Footballer’s are obviously in pretty good shape, but mostly have slim and athletic figures rather than, perhaps NFL or rugby players. Despite that, footballers spend a lot of time in the gym, and those at the top have incredible strength and athleticism. All footballer’s physical strengths are different which is usually dependent on their position on the pitch. So how much do footballers lift, and, more importantly, how does it effect their game?
Footballers Lift According to their Positions
Central defenders are usually taller than most players and have bigger frames, which is usually how players end up becoming defenders and specialising in these positions. Smaller players are more suited to full backs and winger positions which is where you don’t require as much strength. Different players therefore lift in different ways, and can lift different amounts depending on the need for their role. However, there are elements of strength that all players need. This is core strength, which helps with agility, balance, and holding off defenders when running at speed. Lower body and leg strength are also vital for muscular endurance, powerful acceleration and kicking.
How Much is too Much Lifting?
First things first, lifting the heaviest doesn’t make footballers the best. For example, the strongest professional player in the game is probably Adebayo Akinfenwa, who plies his trade for Wycombe Wanderers in the Championship, but has spent most of his career in English Leagues 1 and 2. The striker, nicknamed the beast, can reportedly bench press over 300lb bench for 20+ reps.
Akinfenwa is a completely unique player who is very useful to his team in a rather unorthodox way. His size is incomparable meaning defenders can get nowhere near him when he has the ball, and he can win almost every aerial dual by shifting the opponent out of the way. These are useful skills for a striker, however his size wouldn’t translate to other positions. The mobility needed for a central midfielder would be too much, and his size means his pace is sacrificed so operating in the wide areas of the pitch would be difficult.
How Footballers Lift
In terms of footballers lifting, there are many different ways they can do it. During the season, players and their teams will usually get in the gym only about two to three times a week to reinforce the strength and endurance they’ve built in the off-season; that means low-weight workouts of about 8–10 reps, not spending more than an hour and a half in the gym, and keeping the movements complex (working multiple joints at a time) but not too high-impact. Most of these sessions would be focussed on the lower body, and would include exercises such as squats, lunges, weighted sled drags, step ups, and exercises using resistance bands.
During the off-season is when players will probably kick up the intensity to increase stamina, speed, and power. These training regimens will have them in the gym 4–5 times a week, with high weight, 6–8 reps, and a ton of complex, high impact work. This is where players who want to build muscle will up their lifting with heavier weights for less repetitions
Sometimes see players come back to the new season looking completely different – bigger and bulkier. This is because the time to do this type of working out is the off-season. Footballers do not lift to get bigger during the season, as this is not likely to benefit their performance.
Which Footballers Lift to Get Bigger?
Some players want to get bigger and bulkier, which means that they lift heavier weights for shorter repetitions. By lifting as heavy as possible, this builds muscle and makes players bigger. An example of players who may want to do this is goalkeepers, centre backs, and possibly strikers. It is essential for goalkeepers to have a strong, physical presence. This is particularly important when coming for crosses and corners to catch the ball up against the opposition going up for headers. Centre-backs also benefit from having a strong physique to outpower strikers and win headers. Strong strikers can go up against these defenders with strength, although it depends on the style of the player, as strikers can use their pace or skill.
David de Gea
When David de Gea first came to the Premier League, many criticised and questioned his very skinny frame, which made him vulnerable and unable to command the penalty area. After his first season, De Gea came back looking a lot bigger, and his form improved massively.
Another example is centre back Joe Gomez. The young Liverpool centre-back came to the club as a teenager. He had the physique of a slightly slim centre-back, however last season, Gomez started the Premier League looking much stronger, particularly his upper body. This meant that he actually looked comparable to his colossal centre-back partner, Virgil Van Dijk.
FC Bayern Munchen Squad
Recently, many have been surprised by how much Bayern Munich players have beefed up within the last year. There have been many transformation pictures online of a number of their players who once cut slender, trim figures, but now are absolutely ripped. In particular, Leon Goretzka and Phillipe Coutinho are midfielders who have always had a slim physique, but this hasn’t stopped them being excellent players. However, they are now very muscular and have bulked up considerably. Goretzka was once a lanky midfielder, but now with his height, is a powerhouse in the middle of the pitch. The muscle growth hasn’t seemed to affect their pace, as the team looks sharper and more intense than ever, showcased by their Champions League win in 2020.
One footballer who is always subject of discussion when talking about their effort in the gym is Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo was once told as a young boy that he was too small and slender. He certainly proved that hard work can lead to incredible results. There is no doubt that Ronaldo has dedicated his life until now to be an incredible athlete. One of his favourite exercises is the pull-up burpee, which works a range of muscle groups all in one exercise. Most of Ronaldo’s gym work is based on endurance and high intensity exercises to build cardiovascular fitness as well as muscular endurance. However, he still lifts weights.
Ronaldo often with many reps rather than heavier weights with shorter reps, as he tries to maintain his agility and stay lean whilst staying muscular and strong. He lifts so many weights within a gym session for working all muscle groups. In fact, it has been reported that he lifts around 23,000kg per gym session.
Footballers Who Don’t Lift
While Cristiano Ronaldo is an example of an incredibly professional athlete, who spends plenty of time working on his body in the gym, not all players can say the same thing. Some footballers simply love playing football, and the only training they want to do is out on the pitch, whereas some players are just naturally gifted with strong physiques which only require a healthy and active lifestyle to remain looking ripped.
The latter applies to Adama Traore. The Wolves winger underwent an enormous body transformation, from an average sized midfielder playing in the Championship, he came back to Wolves as a bulky player, more closely resembling a winger in rugby or an NFL player. The transformation was so insane that many asked about his gym programme and whether the Wolves medical team had designed him a programme to reach this weight and physique. However, the player stated that he didn’t lift weights at all. This is hardly beliveable, but Traore claims it is simply genetic. He trains hard and does the required work in the gym, which for footballers is mainly resistance work and high intensity lower body workouts, but Traore simply gains muscle mass very quickly and easily.
Brede Hangeland’s ‘Lazy XI’
Former Fulham defender Brede Hangeland once revealed his ‘Lazy XI’, in which he dug out his former teammates for never stepping foot in the gym. Among those players were Wilfried Zaha, the incredibly athletic and skilful winger who Hangeland claimed, ‘did 5 press ups in the gym and left’. Another was Dimitar Berbatov. Often described as lazy even when he’s on the pitch, the striker would be getting massages whilst his teammates lifted weights.
There are many other players who would have no interest in the gym, one of them being Wayne Rooney. Rooney works so hard on the pitch that you could imagine he would be the same in the gym, especially as a fairly bulky player. However, it was his love of the sport which probably led to his hatred of the gym. He wanted to be playing football every day in training, and anything that involves not playing football was pointless when training for a football match. Fair point maybe!
Overall, footballers lift weights throughout the season, but usually not with the intention of bulking up. For some players, this is important, and they often build muscle in their own time in the off-season. Training staff at top clubs would rather the gym exercises were reflective of the muscles needed for football, and exercises in training would incorporate movement and focus on lower-body endurance.