In preparation for a Major League Soccer season, a lot of time and consideration goes into what the players need to play at such a high level each and every week. As fans you see the finished product but as coaches we have to assemble a plan that gives our players the best chance for success. During the preseason we have several things we want to work, some of the key areas that we focus on are the following:
- Building a strong aerobic base and alactic energy system
- Improving movement quality off the ball
- Building a strong base of strength
- Implementing a solid nutrition program
- Focusing on acceleration and deceleration (both with and without the ball)
- Implementing a recovery plan
- Stress and fatigue management
- Assessment and movement screening for each player
It’s naïve to think that every player is going to arrive in camp in great shape. One of the great things about preseason training is that you get to spend quality time (5-6 weeks) on the road with the players and find out what they excel at and what areas they may need to improve upon. Every athlete I have ever come in contact can improve in at least 1-2 areas. As the fitness coach it’s my responsibility to work with the coaching and medical staff to try to identify what areas may be lacking and develop a plan to ensure that every player is progressing towards the end goal which is the chance to play at a high level each and every week.
Below are five (5) key fitness/training related areas that we focus on during the preseason:
1. Individual screening, assessments and testing for each player
One of the first things we do is look at each player individually and screen them. It is my job along with the medical staff to screen each player so we can assemble an individual plan for the guys. To accomplish this we came up with the following plan:
Functional Movement Screen
This is a seven point screen that was created by Gray Cook and Lee Burton. This has been around since 1998 and is currently being utilized by thousands of coaches across the world. The goal is to look at fundamental movement patterns to identify what areas players may be deficient in and to identify any major asymmetries that may exist. It’s simply a screen to try and identify any limitations in movement that may cause an injury down the road.
- Breathing patterns
- Pelvic alignment
- Omega wave testing: This provides detailed information on players cardiac, metabolic and central nervous system readiness.
- 10 meter and 30 meter sprint times
- Vertical Jump testing
- Transition speed: Change of direction drill (30 yd. test to assess transition/change of direction speed)
- Beep Test
Upper Body Test
- Lower body assessment: single leg squat test
2. Developing the aerobic and alactic system
During the course of the game certain players can run as much as 6-7 miles. In order to be able to sustain this kind of effort a strong aerobic base needs to be in place to play at this level. In order to progress the players each week we attempted to develop their aerobic system by incorporating as much movement with the ball as possible. We did not go out and run at a steady state for 60-75 minutes but rather the technical staff did an excellent job of incorporating as much work with the ball as possible. Players really like this because they are working on their skill with the ball while at the same time we are building their aerobic base. We have to remember we are training soccer players not cross country runners.
An efficient aerobic system is critical for the success of our players. To accomplish this we monitored the players by watching their heart rate as well as their recovery between movements and drills. An addition to making sure that the players have a strong aerobic base it’s critical that we make speed (alactic system) a priority in the training. A strong aerobic system will help the alactic (speed) system work efficiently. In order to do this, players need to be alert and fatigue needs to be low to improve speed. All of our speed work is done in the beginning of the training session after our movement prep and before fatigue may set in. Intensity is high (runs of 10-30 yards) and recovery is long (1-2 minutes) when we try and improve a players speed. As the season progresses we will increase the distance of the run (30-60 yards) and manipulate the recovery times to get the adaptations that we are looking for.
When it comes to speed players will run faster without the ball than with the ball so implement speed training early in the session without the ball to ensure that players are running at top speeds.
3. Build a solid base of strength
As a strength coach I am always looking to make our players stronger. I believe it’s one area that is often overlooked with soccer players. During preseason there is so much to accomplish in a short time that strength training can sometimes be pushed to the side. I am very fortunate to have a coaching staff that understands the role that strength training plays in the development of our players. With that being said we try to focus on BASIC movement patterns that would allow our players to build a solid foundation for the season that we can build upon. Below are some of the basic movement patterns that we try to focus on during preseason.
Single leg strength
- Body weight squats to a bench
- Hip hinge pattern (deadlifts, reaches)
- Rear foot squats
- Hip extension patterns
- Goblet squats
- Front squats
- Pulling patterns
- DB rows
- Band rows
- Several variations of push ups
- DB bench press variations
- Overhead pressing
Anterior core training: Roll outs
- Turkish Get Ups (Starting with the lowest progression and advancing)
- Supine (lying on your back) to prone (stomach) to quadruped (all fours)
Note: We do not perform any crunches with the players.
4. Nutrition and Hydration
At the end of the day nutrition and the quality of food that our athletes consume plays a critical role in how they will recover and perform on the field. I truly believe that if you have two athletes with the same skill and aerobic system the one with the better nutrition will outperform the other athlete on the field.
I try and keep it very simple for the players when it comes to nutrition. Everyone is different and my goal is to provide simple yet effective recommendations based off of what I have been able to learn from experts in the field of nutrition. Experts worth reading, in my opinion, include Robb Wolf, John Berardi, Brian St. Pierre and Catherine Shanahan to name a few.
- Eat real unprocessed food as much as possible
- Learn to cook simple nutritious meals
- Consume quality meats, fats and carbohydrates on a daily basis
- Buy local food whenever possible
- Make hydration a priority by limiting the amount of sport drinks and energy drinks
- On a daily basis consume 5-6 servings of vegetables and fruits.
Always have good healthy snack options with you for when you get hungry. This can be as easy as having a bag of homemade trail mix with you in case you get hungry.
At the end of the day training is easy. I don’t mean it is easy to train for 2-3 hours each day but rather when we train we cause a disruption on our body that signals a response. It’s that response that helps us grow and adapt. If we want to reap the benefits of a particular training session we MUST develop a good recovery plan for our players. As I have stated above everyone is different and some players respond to one recovery method while another player may not respond to that particular stimulus. To keep things simple we try and provide a few options to the players. Here is a short list of some of the strategies that we implement with the players:
- Post workout nutrition
- Chiropractor treatments
- Breathing techniques
- Quality sleep every night
- Contrasts in water
- Foam rolling/stretching
The MLS season is very long and demanding. Injuries can‘t be prevented but we can reduce a player’s chance of getting hurt. As the fitness coach my number one goal is to do everything possible to keep the players healthy and provide to them the necessary tools that can keep them on the field. I truly believe what the players do off of the field is just as important as what they do on the field. If you are a coach at the high school or club level don’t try and implement all of the strategies above right away. Educate yourself on a few of the tips listed above and read as much as possible from experts in their field. The more we can educate our players the better off they will be when it comes time to play the game.
Good luck with your training!
Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: Philly.com/Health
After a good win at home the week before against Chivas USA, we were going to play another game at home against the Portland Timbers. The Timbers are a very good team this year. They had only lost two games before coming to PPL Park, so we wanted to give them their third loss. In what was a hot and humid night, the score stayed at 0-0. We got some chances to score but their goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts made lots of big saves, and kept us off the scoring sheet for this game. It was still a good point for us to take and continue to move forward in the standings.
Next was a game that I had circled on my calendar this year. We faced up against the Vancouver Whitecaps, my old team from last year. I was very happy to travel back there for the first time since I got traded to the New York Red Bulls. During my time there I met lots of nice people, and it was nice to see them again. But what’s even nicer is to win against your old team inside their stadium. And that’s what I wanted to do the most coming into this game.
The game started very fast and in the first 10 minutes it was pretty physical. My ex-teammate and friend, Jordan Harvey, tackled me a few times and made me remember that I don't like to fall on turf fields. A red card was given to Whitecaps player Jun Marques Davidson for a head butt on Keon Daniel. I was very close to the play, and after the incident I quickly grabbed Keon before he could retaliate and kept him away from all the Whitecaps players. This red card helped us during the rest of the game. With one man up, we kept the ball very well, making the opposite team run a lot. In the last 25 minutes of the game, Coach decided to put Antoine Hoppenot and Aaron Wheeler into the game. This gave us fresh legs to attack and at the 85th minute, Hoppenot started a rush with the ball from the midfield, did a one-two with Wheeler and blasted a left-footed shot into the net. His goal gave us the win, 1-0, and made the trip even sweeter. It was another great performance away from home for everyone.
The following weekend we were back at home to face the Chicago Fire. The Fire changed a lot since we played them few months ago, adding lots of talented players such as Mike Magee and my ex-teammate Bakary Soumare. We started this game very sleepy, and after 10 minutes, Chicago took the lead, 1-0. This goal made us wake up and play better. We came back in the second half with more desire and created opportunities to score.
At the 60th minute, I took a free kick on the right side of the field. I tried to deliver a strong ball in the six-yard box, and Sheanon Williams met my cross and scored a goal in a fantastic acrobatic way. This goal put us back in this game and with the help of our fans, I felt that we could win this game. But Chicago continued to give us problems, and after a loose ball in the midfield, they counterattacked and Magee scored in the 75th minute. This goal really took us by surprise, because we were putting lots of pressure on them and were close to scoring our second goal. But their goal really cut our legs out from under us and we were unable to respond and tie the game. This was our first loss at PPL Park in a while, and we knew that we had a quick turnaround for the next home game against D.C. United. A win was the only thing we thought about during the preparation for this game.
The day after the Chicago game I was back at PPL Park for the Le Toux Sweepstakes with PPL EnergyPlus®.I met lots of incredible kids and we all played games and worked on our technical ability on the field of PPL Park.It was a gorgeous day and I had lots of fun doing it. Playing with those kids that day made me remember how lucky I am to be a professional soccer player, and the fact that I love sharing this with them. I try to be a good example.
The D.C. United game was a must-win for us to stay on top of the standings and in playoff contention. This team had nothing to lose, so it was pretty hard to play against them at the beginning of the game. It took us a few minutes to be totally in this game, but at the 35th minute, Sheanon Williams received the ball on the right side and put in an early cross. I was on the top of the box, and the ball came in my direction. I sprinted a few steps to beat my defender, flicked the ball and it went right at Conor Casey. He took a great touch and scored, 1-0 Union.
Our second goal took a while, but at the 75th minute, I passed the ball to Fabinho on the left side, and with his first touch he crossed the ball to the second post. Conor was at the end of it again, and hit a nice volley in the back of the net. We practiced this action a lot with Fabinho during the week and I am glad it paid off. We won 2-0 and I added my 11th and 12th assists of the year. I am very glad to participate in the goals my team scored.
San Jose is next, but we have lots of big games coming up against Eastern Conference teams. Hopefully, in my next blog post, I will have lots of good results to report on.
Talk to you soon.
Sebastien Le Toux, No. 11
PPL EnergyPlus, LLC is an unregulated subsidiary of PPL Corporation. PPL EnergyPlus is not the same company as PPL Electric Utilities. The prices of PPL EnergyPlus are not regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. You do not have to buy PPL EnergyPlus electricity or other products in order to receive the same quality regulated services from PPL Electric Utilities.
When it comes to your training you should always be looking to finds ways to improve. Many of us who train have a tendency to get stuck in the same old routine. We do the same exercises day in and day out and wonder why we stop seeing results. This week I want to share with you TEN WAYS that you can improve your training.
1. GET TO SLEEP BY 10:30
When I ask most people when they fall asleep the majority of people respond by telling me they are unable to fall asleep before midnight. It’s very common for people to tell me that they are unable to fall asleep before 2 a.m. This is a growing problem for a lot of people today. Research has shown that when we sleep our body begins the process of repairing itself. If we are unable to get an adequate night’s sleep how can we expect to feel alert and energize for the next day?
2. FOCUS ON POST WORKOUT RECOVERY
One of the easiest ways in my opinion to improve your overall training as well as your body composition is to put an emphasis on your post workout nutrition. A simple way to make this a part of your training plan is to have a protein smoothie already made for when you finish your training session. You can either bring it with you to the gym (freeze it before you come) or have one made when you get home. Whatever you decide adding some protein, carbohydrates and fat to your post workout nutrition will give you a leg up on your competition. I would recommend that you try and drink your shake within 15-30 minutes of completing your workout.
3. GET A TRAINING PARTNER
Plain and simple, people train harder if they are working out with someone. Find someone (ideally a friend, coworker or neighbor) who is looking to get in shape and is willing to train with you. Talk about your goals together and make a commitment to train with one another a few days a week. By doing this you will feel a stronger commitment to your training and someone will hold you accountable to your program. Other options include hiring a personal trainer or working out with a small group (i.e. semi-private training)
4. ADD SOME WEIGHT TO THE BAR
If you are currently lifting weights than you are one step ahead of a lot of other people who are missing out on one of the best ways to change your body. However, I would be willing to bet that the majority of people who are lifting weights right now are happy with the weight they have on the bar. Instead of being satisfied with the weight on the bar, I challenge you to increase the weight on some of your big lifts (i.e. front squat, bench press, overhead press, etc.) by 5 lbs. this week. The following week shoot for 10 pounds. It goes without saying that you should always focus on good form, however, increasing the weight in small increments is a great way to add some strength as well as some muscle.
5. DO A PROPER WARM UP BEFORE EVERY TRAINING SESSION
I see it all the time. I watch people walk into the gym sit down on the peck deck machine or flat bench and start their chest workout. No warm up just straight into their routine. If there is one thing that I am adamant about it is making sure that all of my athletes and clients perform a proper warm up. The excuse that most people give is “I don’t have time”. I look at them and say a good warm-up can be completed in as little as 5 to 10 minutes if you do it correctly. The warm-up sets the tone for the training session. Ideally I like to see the following categories covered in a warm-up:
- Alignment (neutral pelvis)
- Proper breathing
- Foam rolling
6. ELIMINATE PROCESSED FOOD THIS WEEK
One of the easiest ways to feel better with in and out of the gym is to reduce the amount of processed food that you consume on a daily basis. I am going to challenge you this week to eliminate all processed food this week. I am willing to bet that if you do this you will see an increase in your overall energy as well as your ability to recover from one workout to another.
7. GO FOR A LONG WALK OUTSIDE
One of the best ways to relieve stress as well as improve your cardiac output is to go for a long brisk walk. Ditch the cell phone and headphones and get outside. The sun on your face as well as the fresh air will do wonders for your body.
8. MAKE A POWER SMOOTHIE
Most smoothies you buy at a smoothie store are loaded with sugar as well as fruit substitutes. Instead of wasting your money on high sugar/low protein smoothie try this recipe instead:
- ½ banana
- 1 cup of strawberries
- ¼ cup of beets
- ½ cup of kale
- ¼ cup of frozen mangos
- 1 tbsp. of melted coconut oil
- 1 tsp. of spirulina (This can be purchased at most health food stores)
- 5-6 ice cubes
- Blend for 30-45 seconds and drink up
9. FOCUS ON YOUR HEALTH RATHER THAN WEIGHT LOSS
This week put away the scale and focus on improving your health. Dropping 20 lbs. of weight does not automatically make you healthy. Instead, focus on habits that you can sustain. Examples include getting quality sleep, eating a balanced diet as well as finding ways to manage your stress.
10. TRAIN LIKE AN ATHLETE
All of us have an athletic side. As kids we use to run and jump; but as we grow older many of us have a tendency to lose our athleticism and ability to generate power. Training like an athlete will automatically increase your power. Here are three exercises that you can do to help you feel like an athlete:
1. Box jumps - Start with a very low box if you have never done this before land soft.
Video: Box jumps
2. Medicine ball throws - I always recommend that you start with a light (2-4 lbs.) medicine ball.
3. Transition runs -These runs are best done on a track or a turf field. Start slow and progress.
Video: Shuffle to sprint
If your results have stalled and you want to jumpstart your fitness this month, try adding some of these options to your training plan. You don’t need to all of these recommendations at once. Start slow and progress. Remember proper form and progressions are critical when it comes to your training.
“Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog (http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc) on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: Philly.com/Health
A topic that has been debated over the years by both coaches and athletes is whether or not field and court athletes need to develop an aerobic base for their particular sport. When most people think of aerobic training the first thing that comes to their mind is long slow distance (LSD) running. The majority of field and court athletes that I have worked with despise this type of training (Unless you have a cross country runner that also happens to play field hockey). For most coaches and athletes this means running 4-6 miles at a slow pace. They believe that if they train slow they will be slow. On one hand I understand exactly what they mean. On the flip side after reading "Ultimate MMA Conditioning" by Joel Jamieson I developed a deeper understating of energy system training and in particular cardiac output training.
You may be saying to yourself I am sprinter why would I need to increase my cardiac output? All I need to do is sprint for 6-8 seconds, rest and then repeat it again 30-90 seconds later. The reality is your cardiac system is the "power plant of aerobic energy production" (Ultimate MMA Conditioning-Jamieson). The cardiac output method is a method that will improve the amount of blood that your heart can pump for each beat. As a field or court athlete this is critical to your ability to perform repeat sprints as well as have the endurance to play an entire game. A key component that I believe most athletes neglect is their ability to recover from a play or a sprint. In a perfect world I want a team full of athletes that can sprint, rest and repeat another sprint with the same intensity as the first sprint. By developing your aerobic system you will be able to perform more repeat sprints during a match or game.
In order to use the cardiac method you need to follow some guidelines in order to reap the benefits. Here is a list of what you need to follow in order to ensure that you’re training the right energy system.
- Maintain a constant heart rate in the 120-150 bpm (beats per minute) range.
- Each session should last 30-90 minutes.
- Start with 30 minutes and increase the volume each week.
- Start with two (2) sessions per week and increase to as many as three (3) sessions per week in the off-season.
- This type of training should be done in the off-season to help develop a solid foundation to build upon.
- If your resting heart rate is above 60 bpm you will benefit from 4-6 weeks of this type of training. You goal should be to have a resting heart rate of 55 or lower. If your resting heart rate is under 50 bpm than you can limit this type of training to 1-2x per week in the off-season and progress to more advanced styles of training.
I would highly recommend that you pick up a good heart rate monitor to use. You can purchase a good one for under $125 from a company like Polar (www.polarusa.com)
Note: These guidelines are from the book Ultimate MMA Conditioning (Joel Jamieson)
When most athletes hear about this type of training they instantly think they will be asked to run miles upon miles. While I personally like to run and I believe every field and court athlete should incorporate some type of longer running in the off-season, there may be some alternatives for athletes. The first type of training that comes to mind for me is circuit training.
The reality is a soccer player needs to train differently than a football player, however, if their goal is to develop their cardiac output in the off-season they could follow a similar plan for 2-3 days per week to develop an aerobic base. The great news for athletes about this style of training is that there is no need to log 45-90 minutes of LSD running. Instead you can set up circuits either in the weight room, outside on the track/field or at a park. You’re only limited by your imagination as long as the guidelines above are followed. Below I have put together a series of videos that can help you get a better understanding of some of the exercises that you can implement into your training program.
Video exercise clips:
Watch: Cardiac output intro
Watch: Cardiac output thunder bands
Watch: Cardiac output post workout
Click here if you want to buy thunder bands: https://rbt.infusionsoft.com/go/bd/kevinm/
I personally think this style of training works best in conjunction with 2-3 days of strength training. Remember you are laying the foundation for future more advanced training methods. Without a solid foundation you are setting yourself up for potential injury and disappointment. When it comes to this type of training I personally like to use the following types of equipment.
- Body weight
- Jump rope
- Medicine balls
- Jungle gyms at a park
For additional information on cardiac output training I would recommend that you visit www.8weeksout.com
Good luck in your training.
“Union strength and conditioning coach Kevin Miller is also a featured panelist in the Sports Doc blog: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/sportsdoc on Philly.com. For best practices along with additional health and fitness tips, check out: www.philly.com/philly/health/
Okay, it’s time for a fitness check-up. We are nearing the halfway mark of the summer and it’s time for all of us to be honest with ourselves in terms of our summer training. Over the past several weeks I have had the pleasure of sharing with you my philosophy when it comes to training. I have offered you a handful of tips that, if implemented, can improve your overall health. If you have been following the suggestions that I have been making I hope that you are starting to see the gains that you want. Whether your goal was to fit into a certain swimsuit, run a 5k or simply feel better I hope that you are happy with your results.
If, on the other hand, you have been delaying the start of your program I have good news for you. You still have time to make some dramatic changes to both your body and your mind. I understand that we have a tendency to be afraid and procrastinate the start of something new. So for those of you who are still on the fence as to whether or not you should take the plunge here are five tips that can improve your health as well as your athletic performance.
Tip No. 1: Eat a salad every day
A fantastic way to improve your overall digestion as well as increase the vitamins and minerals that you absorb is to eat a large salad every day. The great news about this is that it requires no cooking and is rather easy to make. Let’s face it most of us don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Try this salad out for size and see how you like it.
- 1-2 cups of mixed greens
- 1 avocado
- ¼ cup of red onion
- ¼ cup of cherry tomatoes
- ½ cup of macadamia nuts or almonds (raw)
- ¼ cup of cucumber
- ¼ cup of strawberries
- ¼ cup of red peppers
- ¼ cup of yellow peppers
- 1-2 tbsp. of olive oil (FYI, spend some extra money and get a high quality olive oil)
Note: If you like to cook add in some chicken, steak, etc. Also a key point to remember is that you should add some fat (i.e. olive oil, avocado, nuts, etc.) to your salad to allow the nutrients to absorb into your body
Tip No. 2. Cut back on your portion size
We live in a society where more is better. I love to eat and a pet peeve of mine is when I leave a restaurant and I am still hungry. However, some of us are simply eating too much food in one sitting. Next time you sit down to eat try implementing this strategy.
- Eat proteins, fats and carbohydrates at every meal. This will help control your blood sugar levels which will help to satisfy you.
- Slow down. Most of us inhale our food rather than chew our food. One of the hardest things our body has to do is digest food so why don’t we slow down and actually chew the food rather than shoveling it down.
- Your plate should have several different colors on it. Add vegetables to the mix in order to increase your fiber and nutrient content.
- After you finish your meal wait 15- 20 minutes before you go back for seconds. Most of us are walking back to the line while we are still eating food off of our plate. Relax, digest and then go back if you are still hungry.
Tip No. 3. Train hard then train easy then hard again.
Most people who start a training plan get very excited and they go to the gym and they do two hard workouts back to back. On the third day they go to get out of bed and they can’t walk. Instead of walking they shuffle and they find muscles they never knew that they had. Remember one workout does not get you in shape. You need to be consistent and listen to your body. I always recommend to most people that they follow a plan like this: Monday (Hard), Tuesday (Easy), Wednesday (Hard), Thursday (easy), Friday (off), Saturday (Hard), Sunday (off). By doing this you will allow your body time to recover and repair the damage that has been done.
Tip No. 4: Get your vitamin D levels checked
Dr. John Cannell states in his book that more than 75% of all Americans are deficient in Vitamin D (FYI, Vitamin D is actually a hormone not a vitamin). As an athlete if you have sufficient Vitamin D in your body this is what you can expect per Dr. John Cannell's book: "Athlete’s Edge: Faster, Quicker, Stronger with Vitamin D."
- Reduce chance of stress fractures
- Increase in speed, strength, endurance and power
- Reduction in body fat
- Increase in your recovery time
- Plus much, much more
If you are going to get a test I would recommend that you speak with your doctor or visit www.leg.org (Life Extension). It’s very important that you get the correct form of Vitamin D checked 25(OH)D. In terms of vitamin D levels, Dr. Cannell recommends that you maintain a level of 50ng/ml. Dr. Michael Smith of Life Extension recommends that you maintain a level closer to 80 ng/ml per. Research is still being done but one thing that we do know is that lower Vitamin D levels are associated with an increase risk in several internal cancers. The good news is that if you are low, the supplement for Vitamin D is rather inexpensive and easy to take.
Tip No. 5: Body weight training
When all else fails it’s hard to beat body weight workouts. The reason being is because it requires little to no equipment and the return that you see in your body is impressive. I will always recommend that people lift weights but 20-30 days of nothing but body weight work can be a great place to start for people looking to jumpstart their fitness program. Start the with the basics (push-ups, squats, sprints, rolling patterns and band assisted pull-ups).
As I stated in the beginning of this post, we are nearing the half-way point of the summer. Don’t delay the start of your training program. Get started today and start feeling great! If you have been training for the past six weeks, congratulations.
Now keep it going!!!
Have a question for Union strength coach Kevin Miller? Leave it in the comments below.