A cross-country runner and a soccer player are both aerobic athletes – should they train the same way?
I don’t think so.
I think there should be distinct differences in the way each athlete trains.
Well, a cross-country runner spends at least 95% of their time running forward, occasionally moving left, right, or turning—they have little demand for quick changes in direction. Soccer players move forward and backward, left to right, up, down, and sideways. They need the ability to move well in all directions. The sports have different demands—all sports for that matter. Training strategies need to address the unique demands of each sport.
For example, sports like soccer, basketball, football, rugby, hockey—even baseball, require the ability to rapidly change direction. Research shows that during a match, soccer players make hundreds of changes in direction. That’s a huge demand on players – every change in direction is done at a different angle, direction, and speed.
To prepare for this certain parts of your training should attempt to recreate the
demands of a real game situation.
Training in all directions
A critical aspect of training for sports like soccer is making sure you
perform exercises in all planes of motion and in a variety of directions. If a soccer player needs to back peddle, jump or lung during a game—why wouldn’t their training prepare them to do this?
By training your muscles in a variety of ways, your muscles are better prepared for the demands of your sport.
Improving strength and power
Two critical components in agility ability are strength and power—both are needed to perform well.
The difference between strength and power?
Being strong means you can push a car, being powerful means you can push a car fast. The ability to change direction quickly means you’re able to produce a lot of power. To produce a lot of power you need to be strong AND you need to produce that strength quickly.
That means it’s important to first develop strength in all directions with resistance training and plyometric movements. Use exercises that require movement in all directions and planes of motion: frontal, sagittal, and transverse. Doing so will ensure you address all major movement patterns and recruit a wider range of muscles.
This alone won’t necessarily make your game performance significantly improve. Strength and power are important but your ability to react to situations plays a major role in how you perform during a game.
Improving reaction time
Speed and agility training is great to help you get faster, but when drills are pre-planned they won’t do much to help in real game situations. Running a 5—10—5 drill extrememly fast is impressive, but it isn’t as difficult or demanding as a 1 on 1 or small-sided drill. Competing 1 on 1 or in a small-sided setting adds an element you don’t get from pre-planned speed drills. By completing a drill where you have to make a decision, you’re creating a cognitive demand similar to that of a real game.
As you complete realistic game scenarios more and more, the neural connections between your brain and those types of movements will get stronger. As a neural connection becomes stronger, the brain is better able to communicate with the muscles it needs.
Creating a strong neural drive along with strong and powerful muscles is what you need in order to optimize performance and your ability to move in all directions.
In order to improve your in-game speed and agility you need to address several factors.
· Strong and powerful muscles – Strong muscles will set the foundation for your ability to change direction. With stronger muscles you have the potential to produce more force in a shorter amount of time helping you move more quickly.
· Ability to react – Improvements in muscular ability don’t automatically translate to improved sport performance. Engage in sport specific drills that simulate the demands of your sport and promote the development of the neural pathways involved in those movements.