The recent success of the England Lionesses at the 2022 European Championships has sparked a whole new level of interest in women’s football across the UK. The heroics of players such as Leah Wilkinson, Lauren Hemp, Beth Mead and Chloe Kelly has inspired more people of all ages and abilities to go along to their local clubs and try out for a football team.
Fitness is at heart of success
While there are certain skills that go into making a good footballer, the basis of every performance is fitness.
The England women’s team was praised for the incredible fitness levels of the players and the way they kept playing at the highest level for the entire 90 minutes of the match, plus an extra 30 minutes of extra time. When they could still send a perfect pass or make a perfect tackle after running for 90 minutes, that was the mark of an elite level of fitness.
For anyone wishing to take up football, or any other team sport, a good level of fitness will put you at a big advantage when it comes to playing the game. Whether you are a recreational player who occasionally joins in for a kick around in the park, or a league player who turns out every weekend, fitness is something you can work on by yourself and really see improvements.
To help you reach a high level of football fitness, here are some tips from the England women’s team’s training regime.
For a football match a player needs to be able to keep running at slightly faster than a jogging pace, and intersperse that with short, sharp sprints.
Start your training session with a 10 minute jog, adding ten short sprints (10-15 seconds) at regular intervals.
Within a match there are very few times when a player is running in a straight line. Replicate changes in direction by setting up some markers four or five metres apart and at angles to each other. Sprint between these to get your muscles used to supporting your joints as you change direction.
Do four or five reps with a jog back recovery between each one.
Coping with anaerobic stress
As a footballer, there will be times when you have to make a lung-busting run – either to support the attack or to get back and defend. To prepare your body for a demand overload, static cycling is a great way to put your body under stress without injury.
On a static bike, do 6 x 15 seconds of flat out effort with a 60 second rest between each maximum effort.
All your balance and strength comes from your core. By improving your core strength you will perform better during the match and avoid injuries as you will have better balance.
Hold a plank position for one minute. Do some light jogging for one minute, then repeat the plank. Do this five times in total. For variety, you can do one-armed planks.
Upper body strength
Although football seems to be all about the legs, having a good level of upper body strength is important too. A selection of weight-lifting exercises will help develop arm, shoulder and upper back muscles.
Try a combination of push ups, chest presses (using a medium weighted barbell) and fly (using dumbbells). Do 3 x 10 sets of each of these exercises, taking a 30 second rest or 30 second light recovery movement (jogging, skipping) between each set.
The importance of strong but flexible hamstrings, quadriceps and calves cannot be over-emphasised for football players.
Squats, squat jumps, lunges and deadlifts will cover all bases. As with the arms, do a combination of these exercises – 3 x 15, with a recovery break between each set.