Soccer Prehab: What Players Can Do Before Injuries to Prevent Injuries

Oct 20, 2022

When it comes to soccer injuries, prevention will always be better than a cure. Of course, injury prevention doesn’t always take precedence at soccer training camps, leading to unnecessary injuries among otherwise healthy and promising players. This post will look at the concept of “prehab,” which involves soccer conditioning drills that can prevent injuries so they never happen. 

Defining prehab exercises

You’re probably not going to find an official definition for “prehab.” But here’s our stab at it — it’s a series of exercises designed to prevent injuries that often require rehabilitative treatment. These conditioning drills combine numerous strategies, such as strength and flexibility exercises and neuromuscular conditioning. They also incorporate balance training and core strength exercises. 

Combining these exercises builds stronger, more flexible, coordinated muscles that can support fast cutting and bursts of speed that may typically lead to sprains and strains. They also strengthen the ligaments, tendons, and joints to withstand sudden movements in soccer, which often damage these tissues. Ultimately, prehab exercises prevent soccer injuries; rehab exercises are the cure.  

Common injuries associated with poor preventative training

Most soccer injuries that prehab addresses strike the legs, which makes sense because almost every soccer maneuver happens from the waist down. You’re most likely familiar with many of these injuries, perhaps having experienced them yourself or seeing a teammate suffer them. Of course, many of your favorite pro players have had them too. 

ACL injuries

Over 200,000 ACL injuries occur yearly, with as many as 80 percent occurring without contact with an opponent. The lead cause? Sudden deceleration causes the player’s body weight to shift with excessive knee torque. 

It often happens when a player changes direction, cuts suddenly, or lands from a jump with full or almost complete knee extension (i.e., landing after a header or aerial challenge). ACL injuries affect female soccer players more frequently (due to anatomical differences). And one in three athletes who suffer an ACL injury will re-injure the same side or injure the opposite side. 

Hamstring/quad strains

“Pulling a hammy” is by far the most common injury in footy. Strained hamstrings account for nearly 50 percent of all soccer muscle injuries and usually affect male players more often. These strains typically happen due to excessive hip flexion (forward movement of the hip) and knee extension. 

Like ACL injuries, one in three sufferers of hamstring strains will re-injure the affected leg. In fact, without proper treatment, the reinjury will likely happen within two weeks after returning after play, and it will be worse than the original injury. 

Exercises used to prevent soccer injuries

What’s the number one reason why these injuries happen so frequently? Muscles with poor strength, endurance, and conditioning are forced to make sudden and intense moves they’re not ready for.  It’s as simple as that. 

What’s frustrating is that many soccer players could avoid these injuries altogether with prehab soccer conditioning drills. Without further adieu, here’s a look at these soccer exercises. 

Nordic hamstring curls

Nordic hamstring curls build leg strength and condition the hamstrings to withstand the sudden loads placed on the hamstrings while players run. This soccer exercise strengthens the three major muscle groups in your hamstrings and your knee flexors so they can absorb more “shock” when running or jumping.  

Benefits of Nordic hamstring curls as a soccer conditioning drill

  • Improves leg muscle architecture to make them more resilient to sudden movements
  • Reduces hamstring injuries by up to 51 percent in both men and women players

We’ve written a post about Nordic hamstring curls, which provides more insight into how they work and how to perform them. They’re one of the most recommended soccer conditioning drills for players of various skill levels and ages.

Single-leg stability raises

The purpose of single-leg stability is to increase the strength and coordination of the calf muscles and the quads. When performed regularly, players will improve the balance and stability of their angles, so they don’t buckle during jumping or cutting movements. This exercise can help both men and women soccer players reduce their risk of ACL injuries. 

Benefits of single-leg stability raises as a soccer conditioning drill 

  • Increase muscle thickness and shock absorption ability
  • Research shows stability-leg raises reduce the effects of high forces on the ankles within weeks

We’ve covered the single-leg stability raise in a previous post, discussing how they work and how to perform them. This exercise greatly benefits soccer players, especially women, since they have a higher risk of ACL injuries

FIFA 11+ exercises

The FIFA 11+ batch of exercises is neuromuscular warm-ups that train the brain and nervous system to communicate more effectively with the muscles during athletic movements. Essentially, they build a better connection between the brain and muscles, so that the muscles move in the most efficient way possible. That efficiency reduces the risk of injuries. 

Benefits of FIFA 11+ exercises as soccer conditioning drills 

  • Increased body control and better joint stability
  • Greater output of power, speed, and agility
  • Reduced risk of leg injuries

In a previous post, we’ve also covered the power of neuromuscular conditioning and why it’s an essential part of soccer training. Both male and female, younger and older, soccer players will benefit greatly from regular neuromuscular training. 

The prehab school of thought for soccer training

No amount of training can prevent all soccer injuries. But what’s also true is that many soccer injuries are preventable with the right training. Unfortunately, the typical approach to soccer injuries is reactive —the player gets hurt and then has to face days, weeks, or even months of rehabilitation to heal their wounds. But that’s a backward approach. 

Prehab exercises are similar to the ones used for injury rehabilitation. The philosophy is to do the work beforehand so a player doesn’t have to push through the pain to do them later. And we’re on board with that philosophy. Whether you’re a coach or a player, strongly consider adding prehab exercises into your soccer training. They might save you some pain in the future. 

Looking for more tips on safety and performance in soccer? Check out our blog for more insights.
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