Work Out Like: A Professional Soccer Player

The New England Revolution's head fitness coach gives us tips on how to train like a pro.

A Revs game. Photo provided.

A Revs game at Gillette. All photos provided by the the New England Revolution.

Nick Downing played midfield for the New England Revolution for four years, and after retirement he got an abundance of fitness certifications in order to continue his soccer career as a trainer. Now in his second season as the head fitness coach for the Revs, Downing is responsible for individually programming each of the players daily (and yearly) lifting and conditioning programs. “Everything they do in the gym, the track, and the pool is designed by me,” Downing says.

Want to work out like a professional soccer player? Downing takes us through a typical practice:

Start early with some prehab: “Generally [the players] will come in around 8 a.m. and start activation and flexibility exercises. A big problem areas for soccer players are their hips, low backs, groins, and things like that, so we do some exercises to get their body ready to go out and train at 10 a.m. We do a lot of stuff with mini bands. We put it on their ankles and their knees and we’ll have them squat and walk or straight leg walk and it activates their hips. From there, we’ll generally go into some single leg stuff. What I mean by that is we’ll get them on one leg, we’ll get them doing toe touches. We want to make sure that we’re symmetrical, side to side, so I’ll get them to do both legs. So if they’re standing on one leg we’ll have them go down and touch their toe, we’ll have them jump off that leg and land on that leg, we’ll challenge them to jump laterally or backwards on those legs just to kind of stimulate some of the nerves in their feet, in their calves to activate so when they go out to the training field they’re not starting from scratch. The prehab stuff generally takes about 30 to 35 minutes.”

Revs players training at practice. Photo provided.

Revs players training at practice.

Practice makes perfect: “During a typical two hour in-season practice, we do a lot of what we call striding. Striding is just 70 to 80 percent of their heart rate max. We’re lucky enough to have GPS systems and heart rate monitors and stuff like that, so we can pull people back or push people forward in these exercises. But it’s basically 100 to 120 yards at about 80 percent. And this is kind of allows our guys to still gain fitness without risking pulled muscles and things like that. And then we allow the games, we play a lot of small sided games, maybe four on four or five on five and then we time those games. They play three or four minute games against each other. And that generally stimulates their sprinting and their change of direction, and it allows us to keep it game specific. We want to do things that are as similar to the game as possible, and obviously striding at 80 percent for 120 yards is not game specific, so we need to do something like these small sided games to gain that fitness. We probably do four games at five minutes a piece with a couple minutes in between.”

New England Revolution players stretching. Photo provided.

New England Revolution players stretching.

In the weight room: “Two to three days a week guys are required to lift. We’re into gymnastics stuff right now, so we do some  front levers—a front lever is if if you stand underneath a pull-up bar, you’re gonna hang from that pull up bar and then you pull your knees into your chest, almost having your knees and your feet at 90 degrees and you just kind of isometrically hold that position, usually do between 20 and 40 seconds. And then from there we jump almost immediately into our workout. Right now we’re into very quick, very powerful exercises. Our lower body exercises consist of jump squats and kettlebell swings. Jump squats with dumbbells not barbells, it’s just easy for our guys to set up and we can get more guys through with the barbell than we can with with dumbbells. And the upper body exercise right now is explosive push ups. So think regular push ups, but this time you’re trying to leave the floor with your hands and feet. And then the other upper body exercise is just a regular pull-up, and we’ll usually weight the pull up so we’ll try and strap on anywhere from a 16 kg to a 24 kg kettlebell.”

Revs players at practice. Photo provided.

Revs players at practice.

Core exercises: “Some sort of medicine ball slam, like a power exercise. So I’ll have them grab a heavy medicine ball and they’ll lift it overhead and slam it one the ground as hard as possible.”

Think you have what it takes? You can catch Nick at Peer Performance Training in Needham and have him work you out, just like the pros.

Nick working the guys out.

Nick working the guys out.