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Strength & Core Training for Young Women

Heather Mitts Discusses Strength Training


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.

Story and Image via ESPN

“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.

Training tips

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.

Bench squats

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.

Jump lunges

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.”


            Here is a strength and core training schedule, should be done 4 x a week.  Exercise descriptions are below, but most girls should already be familiar with them:

Examples for core work:





50 perfect sit-ups

100 regular crunches

75 crunches on stability ball or bench

30 reverse crunches

15 v-sits

40 v’s with medicine ball (to each side)

25 jackknives to each side

70 perfect sit-ups

20 reverse crunches twisting to each side

Reverse crunches on stability ball

Partner leg push-downs

3x 30 sec plank

30 sit-ups with medicine ball

4x 30 sec 6 inches

30 bicycle crunches to each side

25 regular crunches

20 push-ups

2 x 45 sec planks

50 header sit-ups

20 push-up


Core Exercises - Instructions

Triangle Crunches –Lie flat on your back, knees bent, and both feet on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left knee, making a triangle between your legs. Your left hand goes behind your head, elbow extended. Your right hand can either rest extended at your right side, or cross your abs and rest on your left side so that you can feel your obliques work. Use your abs to raise and cross your left shoulder toward your right knee. Lower your body back to the starting position until your shoulder blades lightly touch the floor. Repeat the movement to the other side.*

Jackknives- Lay flat on your back, legs outstretched and arms above your head.  Using your core, raise your right leg straight up, while crunching your arms to the outside of the knee.  Bring both your leg and your arms down at the same time and return to starting position. Repeat to opposite side.  (Advanced: hold medicine ball in hands when doing core exercise)

Crunches: Knees Bent –Lie on your back, knees bent, both feet on the floor. Use your upper abs to raise your shoulder blades off the floor in a forward curling motion. Then lower you’re your shoulders to the starting position, lightly touching your shoulder blades on the floor.*

Butterfly Crunches –Lying flat on your back, bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall to the sides. Raise your shoulder blades off the floor 2-3 inches by curling your rib cage toward your hips. Hold the contraction at the top of the movement. Then lower your shoulder blades back to the starting position.*

Toe Touches –Lie on your back, legs extended up perpendicular to the floor and arms extended straight up. Use your upper abs to raise your hands toward your toes. Then lower your torso back to the starting position.*

Reverse Crunches–Lie flat on your back with legs extended straight up, perpendicular to the ground. Place your hands at your sides, palms down, and keep your neck long and your head aligned with your spine. Use your lower abs to raise your hips off the floor, bringing your hips slightly toward your rib cage. Lower your hips back to the starting position until they lightly touch the floor. Repeat.*

Seated Knee Raises –Sit on the edge of a bench holding onto the side of the bench for support, knees bent, heels just up off the floor, and upper body upright. Use the muscles of your lower abs to slowly raise your knees to your chest. Then lower in a controlled motion, keeping a bend in your knees. Let your heels lightly brush the floor and repeat motion. Keep your upper body as stable as possible, focusing on using your lower abs to raise and lower knees.*

Leg Raises –Lie flat on your back, legs extended above your hips, hands at your sides, spine neutral, and neck lengthened. Use lower abs to lower your legs only to the distance that will enable you to maintain a neutral spine. Then raise your legs in a controlled motion. Repeat.*

Hanging Knee Raises –Hang from a bar or high chair, legs fully extended toward the ground. Use the muscles of your lower abs to raise your knees to your chest, letting your hips move forward as your knees pass the 90-degree angle. Your feet need to hang down below your knees. Then lower them in a controlled motion back to the starting position. Repeat.*

Hanging Alternate Knee Raises –Same starting position as hanging knee raises. Using the muscles of your lower abs, bring your right knee up to your chest, and then lower it. Repeat with left knee.*

Corkscrews –Lie flat on your back, legs straight and perpendicular to your body (knees unlocked). Place your hands down, palms down, at your sides for support. Raise and twist your hips off the floor in a corkscrew motion to the left. Lower your hips back to the floor in starting position. Then, raise and twist your hips off the floor in a corkscrew motion to the right.*

V-sits-lay on your back, knees bent and hands behind your head. Raise your knees and shoulders off the ground (body should form a V), kick your feet out straight, bring them back in to form V again and return back to starting position.

Perfect sit-ups- Lay on your back with knees bent and fingers on your forehead.  Keeping your feet on the ground and hands on your head, perform a full sit-up and return to starting position.

Medicine Ball-Make your body form a V (back off the ground and feet off the floor), touch a soccer ball (or medicine ball) to each side of your hips, keeping your core tight.  Repeat for a set time or set number.

6 inches– lay flat on the ground with legs outstretched and arms to your side (not underneath you).  Bring feet up 6 inches and hold there for set time.  Make sure your back is flat and your hands are at your sides.

Plank: Place forearms on the ground and put the rest of your body in the push-up position.  Hold your body up for set time, making sure your butt is down and you are not collapsing your back. Keep your core even and straight through the exercise.