Lower Body Exercises For Soccer Players

7 Best Lower Body Exercises for Soccer Players

Having a strong, powerful lower body is extremely important for Soccer Players. Lower body strength can help players with positioning, kicking power and can even help with endurance by becoming more efficient.

In this article, I’m going to discuss my 7 favorite lower body exercises for soccer players to help improve their performance on the field.

Let’s get right to it.

Best Soccer Lower Body Exercises


Clean Pulls


I’m a huge believer in Olympic lifts for athletes to build power and explosiveness. The first Olympic lift variation that I like to introduce to Soccer Players is the Clean Pull.

Clean Pulls are a less technical variation of the full Clean. The starting position is the same as a Clean (and the popular Power Clean variation) but the catch is removed. Instead, the athlete drives up, getting full extension through the hips, knees and ankles but keeps the arms straight throughout.

Clean Pulls allow Soccer Players to start training for power almost right away. As technique continues to become more proficient, the lifter can then progress to more complex variations.

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Bumper Plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Start with feet hip-width apart with toes straight ahead (or ever so slightly pointed out).
  • The bar should be over the middle of the feet, almost touching the shins.
  • Grip should be slightly wider than shoulder width.*
  • The grip is a pronated grip (both palms facing down) and the lifter can choose, although highly recommended, to use a hook grip.
  • The wrists should be slightly curled so that the knuckles are pointed straight down to the ground.
  • Shoulders slightly over the bar, arms straight, hips slightly higher than the knees.
  • Back should be flat or have a slight arch. Shoulder blades should be pulled back and the upper back including the lats should be engaged.
  • The last thing that should happen as the lifter is setting up in their starting stance is to take a deep breath in and engage, or brace, their core.
  • Raise the bar off the floor at a constant speed using the legs by driving the feet through the ground.
  • Hips and shoulders rise at the same time (torso angle remains constant)**.
  • As the bar comes up, keep the bar close to the shins and the feet should remain flat, driving the feet hard into the floor.
  • Finally, as the bar passes knee level, wrists remain curled and elbows rotate out to the side, core and back should still be tight and engaged.
  • Once the bar crosses the knees, the bar is then pulled explosively, bringing the shoulders back and up.
  • As the lifter continues to drive vertically, the shoulders will end up slightly behind the bar and the hips, knees slightly bent and ankles will have just a bit of flexion left in them.
  • The foot drive shifts from the whole foot to now extending up through the balls of the feet.
  • The triple extension of the hip, knees and ankles is followed instantaneously by a quick, aggressive shrug.
  • Bar is pulled vertically close to the body as the traps shrug to elevate the bar.
  • Now, either retrace back to the floor or drop the bar and then reset.

Coaching Points

*An easy way to get your grip in the right position is to place your hands one thumb length away from the start of the knurling of the bar. This width will work for 90% of lifters. Wider athletes may end up sliding their hands just a bit wider and vice versa for narrow athletes, but it’s a good starting point for anyone.

**One of the biggest mistakes with clean technique is that lifters will shoot their butt up first, locking their knees out and then they end up pulling the bar with their back instead of their legs. This is most often caused by lifters trying to rush the first pull too much. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

Another common mistake is the lifter ‘swinging’ the bar away from their shins, usually because they are worried about the bar hitting their knees. However, the knees will naturally slide back out of the way as you extend.


Back Squat


Back Squat with Empty Bar

Back Squat is the ultimate lower body exercise to build strength. No other exercise can match it when it comes to developing not just strong quads, hamstrings and glutes but low back, core and even upper back strength.

If you don’t feel you’re ready for Back Squatting with a Barbell just yet, you can try a simpler variation like Goblet Squats while you gain confidence in your technique. Back Squatting with a PVC Pipe is a great way to start learning the movement without having to use any weight.

Equipment Needed

  • Squat Rack
  • Barbell

Setup

  • In setting up for the Back Squat, athletes choose between the high bar and low bar positions. (I personally teach the high bar position with athletes)
  • Regardless of bar placement, the athlete should actively pull their shoulders together and back in order to create a shelf for the barbell to rest on.
  • Generally speaking, the athlete should place their hands as close together as comfortably possible, which helps maintain the aforementioned upper body tightness and shelf for the barbell to rest on.
  • After setting up properly, the athlete un-racks the bar and walks it out of the uprights, takes a big breath in, braces their core, and initiates the eccentric portion of their squat.

Movement

  • While maintaining a tight brace in their core and tension in their upper back (as mentioned in the setup paragraph), the athlete initiates downward motion of the bar via simultaneous hip and knee flexion until the crease of their hip goes below the knee.
  • The especially important part of the range of motion is taking the muscle to its full eccentric length, demonstrating that athletes further benefit by taking their squats to the deepest depth that their mobility allows. Once the athlete reaches their lowest position in the squat, they transition from the eccentric to concentric portion.
  • The concentric portion of the squat involves the athlete rising out of the hole via a combination of knee and hip extension.
  • In rising out of the hole, athletes commonly experience sticking points either in the hole or when they are just above parallel. These can vary based on each athlete’s relative strengths and weaknesses, or some technical errors to be addressed later.
  • Once the athlete completes the rep, they exhale, and either initiate the next rep or re-rack the bar.

Coaching Points

It is better to set the safeties one level too low vs one level too high, as the athlete can either let the bar off of their back or allow themselves to lean forward until the bar hits the safeties. In the e


Reverse Lunge


Reverse Dumbbell Lunge

Now let’s jump into some single-leg movements.

Single-Leg movements are critical for the physical development of soccer players because so much of the sport is actually done on one leg (even if it may not seem obvious). Jumping, sprinting, dribbling and (more obviously) kicking are all done on one leg at a time.

Single-Leg exercises also help fight against any lower body asymmetries that may occur over time (one side being stronger than the other). Asymmetries often lead to compensations (or are caused by compensations in the first place) and eventually oftentimes injury.

Reverse Lunges are one of my favorite single-leg movements because stepping backward takes away forward momentum which can be stressful to the knees. It’s also easier for athletes in my experience to maintain a more upright torso while doing Reverse Lunges as opposed to regular Lunges.

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Instructions

  • Grab two dumbbells, one in each hand
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades and engage the lats to create a stable back to help with bracing the upper body
  • Once you’ve created enough room for yourself from the dumbbell rack (or wherever you pulled them from) you can begin the movement.
  • Step backward with one leg, giving yourself enough room to be able to drop into a lunge comfortably without feeling overextended.
  • Keep the chest as upright as possible and drop the back knee to roughly one inch from the floor.
  • Now drive through the heel and midfoot of the front foot to drive yourself back up tall.
  • Repeat on the opposite leg and alternate back and forth until all reps have been completed.

Coaching Points (Fixes to Common Mistakes)

When you step back, make sure to keep the feet shoulder-width apart. If you’re feeling very off-balance in your lunge there is a good chance that you are stepping the back foot directly behind the front foot (essentially placing yourself on a tight rope).

Keep the front foot flat on the floor when in the lunge position. One of the most common mistakes is raising up onto the ball of the front foot. One of the reasons for this is often the next most common mistake that I see with Dumbbell Lunges…

Make sure to take a big enough step. Often times I see athletes take way too small of a step. This leads to lunge being extremely cramped and can lead to a whole host of other issues (like coming up on the ball of the foot as mentioned above).


Pistol Squat


Pistol Squat
Pistol Squats are a great single-leg exercise that requires zero equipment at all.

I love Pistol Squats. I love Pistol Squats because they’re a bodyweight movement that will absolutely smoke your legs without putting any added stress on the posterior chain.

If you’re designing a strength and conditioning program you have to be really careful with how much you are taxing the posterior chain. So many exercises – Olympic lifts, squats, and hinging movements like RDLs and Bent Over Rows – all stress the posterior chain. This is part of what makes Pistol Squats truly special.

Pistol Squats are also a TRUE single-leg movement. Many single-leg movements like lunges and step-ups can be ‘cheated’ and an athlete can still compensate for a weaker side. Pistol Squats are one leg and one leg only. No opposite leg to give you a little boost if you need it. Want to find out if one of your legs is actually stronger than the other? Do Pistol Squats.

Equipment Needed

  • None (If doing a modified Pistol Squat a box or bench to squat to will be needed)

Instructions

On Air

  • Stand on one leg with the opposite leg straight and slightly out in front of the body.
  • Squat down on the single leg by hinging back at the hips first and then bending the knee and hips until the crease of the hip crosses below the knee.
  • Keep the heel flat and your weight distributed between your heel and mid-foot.
  • Keep your torso as vertical as possible while maintaining balance and a flat foot.
  • The opposite leg should stay straight and extend out in front of you as you squat down (tight hamstrings will make this almost impossible!)
  • Once you reach the bottom of the squat, drive the foot through the floor and stand tall.

To Box

  • Instructions are the same as above, except the athlete will squat down to a box (or bench) instead of freely in an open space.
  • Make sure the foot is close enough to the box so that the box is not missed when squatting down to touch it. (I’ve seen it happen)
  • Control the descent to the box and sit as softly as possible. A light touch-and-go is ideal if possible. My favorite cue for this was to “treat the box like a glass coffee table.”

Coaching Points

If you’re not able to do a Pistol Squat the first time trying, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most athletes I’ve worked with have to start by using a bench for pistol squats. The first thing you need to do to start progressing is figuring out where your real weakness is: strength or flexibility.

Some lifters simply don’t possess the strength at first to perform a full pistol squat on air. On the other hand, many of the athletes I’ve coached actually have the strength to do a pistol squat, but they lack the mobility to be able to go through the full range of motion without falling or their opposite foot crashing into the ground.


Romanian Deadlift


Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

Speaking of the posterior chain, let’s shift gears to a couple of lower-body exercises that focus on the posterior chain. First is RDLs, or Romanian Deadlifts.

I really like RDLs because they do a tremendous job of building strength throughout the entire posterior chain, from the Erector Spinae muscles of the low back, through the glutes and finally the hamstrings. Even the upper body which has to stay engaged to maintain posture throughout the lift gets challenged.

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates (Bumper or Iron)

How To

  • Address the bar with feet shoulder-width apart, and toes straight ahead.
  • Use a pronated grip about a thumb length from the start of the knurling.
  • Now, with a good flat back, pick the bar up to a standing position.
  • From here, put a slight bend in the knees and ‘set the back’ by squeezing the shoulder blades and engaging the lats.
  • Brace the core and hinge forward by pushing the hips back.
  • The bar should almost drag right down the legs, across the knees and straight down the shins. The whole foot should stay flat on the ground, but the weight should be on the mid-foot to heel.
  • Maintain the neutral spine position throughout the descent and once you feel a good stretch in the hamstrings, drive the hips forward (hip extension) and return to the starting position.

Coaching Points

The ‘depth’ that each person gets will be different and absolutely solely dependent upon hamstring flexibility.

Do NOT try to ‘reach’ the barbell toward the ground because you believe the plates should touch the floor. If you have tight hamstrings you may be doing well to get the bar to mid-shin.


Nordic Hamstring Curl


Nordic Hamstring Curls are by far my favorite hamstring exercise and it’s not even close.

Why?

Because they work. Scientific reviews like this one constantly prove that including Nordic Hamstring Curls in a training program helps reduce the risk of a hamstring injury.

They also happen to be a really tough bodyweight exercise that if you build it into your team’s culture can become really competitive. Anything that can turn competitive in a weight room is something you want to have in the program.

Equipment Needed

  • A Partner (or something that can hold your feet on the ground)

How To

  • Start on your knees with a partner holding your feet (dorsiflexed, toes in the ground).
  • Hold your hands in front of your chest, brace your core and lock in your hips.
  • Now, keep your body in a straight line (shoulders, hips and knees) and lean forward.
  • Lower slowly and under control as long as possible.
  • Touch your chest to the ground, using your hands if necessary (they will most likely be necessary)
  • Finally, give yourself a little push to get started and then use your hamstrings to curl yourself back to the start.

Coaching Points

The ultimate goal is to be able to lower yourself to the floor, touch the ground with your chest, and then curl yourself up without using your hands. However, this takes practice and a ton of hamstring strength. Be patient and focus on your progress each time.

Don’t allow your hips to shoot out, breaking the straight line going through your shoulders, hips and knees.

Only use as much push with your arms coming off the ground as needed. How much is the right amount? Trust me, when you get it just right – you’ll know.


Sprint


Soccer Players Sprinting On Breakaway

You may not have expected to see sprinting on a list of lower body exercises, but that’s just how important I believe sprinting is for soccer players. This sprinting can be part of a full program complete with sprinting drills, but it can also be as simple as just getting out and sprinting.

I think too many soccer players have gotten away from doing sprints in their training programs. I see so many players lift, condition and do far too many ladder drills. However, going out, lining up and running as fast as possible is neglected far too much.

If you want to run fast, you need to run fast. Even more, if you want your hamstrings to be prepared (and not pull) to do a full sprint once you’re in a breakaway on the field – then you better be doing that in your training.

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Final Thoughts

Are these the only lower body exercises soccer players can do to build strong and explosive legs? Of course not.

But, in my opinion, your training program should have all (or at the very least, most) of these exercises incorporated into it at some point.

Just make sure to focus on technique, don’t try to use more weight than you can safely handle and don’t slack on your nutrition and recovery. Do all of these things and you should see a big-time improvement in your on-field performance!

Finally, if you found this article helpful, then you may also enjoy checking out my favorite core exercises for soccer players.

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