Six Exercises to Help Deal with Muscle Imbalance in Soccer Players
Soccer requires a great deal of running up and down the pitch, often overworking lower body muscles such as the quadriceps, gastrocnemius (larger calf muscle in back of leg) and hip flexors (Iliopsoas—the iliacus and psoas major). This will lead to overpowering muscles in one respective area, causing an imbalance in the opposite area. For instance, the quadriceps, when they are worked the way they are in soccer, it, more than likely, will lead to an imbalance in the hamstring muscles. Overtime, a pulled hamstring or possible tear can occur.
Fortunately, the dilemma can be rectified by performing strength training and flexibility exercises to the opposite (antagonist) and affected muscles, respectively. This should help provide strength-balance and lengthen of the problematic muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the intended areas. Therefore, the soccer player should be able to perform better, and prevent injuries that would otherwise keep him or her away from the turf.
Note: The below exercise should be carried out at least three to four times a week, depending upon the level of play. The higher the level, the harder you should work, naturally.
Classic Deadlifts (Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus and Lower back – Erector Spinae)
All you need for this exercise is a pair of dumbbells or weighted barbell (appropriate weight, of course). If you don’t have weights, gallon bottles of milk or heavy soup cans will do the trick.
- Bend down (with your knees softly locked, but not fully) and use your lower back to gradually lift the weight. You will surely feel the contractions in your hamstrings, along with in your buttocks and lower back.
- Squeeze the muscles at the top of the exercise.
Sets and Reps: Perform 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps.
Standing Leg Curls (Hamstrings and Gastrocnemius—in an assistant role)
Since you probably don’t own any type of leg curl machines, I’m guessing, you can substitute it with ankle weights or exercise resistance bands.
- Wrap the weights or bands around your ankle.
- Keep the upper part of your leg immobile while bending your knee gradually as you attempt to touch your butt with your heel.
- Repeat with opposite leg.
Set and Reps: 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps.
Note: If you’re using an exercise band, affix it to the back part of the ankle/Achilles areas while securely attaching it to a ground-level stationary object in front of you.
Heel Walk (Shin Muscles — tibialis anterior and extensor digitorum longus)
Often in soccer players, the overworked gastrocnemius muscles can cause an imbalance in the shin muscles. So, how do you solve the problem? With dorsiflexion exercises (hinging the foot upward at the ankle or talocrural joint) such as heel walking, of course.
- Simply walk on your heels, as the name implies, for a period of time, as it will help strengthen this muscle region. You may add dumbbells as you progress.
Duration: 30-60 seconds, or until you fatigue the muscle.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch (Iliopsoas—the iliacus and psoas major)
This is a great flexibility exercise to loosen and stretch this muscle region, which often becomes tense and tight in soccer players because of the repetitive running motion.
- Place one leg in front of you, with one leg in back of you a decent distance apart from the front leg.
- Lean your trunk back while pulling your hip flexor area forward without moving your back leg. You should feel the stretch in the hip flexor area of the back leg.
Duration and Reps: Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times, then stretch the opposite leg.
The Standing Wall Calf Stretch – watch video.
All sorts of injuries may arise because of inflexible calves, including painful shin splits.
However, the standing wall calf stretch will loosen up the gastrocnemius muscle, helping to prevent the troublesome, chronic injury.
- Place your hands, with your arms locked, on a wall or fence, with your legs as far back as possible.
- Lean into the wall as you unlock your arms while keeping your feet and legs in place.
- The further your legs are back, the more you’ll feel the stretch in the intended area.
- Please do not bounce.
Duration and Reps: Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times.
Lying Hamstring Leg Stretch
While strengthen the hamstring muscle group will help correct muscle balance, it’s equal important to keep these muscles loose and flexible in order to help prevent injury.
- Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you while locking your knees.
- Reach with both arms in front of you as far out as you can without unlocking your knees.
- When you no longer can move forward, hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds.
- Switch legs, and repeat.
Note: You should be able to move forward a little more with each repetition.
Reps: Repeat three to four times.
Jerry Del Priore has worked as a certified personal trainer, and received his degree in Physical Education from Brooklyn College in 1991. Jerry is also a veteran print and digital Sports Writer-Reporter-Author experienced in writing in-depth profile stories on a variety of high school, college and professional athletes and teams.
Additionally, Jerry has developed a presentation based on his book, Running Through Roadblocks, which encourages children to overcome obstacles and never give up…no matter what!
Specialties: Baseball, football, hockey and basketball writing. Jerry also has covered lacrosse, soccer, golf and track and field, with ample experience cover women’s sports. Jerry is also a Food Writer/Blogger experienced in venue write-ups and reviews.
In addition, Jerry has ample experience working with medically fragile children, children with behavioral challenges and children with cognitively impairments.