One of the most important characteristics in football is explosive action. In the world game, power and explosiveness have become two of the most desirable characteristics in a footballer (One simply has to look at the price tag on French speedster Mbappé).
As a coach, we all want our players to be as explosive as possible. Although many of the characteristics of explosiveness are genetic, there are still ways that we can train our players to improve their power output and performance.
For those of us with a weight room and a qualified strength coach, Cal Dietz has a fantastic program to improve power in athletes based on an eccentric, isometric, and concentric focus.
While having a proper strength program is important, it is equally as important that any drills we do on the pitch to improve power follow the concept of SPECIFICITY. Meaning, the player needs to replicate similar actions to those performed in the game, in order to increase the chances that positive adaptations will occur.
So, what are the most important ‘explosive actions’ in football, and how to we as coaches train these actions in our players?
In my mind, the most explosive actions that require the most muscle fiber recruitment are…
Let’s examine what makes an action explosive.
Occurs over a short period of time (less than 10 seconds)
Requires maximum recruitment of muscle fibers (Type II)
Has an eccentric, isometric, and concentric component.
For the sake of time, we will only cover the key characteristics of the science behind power output.
The Phosphagen System is the system predominantly utilized by the body for explosive and power actions. This system is depleted after only 6 - 10 seconds, something that we will keep in mind for later.
The CONTEXT of the explosive action matters almost as much as the POWER from the muscles themselves.
For example, just because I can sprint quickly on a track, does not mean that I will be a fast sprinter in football. On a track, I must get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. In football, I must get to point B…
From the proper starting position (WHERE do I make my run from?)
At the correct moment (WHEN do I make my run?)
With the correct body position (HOW do I make my run?)
In the correct context (WHY do I make my run?)
For this reason, as coaches, we should do our best to train power exercises in the context of football. There are a few things we need to make this happen.
An attacking player.
A defending player.
A goal or an objective.
These four components allow us to create a scenario where players can produce actions that they would in a game. Now, let’s revisit the Phosphagen System, which is the key producer of energy for power exercises.
Considering that this system will become depleted after only 6 - 10 seconds, the explosive action must be short, and we must allow for full recovery before we attempt the action again.
Our reps and recovery should be about...
3 – 8 reps (depending on the exercise)
At least 30 seconds recovery between reps
3 - 6 sets
Full recovery (4 minutes) between sets
No more than 3x per week
It’s important that we implement these types of exercises immediately after the warm up. When asking a muscle to fire at its capacity, it is critical that the muscle is not fatigued. If it is, this could cause the nervous system to fire at the incorrect time, leading to poor performance or injury.
Now that we’ve out outlined the science and theory, how do we implement it in our teams?
You could do the following (GET CREATIVE!)
1v1 to goal with a shot.
1v1 header from a cross.
1v1 sprint to the ball.
I like to try and have my sprints for my wingers and wide midfielders in the flank areas, and the fullbacks trying to catch them are coming from a more central position.
This body position and starting position are very close to the explosive action they perform in the game. My center backs and strikers I try to keep around the top of the box or the penalty spot.
Making the scenario as realistic and specific as possible will increase the chances that we will see an improvement in our players football ability.
Notice that the rep ranges are rather small, compared to some stories I hear of strikers taking hundreds of shots each day on their own.
I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t train technique with lots of repetitions, but it is important to always have objectives.
Two great questions I always ask myself when planning an individual or team session are “WHAT am I trying to improve” and “HOW can I achieve it.”.
If my session plan meets both of these criteria, while keeping the context of the game in mind, that’s half the battle.