I started playing soccer at the age of three and haven’t been able to shake my love of the sport since. In middle school, my little sister and I were notorious in our neighborhood for breaking off the tops of fence posts as we attempted to chip soccer balls over the “obstacles” to each other. My dad was thrilled about the “charm” the missing pieces of fence added to our home, let me tell you. But no matter how much trouble we got in, I couldn’t wait to get home from school the next day so that I could go outside and play soccer. After seven years of select soccer, winning gold at the Junior Olympics in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and playing on my high school varsity team, I began to feel burnt out by the sport that had always been a source of joy for me and made the difficult decision not to pursue playing soccer at the college level. Shortly after I settled into my dorm room, however, I found myself wishing that I’d continued to play soccer at a competitive level and couldn’t help but wonder if I’d made a mistake. Craving the grass underneath my cleats, I joined an otherwise all-male intramural team and quickly became the target opponents wanted to push off the ball any chance they got. I relished the challenge and found myself working on my footwork, core strength, and speed in my downtime after class so that I could outsmart the players who simply wanted to knock me down. As my speed and skills improved, I was knocked down less and found myself enjoying more room on the field as my teammates rallied around me. Although the intramural team disbanded one season later, I kept working on my footwork and still use some of the same drills I’ve learned from my coaches along the way as my go-to soccer workout on days when I want to switch up my fitness routine a bit. All you need to complete this workout is a soccer ball and some open space. I’ll typically walk across the street and execute this workout on the middle school soccer fields adjacent to my home. But this workout can also be done in a backyard, local park, or even indoors (though I would definitely recommend a room with some space and storing any valuables in a safe place). I also typically wear soccer cleats for this workout, but they are not required—just be sure to avoid any damp/wet grass if you’re in tennis shoes as you could easily slip and end up on your bum.
But first…we need to warm up those muscles.
Before you dive into the specific exercises, I strongly recommend warming up your body a bit for these soccer-style movements. I try to do my warm up in an area where I have 10+ yards to run (like the soccer field at the middle school across from my home, but a backyard setting works nicely here as well). Using the 10-yard marker on the field, I do the following movements consecutively to complete one circuit. I do each movement down to the marker and back to the starting position before beginning the next exercise. All four exercises combined compose my mini circuit. I do this entire circuit a total of five times, taking 30-second breaks after each individual exercise.
- Butt kicks: This movement is similar to a light jog, but instead of going with your normal gait, you bring the backs of your heels up to lightly kick your own bum as you move forward. If you don’t want grass and/or mud stains on your clothes, you can place your hands, palms facing out, near the bottom of your cheeks so that you can kick your hands instead.
- Side shuffles: With your hips shoulder width apart, squat low as though you are a hockey goalie (you can put your hands out in front if this helps you with balance) and shuffle sideways like a crab without crossing your legs over each other. You should be facing right or left during this movement, not looking straight ahead. Begin by facing right and then switch to facing left on your return.
- High knees: This movement is similar to marching in place, except you are moving your body forward at a faster pace. Try to bring each knee up to about chest level and remember to keep breathing.
- Slow jog: Take this time to be mindful of how your body is feeling. This is a great time to catch your breath if you’re feeling a bit winded from the other exercises.
After I’ve warmed up my body and awoken my legs from their sedentary slumber, I like to gently stretch for about five minutes. During this time I’ll typically focus on stretching my hamstrings, quads, calf muscles, and hips to prepare my body for the remaining exercises.
My Go-To Soccer Workout
Full disclosure: some of the following exercise names (i.e. juggling) are legit, but some are completely made up by my brain as a way to remember the motions involved.
Tap, Tap, Pull
With your soccer ball in between your legs, pass the ball with the inside of your right foot to the inside of your left foot (this counts as the first tap in the title). As soon as the ball touches your left foot, pass the ball slightly in front of your right foot (this counts as the second tap). The soccer ball will now be slightly in front of your right foot. Using the bottom of your right foot (specifically the front portion or ball of your foot), pull the soccer ball back until your right foot is under your torso and the ball is in front of your right foot and begin the exercise over again. Do the entire tap, tap, pull motion 10 times on each side.
While balancing on your left foot, tap the soccer ball slightly forward with the inside of your right foot and then pull it back closer to your body using the bottom of your right foot as you continue to hop and balance on your left foot. Do this exercise 10 times on each side.
Juggling is one of the cooler soccer skills in my opinion, but it isn’t as easy as it looks. Try juggling the soccer ball on your thighs for three to five minutes, using the top of your thighs to make contact with the soccer ball. You can incorporate other body parts (feet, shoulders, and head!) as you become more comfortable, but the thighs are typically a great place to start since they offer more surface area. The key is to keep your touches soft and controlled so that you are able to keep the ball close to your body.
Place eight to ten cones (or household items as makeshift cones—I personally like using mason jars) in a straight line about two steps apart. Using the inside and outside surfaces of your right foot only, weave the soccer ball through the cones—going around the outside of one cone, then the inside of another, then back to the outside until you’ve gone through the entire line of cones. Once you arrive at the other end, turn around and weave your way back using only the opposite foot. This counts as one round. Repeat this weaving motion 6 to 10 times.
With the soccer ball near your right foot, gently place your right foot on the side of the soccer ball and roll the ball underneath the sole of your foot so that the soccer ball winds up on your left side. Repeat the motion with your left foot to return the ball to your right side. Do this movement 20 times total, switching your dominant foot with each roll.
With the soccer ball placed in front of you, lightly tap the top of the ball with the bottom of your right foot then alternate to tap the top of the ball with the bottom of your left foot. Repeat this motion as you pick up the pace of your taps and find your rhythm. Do this for three 30 second rounds, resting for 10 to 15 seconds between each round. Want to kick it up a notch? For an added layer of difficulty, slowly move your body and the soccer ball forward as you tap the top of the ball. This will require you to lightly push or roll the soccer ball forward as you tap. Once you have this motion down, you can try moving backward and even side-to-side while maintaining your toe tap rhythm.
Bonus: Ab Work
Keep It Up
For this exercise, imagine that the soccer ball is something extremely important to you that you do not want to drop. You want to hold this item up and keep it off the ground throughout this entire exercise (think: the floor is lava!). Starting in a seated position, lift both of your feet off of the ground while holding the soccer ball out in front of you. Try to hold this position for three 30 second rounds, taking 10 to 15 seconds to rest in between each round.
Lay down flat on your back with your legs straight out in front of you (your feet should be hip-width apart), hold the soccer ball with both hands above your head so that the soccer ball and your body are making a straight line. Without straining your neck, keep both legs straight while bringing them up close to the center of your body and simultaneously using your arms to bring the soccer ball up to meet your legs. From there, place the ball in between your feet (squeeze tightly so that the ball cannot fall out) and bring your legs and arms back to the starting position. The soccer ball should now be in between your feet—not your hands. Repeat this 10 to 15 times—passing the ball between your feet and your hands—for 3 sets.
To cool down, I will jog once or twice (depends on my mood to be honest) around the entire soccer field (you could jog around your backyard, take a lap around the playground, or even jump rope for a few minutes) before I stretch for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. I don’t have a specific stretching routine for my cool down, I just really try to listen to my body and focus on where I’m feeling a bit tight. When my body and mind are feeling more at ease, I like to incorporate some breathwork, specifically the equal breathing technique, to further calm my mind and slow my heart rate. In a seated position on the field, I will breathe in through my nose for 5 counts and out of my nose for 5 counts for approximately 5 to 10 minutes. This time allows me to meditate and show gratitude for my body, the environment, and the workout I just accomplished as a strong body is not complete without a strong mind. If you try my soccer workout, I want to know your thoughts! Post in the HealthyWay Collective Facebook group if you enjoyed this soccer-inspired sweat-sesh or let me know what exercises you would add.