Functional abdominal training for soccer goalkeepers

How do you, as a goalkeeper, train your abs? Or what abdominal exercises do you, as a coach, ask your goalies to perform? Does your abdominal training look like everyone else is doing it: bridges and crunches?
Have you ever thought about how you can train your abs specifically for ‘goalkeeping’? Are there any disadvantages to our current way of abdominal training? To performance? To the risk of injuries?
In this article we will share our insights on abdominal muscles and how we can optimize abdominal training for goalkeepers.

Should abdominal training for a goalkeeper be different compared to a soccer player?

When we aim to train effectively, it’s important to know the task of the goalkeeper.
And we’re not talking about keeping the zero on the score board (because that’s what we all expect) but about the physical tasks, the actions a soccer goalkeeper has to perform during the game or training.
So it concerns kicking from hand, drop shot, kicking from ground, handling back passes, picking up the ball, reflexes to close shots or deviations, anticipating high balls and crosses, diving into the corners,reaching/floating to the square, etc.
The difference compared to a player (and that’s not new), is that the goalkeeper may use his hands … and is reaching those hands in all directions. While a player’s arms and hands remain rather close to the body. Nothing new you would say, were it not that this impacts the training of our goalkeepers as their ‘task’ is somewhat original and unique.

Abdominal muscles

Important to know is how muscles function, how they help us in daily activities and how we can specifically activate or train them for ‘goalkeeping’. There are a lot of different approaches, millions of abdominal programs and plenty of people who daily exercise their abs. We hope to clarify in this article (to a certain extent) how you, as a coach or player, could train abs most effectively.
Some items will be slightly different than you thought and require a certain adaptation. We provide clear explanations and examples, so give yourself enough time to possess it, try it out and FEEL it!
Think of it as a complement to what you already know.
Subscribe to our educational and FREE 12-week abdominal program

Here we GO!

Abdominal muscle function

To make it clear and easy to understand, consider the abdominal muscles as the ‘soft tissue’-connector between two large bony rings in the body: on one hand, the pelvis, on the other hand the chest with the ribs.

The abs will become active when moving either one or both rings at once (like running). Not only abs, but all our muscles, create movement by contraction (concentric, the attachments move to each other) but also take care of braking/decellerating movements at the point of extreme stretch (eccentric, the attachments are separated).

Our abdominal muscles don’t only become active when reaching up from supine (concentric) but also in stance when inclining the trunk backwards (eccentric), when raising the trunk upwards from lateral lying position (concentric) but also in stance when inclining the trunk laterally (eccentric, meaning decellerating at the side which is being stretched).
For rotations it is often more difficult to sense it, but if you rotate your trunk to the left and right in stance, you will get on both sides a concentric and eccentric activation of the obliques depending on the movement. Our abdominal muscle activation will therefore depend on the starting position (supine, lateral lying position, stance, …) and the movement/task.

Crunch, straight or oblique, concentric

‘Bridge’, make it dynamic!

Stretch/activate by bending laterally

A number of questions which you can already answer. These will help you understand the logic.

What do you think could be a disadvantage when always training concentric?
What are the benefits of training the abdominal muscles eccentric? And how do you do that?
How often does a goalie need to reach up from lying position during a game?
How often does a goalie need to reach towards the ball during a game?
Do you think there is a difference in training the abdominal muscles for both actions?

Train your abs concentric or eccentric? Or both?

The focus in our training is currently primarily (too much) on the concentric part, in which we bring the attachments closer to each other, think about the crunches. In a crunch (see photo above), we lift our trunk from supine position in order to train the abs (concentric).
Ever after the ‘trend’ stabilization training has reached soccer, ‘bridges’ are performed quite often; making a bridge starting in a prone position, leaning on elbows and foot points and maintain that position as long as possible. One can also start in a lateral lying position. This exercise is useful for goalies although we prefer dynamic movements instead of static. By sagging and raising again from a prone or lateral lying position, you make it dynamic and you go from eccentric muscle work (stretch) to concentric. In this way you train the ‘braking’ function of abdominal muscles.

The above exercises are very useful for a goalkeeper; however we wish to add the following. A goalkeeper has to reach towards the ball several times during training or match which requires the braking effect of abdominal muscles. Suppose we only work concentric (shortening the muscle), it can harm the scope of our goalkeeper and have disadvantages on the posture and mobility and increases the risk of injuries.
Is it not important that you, as a goalkeeper, can fully stretch? Wouldn’t it be more productive to combine that with ‘functional abdominal training’?

Imagine this: you sit behind a desk in a bent position all day long. At night you go to the goalkeeper training and you need to reach to the square, do you think the bent posture will help or hinder you?
Suppose you start the training with ‘crunches’, does that help you or does it have the adverse affect on your posture and stretching?
Hopefully we understand by now that crunches are sometimes necessary; however we also need the opposite movement: the opening of the trunk, the activation of the braking effect of abdominal muscles.

Doesn’t stretching increase the risk of injuries?

A logical and frequently asked question, but if you’re not training the body to what it has to do afterwards, how can it complete its task safely? A goalkeeper must be very flexible and explosive and we will make him more athletic by training him in this way.
We assume that we all know to start always the training with a focused warming up and to increase the intensity gradually.
So contrary, any athlete at any level will sport safer when his/her body has built up more resistance to stretch.
Soccer DVD : Injury Prevention and Strength training by mobility and flexibility

The practice, go the other way!

Ok, it seems logical to open the trunk when training the abdominal muscles because we also need to do that when reaching towards the ball … but how do we train that?
Very simple, stand up and reach with both extended arms above your head and lean backwards, you will feel the stretch in the abdomen. Same thing but now reaching with both arms sideways to the left and right, you will feel the stretch in your flanks, right?
Make it more difficult by repeating this with small weights or a medicine ball. You will feel the stretch on the abdomen and this training has no disadvantages on your attitude, on the contrary.
So instead of getting up from supine position and bend, we lean backwards in stance, meaning the other direction.
You can vary on two legs, one leg, with jumps front-rear, left-right, …

Abs at stretch, 1 leg, with dumbbells

Swing the medicine ball from bottom left

to upper right, stretch + rotation ! And vice versa.

Functional abdominal training

Functional training is training in function of your task… so if your training resembles your final assignment (goalkeeping), you’re already quite in the right direction.
The simple practical example shown above can be further developed in a creative way.

1. Think of all the movements a keeper must make and ensure that your strength and abdominal training resembles them. Don’t only make muscle strengthening movements in a lying position but also in stance and include a lot of rotations in your training.
2. Consider the 2 rings and bring them in motion. The abs will become active right away without you having to know all the details.
3. Think especially of the eccentric (stretching) movements.
4. Material: Some little dumbbells or a weight ball, the logical insights and you can start working.
5. Contact us at for more information or questions.
6. ‘The Functional Stretching Program for soccer players and soccer coaches’

Good luck!

Willem Timmermans
Physioherapist – Personal & Lifestyle Trainer – Applied Functional Science – Education
Functional Injury Prevention – Training – Rehabilitation

Lieven De Veirman
Personal Trainer – Coach Act2prevent – Applied Functional Science
Functional Injury Prevention – Training


Over act2prevent

Kinesitherapeut & personal trainer van opleiding, gek op persoonlijke ontwikkeling en sporten. Mijn passie is voetbal en andere balsporten. Hou van duiken en genieten van het leven. Sinds eind 2014 gestart met een eigen voetbalschool voor talentvolle spelertjes geboren in 2008 en later. Wij bieden met de voetbalschool extra trainingen aan tijdens 'vrije' momenten net als een complete 'interne' opleiding.
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