Weight training for the soccer player is crucial and has changed the game for the better. With the rise in popularity of Crossfit there is more and more of talk about Crossfit and whether or not soccer players should do it as a strength and conditioning routine. My simple answer is that it depends on when and the specific needs of the athlete. While I think Crossfit in and of itself is great when done properly and can definitely develop conditioning and some athleticism, like most cookie-cutter routines, Crossfit is not the optimal choice when looking to maximize athleticism, performance, and injury prevention for soccer players.
Here are some positives about Crossfit:
-intensity- athletes benefit from intensity. Check out this great anti-slow cardio rant by Coach Mike Boyle
-loading- weight training leads to increases in strength and power which helps sprinting and jumping performance.
-natural movements are used which is much better than machine-based training
Now to the not so good parts:
One obvious reason off the bat is that Crossfit is non-specific cross-training that doesn't take anything other than itself into consideration. Whereas I heard of the French National team including Zidane riding mountain bikes on a recovery day where the fitness trainer probably took into account their next and previous training session and game, etc., the Crossfit programmers only care about Crossfit. Other reasons depend on genetics and training history. Here are a few reasons why I don't think Crossfit is the answer for soccer players:
-Although I have heard of some "WOD's" or "workouts of the day" including pretty unique exercises, Crossfit mostly utilizes the traditional lifts that take place in the sagittal plane or up and down plane of motion. Soccer requires a lot of lateral and transverse movements so from a exercise specificity standpoint there is a disconnect - ex. box jumps as the sole means of body weight power training versus lateral bounding variations
-most strength movements in crossfit are bilateral and soccer players benefit tremendously from more single leg work to prevent knee injuries, hernias, groin strains, etc. Again, I have know Crossfit occasionally incorporates pistols and other single leg, but for the most part it is rare.
-a lot of the running and box jumps can compete with the muscles and tendon reserves that soccer already needs and drains. If you do 50-100 box jumps your achilles/calf and patella tendon will be compromised for practice or the games
-upper body mass can hypertrophy or get too big and will be a detriment to changing directions well in soccer. This is in rare cases when someone has the propensity to gain mass easily it will hinder soccer agility and the ability to repeat agility and stop-starts for 90 minutes
-as I stated in the intro, Crossfit consists of workouts that don't take into consideration soccer energy systems or the season at large. There is no plan, and no periodization that accommodates the soccer player.
-quad dominant movements- tons of squats both air squats and weighted versions and very little hamstring or sprint type of movements. Soccer is already a quad dominant sport, especially for midfielders and the cross training must take that into consideration. Not saying not to squat, as getting strong in the squat is on of the best ways to get more explosive in short sprints, but tons of air squats with little horizontal hip work (sled sprints, glute ham raise, rdls both double and single leg, reverse hypers, back extensions, and top end speed work) is not favorable to the development of the complete soccer athlete.
Thanks for reading, and if you are interested in a speed, strength, and explosive training program tailored for soccer players, do check out Soccer Strong.