The best gym workouts for footballers

July 04 2018

We only really see our favourite footballers when they’re in action on the pitch. In those 90 minutes, they display efforts of superhuman speed and agility, showcasing their skills with a beautiful cross here and an unstoppable bicycle kick there.

But it’s in the gym where footballers develop their skills. They spend more time on those weight machines and treadmills than they do in front of the crowds of Wembley or Old Trafford because it’s there that they can focus on strength, flexibility and speed that makes for a stadium-worthy performance.

If you want to see your own game improve, you should turn your attention to the gym. We’ve put together a list of exercises that will help you improve on the key components that all footballers need to constantly work on:

- Speed 

- Endurance

- Agility

Exercises for speed

How is it that players like Gareth Bale can achieve those incredible bursts of speed that leave defenders in the dust? The answer: precise training.

These exercises are designed to help you accelerate faster so you can speed past the defence and reach those long crosses for a magnificent finish.

Single-leg squat

Why they help: When you push off into a sprint, you’re essentially putting all your power into one leg at a time. While regular squats are great for activating key muscle groups in your legs — quads, hamstrings and glutes — single-leg squats help train each leg to take the full weight of the body as they would do in a sprint to develop the power you’ll need to launch yourself forward when chasing a fast through-ball.

How to do them:

1. Stand on one foot and hold your other leg out in front of you as close to hip height as you can get.

2. Slowly bend the knee of your supporting leg, holding your arms out in front of you to help you stay balanced.

3. Lower yourself as low as you can and hold that position for a second before slowly rising back to your starting position.

Dumbbell bench step-ups

Why they help: Tony Strudwick, head of fitness and conditioning for Manchester United, suggests doing dumbbell bench step-ups because they help develop the same muscle group you’ll be using when going from a sprint to a jump to get those satisfying set-piece headers.

How to do them:

1. Stand next to a bench and hold a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length at your sides.

2. Place your foot (the one closest to the bench) onto the bench and extend your leg until it’s straight so that your body is pushed off the ground.

3. Keeping your other foot elevated, hold this position for two seconds before returning to the starting position.

Weighted sled drags

Why they help: The sled drag puts heavy resistance on all the muscles you use to propel yourself forward: the calves, glutes, core, back and shoulders. Working these muscles hard has a big payoff when it comes to acceleration because it increases your power output and ground reaction forces.

How to do them:

1. Attach a harness to your torso that connects via two cords to a weighted sled. Start light at first: too heavy a weight will impede your sprinting ability.

2. Lean forward and start with small steps, pulling the sled along behind you.

3. As you pick up speed, start running with longer strides. You’ll need to apply consistent pressure to prevent the sled from swaying side to side.

4. Stop after about 50 yards, then repeat.

Exercises for stamina

If you’ve ever completed a full 90-minute match, you’ll know how difficult it is to keep going in the final minutes, even without extra time to worry about.

These exercises will help you build the stamina you need to endure high-intensity matches without your energy levels being depleted before the final whistle.

HIIT on treadmill

Why it helps: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) mimics the rhythms of a real football match, where you might quickly switch between walking around the pitch and sprinting into the box. It conditions your body to quickly switch from the aerobic to the anaerobic system and back again. That way your body learns to use oxygen more efficiently to prepare for the next sudden change of pace.

How to do it:

1. On a treadmill, set the incline to 1% and gradually build speed from a gentle run for 10 minutes.

2. Once you’ve reached medium effort, run for 30 seconds at your maximum speed

3. Return to jogging for 3 minutes

4. Repeat 4 to 6 times

Burpee pull-ups

Why they help: A favourite of Ronaldo’s, burpee pull-ups push your body to the limit while working a wide range of muscle groups, including your arms, chest, quads, glutes and hamstrings. They’re ideal for conditioning and endurance because they rapidly increase your heart rate, mimicking what would happen in that dash for the ball.

How to do them:

1. Stand under a pull-up bar with your feet shoulder-length apart.

2. Place both hands on the floor in front of you and quickly kick your legs back so that your stomach, thighs and toes are all touching the floor and your elbows are bent.

3. From this position, use your triceps to do a press-up, lifting your hips up so you can bring your legs back up so your feet are tucked up beneath you.

4. Stand and jump. Grab the bar above you as you jump and immediately pull yourself up until your chin is just above the bar.

5. Drop down to your starting position and repeat.

Lateral band walks

Why they help: Band walks activate your glutes, helping prevent injury either from muscle fatigue and overstretching or from the wrathful boot of an oncoming defender. Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford can be seen doing these here.

How to do them:

1. Place a resistance band around your legs, just above your knees.

2. With your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-length apart, slowly step to the side, keeping your toes pointed forward.

3. After completing the step, follow with the opposite leg. To maintain tension, keep the feet at least shoulder width apart.

4. After 5 or 6 steps, move in the opposite direction.

Exercises for agility

The best footballers to watch are those that display superhuman feats of agility, swiveling their way around the ball and darting between players like dancers in a frenetic ballet. It’s the reason we call it “the beautiful game”.

Great footwork, balance and the ability to quickly shift your direction doesn’t happen by chance: it’s the result of some dedicated time in the gym. Here are a few exercises to help you hone your technique.

Medicine ball push-ups

Why they help: While push-ups might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of agility, they’re important for building your core strength. This in turn improves your balance so you can make those rapid turns without falling face-first into the mud. Gareth Bale incorporates medicine ball push-ups into his gym routine for that very reason.

How to do them:

1. Place both of your hands on a medicine ball on the floor in front of you.

2. Move into a press-up position with your hands still on the ball under your chest and your toes touching the floor.

3. Slowly lower yourself with your arms so that your chest touches the ball, then push yourself back up into starting position. Apply even pressure through each arm to ensure the ball doesn’t roll out from beneath you.

Lateral hurdle sprints

Why they help: This exercise ensures your footwork is not only quick but accurate, too. The hurdles force you to lift your legs higher than you normally would, preparing you to dodge those sliding tackles without losing momentum.

How to do them:

1. Place a mini hurdle on the floor at each side of your body.

2. Lift up your right leg and quickly step outside of the right hurdle, bringing your left foot over to join it.

3. Move your left foot back over to the middle with your right foot following, then repeat on the left hurdle.

4. Repeat this exercise, ensuring you’re keeping up a high pace.

Forward-backward sprints

Why they help: Let’s face it — you won’t always be in possession of the ball. Forward-backward sprints help prepare you for abrupt shifts in direction, training your body to move quickly in any direction. Backwards sprints in particular help develop muscle memory for when you can’t take your eyes off an oncoming striker.

How to do them:

1. Set out cones 20m apart.

2. Sprint forward from the first cone towards the second.

3. Upon reaching the second cone, come to a stop, and run backwards to the first cone as quickly as you can.

If you’re serious about improving your game, why not find out a little more about our personal trainers?