Should soccer players lift heavy weights?

I know what you're thinking. When most people think of lifting heavy weights, they think of this:



Or this:

But when speaking of lifting heavy, I'm not referring to any of those. May I have a clean slate?

Heavy is a relative term with many qualifiers. There is context, intent of training, training experience,  expectations regarding form, as well as individual factors such as body size, leverage, mental determination, and age.

Plus, the individuals depicted in the images above have achieved proficiency in their sport, which is lifting things or bodybuilding. But they're not necessarily fast or athletic in other arenas.

Soccer, like many sports, is concerned with how much power an athlete can generate relative their own body mass. Relative power is a primary factor that underlies the speed, quickness, and acceleration that everyone is seeking.

This relative power demands the ability to generate a high amount of force (strong muscles) and the ability to generate the force quickly (primed central nervous system). Sport specific skill and an aggressive mindset also come into play, such as what we commonly refer to "being strong on the ball." But we will leave those attributes out of the equation for now in order to focus on the question at hand.

Many coaches and players in the soccer community fear soccer players taking part in traditional heavy resistance training. I believe they should. The threat is real, especially if soccer players are simply given to do what the (American) football team does.

But the soccer players' fear of heavy lifting is partially unfounded. This fear holds them back from achieving their greatest potential in power, speed, and quickness.

Too Big?

Heavy resistance exercise has the potential to cause a gain in muscle mass. Quite frankly, many soccer players could use an additional 10 or 20 pounds of muscle distributed proportionally throughout their body. It's true that a lean, well conditioned athlete who gains some muscle mass may suffer slightly in terms of endurance events like running the mile. But who cares? The increased speed,  acceleration ability, and field presence that comes with a modest increase in muscle mass far outweighs the small cost in aerobic endurance.

Soccer is not a marathon or even a Cross Country run. Athletes typically accelerate, decelerate, cut, and sprint for between two and five seconds, then have a chance to recover or even sub out. I have never seen or heard of an athlete who plays, practices, and conditions for soccer, resistance train two or three days per week and still manage to get too big. That scenario rarely, if ever exists.


Larger muscles have the potential to produce more force than smaller muscles. Again, depending on the individual involved, larger muscles may be beneficial to an extent. But power is the ability to generate force rapidly, and is primarily a neurological quality.

Soccer players should be "amping" the nervous system through powerful moves like plyometric training with generous rest between sets, as well as total body resistance exercises that demand total body control. Exercise selection matters. Seated leg extension (for the quadriceps) are nowhere even close to something like barbells squats or reverse lunges.

"But this does not look like muscular endurance..."

Exactly. Yes. Do not attempt to use resistance training to provide a cardiovascular or power-endurance stimulus to athletes who are already well conditioning in that regard. To be clear, when you're practicing soccer, playing soccer, and otherwise running most days of the week, P90X and Insanity (popular fitness DVDs) and their look-a-likes are not the way to go. They are redundant and less than ideal for the sake of improving cardiovascular or strength/power attributes in this population of athletes.

Let us now revisit what I would like you to envision when you think of going heavy. Think of strong, lean athletes with a primed nervous system.

How to get brutally strong without getting huge. 

-Don't use steroids.
-Do physical activity other than lifting weights (such as playing and practicing soccer).
-Don't sit around eating the house all day.
-Do keep the reps relatively low whether you're going light or heavy. Complete two to three sets of 3 to 5 reps.
-Do NOT add a lot of variety to the weight raining. But instead become VERY efficient in a few total body exercises.

Don't let fear of heavy lifting hold you back. Again, heavy is a relative term. But gradually, safely finding the groove on a handful of the big lifts just may be the key to developing the foundation of the speed, quickness, and field presence that so many athletes desire.

I pulled some photos from the dead lifting gallery. I don't often have athletes attempt 1 rep-max lifts, but here are a few of them. Do ANY of these athletes look just too big and bulky to you?

Ben 425 lbs  >> double body weight

Zeb 355 >> 1.5X body weight
Loc 275>> double bodyweight

Melanie 215 nearly double body weight
Nick 305 lbs - double body weight
Brady 300 lbs >> double body weight
Ben 125 (I allow  my kids to train when they want to, which is not yet often.). 
Owen 135


  1. This has my quite thoughtful. I did P90X, twice, when I was beginning to be active after 30 years of inactivity. I was 49. It was a good boot camp experience. Now I remain active and am in good cardio shape. But I keep resisting lifting because it's boring to me. Two questions:

    1. Why the sort reps? I love the idea. It's faster, right? Five reps with the weight increased. That appeals to my ADHD personality. Why is it good?

    2. Something I've always wondered. Why in a dead lift are the hands positioned differently on the bar?

  2. 1, Yes - cardio type resistance circuits (like P90X) are the go-to when trying to increase the challenge with practically no equipment. They are hard work and far better than nothing. BUT they can be tedious and less than optimal after you reach a certain threshold of fitness. A few challenging sets of low(ish) reps and heavy(ish) resistance are effective for gaining strength and give the body an entirely different stimulus than all the endurance work that most general fitness minded people already get (walk, jog, bike, etc). The mental strategy is far less "be efficient to grind through it" and more "to hell with efficiency, we need a burst of POWER."

    2. With dead lifts, once you learn to use the entire body as a unit, grip strength often becomes a limiting factor. Part of the fun of it is chalking up the hands, bracing tight, and pulling all that you can hold on to. The switch grip still allows you to improve grip strength (versus, say, using wrist straps), and hold 15 to 20% more than what you can hold with a double overhand grip.