Soccer trainers at the professional level follow protocols to keep the athletes from experiencing sore muscles. Right after a practice or match ends, the athletes enter what is called a recovery phase designed to prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs don’t work for sore muscles, so the trainers employ electronic stimulation, hydrotherapy tubs, carbohydrate sports drinks and massage. Even without a pro trainer at your side, you can get effective results with simple techniques to prevent and manage soreness.
Warm up before practice with eight minutes of easy running exercises, recommends FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, in its “11+” set of recommended warm-ups. Space 10 pairs of cones along the length of a 100-yard field. Jog the full length back and forth twice, and follow by jogging between each pair of cones, briefly stopping to rotate your hip outward, alternating left and right legs. Follow with two runs where you shuffle in a circle around your partner at each cone.
Conduct 10 minutes of strength-building exercises, including the plank, the side plank and single-leg balancing, squats, walking lunges, vertical and side jumps, and two more minutes of running. “Strength and conditioning work provide the best means to reduce the impact of delayed-onset muscle soreness,” says Thomas Reilly in “The Science of Training Soccer.”
Perform a kneeling quad stretch, kneeling on one foot and the opposite knee, recommends the Stretching Institute. Press your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the quad of the leg extended behind you. Sit with one leg stretched in front of you and lean forward to stretch your hamstring, with your other foot tucked in toward the knee. Grasp your toes with both hands. Repeat on the other side.
Cool down after your workout session to assist your body in the repair process and prevent post-exercise soreness, recommends the Stretching Institute. Take an easy jog or walk for 15 minutes or do what the pros do: ride an exercise bike gently for 20 minutes. Breathe deeply during the walk, jog or ride as this process removes lactic acid built up in your muscles. Repeat your quad and hamstring stretches and add the squatting leg-out adductor stretch, crouching with one leg out to the side and the other bent underneath you.
Refuel with water or a sports drink and food, ideally something easily digestible such as fruit, right after your conditioning session. If you want to copy the pros, such as those at Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC, drink a sports carbohydrate drink.
Take a cold bath at home to mimic the benefit of a cold hydrotherapy whirlpool, of the type Toronto’s players sit in after conditioning workouts to prevent soreness. Similarly, you may see pro players post-game standing in a barrel of ice water on the sidelines to cool the leg muscles.
Visit a sports masseur regularly to further flush the muscles of waste products and release tightness.
Get enough rest and sleep to recover, particularly if you play multiple games per week, and especially if you are in your teens.
Download the 11+ exercise poster at FIFA to learn details of the best warm-up to prevent injuries; it is especially designed to reduce the number of knee injuries in female players as well as to prevent sore muscles.