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Soccer-Smart Exercise

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With soccer season in full swing, it's time to get on the ball. This popular sport enhances stamina, speed, agility, muscular strength and endurance. Keep in mind, these benefits don't come overnight. Success in soccer takes training on and off the field.

With soccer season in full swing, it's time to get on the ball. This popular sport enhances stamina, speed, agility, muscular strength and endurance. Keep in mind, these benefits don't come overnight. Success in soccer takes training on and off the field. Too much, too soon can lead to injured athletes, so physical conditioning is a must for players who want.to stay in the game.

Most injuries in soccer occur from either contact with another player or repetitive stress. Although being in top physical condition can't always prevent injury when two players collide, a fit player will likely recover faster than an unfit one. Preseason fitness training is the best way to prevent repetitive stress injuries. Because injury in the lower extremities is most common in soccer, players should emphasize core conditioning and leg exercises. Ankle sprains, thigh muscle strains, back pain, groin injuries, shin splints and foot and knee pain are typical soccer ailments.

Preseason Stamina

Running up and down the field can cause extreme exhaustion in an untrained athlete. Cardiovascular endurance is essential. And since soccer is based on constant movement across the field, running is a training priority. Aerobic activities such as cycling, swimming, roller-blading, crosscountry skiing and step classes will also improve stamina.

For sport-specific aerobic training, run with the ball to various positions on the soccer field. To improve agility, dribble the ball through markers or cones.

Training should encompass high-intensity drills like sprinting. Adding interval training to a running program can help improve speed. Alternate periods of intense exercise with periods of active (moving) rest. Examples of common work/rest interval ratios are 1:1 or 1:2. After you're adequately warmed up, run hard for 15 seconds, then "rest" by jogging for 30 seconds. If you're new to interval training, choose shorter work intervals and longer rest periods. Over time, increase the length of your sprinting and decrease your active rest. Or, practise speed-play on the field. Place markers at increasing distances from a predetermined starting point, say, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 metres away. Sprint to the first marker and walk back to the starting position. Sprint to the next marker and so on. Allow brief periods of active rest between sprints.

Muscle Make-Up

Muscle strength and endurance help you play hard while reducing the risk of injury. Strong athletes run faster and kick the ball farther. Endurance allows a player to perform to his or her potential throughout the entire 90-minute game. Regular and varied resistance training improves muscular strength and stamina.

Soccer also demands flexibility. Limber muscles assist you in striding down the field, reaching for the ball and driving it toward the goal. Plus, players with limited range of motion are more susceptible to injury.

In addition to regular off-the-field flexibility training, stretch before and after every game. Include all major muscle groups, with an emphasis on the torso and lower body. If you're tempted to bypass serious training this season, remember that a well-rounded fitness program is the key to winning performance and a pain-free game.

Walking Lunges (Strengthens quads, hamstrings, glutes)

Find an open space with plenty of room to move. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and step your right foot forward. At the same time, lift the heel on your back (left) foot. Make sure your back knee is aligned under your hip and the front knee is not exceeding your toes. Lower your back knee toward the ground. As you ascend, place your left foot forward of your right foot and lunge again. Repeat this pattern eight to 12 times per leg while advancing across the floor and back.

Wall Stretch (Stretches hamstrings)

Lie face up on a mat with your buttocks close to a wall. Extend your legs straight up against the wall. To lessen the intensity of this stretch, move your buttocks farther away from the wall. Hold 30 seconds or longer.

Ball-based Superheroes (Strengthens spine)

Kneel on the floor with a stability ball in front of you. Slowly roll onto the ball until your midsection is supported and place your hands on the floor in front of the ball. Extend your legs behind you, toes lightly touching the floor. Slowly lift one arm and the opposite leg until both are level with, or slightly higher than, your torso. Maintain neutral posture through the neck and spine. Release and repeat with the other arm and leg. Perform eight to 15 repetitions each side. This exercise can also be done without a stability ball.

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