XL Soccer Academy – Phase 2
By: Danny Sposato
As mentioned in my Fall Update, Phase 2 was opportunity to put some work in and spend time on Max Strength. Most of the athletes had just finished their fall club seasons and could, for the first time, just focus on training with the XL Academy. They had also just spent the last 3 months perfecting a lot of the foundational movements, preparing them for more complexity. It’s important that we continue to change and provide variety in the training to challenge the athletes both physically and mentally.
Phase 2 was split into three smaller portions. The first portion focused on optimizing muscular growth. Yes, even soccer players who run for 90 minutes can need greater muscle mass. The larger the muscular tissue, the more potential it has to be strong, and the stronger it is the more potential it has to be powerful. There certainly is a point of diminishing returns, too large of muscles can slow an athlete down and add unnecessary weight that over the course of a game or practice can impact their endurance. However, that is a very specific type of training, and we weren’t going to get anywhere near it since we only spent four weeks there. We focused on increasing sets and reps and decreasing rest intervals.
It was important to switch up the structure in these sessions. High volume and low rest are not the most enjoyable sessions for the athletes, and so we keep them engaged by making them more team oriented. Instead of athletes working separately in 4 or 5 different stations, they worked together in one group. We focused on the eccentric, or the lengthening portion of an exercise, because this is where the most damage is done to muscle tissue. The more damage done, the bigger the tissue grows back. We incorporated an eccentric pushup by starting at the top of a pushup position, taking 5 true seconds to lower their body an inch off the ground and then pushing back up. The whole team would drop down and do their reps of these pushups as we kept the time. If someone dropped early, we’d start over. While they might not have loved this, it achieved our goal. They had to be accountable to each other and could look to each other for encouragement. We’d then follow this up with another upper body pull and core for 4-5 sets.
Our next sub-phase was all about maximal strength. We were restricted in our equipment and therefore had to get creative with exercise selection. Our heaviest weights are 30lb sandbags and athletes can at most hold two without it being too cumbersome. Our main lifts were unilateral to allow us to create a strength stimulus with limited weight. We built around skater squats, single leg RDLs, heavy band rows, and overhead pressing. We’d pair opposing movements, like lower pushing and upper pulling or vice versa. Reps were low and rest was high to allow the athletes to work at the higher intensities and complexities. We stayed in this phase for 6 weeks.
Our final phase was certainly the most enjoyable for the athletes. This was our maximal speed phase. They had just spent 10 weeks putting in the hard work, now was the time for the fun stuff. We maintained a lot of the same movements from our maximal strength phase, just lowered the intensity and paired them with explosive movements in the same plane of motion. One of the pairings was single leg RDLs with lower weights as fast as they could, then right into single leg broad jumps. Athletes recruit larger motor units through the hard exercise (single leg RDL) then immediately use the same muscles to do something explosive (single leg broad jump) so their bodies adapt to using bigger motor units to do the explosive movements they’ll be making all over the field. We finished these four weeks of training by retesting the athlete’s speed, power, and agility. We saw improvement in every category and have the team averages listed below.
We are very excited at the progress they were able to make in just eight sessions of true speed training and cannot wait to see how much they can build on that as we prepare for the athletes to transition into their club spring seasons. During the spring we will enter Phase 3 where we will taper down volume but will continue our speed and power work since it is less fatiguing on the body and will continue to improve them on the field. Check back in for our next XL post where we’ll explore Phase 3.