Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Soccer as play and exercise: Resistance and endurance training at the same time

Many sports combine three key elements that make them excellent fitness choices: play, resistance exercise, and endurance exercise; all at the same time. Soccer is one of those sports. Its popularity is growing, even in the US! The 2010 FIFA World Cup, currently under way in South Africa, is a testament to that. It helps that the US team qualified and did well in its first game against England.

Pelé is almost 70 years old in the photo below, from Wikipedia. He is widely regarded as the greatest soccer player of all time. But not by Argentineans, who will tell you that Pelé is probably the second greatest soccer player of all time, after Maradona.

Even though Brazil is not a monarchy, Pelé is known there as simply “The King”. How serious are Brazilians about this? Well, consider this. Fernando Henrique Cardoso was one of the most popular presidents of Brazil. He was very smart; he appointed Pelé to his cabinet. But when Cardoso had a disagreement with Pelé he was broadly chastised in Brazil for disrespecting “The King”, and was forced to publicly apologize or blow his political career!

Arguably soccer is a very good choice of play activity to be used in combination with resistance exercise. When used alone it is likely to lead to much more lower- than upper-body muscle development. Unlike before the 1970s, most soccer players today use whole body resistance exercise as part of their training. Still, you often see very developed leg muscles and relatively slim upper bodies.

What leads to leg muscle gain are the sprints. Interestingly, it is the eccentric part of the sprints that add the most muscle, by causing the most muscle damage. That is, it not the acceleration, but the deceleration phase that leads to the largest gains in leg muscle.

This eccentric phase effect is true for virtually all types of anaerobic exercise, and a well known fact among bodybuilders and exercise physiologists (see, e.g., Wilmore et al., 2007; full reference at the end of the post). For example, it is not the lifting, but the lowering of the bar in the chest press, which leads to the most muscle gain.

Like many sports practiced at high levels of competition, professional soccer can lead to serious injuries. So can non-professional, but highly competitive play. Common areas of injury are the ankles and the knees. See Mandelbaum & Putukian (1999) for a discussion of possible types of health problems associated with soccer; it focuses on females, but is broad enough to serve as a general reference. The full reference and link to the article are given below.


Mandelbaum, B.R., & Putukian, M. (1999). Medical concerns and specificities in female soccer players. Science & Sports, 14(5), 254-260.

Wilmore, J.H., Costill, D.L., & Kenney, W.L. (2007). Physiology of sport and exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


Anne said...

Speaking as a Brit, I should imagine that rugby union is even better than soccer for fitness.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Anne.

Rugby Union is awesome. I use to be a big fan of the All Blacks, when I lived in New Zealand.

The Brits pretty much invented soccer, as football!

Ned Kock said...

For those following the World Cup:

It was quite interesting to see the contrast between news reports of Brazil's game against North Korea yesterday. Brazil won 2 to 1.

The BBC stated that Brazil played well, with some flashes of brilliance, against a difficult opponent.

The Folha de SP, a Brazilian newspaper, stated that Brazil's performance was weak and embarrassing.

I tend to agree with the BBC. The North Korean defense was quite tight and well organized. Their forward Jong Tae-Se showed some impressive skills.

North Korea may still have some other surprises in store; we'll have to see. They are not a weak team at all.

Ned Kock said...

The Brazilian media is generally VERY tough on the national soccer team. They expect nothing less than very decisive victories, every single game.

Kindke said...

My experience with eccentric focused weight training is that its alot more painful, you can easily fatigue the muscle long before your breathing or heart-rate goes up.

DMOS is far far worse after eccentrics and I found my time to recovery was 4-5 days compared to just 2-3 days after normal weight training.

Also, it doesnt seem to build muscle or strength aswell as people claim. Atleast not if you focus on eccentric's in isolation. I've found its better to first focus on normal tempo weight training until your breathing goes up and some glycogen depletion kicks in, THEN do the last few reps focusing on the eccentric movement.

About last nights game, you could clearly see that individually the brazil players were alot more skilled, they had quite a few 1v1 dis-posessions's compared to korean's, but they really struggled breaking through the korean defense, it was a combination of passionless teamwork by brazil and excellent defensive awareness by korea.

Understandably they had to up the tempo in the second half of the game though, a 0-0 draw would of been quite embaressing for them.

Anne said...

Hi Nick,

You wrote:

"The Brits pretty much invented soccer, as football"

...yes I know :-) But I didn't know you'd know that so that's why I referred to it as soccer as you had in the blog ;-)

Can't stand football myself, not watching the world cup in our house. But come the Six Nations and we will be glued to the set :-) All those strong rugby players having a very 'primal' game. Ha, football is a wimp's game compared to rugby ! Those football players roll about on the ground at the first touch ! Rugby players on the other hand keep going with the blood pouring !

Ed Terry said...

If performed properly, all aspects of strength training contribute to muscle growth, although I do focus a bit more on the eccentric phase. I prefer to work my muscles more than my joints as well as using full-range-of-motion with every rep.

In the fitness center at work where I exercise while at work, the percentage of people who lift properly is about 10% and the vast majority focus on the eccentric portion of the movement as a means to employ the rebound effect of muscle elasticity to lift the weight again. The eccentric phase is also great for developing better flexibility as well.

I don't remember where I read it, but staying flexible improves artery health by keeping arteries supple and preventing arterial stiffness from setting it. Don't know if it's true, but if it is, I'm all for it.

Ned Kock said...

Those fake falls and contortions by so many of the professional soccer players are indeed a disgrace. I am glad that yellow cards are being given more often for those in this Cup. The higher quality slow-mo shots also make it a lot more embarrassing for the players who fake.

Ned Kock said...

Hi Ed.

The Wilmore, Costill & Kenney book reviews research on stretching and its effect on resistance exercise performance. The effect seems to be none.

So does the Fleck & Kraemer book, the "bible" of resistance training. The same thing, no effect.

When it comes to arterial stiffness, the effect of postprandial blood glucose control seems to dwarf everything else:


Ned Kock said...

Hi Kindke.

There is a lot of research showing that the eccentric phase causes the most muscle damage, and thus presumably more muscle gain.

However, this only happens if the body is able to fix the damage prior to the next workout. Otherwise, excessive damage may lead to muscle loss under natural conditions (i.e., no drugs).

The effect is a bit like that of over-training.

Asclepius said...

Anne and Ned, soccer/football and rugby union indeed offer some superb health and training benefits....but let us not forget rugby league.

League requires explosive bursts of speed, strength agility and endurance.


Ned Kock said...

Hi Asclepius.

Indeed, Rugby League seems like a faster version of Rugby Union, and tougher too.

Btw, nice blog!