These U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Drills Could Work for You, Too

These U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Drills Could Work for You, Too

The human body moves three-dimensionally, even if exercise more often focuses on moving forward and backward on what’s called the sagittal plane (think running or lunges). But complete exercise means also working the body side-to-side (frontal plane), as well as rotational movements (transverse plane).

Soccer players change direction constantly. “We have to train players to run, sprint, jump, rotate, turn and kick, all through different planes of motion,” says

Ellie Maybury,

head of performance for the U.S. women’s national soccer team. In training camp, Ms. Maybury incorporates exercises that focus on mobility (flexibility and range of movement) and stability (strength and control of movement) in all three planes of motion.

You don’t have to play soccer to reap the benefits of these exercises, Ms. Maybury says. “They are transferable to movements executed in everyday life, from bending to pick something up off the ground to rotating to move an item from one location to another,” she says.

This workout targets control of the core, hips and pelvis, but it doubles as a total-body workout that incorporates a range of mobility and stability exercises.

The initial movements lay the foundations by using stationary exercises to mobilize the hips and pelvis in all three planes of motion, Ms. Maybury says. The exercises gradually increase in intensity and become progressively more dynamic, through the inclusion of single-leg balance and plyometric exercises, to challenge your control and balance. Perform five to 10 reps of each exercise on each side.

The Workout

Hip Drives
The hips are the center of movement for the body. Sitting for prolonged periods or overdoing movements that only require one or two planes of motions for the hips, like running, can lead to tightness, which can cause low-back and knee pain. This drill takes your hips through a full range of motion. “It’s a good way to pinpoint where you have restrictions—left side, right side—so you can work on those areas,” she says.

How: Elevate your left foot on a step so you are in a modified lunge position with your back leg straight. Keep your toes forward and the heel of your back leg down.

To work the sagittal plane, drive your hips forward and bring your hands overhead. Switch sides.

To work the frontal plane, reach hands overhead to the left as you drive your hips forward. Switch sides.

To work the transverse plane, reach your arms straight in front of you and rotate them to the left as you drive your hips forward. Switch sides.

Ms. Maybury warms up with hip drives on the sagittal plane.

3D Maps
Ms. Maybury considers the Gray Institute, an online education platform in Adrian, Mich., a leader in functional movement. She adopted their Three-Dimensional Movement Analysis & Performance System (3D Maps) to take a deeper look at the biomechanics of soccer. She uses the series of drills as part of the team’s activation and warm-up to work one-leg stability and proprioception.

How: To work the sagittal plane, step forward with your right foot while reaching your arms overhead and looking to the sky. Keep your left leg straight, heel down. Your hips should push forward as your right knee bends. Pause.

Step backward with your right foot. Sink your hips back and down as you swing your arms down and bring your gaze toward the ground. Think about taking a deep bow. Your left leg should remain straight, toe on the ground. Switch sides.

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To work the frontal plane, step your right foot into a sideways lunge while swinging your arms overhead in the opposite direction. Then step your right foot across the front of your body as you bring your arms up and over to the right. Switch sides.

To work the transverse plane, start with your arms straight out in front of you. Lunge your right leg behind you to 5 o’clock while rotating your arms at the same time. Step it forward, bringing the foot across your body to 10 o’clock, bringing your arms and gaze with you. Switch sides and lunge your left foot behind you to 7 o’clock and step it across your body to 2 o’clock, rotating the arms.

Ms. Maybury performs 3D Maps on the frontal plane by lunging to the left and reaching to the right and lunging to the right and reaching to the left.

Lunge Matrix
Why: Soccer players are constantly zigzagging to move the ball up and down the field. In real life, we find ourselves lunging in all planes of motion. “This could be a leg workout on its own,” Ms. Maybury says. “These three movements can be considered one full repetition per side.”

How: To perform on the sagittal plane, step forward with your right foot into a lunge, reaching your hands down to knee height. Push off with the right foot to return to starting position. Switch sides.

To perform on the frontal plane, step sideways to the right and drop into a lateral lunge, reaching hands down to knee height. Return to starting position. Switch sides.

To perform on the transverse plane, step back to 5 o’clock and sit into a drop lunge, reaching hands down to knee height. Return to starting position. Perform on the opposite side by stepping back to 7 o’clock.

Options: Hold a weight or a ball. Reach overhead rather than ankle height for more core engagement.

Ms. Maybury performs lunges across three planes of motion.

Romanian Dead Lift Matrix
Why: “Soccer players spend a lot of time in compromised positions on one leg,” she says. These exercises work on single-leg balance and stability. If you’re stiff in the hips or hamstrings, beware of cheating the motion by using the lower back.

How: Stand with feet hips-width apart. As you hinge at the hips, lower your hands toward your toes. Keep your hips square to the floor; standing knee slightly bent. Don’t let your lower back arch. Engage the glute of the back leg.

Slowly rise up to stand. Keeping your hips square, reach toward inside of your standing foot. Rise to stand. Reach to the outside of your standing foot. Rise to stand. Perform five of each on each side.

Options: Hold a kettlebell, medicine ball or other weight for more challenge.

Hop Matrix
Why: “Soccer players’ movements are explosive,” Ms. Maybury says. She incorporates plyometrics, exercises that involve quick, powerful bursts, to build explosive power. Her athletes focus on height and power when they hop, but she says beginners should focus on sticking the landing softly. The drill also works hip-knee-ankle control.

How: Start with feet together. Hop forward off your right foot about a half meter and land with a soft bent knee on your left foot. Reach your hands forward and down toward your knee as your hop. Push off the left foot to hop back to stand tall. Focus on landing without losing your balance; don’t let the knee and ankle collapse inward. Repeat laterally, hopping left to right and right to left.

“The lower you sink your hips back when you land, the more you switch on the glutes and hamstrings,” she says.

For the third set, stand on the left leg and rotate and hop back to 5 o’clock, landing softly on the right leg as you reach the hands toward the knee of the right foot. Rotate and hop back to standing tall. For the opposite leg, you rotate and hop back to 7 o’clock.

Options: When you’ve mastered a solid landing, add more height and power to your hops. Mix things up by adding ankle-height reaches or overhead reaches to challenge different muscle groups.

This hop matrix helps build explosive power.

Write to Jen Murphy at

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