Whether or not soccer players should lift during the season is one of those questions that I get asked quite a bit, yet am always surprised when I do. For me, the answer is ridiculously obvious – yes, of course, soccer players should lift in-season.
In this article, I’m going to discuss why in-season lifting is so critical for soccer players. I’ll also go through how off-season lifting should differ from in-season lifting.
Why In-Season Lifting for Soccer is Important
To Stay Healthy
If we all can agree that lifting weights helps reduce the risk of injury for soccer players, then why would we want to stop lifting once the season starts?
Depending on what level you play at (high school, college, etc), soccer season starts around the start of August and doesn’t end until December for some teams. That’s roughly five months.
Maximal strength levels can be maintained for up to three weeks according to research but will begin to decay after that. This means that by the time soccer camp is over and the season actually starts, players will already be losing strength.
This also means players would be increasing their risk of injury just as games begin to be played.
To Optimize Performance
Continuing with this idea of losing strength throughout the season by not lifting weights, let’s think about the most critical time of the year: Championship Season. Whether it’s conference championships or playoffs, the biggest games of the year happen at the end of the season.
If you’re not lifting to maintain (or even increase) your strength throughout the season, you’ll actually be at your absolute weakest of the entire year when it matters the most!
Next, you have to think about how your in-season training carries over to the following off-season. If you’re able to at least maintain your strength levels through the season, you get to start making progress almost immediately after the season.
However, if you allow yourself to lose strength during the season, you may end up spending a good chunk of your off-season merely getting back to where you were before. This is going to put you way behind your competition.
Finally, this isn’t just detrimental to the current season or even the following season. It can have a cumulative effect over the entire course of an athlete’s playing career.
As I mentioned earlier, soccer season lasts up to five months, almost half the calendar year. Over the course of a four-year period, you’d be losing out on over a year and a half of training. Imagine how much progress you could make with an extra year and a half of training.
Off-Season Workouts vs In-Season Workouts
Now that you understand the importance of in-season training, let’s discuss what in-season training should look like. It’s actually going to look pretty similar to the off-season with a few key differences.
Days Per Week
Days per week will change between the off-season and in-season and will also depend upon each player’s role during the season.
In the off-season, I like to train three to four days a week for most parts of the year. During the season though, we have a two-day per week and a three-day per week program. We assign each player on the team to one of these programs.
Players getting significant playing time will lift two days per week (most weeks). Players not getting playing time and especially players redshirting will lift three days per week.
I say ‘most weeks’ because the schedule for college soccer can be a bit chaotic. Some weeks there will be one game per week and some there will be two. Usually, even when there are two games in the same week there will be enough time in between for a second lift to make sense.
However, there are times when there is a quick turnaround between games that we may opt for extra recovery modalities (stretching, cold tub, training room, etc) in place of a lift.
On the other hand, for the three-day group, physical development is a much higher priority and it’s much easier to maintain a more consistent schedule.
This setup allows us to optimize performance on game day for players playing and to still optimize development for everyone else.
Volume and Intensity
Before we go any further, there are two terms that we need to go over: Volume and Intensity.
Volume refers to the total amount of sets and reps that are done in a given workout, week and overall cycle. For example, if you Bench Pressed 5 sets of 5 on Monday, the volume would be 25 reps for that workout. If you also Bench Pressed on Friday, 3 sets of 10, the volume for that workout would be 30 and now it would be 55 for the week.
Intensity refers to the load being used, usually in the form of percentages. For example, 5 sets of 5 at 60% would be really easy, but 5 sets of 5 at 75% would be pretty tough.
I’m simplifying here a little bit, but hopefully, you get a general idea.
The biggest difference between in-season lifting and off-season lifting is volume. Intensity will be cut back some, but not drastically – most work sets will still fall between 70% and 80%. Also, the exercises I select will be the same exercises we do in the off-season.
However, the volume will be cut significantly. A typical Back Squat day in the off-season may call for 25 to 30 total reps while an in-season Squat day may not even be half of that.
Volume is the biggest contributor to soreness and fatigue. My goal is to keep players as strong as I can while still making gameday the priority.
Should soccer players lift during the season? Yes!
The season is too long to not continue to strength training. Lifting will increase your chance of staying healthy through the season and will have you prepared to play at your best when championships are being won at the end of the season.
Lower your volume, train smart and in-season lifting can be an absolute key to your success on the field.