How can some soccer players explode the ball off their foot while others struggle?
If you have played soccer, or watched your fair share of youth and professional soccer games, you can appreciate that some players stand out in their passing and shooting ability.
As a physical therapist, strength and conditioning coach, and motion analysis specialist in the Bay Area of California, parents frequently ask me to evaluate their kids ability to run with speed, pass, and kick.
They want to know why their young athlete looks uncoordinated when they run and why they have trouble getting power behind their kicking.
After successfully working with hundreds of soccer players, from youth to professional athletes, I decided to put together a list of "must-do" strength and balance drills that will help improve your soccer kick.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but instead provides a solid foundation based on biomechanics and soccer performance.
Let's first look at the biomechanics of kicking and pick out key variables that will help you add power to your shot.
Soccer is a sport that requires a tremendous amount of single leg balance, strength, and dynamic control. In running, catching a pass, or kicking the ball there is only one foot on the ground. This means that soccer athletes need to have exceptional single leg control to dominate these aspects of the game.
So what controls optimal single leg balance and control? For optimal lower extremity control and a powerful kick you need...
- Strong gluteus maximus and medius muscles to stabilize your pelvis and keep your knee in alignment
- Strong abdominal, oblique, and lumbar muscles to hold your trunk upright and straight
- Efficient dynamic lower body motor control (the ability to consistently produce a specific action)
Let's look at what this means in action...
Ideal position for a powerful soccer kick can be developed at a young age
A professional athlete demonstrates the same overall position with increased depth to produce power
Powerful kicking mechanics can be developed at a young age and perfected and enhanced over time. Learning proper biomechanics as a youth soccer athlete can improve your game AND keep you from injury.
The 6 Strength And Balance Drills For A Powerful Soccer Kick
These 5 exercises are ordered from more simple movements to more complex and static to more dynamic. Ideally, master the exercises in order as the skills learned in the earlier drills improve the performance of the later drills.
These exercises are designed to be done in addition to your on field practice. You can think of these drills as the building blocks that will help you with your on-field kicking training.
#1 Standing Fire Hydrant
This exercise is static and should be held for 1 full minute. The goal is to increase activation of the gluteal and trunk muscles while improving single leg balance. As your single leg stability improves, add a band around your knees for added gluteus work.
Front: Knee aligned over toes, hips level, trunk perpendicular to pelvis
Back: Level pelvis, straight spine, leg back, leg out, buttocks squeezed
#2 Eccentric Hamstring Kicks
To be able to kick your leg high on the follow through you need sufficient hamstring length AND hamstring muscle control. As you finish your kick the hamstring is lengthening while it tries to keep your leg from flying forward. This type of muscle work can be practiced using a elastic band while performing dynamic stretching. As you improve your strength, increase the tension on the band and your total range of motion. Perform this exercise 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions.
#3 Single Leg Squat
Kicking is a single leg action. The stance leg needs to be able to perform an independent squat and deceleration to enhance stability allowing the kicking leg to have enough power for the kick.
Performing a dynamic single leg squat mimics the same action used in kicking. Perform this exercise 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions in front of a mirror to help keep your knee, hip, and trunk in alignment.
Performing a lunge will not only help your kicking mechanics but it will also help your ability to decelerate and cut. There are many different variations of the lunge but the one that I favor is a forward lunge that emphasis gluteal activation over quadriceps activation as it's more applicable to proper sport biomechanics.
The keys for this exercise are to keep your front knee behind the toes, aligned facing forward, and pelvis level. Additionally, you want incline your trunk forward without flexing your spine. This creates powerful torque in your lower body and protects your spine as well. This lunge can be performed for 2-3 sets of 10 and will help get your plant leg strong for an optimal soccer kick.
#5 Single Arm RDL With Band
These last two exercises add dynamic movement and speed to the above drills. The single arm RDL is excellent for developing hip and trunk strength while performing a soccer based motion.
Stability and control remains the focus with dynamic drills even though speed is being added into the mix. If possible, use a mirror for movement quality feedback. The exercise can be performed for 2 sets with 15-20 repetitions per set. Add more speed as your movement quality improves.
Get The Most Out Of Your Training
Performing these 5 strength and balance drills will improve your ability to generate power, accuracy, and length of your soccer kick. Mastering the basics of movement will set you apart from those who just rely on talent alone. Plus, improving movement will help you avoid injury and keep playing the game you love.
Kevin Vandi, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Dr. Vandi is the founder of Competitive EDGE Physical Therapy — with his background in physical therapy, orthopedics, and biomechanics, he is a highly educated, compassionate specialist. Using state-of-the-art motion analysis technology and data-driven methodologies, Kevin has assisted a wide range of clients, from post-surgery patients to youth and professional athletes. When he isn’t busy working or reading research, he spends his time with his wife Chrissy and their five wonderful children, often enjoying the outdoors and staying committed to an active lifestyle.