I have trained roughly 20 professional soccer players in my career as a Strength and Conditioning Coach. Within the last 2 years I have incorporated Kettlebell swings into their off-season training. What have I seen?
Increased vertical leap
Stronger core, especially when going shoulder to shoulder
No more hamstring pulls
Stronger grip (for shirt pulling) 🙂
The ability to manage fatigue when tired
Now, these are only a few results that I have noticed in these athletes, but as far as I am concerned, these are HUGE benefits of kettlebell training. Let’s dig a bit deeper and see how kettlebell swings helped to produce each of these results.
Increased Vertical Leap
Simply put, we found their glutes! A proper hardstyle kettlebell swing teaches proper hip hinge. Think of the start position on a vertical jump…looks similar to a swing, huh? Kettlebell swings teach athletes to load their hips properly as well as to drive their hips forward and through (think of a soccer player going up for a head ball). The swing mimics the same stretch/reflex principles of plyometrics, but with the added benefit of an external load.
Controlling the bell on a hardstyle swing requires great core strength and coordination. When teaching the swing, I tell my athletes “your glutes are the gas pedal and your stomach/core is the brakes.” Exploding through the hips is great but if you can’t control the bell then you are asking for trouble.
I am sure you have seen athletes who have explosive hips that end up chasing the bell because they cannot stabilize it.There are many other reasons why this happens, but a weak core can be one of them. At the top of the swing, the glutes are flexed, the distance from the pelvis to ribcage is shortened/tightened and the shoulders stay connected. A proper eccentric pull of the swing calls for great core strength as well. When performed correctly with the biomechanical breathing match, it compresses the diaphragm and creates great tension through the midsection. Keeping tight is vital when players are competing for a 50/50 ball.
No More Hamstring pulls
Does the term synergistic dominance mean anything to you? Hamstring pulls happen way too much in pro soccer and I’ll let you in on something…it’s not from weak hamstrings! If you were to perform isolated hamstring tests on healthy professional soccer players, they would pass with flying colors. The problem is that when hamstrings are overworked, they act as hip extensors when the glute should be doing it. The glutes shut down and the hamstrings do double the work, resulting in pulled or torn hamstring muscles.
Most soccer players have tight hip flexors which prevents them from extending their hips properly. When the hip flexors are too tight, the hamstring works too much and the glutes are not utilized. Then comes the hamstring pull.
The kettlebell swing will help soccer players find their glutes. Plenty of kettlebell swings, paired up with some great hip flexor stretches, will help keep your athletes going all season.
Sprints aren’t the only way to get soccer players fit. These athletes spend all day running yet what do most strength coaches prescribe for fitness? More running. Don’t even get me started on why this is wrong.
Imagine if there was an exercise that drives heart rate, works the glutes/posterior chain, increases body awareness, increases core strength and does not pound on the joints. Oh wait, that’s the hardstyle swing. Enough said.
Ok, I know shirt pulling is cheap, but it’s a reality in the professional soccer world. Just the other day I was playing with a few of the pros I train and I had to resort to the shirt pull. What happened? It was a foul and he ended up on the ground, but he did not score. Mission accomplished. If you are gonna pull someone’s shirt, why not have great grip strength, never let go and pull them to the ground? This way you are sure they won’t score a goal. One thing to note… try not to do this in the penalty box.
The ability to manage fatigue
As soccer players, we run sprints our whole lives. As we get older we learn how to condition ourselves and manage fatigue. We lengthen our strides, have better body control in the corners, control breathing and learn how to pace ourselves.
Try to perform anywhere from 300-500 swings as quickly as possible. You will notice a few things. Your swing may clean up and you’ll stay more compact so you do not have to chase the bell with unwanted movement. You’ll stay tight when needed and stay loose when needed – this is the essence of hardstyle training. Utilize proper breathing patterns to stabilize the bell in every position of the swing.
I am fairly certain that there have not been a lot of studies about kettlebells and soccer players. All i know is that the proof is in the pudding. This is what I have seen and experienced. I don’t play nearly as much soccer as I would like to, but I train with kettlebells almost every day. Fitness and strength are never an issue when I play with the ‘big-boys’… technical ability and foot skills, well thats another thing.