How to Prepare For a Grueling Workout Like a World-Class Soccer Player
We dove in with German soccer club Bayer Leverkusen to find out. By Ian Servantes
It’s a perilous weekend for Bayer Leverkusen. The German soccer team has a match Saturday afternoon against FC Köln, its neighboring rival. Despite Köln supporting the larger metropolis by far—one is the country’s fourth largest city with a population of more than a million; the other has just 161,000 residents—Bayer Leverkusen, backed by the pharmaceutical company that bears its same name, has been the greater team historically. But for the first time in more than 20 years, Köln will finish higher on the Bundesliga table than Leverkusen. And if Leverkusen loses, the team is in danger of being relegated to the lower division for the first time in club history.
Tensions are high around the stadium and training grounds, even amongst the PR team welcoming a group of journalists from abroad. This lingering fear of relegation is atypical for the club that just last year finished third in Bundesliga and earned a spot in the Champion’s League group stage. In spite of it, Bayer Leverkusen is finding the time to show a bunch of journalists a day in the life of a professional soccer player.
On gameday itself, in what is almost certainly an insult to the great sport, the six of us get into a full kit—socks, shorts, and a warm up jacket—and make our way to the training pitch adjacent to the stadium for an hour-long session with the club’s youth athletic trainer Tim Riedel. He even rigs us up with a Catapult monitoring device, which will analyze our workout and goes into the back of what is essentially a sports bra we wear underneath our shirts. Other teams that utilize the technology range across sports and include Real Madrid FC.
This data drills your workout down to give you a greater understanding of when you’re pushing yourself, and when you’re holding back. Some key statistics it collected were the total amount of distance traveled, the distance we covered in high speed (greater than 5.5 meters per second), the proportion of time we spent accelerating and decelerating, and the amount of jumps we made (split into high, low, and medium categories). The total distance I covered was 1,603 meters, while the leader of our group was at 1,968 meters. However, I covered 51 meters at high speed, 17 meters less than the king of this round. And I only jumped 11 times, half of which were low, compared to 20 total from our leader, most of which were medium. A soccer workout like this may feel tough, but the monitoring device allows you to see how you can challenge yourself to make it that much more rewarding.
Things begin simple enough with a quick jog across the width of the pitch and back. I breezed past my fellow journalists and mistakenly begin a second lap. This is going to be easy, I thought. However, as we began to stretch in preparation for what would become a grueling set of exercises, I already felt pulls in muscles I didn’t realize were contained in my own body. Here are the exercises we did to prepare for this world-class workout.
First up are overhead reaches in the lunge position. These activate your upper and lower back, as well as your core. They also open up your chest and thoracic spine—not bad for a single workout you can do with just a modicum of space.
Feel like a superhero by stretching your groin and adductors in this lunge, increasing your flexibility and strengthening your core. Again, these super-easy to adopt as a warmup; all you need is a little space.
You may hate them, but your hamstrings, quads, and glutes will thank you later. And by bringing your arms into the fold, you’re also giving your core an even better workout. Like the exercises above, you can do these practically anywhere.
HIGH KICKS (WITH CIRCLES)
Your hip flexor and glutes are the primary targets here, but your entire lower body is getting a workout. You’ll increase flexibility and balance while also strengthening your core. And it ain’t bad cardio, either. These require more breathing room, but there’s nothing stopping you from going out to a field and trying them out.
Riedel calls for push-ups in which we bend one leg underneath our core to become perpendicular with our body. You may not think your leg isn’t supposed to bend that way, but it makes for a hell of a glute workout.
Finally, we go to the sprints. Once again, you’re getting a major benefit for your core. But these are also much more effective at improving your cardio, increasing strength, and burning calories than simply jogging. Jumping before each sprint gives your core an even greater boost, and introducing cones into your sprint routine will also improve your agility and speed while changing directions, as well as your footwork. You’ll need to find a field, but not even a large one at that. Once you have the space, set up cones (or a suitable replacement) in a diamond. Run up to the first cone and then to the left, across the diamond to the right cone. Quickly change direction, diagonally, and sprint to the back cone, and then all the way back to the starting line. You can also complete this exercise with a soccer ball.
The emphasis on working on our core and our explosiveness becomes immediately clear. As we learned in a session with assistant coach and chief video analyst Lars Kornetka, soccer is a game of transitions. Unless you’re a super team like Barcelona or Bayern Munich, you will rarely score with the ball starting at the goalie and working its way to the opposing goal. Just 10 percent of goals analyzed by Bayer Leverkusen happen this way. 70 percent of goals come right after possession of the ball changes, and the other 20 percent comes from set pieces. Most goals come within just 11 seconds of gaining possession, making it crucial to be able to change directions and hit the gas full speed.
We close out the hour-and-15-minute workout with a dead sprint and are informed the team would typically continue to train for another three or four hours after what we’ve done. In other words, the torture we’ve just underwent, the most overwhelming fatigue that’s ever been cursed upon my legs, is little more than a warm-up for the pros or even the amateur youths.
On the way back to shower in my hotel room, while still in the full kit, a maid may have mistaken me for an actual player when she wished me good luck. While her offer was misguided, Bayer Leverkusen did indeed fare well, coming back from a 2-0 second half deficit to tie the game and eliminate the possibility of relegation. I watched on from the press box, nursing a sore knee—a world apart from home, and a world apart from the athletes on the pitch.
Originally published on menshealth.com