arm Farmer’s Walk
Single Arm Farmer’s Walk, also known as a Suitcase Carry, is a unique core stability exercise that emphasizes stabilization in the frontal plane. As you walk, the core has to continuously work to stabilize an upright torso, not allowing the body to bend to one side.
Want to not get pushed over by a defender on your side? This is the exercise that helps address that.
Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell (start light and focus on posture before going heavy). Hold it at your side and with the none holding hand, place it on your side, and pull the shoulder blades back. Focus on crushing the dumbbell with your grip, squeezing the core, and keeping great posture.
Note: One could argue that Single Arm Farmer’s Walk is more core work than upper body work and they would probably be right. But, it’s too beneficial of an exercise for soccer players to leave off.
Med Ball Side Throw
Like Single Arm Farmer’s Walk, Medicine Ball Side Throws are as much a core exercise as an upper body exercise, but I think they’re also too important to leave off this list.
Rotational power is incredibly important in the sport of soccer and Med Ball Side Throws are one of the best movements for developing rotational core power. So, whether you consider side throws an upper body exercise or a core exercise, it’s one that should be part of a soccer player’s upper body strength training.
No Bench Press?
At this point, I imagine some of you have noticed that I’ve left Bench Press off the list. It’s not that I don’t like Bench Press for soccer players. I simply like Weighted Pushups and Single Arm DB Bench better as a horizontal pushing movement.
Having said that, if you play soccer and love Bench Press – go for it. As long as you have a spotter and use good technique, there is no reason to not Bench Press.
Intelligent upper body strength training is essential for soccer players. Getting strong with basic movements like push-ups and pull-ups will only benefit your health and performance. Utilizing barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells to overload your upper body training is great as well.
Balancing pushing and pulling movements is important. In general, for every 1 push repetition programmed, I would aim to have 2 pulling repetitions programmed.
Remember why you are strength training. Everything you do should have some type of carry-over to your sport. Training with a specific purpose will always help you stay motivated and train hard consistently over time.
Focus on proper form, progressive overload, and continue to work hard on the field and you will see your results pay off!
If you found this guide helpful, you may also want to check out my favorite lower body exercises for soccer players or maybe the best soccer core exercises.