Training for Winter Sports: Best Exercises for Soccer and Basketball Players

The weather is getting colder and the seasons are changing.  With these changes comes the beginning of new high school and college sports seasons with two of the biggest being soccer and basketball.

I have had the privilege of training both soccer and basketball athletes this past offseason and we have used many different training protocols to make sure they are strong, agile and more resistant against injuries going into their seasons.

Both soccer and basketball share similar movements in their sports; stop and go running, deceleration, cutting and acceleration and jumping components.  In this article I am going to share with you some of my favorite training exercises I use to get these athletes ready for their season.


There has been a timeless debate in the “strength and conditioning world” regarding which exercise is better to build strength, size and game speed; the squat or the deadlift.  Both exercises are great and should be used but if I had to pick one over the other for soccer and basketball players it would be the deadlift.

Like the squat, the deadlift is a highly effective movement to train the hips to extend.  Most sports are dependent on the athlete’s ability to extend their hips, whether it is to sprint, change direction or jump.  Being able to move and accelerate and object from the ground using one’s hips leads to great strength and power development essential in sports.

The one advantage that the deadlift has is the ability to train starting strength which is the ability to move the body quickly from a dead stop.  Many athletes, parents and coaches ask how they can improve their child’s “first step.”  This first step development comes from training to move deadweight quickly and effectively.

Forward Lunges

This is one of those exercises that I had used in the past, forgotten, came back to it while training at Cressey Performance.  When doing forward lunges again, I realized how weak I was at it and then realized the huge value it has.

I have had many of my athletes primarily performing reverse (step-back) lunges because I felt they were able to get into proper position easier and they could use the back foot explosively to train the first step.  This movement was great for that however I was neglecting one huge component necessary in both of these sports: deceleration.

Most deceleration during soccer and basketball comes when the athlete is moving forward and the front leg needs to slow the body down to change direction.

Forward lunges require the front leg to decelerate.  The forward lunge trains the hamstring muscle group to slow the body down through the eccentric contraction much like it needs to do when playing a sport like soccer and basketball.

During sports the body must decelerate loads greater than the body weight alone due to the acceleration of the body creating a greater force vector.  When doing this lunge variation with added resistance the body learns to deal with forces great than body weight alone much like what occurs when playing sports.

Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing has several advantages when it comes to training for soccer and basketball; namely training the posterior chain (primarily hamstring and hip muscle groups) for power production, it can also be used as a conditioning tool.

Many strength and conditioning coaches utilize Olympic lifts (clean and snatch) to train the power element of sports; while these lifts may be great for power generation, they take much longer to learn the technique when compared to the kettlebell swing, and they are good for maximal power production whereas soccer and basketball are sports that utilizes repetitive bouts of sub-maximal force production.  Sports like soccer and basketball consist of a series of repeated sprints and stops; not an all or nothing explosive movement.

Kettlebell swings can be done within a strength program for repetitions if training posterior chain power production is desired or it can be done for time intervals if training for conditioning.

Core Stability

Core stability for soccer and basketball are crucial for the athletes to perform optimally.  Not only must the core be stable for the athlete to perform their dribbling and shooting skills effectively they also must have a strong core to be able to fend off all of the knocks and fouls that opponents will perform to steal the ball or disrupt a game winning shot.

Training the core for stability is quite simple and I recommend a variety of core stability exercises within a particular training program.  Plank variations, ball or wheel rollouts, strap fallouts, Pallof presses are all great exercises to train the core through stabilization.

Conditioning Circuits

This is one component that is not used frequently enough in strength training protocols.  It is one thing to make your athlete strong and perform well in the weight room, but if they cannot perform better at their sport then the job you’ve done is not complete.

In my article, Get with the Circuit, I touted the need for solid conditioning programs for athletes that needed both strength and endurance.  Adding a conditioning circuit into the program once a week will greatly enhance your soccer and basketball athlete’s strength transfer from the weight room to the field and court.  It is important that these athletes gain the strength endurance necessary to perform repeated measures of sprinting, stopping jumping, and cutting.  The athletes who are able to maintaining this strength endurance cycle will most likely be in better shape and perform the best at their respected sport.

Some of my favorite exercises to include into circuits are jump rope, kettlebell swings, pushups, body rows and the Prowler.  Time should be suited close to what would be done during a game situation.  I like circuits of 4-6 stations doing 20-30 sec. of work and resting for 10-20 sec.


Soccer and basketball players are just like any other athletes in respect to the fact that they need to be strong, stable and conditioned.  The details within a program should be tailored for each specific sport and specifically designed for the individual athlete for optimal success.

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Monday, November 28th, 2011 Sports Performance Training 1 Comment

A Little Tension Goes a Long Way: Part II

In the first installment of the Tension Series we talked about applying appropriate tension to improve strength output and muscle coordination.  By keeping ones body tight and engaged when doing any exercise one can achieve a significant increase in power almost immediately.  In this second part, I will explain a principle that became popular by strength coach Charles Poliquin; the concept of the Time-Under-Tension Principle and how it may relate to strength and muscle growth.

The Time-Under-Tension Principle (TUT) refers to the amount of time the muscles are actually working while moving weight for a given number of sets and repetitions.  According to the TUT principle; when comparing 10 repetitions of 30% of your 1-repetition maximum (1RM) in the squat to 5 repetitions of 80% of your 1RM; the set with the 5 reps at 80%  may take longer to complete  because the load is higher therefore it moves much slower.

According to Poliquin, “Muscle is not going to grow when your time under tension is inordinately low.  Typically, and depending largely on your muscle fiber ratio (some people have more fast-twitch fibers than slow or vice versa), your time under tension should be anywhere from 30 seconds to about 70.  Any more or any less is counterproductive over the long run.”  Contrary to popular training techniques that stress more reps with lighter weight, Poliquin emphasis that muscle growth is stimulated when doing heavier weight with fewer reps if the time it takes you to complete the reps is longer.  Meaning, the longer your muscles are under maximum tension the more muscle you can build.

In the training world, the TUT principle comes with mixed reviews.  The jury is still out as to its overall effectiveness and its benefits for muscle growth and or athletic performance.  I find that this principle works well with beginning lifters who are learning technique with lighter weight.  Many beginning lifters will lower the weight too quickly and not learn how to load their muscles properly and execute lifts with proper mechanics.  The TUT principle gives them a parameter to stay within while they are lifting so the weight moves smoothly and technique is not rushed.  As the trainee gains more experience they can begin to experiment with different lifting speeds using different loads depending on what their training goals are.

If your goal is to get bigger, faster, you should definitely try this technique.  I use to implement the TUT principle in my training methods when my primary goal was to gain muscle mass.  I still use it from time to time when I’m learning a new movement or exercise.  Stay Strong and let me know what you think.

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Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 Sports Performance Training No Comments

Ask Me Anything: Gaining Distance on Soccer Kicks

More Kicking Power.

Q: Dear Doug,

I play sweeper on my varsity high school soccer team. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I practice, I can’t seem to kick the ball far enough to reach our forwards. Is there anything I can do to increase my kicking ability?

PS: I’m a girl and I only weight 105lb.

So Cal

A: Thanks for your question “So Cal.” When it comes to enhancing athletic movements I think it is important to look at a few different factors. In your case of kicking distance I would look at three primary areas:

  • Kicking technique
  • Strength and power production
  • Flexibility of the hip and surrounding leg muscles

Kicking Technique:

There are several factors that contribute towards the optimal technical execution of distance kicking such as:

  • How much range of motion (ROM) you kicking leg has
  • The distance the supporting leg needs to be from the ball
  • Where you strike the ball
  • Proper body alignment when you come into contact with the ball

Ask your coach to check you out. Are you striking the ball in the right spot? Is your planted foot in the right place? Are you “following through” enough? Your coach should be able to answer these questions for you.

Strength and Power Production:

Call this a shameless plug, but this is what I teach. If you increase your strength with proper resistance training consisting of the basics (squat, deadlift, and single leg work) your potential power output can go up. Along with training the strength movements it is important to use this new strength in a “power” producing manner. Strength is just one component, the ability to use that strength effectively is a big key to athletic success, Things like box jumps, lunge jumps and kettlebell swings train the muscles to use the strength to produce and transfer power.

Flexibility of the hips and surrounding leg muscles:

Sufficient athletic technique execution and maximal power output is effected by the ability to move the limb through adequate ROM. In simpler terms; if your hip and leg muscles are tight they cannot move freely enough to produce the optimal power for long kicks. Stretch the muscles around the legs and hips paying special attention the hip flexors. When sitting in class all day the hip flexors tend to get short and tight, they may not be at their optimal length when you are trying to kick the ball later in the day. One of my favorite hip flexor stretches is pictured below.

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Thursday, January 14th, 2010 Articles No Comments


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