It may come as a shock, but yes, there’s more to World Cup fever than world-class abs. The Beautiful Game inspires patriotism, poise under pressure, and athleticism in its purest form. And while we can’t all have Lionel Messi’s legs or Claudio Marchisio’s shoulders (did we mention Ronaldo’s abs?), there is some use in trying.
Soccer players are among the fittest athletes in the world — a pitch perfect blend of agility, speed, power and finesse. And the magic they exude doesn’t just happen on the playing field. According to Jonathan Barlow, Performance Specialist at EXOS (formerly Athletes’ Performance) and trainer to members of the U.S. Men’s National Team and the LA Galaxy, strength training is the most essential way to get players in game-ready shape and prevent injury.
“A high level of base strength gives athletes the ability to produce more force, which yields a more powerful soccer player that can sprint and change direction at a faster rate,” Barlow says. “Strength training also decreases injury potential so the soccer athlete spends less time on the sideline and more time in the game.”
So whether your goal is making A squad or just looking and feeling like you belong there, there’s no time like the present to hit the gym. Try this World Cup-caliber workout from Barlow that’s fit for the pros.
The World Cup Strength Workout
Complete each of the following five moves for the prescribed reps and sets listed below. Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets, or longer if needed between the weighted exercises.
1. Mini-Band External Rotation
This exercise helps to activate the glutes before a training session or match. “These muscles are extremely important when accelerating, and decelerating on the pitch,” Barlow says. “Strong, active glutes can also protect against injury.”
How to: Place a mini band around your legs, just above the knees and stand in an athletic position, knees slightly bent, hips back (a). Keeping your chest up and feet firmly planted, bring both knees inward and then outward, while engaging the glutes and core (b). If you feel this working the outside of your hips, you’re doing it right!
Sets: 2, Reps: 10
2. Lateral Lunge with Reach
Challenge lower-body stability while stretching the hip flexors and lateral torso. “This exercise will help improve hip mobility, which translates to more power and efficiency when sprinting on the field,” Barlow says.
How to: Start by stepping back with your right foot into a lunge, right hip directly over your right knee, left knee directly over your left foot (a). While contracting your right glute, reach your right hand overhead and laterally crunch your torso to the left, touching your left hand to the ground (b). Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side (c).
Sets: 2, Reps: 5 on each side
3. Linear Hurdle Hop
Practice makes perfect, and this move teaches soccer players proper body mechanics when landing and decelerating. “Not only will this improve the athlete’s change of direction abilities, but it will decrease the potential for injury — especially around the knee,” Barlow says.
How to: Set up five small hurdles or cones in front of you, each about 16 to 18 inches apart. Balance on one leg in front of the first hurdle (a). Hop over the hurdle, landing on the same foot, and continue over the remaining hurdles, landing softly to absorb impact though the hips and glutes (b). Be sure not to allow the knee to collapse to the inside upon takeoff or landing.
Sets: 3, Reps: 5 on each leg
4. Dumbbell Push Press
This advanced, multi-joint exercise teaches the lower body and upper body to work in unison in order to produce all-out power. Prepare to strengthen the quadriceps, deltoids (shoulders) and triceps all in one demanding move.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your chest, elbows bent at your sides, palms facing forward (a). Keeping your heels grounded, chest up and shoulders back, lower into a quarter squat (b). Then, explosively come to standing, driving through your legs to help push the dumbbells overhead, locking your arms out at full extension and bracing your core (c). Lower the weights back to the start position and repeat (d).
Sets: 3, Reps: 5
5. Barbell Romanian Deadlift
Also known as the RDL, “this fundamental exercise builds strength in the hamstrings and glutes — two muscles which are extremely important during acceleration, deceleration and change of direction,” Barlow says.
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, barbell in front of you on the floor (a). Keeping your back flat, shoulders back and chest up, hinge at the hips and lower down to grasp the barbell with an overhand grip (b). (Note: an overhand grip is standard, though the underhand grip is pictured in the accompanying GIF.) Contracting your hamstrings and glutes, slowly rise to a standing position without bending your legs or rounding your spine, ensuring the barbell stays against your body throughout the entire movement (c). Lock your knees and hips out fully at the very top of the movement, barbell resting against your hips (d).
Sets: 4, Reps: 6
For more World Cup action, tune in to see the USA take on Portugal this Sunday at 6 p.m. EST on ESPN.