From an obviously biased standpoint, football is what I consider to be the greatest sport on the planet. It demands everything of the individual athlete’s body and requires distinct tactics, team functionality and individual skill. There are several areas that a footballer can choose to work on. These range from but are not limited to; endurance, explosiveness/power, co-ordination, skill, tactics, agility, teamwork, communication, vision and game understanding. No single aspect has more importance over the other, and it is the ultimate challenge to become ‘the complete footballer’. The female game has developed immensely in the last 5 years, with the most obvious area being speed. Athletes are moving faster across the ground in combination with a better game understanding, creating an overall more dynamic style of football. It’s no question that speed and agility are vital to a modern-day footballer’s tool kit. Here, I try to give you some insights into what I do at the professional level to improve and maintain this key area of my game.
WITHOUT STRENGTH, I CAN’T EXPLODE
The first step to improving speed and agility is to ensure you have an adequate base to build upon. In a typical preseason training plan, the initial 4 weeks are spent building muscle strength in the key muscle areas. For speed and agility they are going to be your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and groin. The high forces generated in power and agility training require the muscles to have adequate baseline strength. I’m typically in the gym twice a week, for no longer than 60 minutes, and my main strength exercises involve:
If you don’t have access to a gym, you can get creative and perform similar exercises at home twice a week using just your body weight at first.
TRAINING OFF THE GRASS MAKES ME BETTER ON THE GRASS
Every athlete knows that in order to be your best on the field, you need to dedicate time to training off the field. Once your strength base has been established, it’s time to move into more dynamic movements at the gym. This type of training is what I personally enjoy the most, as you get to go fast and hard, and it’s typically a short/sharp session. The key to this type of training is to drop the repetitions and increase the weight and speed of movement. I’d normally do a session like the one below two days out from game day, priming my body to be explosive and dynamic.
SPEED ON THE FIELD
There are numerous exercises on the field that can assist your speed and agility, but the following are some of my favourites. The key is to allow enough recovery between repetitions, to ensure you’re working at your maximal.
1. Banded sprint resistance with partner
This exercise really helps to improve your explosiveness off the mark. The resistance band sits around your hips while your partner provides adequate resistance behind you, holding onto the band. Typically, I’ll sprint 10 metres with this resistance and then the band will be released, and I’ll complete the sprint to 30m, hitting top speed. If you don’t have access to bands, this exercise can also be performed where your partner can apply direct resistance in front of you. They’ll resist against your shoulders and backpedal while you lean forward into your sprint.
2. Weighted squat jumps into sprint
I usually work with 10kg DBs here. Holding the weights, I perform 5 continuous squat jumps at full power. On the fifth, I drop the weights and fluently move into a maximal 10m sprint.
3. Hurdle jumps
Set up a series of 5 hurdles about hip height. The goal is to jump over them consecutively and fluently, with one contact between each hurdle. To begin with you might need to pause between each jump, or add in an extra contact jump between. Watch what your feet and knees are doing in this exercise as technique is really important. Good alignment should be maintained where the feet stay central and over the knees, and the knees don’t collapse in.
4. Sled push
Similar to the banded resistance sprints, but now working against a weighted sled. This will really train the power you can generate off the mark, improving your overall speed and agility.
AGILITY ON THE FIELD
Agility can be improved by increasing your power and ability to explode off into a new direction. So the good news is, we’ve inadvertently worked on this area through building your speed. To work more specifically on it, I like these exercises;
1. Reaction Box
Set up two squares (5mx5m) using four distinct coloured cones at each corner. Stand in the centre of the square and have your partner stand in the opposing square (you can also do this alone, but racing is more fun). Mark the middle of the square with a cone and use it as a reference point. When a colour is called, sprint to the appropriate coloured cone, touch it and return to the centre. Repeat this for 1 minute. Multiple colours can be called consecutively to test yourselves. You can adjust the rest time between calling colours so it’s appropriate to your fitness level. This can also be adapted and performed with the ball to test your agility in dribbling.
2. Agility course
Set up an agility course using poles and cones and time how long it takes you to complete. Make it competitive with your teammates or just compete against yourself to have the best time. You can be creative here. Poles are a great tool as they force you to get low and adopt a strong change of direction position to move around them. I typically set up 10 poles quite close together which requires tidy footwork to weave in and out of them. This would be followed by a short 10m sprint, a sharp cut, 10m of sidestepping, a sharp cut again, backpedalling, a zig-zag run around cones with sharp cuts, ending with another short 10m sprint. All these movements replicate what you would be expected to do in a game, so it’s a great way to train your agility. Again, this can be adapted and a ball included with every second repetition so you’re working with and without the ball.
Training speed and agility is very demanding on the body as they are powerful and explosive movements. It’s important that the training week is set up to maximise the benefits from this type of training. Some key ideas to consider are; not making this session the first training of the week as it requires a primer session to prepare the body, ensure these exercises are performed at maximal effort and allow adequate rest between, refuel the body afterwards with the appropriate protein to get the most out of the hard work you put in at training.
The modern-day footballer needs to be powerful and dynamic, and so it’s clear that a specific part of training must develop this. My natural position is in the midfield, and I always play my best when I’m feeling sharp and powerful. When I know I can explode and push off in various directions with speed; I have confidence in my game. Through training your overall strength and then power, I hope you will start to see changes and improvements in your body and game too. I’m currently living in Europe and it’s fantastic to see the majority of female’s adopting the ‘strong is beautiful’ mentality in the gym. Gyms are not solely used to help women with superficial pursuits, rather they are a tool to assist in getting stronger and functionally improving your body for heightened performance. Good luck with your training, I hope to see you out there!