At first it was hard to tell who was the pro and who was on the Providence (Charlotte, N.C.) soccer team; with her long blonde ponytail and fresh-faced energy, Heather Mitts of the WPS’ Philadelphia Independence blended right in. But when she started coaching, directing drills on the field and introducing strength-training moves in the weight room, it became clear how the powerful defender earned the title Most Inspirational Player as a freshman at Florida, then led her Gators to an NCAA title three years later.
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“The Panthers wasted no time seeking Heather’s advice. Two of the girls were recovering from ACL injuries, another had a possible stress fracture in her leg, and a fourth was rehabbing a bum shoulder. All wanted to know how Heather, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, came back from blowing out her knee in 2007. She missed the World Cup as a result, and shared how painful it was to sit out such a big event. “Injuries suck,” Heather said, “but they also motivate you to pay attention to your training and come back even stronger.” She shared the moves that strengthened the muscles supporting her joints and ligaments, making it possible for her to return and start every game for the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics.
Strength and balance go hand in hand. For sports like soccer, which rely on quick changes of direction, improving agility is vital. Being strong and stable will help do that. Remember: The weight room doesn’t have to be about lifting like crazy and bulking up. Get comfortable with basic strength moves to elevate your game.
1. Stand in front of a bench with one leg slightly raised
Use 2-lb. weights held straight out to counter balance yourself as you start. Relying on a single leg will improve your balance.
2. Sit into the squat
Lower yourself toward the bench as if you were going to sit. Try not to lean forward — it lessens the impact of the exercise. Keep the motion steady and gradual to get the most benefit.
3. Touch your butt to the bench
Touch down briefly to complete the squat. Keep your knee facing straight — if your leg crosses your body, it reduces the move’s effectiveness.
4. Stand up out of the squat
Straighten up slowly to get the full resistance benefits of this exercise. Do five repetitions, then switch legs and do five more!
Tip: A lot of injuries — like ACL tears — can be prevented if the muscles around your joints are strong. Resistance training helps.
You’ll feel the burn after a circuit of these jumping lunges. But over time, you’ll find that you can explode off a pivot into a powerful sprint as your quads and gluteus maximus get stronger!
1. Start in a Deep Lunge
Make sure your forward leg is at a right angle and your knee never goes past your toes– otherwise it puts too much stress on your knees.
2. Do a scissor jump
Don’t cheat on this part! The jump is where you’re training your body to be more explosive, which will give you power and speed on the field.
Tip: Get your arms into the action as you jump. The extra momentum will really get you up in the air, so you’ll get the most from this move.
3. Land and go straight into another deep lunge
Try to land softly (no thudding!) and, again, don’t let your knee go past your toes. Settle into the lunge, and feel it deep in your quads and butt muscles. Repeat the sequence 10 times.”