With the COVID-19 pandemic grinding sports across all levels to a screeching halt, it is turning everyone's training schedule upside down and limiting what options you have available for training. Everyone has likely heard the saying "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" and that certainly applies to the current situation. Focusing on your own individual fitness level is a great way to be ready to return to play when the time comes, but also helps you understand more about yourself as an athlete. In order to develop into a high-level soccer player, you must first be able (and willing) to develop yourself into a high-level athlete. You don't need to be the best athlete to be a successful soccer player, but being quick, strong, agile, can help you excel in ways that the elite soccer players across the world do. All great athletes aren't soccer players, but all great soccer players are athletes.
There are a couple things you can do to focus on your fitness both in the current state of things, as well as during the offseason and throughout the season.
1. Set goals...then set new ones
Have an idea of what exercises you want to do and set targets for yourself. Perhaps you want to run a mile under 6 minutes or possibly have abs that rival those of Cristiano Ronaldo. It is important to set goals for yourself so that you can determine if you are making progress. If you beat a goal, set a new one that is just slightly out of reach for you right now. Perhaps you beat your mile goal and run it in 5:55. Then set your goal to be 5:30 and work to that. Or, perhaps you shift your focus to a longer distance and set a goal of running a 5K in under 20 minutes.
2. Determine the steps needed to get to your fitness goal
If your goal is to run a marathon, the worst thing you can do is lace up your shoes and go run until your GPS watch says you've traveled 26.2 miles. You'll likely be highly disappointed in your results. You need to build up to your goals and you accomplish it through smaller, intermediate goals. So, getting back to the mile under 6 minutes goal, you might have a weekly schedule that consists of a run of 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 2 miles, cross training (Techne Futbol anyone???), core work, and rest days all mixed in. Then, with each of those activities, set goal times/benchmarks to track your progress and know how close you are to accomplishing your larger goal(s).
Breaking down one component: your 1/4 mile time goal might be 1:15 so you know you can get to that 6 minute mile goal. Go out and run a 1/4 mile and see if you can beat that 1:15 time. If you do, give it a minute rest, then run it again and see what you get. Repeat until you are too fatigued to maintain that pace...then run it one last time as hard as you can. If you can't beat that time on the first attempt, give it a minute rest and try again with the goal of maintaining the time you just ran or slightly bettering it.
3. Variety is the spice of life
Whatever activities you are doing, make sure you change them up. Notice from the point above that we were looking at a goal of a 6 minute mile, but none of the workouts to get there were to run a mile. You'll also notice that there is everything from short distance to moderate distance to even some longer distance relative to your goal, plus rest and core work. You can add in different types of runs as well like tempo runs, Fartlek runs, and interval runs (see: https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a20852351/whats-the-difference-between-fartlek-tempo-and-interval-runs/) and change them up week-to-week to add even more variety to your workouts and keep yourself on your toes. Changing up what you do yields better results and helps focus on different muscle groups, giving the others time to recover. You know your body better than anyone so listen to how it responds. There will be days that are harder than others, but make sure those reasons for why things are difficult are just that, and not excuses for why you can't get your workouts in.
4. Fuel yourself appropriately
The vast majority of luxury cars require premium gasoline to operate at their optimal level. These cars operate far better when using the best available gasoline. If you want yourself to operate at an optimal level, make sure you are fueling yourself with the best options available to you. Hydrate all the time, even when you aren’t as active, and not with soda, iced tea, and other drinks high in sugar. Eat things that grow in the ground and on trees and not in factories. Your biggest meals should come earlier in the day so you have the fuel needed to push you through your activity. You don't need a ton of fuel at 9:00 or 10:00 PM because sleeping doesn't require much energy so your evening meals don't need to be consumed in quantities as if you haven't eaten for 3 days.
5. Build yourself a schedule
Now that you have an idea of what your goals are, how to get there, and how to prepare your body physically, the best thing you can do is build yourself out a schedule that has variety, and then follow it. It is completely fine to adjust it slightly as you go along, but do your best to follow it. You may need to adjust your goals either up in difficulty or slightly down for each workout you are doing for a variety of reasons, but make sure you are pushing yourself. There are also a ton of apps out there that help you build schedules. One that I've used personally is Runcoach as it offers a lot of different types of running workouts, but there are plenty of other quality apps out there.
6. Hold teammates accountable and challenge each other
Find out what your teammates are doing and challenge yourself to better their scores/times. Share your results with each other. Don't be discouraged if your teammate has a better time than you or is able to do more of a particular exercise than you. No matter where you are with your current fitness level find the motivation to improve it and climb up the ladder if you're at the bottom or maintain it if you're at the top, so your teammates don't catch you. We all get better by comparing ourselves with our peers, just make sure you have the confidence to keep working to improve and catch people ahead of you, no matter how long it takes.
There are so many different types of athletes across the world and even in the sport of soccer. Honing in on where your strengths are as an athlete is important for your development and growth, but you shouldn't neglect areas you aren't as strong in. Challenge yourself to be better.
I reached out to a few of my former players at various levels about how they are maintaining their fitness levels, particularly at this time, and notes on workouts that really work for them.
"The main things I do on a day to day basis is a 5 minute ab circuit where it's 5 different ab workouts working different parts of your abs and for each workout it's 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds off"
- Kareem Gharbi (current Georgia Southern University men's soccer player)
(Kareem also noted changing up the exercises each day so it doesn't get repetitive)
"For me it was probably parachute runs, Man U, or long distance runs like 4-5 miles type"
- Connor Brooks (current Hampden Sydney College men's soccer player, former SYA '00) when asked about the hardest workouts he’s put himself through
(Connor also noted "fast" drills utilizing a wall and getting as many touches as quickly as possible in a short time, on a daily basis have worked for him during this pandemic)
"We as a team have been getting together on Zoom and doing morning workouts from Mon - Fri. Each day is a different workout..."
Workout for Monday, April 13:
30 sec work x 20 sec rest (4 circuits, 1 min 30 sec rest between circuits)
1. Toe Touches (feet up in the air)
2. Skater hops (lateral)
3. Push ups (with feet elevated on chair)
4. Russian twists (with or without weight)
5. Squat jumps
6. Push ups (triangle formation with the hands)
7. Split squat jumps (alternating legs each rep)
- Antonio Bustamante (Former player DC United, current player Bolivia U23 National Team, current player Club Blooming, Bolivia; Bio:https://tribeathletics.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=5312) on what he is doing with his professional team during this time.
Remember, every athlete is different so find yourself exercises you enjoy, are challenging, and motivate you to work harder. Soccer is a running sport and while there isn't a direct correlation between ground covered and performance, if you are able to cover ground quicker, more efficiently, and more effectively than your opponent, you give yourself a huge advantage in being able to execute technically. Building your fitness to a high level is the base to developing yourself as a soccer player to a high level. Stay active and have fun doing it!