If you’re looking to add power to your shot, it makes sense to focus on making your legs ultra-strong, so you can launch the ball into the net like a it's a heat-seeking missile. But if you want to improve your overall game—and boost your shot at the same time—you should focus on strengthening your core and your lower body, too.
Core strength is essential for athletes in all sports, but especially for soccer players, says Paul Caffrey, the Houston Dynamo’s director of sports performance. “For me, the core is extremely important for players, glute strength, lower body strength, and hip mobility are important—a strong core helps add power and prevent injuries.”
Focusing on core strength can also benefit flexibility, endurance, and stamina: “We do a lot of work on hip mobility and hip strength, because there's a lot of muscles that are connecting together—they need to be strong for players to run as much as they do. If you have tight hips, then you will be less mobile, you’ll be less functional, less powerful.”
Here are 3 methods Caffrey recommends for adding core and lower body strength:
How to do it: Stand with your arms at your sides, dumbbells in your hands, and step forward with your right leg. Lunge forward and bend your right knee, keeping your body upright, then push back with your heel to the starting position.
What it does: The exercise helps with lower body balance and stability and gives soccer players a boost in running speed. “The lunges help you build the strength you need in your lower body and core to last all game,” says Caffrey.
Pro Tip: Start with 10 or 15-pound weights, whatever is more comfortable. Begin with 2 sets of 10-15 reps, then increase to 3 reps after improvement. Do the exercise 2-3 times per week.
How to do it: Stand in front of a box or bench, holding dumbbells at your side. Put your right foot on the bench, so your thigh is parallel to the floor, then step up onto the bench. Leave your left leg trailing off the bench, then step down into starting position. Then switch legs and repeat.
What it does: The exercise helps with single-leg balance and strength, hip and ankle flexibility, and increasing stamina. It keeps your legs and lower body strong and helps with running and jumping: “Single-leg work is important,” Caffrey says. “Players are very rarely standing as they’re moving—it’s all on one leg. You're kicking, you're sprinting, you're running, you're jogging—a lot of single-leg work.”
Pro Tip: Start with 2 sets of 10 reps, one for each leg. Once that becomes comfortable, add another set for each leg. “Sometimes if you only do bilateral work, then you really can't identify how strong your legs are on their own,” Caffrey says. “But when you're doing the step-ups, then you’re working one side and you can notice, some of the differences that you have in your own balance. Then you can focus on them and correct them.”
How to do it: Using a dumbbell or kettlebell, stand up straight with the weight against your chest. Keep your feet shoulder-length apart, then drop down by bending your knees, keeping your chest up and back straight. Go down as far as you can, making sure your feet remain flat on the floor. Let your elbows brush the inside of your legs and push your knees out slightly, then raise back into starting position.
What it does: The exercise will help your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hips, plus it’s easier on your back compared to other drills. “Squats are a great exercise and a relatively easy one to do,” Caffrey says. “They can help build strength in your legs and core, and helps make you more powerful and faster on the field.”
Pro Tip: Start with 10 lb-20 lb weights while doing 2-3 sets of 10-15 squats.