Soccer training on ladders

Soccer Workouts Without The Ball

Soccer is a simple game that revolves around kicking a ball into a net. Although straightforward, it is a sport that requires a high level of skill and craft. To reach this skill level, a player must spend a lot of time practicing with a ball on their own and with teammates. 

However, did you know that on average, a player spends under 2 minutes per game in possession of the ball? It’s easy to overlook the physical demands of the sport and the work that needs to be done without the ball.

Can you train for soccer without a ball?

Soccer is mainly about passing, dribbling, shooting, and defending but there are many physical by-products: quickness, speed, agility, balance, strength, and fitness. These are major parts of the game. Increase quickness, speed, and agility with square running, agility ladders, and agility courses. Improve your core strength, balance and overall fitness with specialized circuit training and sprinting drills. 

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A lot of pre-season sessions are done with no ball | Image courtesy of Apasciuto.

The following workouts are guaranteed to help you excel in the physical aspects of the game of soccer. The exercises can be done all together as a single no-ball workout or you can add a specific drill to an existing workout to help improve a certain function. 

Please note: It’s very important to warm up before every session, particularly one that is solely focused on physical conditioning. These exercises can be hard on the body so it’s vital that the player prepares themselves appropriately. The first part of the workout below is aimed at engaging the muscles but it is not a complete warm-up.

Agility & Strength Workouts

These are a combination of light muscle engaging activities. The aim is to improve flexibility, agility, and strength, as well as effectively warming up the body for the workout ahead. The exercises are not intended to make you physically fitter from a cardiovascular standpoint. There are plenty more workouts that will look after that later on. 

Stationary High knees

Steps;

  • Raise your knees to hip level, switching from your right knee to your left
  • 15 raises on each leg (30 total)
  • Take a 30-second rest
  • 3 sets

Start slowly. If you are stiff, don’t worry about raising the knees to your hips on your first go. Gradually build up speed and height of knees. 

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Player demonstrating stationary high knees | Image courtesy of Yanre Fitness.

Stationary Heel kicks

Steps;

  • Place your hands on your rear with your palms facing outward.
  • Gently kick your heels back to your hands.
  • 15 kicks on each leg (30 total)
  • Take a 30-second rest
  • 3 sets

Leg swings

Steps;

  • Hold onto a wall or support if necessary
  • Swing one leg back and forth as if you’re kicking a ball
  • Start off nice and easy, kicking your leg to a low height. Slowly increase speed and height. Switch legs and repeat
  • 15 swings on each leg (30 total)
  • Take a 30-second rest after completing a set using both legs
  • 3 sets

Lateral Leg Swings: 

Steps;

  • Face a wall or something stable to use as a support
  • Swing one leg from left to right in front of you. Try not to rotate the body
  • Start off slowly, swinging low. Gradually increase speed and height
  • Switch legs and repeat
  • 15 swings on each leg (30 total)
  • Take a 30-second rest after completing a set using both legs
  • 3 sets

Walking lunges

Steps;

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Walking lunges | Image courtesy of Goodfellow.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Lunge forward with one leg
  • Bend your knees downward and lower your hips. Your back knee should almost touch the ground
  • Keep your back straight and your posture upright
  • Make sure your front knee stays above your front foot
  • Use your front foot to drive your body back upright. Stand shoulder-width apart again
  • Repeat the above steps using your other foot
  • 5 lunges on each leg (10 total)
  • 3 sets

Sideways shuffle

Steps;

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Slightly bend your knees, adopting a squat like position. Keep an upright posture and your toes pointed forward. Look straight ahead
  • Keeping your toes pointed forward, take 4 sidesteps to the left
  • Touch the ground outside of your left foot with your left hand, then get back into your stance
  • Take 4 sidesteps to the right and repeat the same actions
  • Do this for 30 seconds
  • 3 sets

Backward running

Steps;

  • Set a cone/marker 10 feet from a starting point
  • Lightly jog to the cone/marker
  • When you reach the marker, stop
  • Jog backward toward the starting point. Make sure to check either shoulder as you jog
  • Run back and forth to the cone/marker 3 times
  • 3 sets

You can vary the speed of this exercise if you wish. 

Agility Workouts

Agility Ladders

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Agility ladders are fantastic for developing quick feet | Image courtesy of Airforce Medicine.

A ladder is obviously desirable for these exercises but it is not absolutely essential (they are available in local sports stores, or for around $12 on Amazon). If a player knows what he/she is doing and what he/she needs to achieve from the exercise, an ‘imaginary’ ladder will do.

2 Feet In

Forward steps;

  • The player starts at one end of the ladder and runs through it lengthways, placing one foot in each square at a time
  • Both feet should go into every square but at alternative rhythms. While one foot is in the square, the other is in the air
  • The player should be on their toes at all times. Their heels should never touch the ground
  • It’s important to pump the arms to help generate a quick pace and maintain rhythm
  • The motion is similar to a rapid march

Find a demonstration at 1:02 of this video.

Sideways steps;

  • This is the same as above but with a sideways shuffle, rather than a forward-facing march
  • The player starts at one end of the ladder but stands side-on with their toes facing the side of the ladder, rather than forward
  • The player steps laterally, one foot at a time through the ladder
  • It’s important for the player to stay on their toes and use their arms to pump the legs through

Find a demonstration at 1:30 in the video above.

A slightly trickier variation.

Backward steps;

  • The set-up, starting point, and finishing point are the same as the first exercise
  •  The player steps through each gap, one foot at a time, but they are moving backward
  • Rhythm is the key here. It may take a couple of attempts before this becomes a natural movement
  • The player should use each step as a guide to the next and keep an eye on their position
  • Again, stay on the toes and pump the arms for increased speed and rhythm 

In-Out 2 Foot Shuffle 

This is a 2-foot shuffle but the player moves diagonally through the ladder.

Steps;

  1. The player starts at one end of the ladder
  2. They step with their lead foot into the square then outside of the square at a diagonal angle
  3. The second foot follows but steps outside of the ladder on the opposite side.
  4. This motion is repeated through the ladder. 

This exercise is easier to understand when demonstrated. Check out 2:01 of the video above.

Lateral in and Out: Side On

Steps;

  • The player starts alongside the ladder at one end. Their toes should be pointed sideways, across the ladder rather than lengthways. 
  • The player steps forward into the square one foot at a time, then backward to the outside of the ladder.
  • They then shuffle to the side and repeat the action from the first square. 
  • When the player reaches the end of the ladder, they should repeat the drill back to the starting position. This makes sure that both directions are practiced in the drill. 

This exercise involves forward, backward and lateral movement, working on improved speed in several directions.

Find a demonstration at 4:30 in the video above.

Two Forward, One Back

Steps;

  • The final exercise involves moving forward through 2 squares, then backward into 1. This is repeated until the player reaches the end of the ladder.
  • The player starts at one end of the ladder.
  • Moving forward, they put both feet into the square, one at a time. Then do the same into the next square.
  • They then repeat this motion through 1 square, but they are moving backward. 

This requires concentration and co-ordination but is fantastic for developing quick feet and control of movement. 

Find a demonstration at 9:32 in the video above.

Perform each of these agility drills 3 times.

Square Running Drill

This is a fantastic running drill for all players. It has a little bit of everything: acceleration, deceleration, quick feet, balance, and several changes of direction. Create a square using cones or markers.

Each marker should be 10 feet apart. On one side of the square, place two more markers 10 feet from either corner of the square  (see the diagram below for the layout). The markers extended from the square are the starting and finishing points. 

Steps;

  1. Start by sprinting to the nearest corner of the square grid.
  2. Round the outside of the marker, turn 90 degrees, and sprint to the next marker.
  3. Round the outside of the marker, turn 90 degrees, and sprint to the next marker.
  4. Round the outside of the maker, turn 90 degrees, and sprint to the next marker.
  5. Round the inside of the marker, turn 90 degrees, and sprint to the finish line. 

There isn’t necessarily a set amount of repetitions for this drill. It is dependent on your fitness levels and goals. As a starting point, try the following:

  • 1 rep at half speed
  • 1 rep at three-quarter speed
  • 1 rep at full-speed

Take a 30 second to 1-minute rest between each run. You can double or triple this number as you progress. 

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Gareth Bale, one of the fastest players in the world is well known for his high-intensity speed workouts | Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Tips:

Stay low as you round the markers. Plant your inside foot, dip your shoulder, and explode with the outside foot as you turn. 

Decelerate effectively by shortening the distance of each step. Use quick feet and be economical. Try not to sprint past each marker and turn in a looping manner. 

Pump your arms to help get your lower body speed up and to slow down. This will have a positive effect on your acceleration and deceleration. 

Square soccer drill diagram
Square running soccer drill
Check out 2:05 in this video for a demo on this drill.

Agility Course

This workout requires some equipment. If the exact equipment noted is not available to you, it’s possible to simulate the movements without it. 

Desired Equipment:

  • 4 x hurdles
  • 4 x agility poles/sticks
  • 6 x cones/markers
Agility soccer drill diagram
Agility course soccer drill

Steps;

  1. The player runs from the starting point to the hurdles.
  2. They jump over each, 2 feet at a time. Each jump should be fast and explosive
  3. When the hurdles are complete, the player runs to the agility poles. They shuffle in a sideways motion through each pole. The knees should be bent and the player should have a low center of gravity. This simulates a jockeying motion that a defender might adopt when marking an opponent.
  4. After the agility poles, the player runs across to the cones.
  5. After rounding the first cone, the player sprints to the cone directly in front. They decelerate when approaching the cone and after rounding it, they back-pedal to the adjacent cone
  6. The next cone is rounded, and the player sprints forward to another.
  7. Again, the player rounds this one and back-pedals to the cone adjacent. 
  8. When the final cone is reached, the player explodes off their back foot and sprints to the finish line
  9. Complete the agility course 3 times

This course greatly improves, acceleration, deceleration, explosiveness, speed, and agility. It is also a cardiovascular taxing activity and is excellent for physical fitness. It’s a good idea to time each run and to attempt to match or beat record times in each session.

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It’s useful to have equipment for an agility course but it’s not essential | Image courtesy of Max Pixel

Super 15’s: Sprints

This is one of the more unpopular workouts without a ball. It’s a grueling and lung-busting running exercise. However, it’s hugely beneficial for speed, acceleration, deceleration, and overall fitness/stamina. 

At great distaste to a group of players, this exercise is optimal to perform towards the end of the session, or as the last heavy running drill. At it’s most useful, this workout makes sure players expel their full energy load without worrying about more drills. 

Steps;

  1. Cones/markers are set out at a starting point, at 15 feet from the starting point, at 30 feet, and at 45 feet
  2. The player sprints to the first marker, then back to the starting point, to the second marker, then back to the starting point, to the third marker, then back to the starting point
  3. There is a one minute break following each set
  4. 3 sets

From a coaching perspective, there are 2 ways of getting the most out of this drill. The first is to make it competitive. Put a time limit on finishing and make it a race. Challenge your players to perform. The second way is to make all players perform this as a team/unit.

They all run at the same pace, together. This brings out leadership qualities in some and helps push those who are struggling. It is important to set a time target so that a decent pace is kept. If done individually, the player should set a time target and track their run. 

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Super 15’s soccer drill

Strength and Conditioning Circuit

The strength and conditioning circuit should be performed at the end of a session. As a beginner soccer player, it’s crucial to focus most of your time on the basics and fundamentals. However, as an athlete, one must focus on strength and conditioning to maximize athletic performance. 

The following exercises are fantastic at helping a player to develop as an athlete. You should be familiar with most of the exercises. For the ones that you are unfamiliar with, follow the links for a walk-through.

The main areas of focus are:

  • Cardiovascular Endurance: This is the ability of the body to utilize oxygen during exercise. This is the main factor in a soccer player’s physical fitness. 
  • Muscular Endurance: The ability to repeatedly exert taxing force on the muscles at a high level.
  • Anaerobic Endurance: the ability to perform repeated short bouts of high-intensity workouts.
  • Strength: The maximum force that a muscle or muscle group can produce.
  • Power: The rate at which someone can do work. For example, the speed at which strength can be applied. 

Circuit Workouts

  • Burpees x 10
  • Push-ups x 10
  • Crunches x 15
  • Jumping squats x 10
  • Walkout push-ups x 10
  • Plank for 30 seconds

There should be little to no break between each exercise. Ideally, a player would perform 3 sets. However, there is no need to overdo it if you are not accustomed to strength and conditioning workouts. Lower the reps and amount of sets if necessary. 

Pace & Track Your Progress

As mentioned, there is nothing better than playing soccer and performing soccer-based drills to improve as a player. However, it is a game played by athletes and one cannot overlook the physical demands of the sport. Therefore, when not honing one’s skillset, a player should spend time improving quickness, speed, agility, balance, strength, and fitness.

The workouts above are designed with this in mind and can help any player improve these aspects. Just remember, the reps, sets, and quantities mentioned for each workout are guidelines. The most important thing here is to improve yourself physically and avoid injury. Take each exercise at a comfortable and achievable rate, and maximize the benefits.  

What is agility in soccer? Agility is the ability to move quickly in opposite directions. A prime example of this is Messi, who can dribble around players. Soccer is a fast-paced game, which requires an assortment of muscles to react.

How much fitness training should a soccer player do? The ratio will vary from coach to coach. In the past conditioning held importance, but now training with the ball is essential. A typical training session will consist of 10% warmup, 20% fitness, and 70% ball play.

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