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8 Top Tips For Footballers In The Gym

8 Top Tips For Footballers In The Gym

Written by Yianni Kyriacou

As someone who has aspirations to make a full-time career out of football, it’s important that you approach each and every gym session with intention. As a footballer, you have to remember that your gym time is just as important as your time on the pitch, and for those of you playing professionally (or with serious aspirations to), your gym time is literally time on the job. Therefore it’s important you treat it as such. There are a number of things that you can do to optimize your sessions and below, I've outlined 8 important tips to remember to maximize your gym training sessions. 

1. Breathe 

Being present in the gym is extremely important. You're there to get to work and complete a high-quality training session. Life in and of itself has a lot of distractions and, training time at the gym isn’t any different. Between your mates and your mobile (see below), there are plenty of things that can take your focus away from the training session at hand.

Diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to be an effective way to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels (1) and get you mentally focused for the session ahead. Try 1-2 minutes of deep breathing with your eyes closed.

Place a hand on your belly button and feel it rise and fall, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

1-2 minutes is ideal but as few as 10 deep breathes can make an impact. Try this and I guarantee you will feel more alert, focused, and ready to start the session than if you throw a bag in the locker and walk straight onto the gym floor. 

2. No Phone

Take a look around you the next time you’re out in public. From couples on dates at restaurants, to even people driving in their cars, people today are more distracted than ever by their phones. While they CAN be incredibly useful in the gym, specifically to track exercises, reps, sets, results, etc, to playing music that helps us "get in the zone", to even helping us stay on top of our training programmes, they also CAN be a massive distraction.

The reality is that our phones are simply devices and like all devices, they can either be used to help or harm us. If you’re using your phone to get sucked into everything that beeps and buzzes, then you have a problem and your results will suffer. Replying to messages and going on Instagram during rest periods has never made a session better, they only take your mind off training. Make use of do not disturb feature or even put your phone on airplane mode, and make sure you are mentally locked in to achieve what you set out to. Again, as a professional footballer, you’re at the gym to work.

3. Do the most important work first

In my experience, most players experience niggles and more often than not, a physio has given them some exercises to do to take care of it. Maybe they’ve had a previous injury and are still trying to do some of the end-stage rehab work to make sure it doesn't reoccur. However, rehab or prehab work is often not done as consistently as it should be. It's even more unlikely that you'll do it at the start of your session when you're freshest and most focused. 

To most people this work is boring, but it's also the single most important thing that you can do as it will keep you on the pitch. Rehab work can easily be done at the start of a gym session without negatively impacting the rest of the session, so get it done then to make sure it doesn't get forgotten!

4. Have your programme with you

It's a common saying that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. This applies in all areas of life as much as it does during your training sessions in the gym. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the gym full of energy and vigor, only to mindlessly wander around using whatever equipment is available, training with no real plan or focus. If your training is random, expect to get random results and as pro footballers, that’s the LAST thing you need for your career.

When you arrive at the gym, you should have your programme with you, ready and printed or worst case, a screenshot of the training for that specific day. Be prepared, and be ready to get to work intentionally on what needs to be done that day. All world-class players follow specific training and nutrition regimens and never leave things to chance. Do you really think players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos would be able to continue to perform to such high levels into their mid-late 30's by way of random workouts and eating well only when they “feel” like it?

5. Have the correct footwear 

Your connection to the ground is really important for getting the most out of your training. Training barefoot or in a barefoot shoe is great, as is wearing a shoe designed for lifting like Nike Metcons, Reebok Nanos, and many other options on the market. What's not ideal is using a shoe that is designed only for fashion and not for function. If you have a thick spongy sole that looks like a spaceship, it's likely that when you are pushing into the floor to jump or do any lower body training, you're pushing into the sponge and losing a lot of your force.

To get the most out of your training, don’t waste energy and keep your foot connected to the ground. This 2019 study showed that just wearing a barefoot shoe in daily life can increase foot strength by 60% (2). Intrinsic foot strength is really important, a healthy foot and ankle will affect all the other joints up the chain. These strength increases can be exaggerated through doing strength training and plyometrics in the gym whilst wearing these shoes or being barefoot if your gym allows it! 

6. Be flexible

You have a plan; you get in the gym and the trap bar is taken.

Three people are warming up with it and they look like they’re getting ready to compete in the world’s strongest man competition. You could wait an hour for them to finish, or you can know in advance what parts of your session you can move around.

If plan A is a Trap Bar Deadlift as the main lower body strength exercise and dumbbell press is the main upper body strength exercise, then flip them over. 100% of the session content is the same but in a slightly different order. Plan C would be to switch an exercise, so if Trap Bar Deadlift is a lower body exercise but can’t be done, you can do front squats instead. Have a plan but be flexible.

7. Be properly hydrated

Everyone knows that proper hydration is crucial for physical and cognitive performance. Being dehydrated by even 1-2% will reduce technical performance, strength, power, short-term memory, and attention (3,4,5). Don't leave your hydration to chance, keep a water bottle with you, and make it part of your gym training sessions.

8. Have a lifting partner

Anecdotally, people tend to lift more when they have a spotter due to the added level of safety and comfort they feel. If you can get a 5KG increase just by having someone stand near you, why wouldn’t you?

It’s a no-brainer.

Also, a lifting partner can be a good way to regulate rest periods. If you're training for hypertrophy and want to keep rests short (45-60 seconds), you know that you'll need to do your sets back-to-back. As soon as you're finished with your set, your partner will start. This is an easy way to regulate rest periods.

To sum up…

One of the key differences I've seen in top pro's is that they treat their performances OFF the pitch with as much seriousness as they do their performances ON the pitch.

Some of the points above may seem like common sense, but I guarantee that there is atleast one thing on the list that you can improve on, so I challenge you to implement these tips and see how they impact you and improve your training sessions in the gym.

If you're really looking to maximize your time in the gym, check out our 1-1 custom training programmes where everything you do is 100% individualized to your schedule, goals, and injury history to make sure you make the most of every minute. 

Finally, if you are interested in diving into your breathing work a little deeper, check out this book:

>>> Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor.

It's not 100% science-based but blends some research, spiritual practices, and some anecdotes too. 

References: 

  1. Cortisol levels and breathing: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874/full
  2. Foot strength: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19424280.2019.1606299
  3. Hydration and cognitive performance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207053/
  4. Hydration and cognitive performance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6603652/
  1. Technical performance in team sport and hydration: https://www.gssiweb.org/en/sports-science-exchange/Article/hydration-and-team-sport-cognitive-function-technical-skill-and-physical-performance

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