Adding gym work in to your regimen as a footballer is something I feel is still neglected, and when it is done, is usually all wrong. Today I’m going to break down some common mistakes people make when they are training for football (soccer, not Gridiron).
When most people first hit the gym, 99.9% of the time, the reason behind it is because they want to look better naked. If you’re a (normal) young man, you decide you want to get wedge, maybe like The Rock. If you’re a pum-pum, you want to get ‘toned’ like a Hollister model.
However, achieving the aforementioned ‘wedge’ look requires a certain style of training, usually very distinct from how to train if you’re a footballer aiming to get swift, strong, and unbeatable. Therefore, if you’re a footballer, you need to resist the temptation to train like everybody else. It’s easy to get sucked in – popular Youtube personalities, resident ‘bros’ at the gym, internet forums/blogs/sites, but ultimately you must always look at your goals to define the way you should train. Training like a bodybuilder may end up wiping out your athletic ability.
Now I am in no way suggesting that there is only one right way to improve your athleticism, but there are certainly many wrong ways to do it. (Also, I’m in no way suggesting you can’t look good while training like an athlete – in fact, you’ll end up looking great.)
So without further ado, the top 7 mistakes people make when they’re training for football.
1. Doing a body-part split (aka ‘bro-split’)
When training for football (or any sport for that matter), the body should ideally be trained as a unit, an integrated machine. Of course, you’ll have to do isolation movements here and there to shore up your weaknesses, but by and large you should be focus on compound movements that work lots of muscle in one movement, adding in some accessory movements as appropriate.
A standard ‘bro’ workout for chest might look as follows:
- 3 x 12 cable flyes
- 3 x 12 bench press
- 3 x 12 pec-dec
- 3 x 12 decline bench press
Don’t do this – it will do nothing for you if you’re an athlete who has to train and play games. Train using either full-body workouts, or an upper/lower split.
Furthermore – to really make progress, you have to get more frequency in – and with bro splits you can only really train each body part once weekly. Using upper/lower or full body workouts you can train twice or even thrice weekly, depending on your schedule, recovery ability, diet, etc. Once you’ve started the season, doing body-part splits is pretty much useless and unfeasible anyway.
2. No max strength work
Bodybuilding programmes usually do not include any appreciable amount of maximal strength work – meaning in the rep range of 3-5 reps. Usually this is because sets of under 5 reps aren’t the most effective in building muscle. However, training in this rep range is extremely important as an athlete, because it trains your fast-twitch fibres – the muscles that seperate the Mertesackers from Ronaldos.
Maximal strength is the foundation for power, and without beating a dead horse, you need power if you want to become a boss. Maximal strength is only one type of quality on the speed-strength continuum, along with speed-strength etc, but most people new to the gym are weak and lacking in this quality, so any work done here will usually hugely benefit on-pitch performance.
There is a time and place for bodybuilding exercises – but it shouldn’t be the emphasis of your training. That’s not to say you should train like a powerlifter either – I prefer a mix of the two, something that has yielded success for many athletes and coaches (such as Joe de Franco).
3. Neglecting bodyweight moves
Bodyweight movements are HIGHLY underrated and seriously overlooked within the world of strength and conditioning. Usually they’re relegated to something that you do when you want a little pump on the beach. In my opinion, every training program should include a substantial amount of bodyweight training, regardless of the goals. If you’re a beginner to strength training, focus on becoming very good at bodyweight training before you add external loads.
Push-ups, pull-ups, dips, squats, and inverted rows, are all excellent moves that will give you bang for your buck. Get strong WITHIN your body first. Show me a guy who can do lots of pull-ups, squats, and push-ups with excellent form, and I guarantee you that at the very least this guy will be lean and probably very fast.
Anybody who has seen Hannibal For King knows that bodyweight training is not a joke (yeah, he probably has great genetics yada yada yada, but who cares?). You can do bodyweight moves anywhere and everywhere, and no fancy gym is required. Get on this now!
4. Bulking too quickly
This is a huge mistake, universal across all types of training, and one I can identify with FULLY. I unfortunately made this mistake a year ago, gaining approximately 15 pounds (7 kg) of what I thought was muscle, in one and a half months. My shirt size increased and I was excited about my work – however, the increasing size of my stomach was the first warning signal – the death knell was that my performance on a football pitch absolutely sucked.
I could not run, was gassed out after 10 mins, my co-ordination was garbage, and I was bloated.. all.. day.. long. I made the classic mistake of dirty bulking, and went from one of the quickest players in my group to the slowest. I was Gareth Barry, and everybody else was Mesut Ozil.
Thankfully I was able to reverse this, and now I stay relatively lean while still being able to take in more calories and build muscle. Try to aim for a SLOW bulk and only take in slightly more calories than you need – don’t go crazy downing junk food every few hours (my personal ‘record’ is a 14 inch pizza and 2 boxes of Ferrero Rochers.. with a mass-gaining shake).
5. Getting too caught up in the gym
Working out, lifting, and the pursuit of PRs is addictive, I’m not going to lie. Since I began training properly and recording my workouts, I actually get excited about going to the gym. I go to the gym to put in work, and as sad as it sounds, there have been occasions where I’ve actually not been able to sleep because I was so hyped about breaking some record the next day (usually squatting). If you’re like me, you’re an addict. And it’s all good… till it’s not.
These days I only really play football once/twice a week, so I can afford to prioritise the gym a little. However, if you’re playing competitive football (for a team) twice a week or more, you need to be mindful that your gym work doesn’t interfere with your performance – especially if you’re training intensely. The gym should be a supplement to your work, not the main focus.
There will be times you need to back off and do less because you’ve got training and hard games the same week. The meathead lifestyle can suck you in, and the lure of big guns and a chest like Arnold can take you away from your goals. You need to keep the conditioning in there too – don’t use the excuse that it will burn up calories.. you’re a footballer, not a bodybuilder! What good is being strong without the engine to back it up?
6. Not doing your mobility work
I’ve already touched on the importance of mobility work in previous articles. No matter how you train, you need to be doing this stuff, if only to keep you healthy and able to train. If you’re a footballer it’s even more important, because tightness can interfere with your ability to play. Flexible muscles are strong muscles.
Let’s briefly look at the hip flexors, a very common tight area in many people, not just athletes. The hip flexors can get really tight and short from being in a constant state of contraction, i.e. sitting a lot. They’re the muscles on the front of your hips.
I used to have VERY tight hip flexors and it gets really bad when I’m driving and stuck in traffic, but that has improved since I’ve incorporated mobility work into my training. Strengthening your hip flexors allows you to fully drive your knees upwards when sprinting, and if they’re tight, you won’t be as fast as you should be. Plus you might develop a forward tilting of the pelvis.. never a good look.
I’ll be making a post soon that focuses on common tight/restricted body parts, complete with sample exercises and solutions.. stay tuned.
7. Not doing your core work
Doing some crappy crunches or sit-ups doesn’t count as core work. Neither does wearing one of those dud ‘electromagnetic toners’ (shame on you if you ever bought one of these).
Let’s classify the core as the area between your chest and knees, front and back – it’s not just your abs. Your core absorbs and redistrubutes forces throughout your body – so no matter how strong your limbs are individually, with a weak core, you’re dead. In football, you run, jump, twist, and turn constantly, and the stronger your core, the better you’ll be able to do all this.
A stronger core will give you better balance and the ability to ride through tackles. Don’t get shaken off the ball like a mug.. strengthen your core.
7. Jogging all the time for cardio
Please see my previous article A millions reasons why you should be sprinting. Keep your jogging limited to 1 or 2 very light sessions throughout the week. Anything more than 10 minutes jogging is overkill. Sprint, swim, jump rope, hit the heavy bag, and play football. That will take care of most of your conditioning easily. How many sessions you need per week is difficult to say – it all depends on your schedule and state of conditioning.
Anyway, I hope that helps, and I will definitely be touching on this topic again as there is so much more to say. I’m looking to release a comprehensive guide on this topic in the near future.
Please let me know what you think of the article by commenting below and emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.