Stability training for soccer players…a different point of view.

History of stability training

We can’t exactly trace in detail when the term ‘stability training’ entered the soccer world, but we notice that ‘stability training’ in soccer has gained ground increasingly in the last 5 years. Without being able to confirm the authenticity, we assume that the technique of stabilizing arose from the medical world, where physiotherapists apply stability training on their patients. Stability training would be useful for ‘unstable’ structures such as pelvic, back, ankle, …

Stability training in soccer

The most powerful organization in soccer, FIFA, has given the stabilizing techniques in soccer a worldwide reputation by including it in their exercise program FIFA11+
The posters showing the exercises can be found in many soccer locker rooms and cafeterias. Health care professionals ensure further distribution of these exercises and soccer coaches apply them in their training.
The exercises are described as a kind of strength training and even as a tool in injury prevention.

What body part is actually unstable in playing soccer?

An inquiry for coaches using these exercises gave us answers like the trunk, the abdomen and spine, the hip, the knee, the ankle, …. Another question might be: How do you notice that a soccer player is unstable at these structures? Isn’t individualization required because stability, or the lack of it, will be different for every player, no?
Most of these exercises are performed in group and approached from a more general form of strength training and injury prevention. The stability training would also help in entering into a duel, because won’t increased stability result in more power and strength?
We’ll get back on this later.

The ‘bench’ and ‘sideways bench’

When we briefly look at the exercises the FIFA11+ is proposing, we notice immediately that some exercises are not performed in stance, as we wonder how exercises, which are not performed in stance, can help us in a sport which is practiced standing.
We arrive at the ‘bench’ and the ‘sideways bench’ (exercise 7 and 8), though we find hamstrings exercise 9 at the very least ‘curious’ … but we will discuss this one elsewhere.
We find the so-called ‘benches’ quite often on our soccer grounds so we are going to analyze them considering ‘how the body works’ and what ‘task’ (playing soccer) the body has to perform. We will also look for, and give examples, how we can bring more logic into the current practices and make them more soccer oriented.
Before going into practice, we discuss the basic principles to better understand why we should or should not make certain choices. The principles will give you insight so you can further develop the examples yourself and bring more logic in training soccer players (and other athletes).

How does the body work?

If you want to activate the muscles, it might be important to bring them first at length in a dynamic way. This change in length stimulates the proprioceptors (nerve system) in the fibers (+ fascia) and awakes the whole system in order to respond. Working from stretch is not only beneficial to strength and flexibility but is also a powerful ‘tool’ in injury prevention, because our nervous system switches immediately to ‘protection mode’ and the body is (on the long run) building up more resistance to stretch.

The task: playing soccer

Our body is dynamic, is made to move and works best when trained to respond to various external stimuli, such as playing soccer. It is important for the training of soccer players to take into account the functioning of the body and the tasks entrusted to playing soccer: running, jumping, turning, braking, tackling, entering into a duel, …
Could it be that stabilization training for soccer players is different compared to goalkeepers?

Stability by moving!

One major misunderstanding with respect to stability training is that the body is not made to keep quiet and that you can stabilize by motion instead of ‘holding the position’. We don’t support the examples where you must hold 20 or 30 seconds (such as exercise 7.1 and 8.1) because eventually you don’t do that (hopefully ;-)) when playing soccer, right?
Conclusion : we are going to stabilize and ‘activate’ BY MOVING!

A fixed position or tweaking?

We clearly remember the time where we, as a physiotherapist or a trainer, wanted to show our added value by putting our patients and clients into a starting position of which we thought it was the best and safest position. Meanwhile, we understand that we only train the body optimally if we consider the task and all thousands of different positions in which you end up when playing soccer. By ‘tweaking’ we mean the variation in positions and movements.
We can tweak the three movement dimensions (sagittal, frontal and transversal plan) but also tweak in height, depth, speed, resistance, ….

Consciously or unconsciously?

Based on what we see during training, and also in prevention and rehabilitation, we often notice a kind of coaching in creating awareness of muscle tension: for example tightening of the Quadriceps, of the abs or buttocks or …
Consciously tightening has little ‘transfer’ to real movements or playing soccer.
Just think of sprinting with your opponent towards the ball and entering into a duel …
Which muscles do you consciously tighten? I fear … none!
Unconscious ‘movements’ (eg reaching for … instead of tightening of …) bring your training closer to reality.
Remember: our body does not detect muscle, only movements!
Many years ago, we started to break up our body and name all different muscles. We now realize that we should put all pieces back together and merge them to a whole.

The practice

We will discuss two examples : exercise 7 and 8 of FIFA11+, in other words the ‘bench’ and ‘sideways bench’. We will implement a number of improvements based on the principles we have discussed above and you will notice that, even after the adjustments, a motion analysis is required to minimize the gap to ‘playing soccer’ with focused exercises.

The bench, FIFA11+ exercise 7

The Bench ( exercise 7)

What changes could you make if you were to apply our principles?
• We opt for dynamic movements. This means we don’t implement 7.1 statically, as described. It can be made dynamically by sagging and lifting deliberately. This creates a bit of a stretch. We are certainly not tightening our muscles consciously.
• The leg movement in 7.2 provides more dynamics and had our preference to 7.3 where you go back to a static position.
• Variations: there is no reason why you should stick to this starting position. This means you can also put your legs wider or narrower, the arms (elbows) wider or narrower, 1 arm in front or more backward, performing opening and closing jumps, cross one leg underneath the other leg, … . So tweak the starting position and the movements. You can also make a lateral movement of the pelvis, or a rotational movement, ….

The sideways bench, FIFA11+ exercise 8

The Sideways Bench ( exercise 8 )

What changes could you make if you were to apply our principles?
• We opt for dynamic movements. This means we don’t implement 8.1 statically, as described. It can be made dynamically by sagging and lifting deliberately, like in 8.2. This creates a bit of a stretch. We are certainly not tightening our muscles consciously.
• Exercise 8.2 provides more dynamics and had our preference to 8.1 .
• Exercise 8.3 provides an extra lateral movement of the leg and makes it dynamic. Although it is dynamic, the lateral movement of the upper leg in combination with shoving of the pelvis, isn’t necessarily a movement you will make when playing soccer. (Video coming up soon)
• Variations: there is no reason why you should stick to this starting position. This means you can also put your legs in a front-rear position (similar to running) and make it dynamically by e.g. also swinging your upper leg back and forward, combined with sagging and lifting the pelvis. To stay as close as possible to the reality of running, sag your pelvis when your upper leg is backward and lift your pelvis when swinging the upper leg forward. So tweak the starting position and the movements. You can also make a front-rear movement of the pelvis, or a rotational movement, ….

Comparison and evaluation of exercises 7 and 8

Both prior and after the adjustments, exercise 8 gets our preference (at least when duel strength is the goal) compared to 7, because in soccer you seldom enter a duel in the sagittal plan (front-rear) but more in the frontal plan (lateral movement). Creating stability in the frontal plan of the hip gets our preference.
We have deliberately chosen these two exercises, because there is little transfer to soccer (you stand upright on two legs or one). Improving stability, increasing duel strength and working on injury prevention should be done in stance, partly because muscles respond differently depending on their starting position. The FIFA11+ exercises in stance, where there is dynamics and no deliberate corrections, are highly useful.

So if you want to train soccer oriented, make it dynamic, tweak your movements, work as much as possible in stance and allow the movements to resemble ‘playing soccer’. Even without a detailed motion analysis or a detailed knowledge of functional anatomy and biomechanics of the body, you will bring as a coach or player more logic in your workouts.
video : 3D dynamic stability training for soccer

Soccer DVD: ‘Injury prevention and strength training by mobility and flexibility’
The functional stretching program for soccer players and soccer coaches

Good luck!

Willem Timmermans
Physiotherapist – Personal Training – Applied Functional Science – Education
Functional Injury Prevention – Training – Rehabilitation
www.act2prevent.com
www.top-training.tips.com

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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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