Building Core Stability for the Soccer Player
A Soccer player is required to generate sufficient power to any part of the body from their center of gravity.
This is also known as Core Strength.
A strong core will optimally assist in achieving maximum stability, and is vitally important for the soccer player when constantly exposed to extreme fluctuating movement patterns.
By Operating as a finely tuned transmission system the core assists in absorbing internal and external forces, and transfers power through ground reaction, and regulating weight distribution for efficiency of movement.
It is nearly always assumed that having a strong core requires you to work solely on your main abdominal muscle group ie : your Rectus Abdominus. And that to strengthen this area you need to perform generic forms of conditioning such as crunches etc, performed in multiple reps and sets.
The reality however is that the core requires many muscle groups to work and activate in unison to produce a solid foundation, and involves conditioning the entire length of the torso, anterior (front) and posterior (back).
The core is comprised of 29 muscles known as the lumbo pelvic hip complex, all of which play a major role in strengthening the core as a unit that activate to stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle.
Gray Cook author of ‘ Athletic Body in Balance’ states that the spine needs to stay in a strong and stable state when performing any dynamic or explosive motions.
Yet this does not happen if conventional principles such as crunches mentioned above are incorporated into the programme.
Dynamic Soccer Player therefore includes functional core exercises, which not only strengthen the core muscles, but also keep the spine rigid and neutral. This way the core is developed to attain total stability without flexion of the spine, and becomes a much more solid unit when required to respond during soccer games.
This following section demonstrates tests and exercises for core strength.
How to activate your Core
If I warned you that I was about to execute a light punch to your midsection, invariably you would prepare for this action by tensing your abdominals to absorb the impact.
By doing this you would be activating your Transverse Abdominis (TVA.)
This is a wall of muscle which lies beneath the main outer unit muscle groups such as the Rectus Abdominis, and the Internal / External Obliques. Muscles associated with effectively moving the body.
The TVA is also known as an inner unit mechanism and works in conjunction with 3 other inner unit muscles that are:
- The Diaphragm
- Pelvic Floor Muscles
Together they form the centre of the core.
As you contract the TVA it tightens and squeezes around the spine, just as a Boa Constrictor would its prey, and therefore restricts the spines movement and increases stability. And is one of the key components in how to play soccer more effectively.
Below are two basic core function tests which can help you to understand this concept better Forward Bend Test
- Inhale and draw in your bellybutton towards the spine, as if to brace yourself for a hit to the stomach. proceed to tie a piece of string round your waist just above the hips. If you relax and breath out the string should be tight.
- Place an object, such as a medicine ball or something which is not to light or heavy down near your feet
- Slowly bending over try to pick up the object while keeping the string as loose as you can on the way down and back up again. This exercise helps you to understand how to stabilize the spine by consciously activating the TVA. Eventually this should happen automatically without thinking.
Should the string become tight while attempting to pick up and lift the object, this means your core is weak and requires more work.
Below is a test that can help to address this problem. TVA Activation Test
If you have access to a blood pressure gauge (sphygmamomitor) this test is not only a great way for a soccer player to attain a better idea of how to activate their TVA. But also acts as a barometer as to how strong you can contract the muscles.
This exercise may also be added as part of a soccer players core conditioning program.
- Lying face down on the floor, place the armband of the gauge under your bellybutton, with easy access to the rubber pump so you can easily inflate it with your hand.
- Breath out and inflate the armband to 40mmhg, allowing the complete weight of the body to push downwards.
- From there, relax and visualise a punch to the stomach, as you suck your bellybutton in towards your spine. The gauge should decrease from 40mmhg. Do not hold your breath and breath normally.
- Your main aim is to decrease the pressure by 10mmhg or more
- Hold for between 6 - 20 seconds
How Strong is your Core ?
To evaluate this question the Core Muscle Strength and Stability Test
can be used as an excellent gauge to measure your present core strength as a soccer player, in addition to tracking your progress in the future.
The test requires you to adopt the Plank position (press up position but resting on your forearms ) on a comfortable surface with a stopwatch nearby. Activating your TVA as described above.
- Start watch and hold that position for 60 seconds
- Suspend your right arm off the floor and hold for 15 seconds
- Return arm to the floor and simultaneously repeat with opposite arm for 15 seconds
- Return that arm to the floor and then suspend the right leg off the floor again for 15 seconds
- Return the right leg back to the floor and simultaneously suspend the left leg for a further 15 seconds
- While still suspending the left leg, now lift your right arm again for 15 seconds
- Return both to the ground and repeat simultaneously with opposite side arm and leg
- Return to first Plank position (1) and hold for a further 30 seconds
NOTE: Try to point your toes when extending and suspending the legs
If you can complete the test you have good core strength and stability, if on the other hand you were unsuccessful the drills and exercises below can be implemented into a core programme as well as practicing the test 3 or 4 times a week until you see improvement. Its also a good idea to record your results each session and describe how you felt.
Stabilization and Movement Systems
There are in fact two muscular systems to take into consideration when implementing an effective core conditioning programme for a soccer player, and they are Stabilization and Movement.
Each one is just as important to the other and therefore must be trained in equilibrium to produce total functionality for soccer.STABIZATION
The Stabilization System does what it says on the tin ‘stabilize.’
Where stability is the ability to control movement and force.’
In other words important muscle groups of the core which are responsible in the efficient movement of prime mover muscles, such as the hamstrings etc for the soccer player. Must be able to provide sufficient stability and strength to help transmit the power required for effective soccer moves.
A lack of strength in this area will result in the breakdown of movement patterns and ultimately develop muscle compensations which lead to synergistic dominance and reoccurring soccer injuries.
Stabilization muscles primarily involve the transverse abdominis, internal obliques, diaphragm, pelvic floor, and multifidus
To often soccer players possess powerful and rapid movement of the limbs, but are unable to produce their maximum potential because of a weak stabilization system.
Therefore building a strong stabilization base is paramount, and can be compared to building a solid foundation before erecting a house, knowing that it will support a complete structure.
The following exercises act as corrective strength drills that activate inactive muscles of the core. These muscles are instrumental for the soccer player when executing more advanced drills and movements to their full potential. STABILIZATION EXERCISESLeg Raise and Support
The purpose of this drill is to constantly keep the stabilizing muscles of the core in an active state, by pressing your lower back into the ground using minimum movement of the pelvis and lower back.
- Adopting a supine ( facing up ) position while lying on the ground, with the feet on the floor and knees bent. Place your hand under your lower back and proceed to brace the abdominals as if expecting a punch.
- Press your lower back into your hand and the ground and lift your left leg so that the thigh and knee are at 90°
- Still continuing to press your back into the floor, and bracing your abdominals, hold that position for 5 seconds and slowly lower the leg back.
- Repeat 5 times for each leg
Russian Ballet Leg thrust
- Breath normally
- Keep the pelvis and lower back stationary
- Use your hand between the lower back and floor to gauge for any arching of the back and to help keep it in a neutral spine position by constantly pressing downwards.
- Mentally focus on contracting your core muscles to control the foots ascent and descent to and from the ground
Once you have strengthened the core using the Leg Raise, try this more advanced drill to help the main abdominal muscles to stabilize the spine against the hip flexors (psoas muscles).
These muscles if tight and shortened can lead to the lower back arching (hyperlordosisi) and create problems in the spine which will hinder any movement for the soccer player when training or playing.
Also don’t let the name deceive you either, this exercise if performed regularly will turn your abs and hip flexors into a major team players, and in turn produce a solid core and back.
Static Back Extention (Swiss Ball)
- Follow the same instructions as in the leg raise, but with your left or right leg vertical pointing upwards with toes pointed.
- Inhale deeply, tense your glutes (backside muscles) and proceed to lower your raised leg while pressing down on your hand under your lower back.
- Breath out as you descend, releasing small breaths through your teeth in a hissing fashion as if you were a snake. This helps increase the intra-abdominal pressure within the core.
- Ensure the spine is kept flat and neutral by monitoring any arch in the back that will occur if pressure is not constantly applied to your hand.
- Once you have reached the floor,rest briefly before inhaling and returning to the starting position.
- Perform 5 reps right and left
This drill helps in developing the increased activation of deep stabilizing muscles located in the spine and core.
Static Side Raise (Lateral Plank)
- Position yourself in a prone or facing down position while laying on top of a swiss ball with the pelvis pressed into the rear of the ball. Feet about shoulder width apart.
- Lift the upper part of the torso so that you create a straight line through the entire length of the body, with your arms at your sides also inline, and suspended a foot or so away from the body. Turn the hands palms down with fingers spread. Keeping the head naturally aligned.
- Try to attain this position for about 2 - 3 minutes. Starting with 30 seconds and increase progressively if the core lacks the required strength.
Helps strengthen the abdominals (TVA) back, obliques, and shoulders which play an important role in lateral movement for the soccer player.
- Lay on your side, body fully extended with your arm and forearm at a 90° angle facing away from the chest. Feet positioned one on top of the other.
- Tensing your abs and Glutes proceed to lift the entire body off the floor using your arms as support. Remembering to keep the torso in a straight line and your head naturally aligned like it would be if you were standing up. Arms straight and at your sides resting on top.
- Try to hold for 30 + seconds each side working up to about 2 - 3 minutes
If you do not possess sufficient strength to do this drill in the beginning, take the feet away by bending at the knees. So that you decrease the weight.Cook Hip Lift
This drill concentrates solely on re-educating the gluteus Maximus muscle to fire, and to limit lumber spine extention which can cause lower back pain.Single Leg Hip Lift
For the soccer player this exercise is indispensable with regards to firing the glutes and hips for effective speed, quicker lateral cutting, and jumping. It also goes a long way in preventing hamstring and groin strain injuries nearly always associated with soccer.
Try to make this drill a regular fixture in your training as it will pay big dividends when competing in soccer games.NOTE: Stabilization always preceeds Movement training.
Once total stabilization in the core has been established, the implementation of movement patterns can then be introduced. Knowing that the communication between both systems will result in a total and flawless distribution of equal power, when executing simple or advanced soccer moves.
Movement strength drills involve the muscles that ultimately assist in the movement of the lumbo pelvic hip complex, and consist of the hamstrings, latissimus Dorsi, rectus abdominus, erector spinae, adductors, external obliques, and iliopsoas muscles. These muscle groups are instrumental in performing twisting, turning, pushing and pulling movements for explosive soccer plays throughout the game.
A soccer player needs to acheive the ability of moving correctly in soccer to produce great performances, and so it is important to recruit and activate all of these inner and outer unit muscle groups together.
By including the Swiss Ball into your core training program and using a variety of different exercise options like the ones below, will help you significantly.
Sample Movement exercises
Reverse Hyperextension ( Swiss Ball )
Squat Thrust (Swiss Ball)
Russian Twist (Swiss Ball)
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