Landon Donovan does push-ups that allows him to train and build stability in a variety of muscle groups.
Landon Donovan’s workout training routine revolves around the regimen designed by Pierre Barrieu, the US Men’s National Soccer Team’s fitness coach. Donovan credits Barrieu with getting him into top shape. Donovan told Stack Magazine, “I was in the absolute peak shape of my entire career. I had never been fitter, stronger or felt better. I always assumed I was in pretty good shape, but I wasn’t near the level to which Pierre brought us.”
When it comes to Donovan’s on-field training, Barrieu starts Donovan and Team USA with a speed warm-up. Barrieu doesn’t just focus on loosening up and stretching but to improve speed. Barrieu told Stack Magazine, “I have found that one of the best ways to improve speed is to use speed technique exercises as a warm-up,” Barrieu says. “Improving speed is not complicated, because we know how to train an athlete to be a good runner. Correctly performing these speed and track inspired movements daily will make the players faster. It’s that simple.” Donovan takes the speed warm-up very seriously. “We don’t relaxingly go through this routine to stretch out,” he says. “These exercises work speed by building muscle memory in your fast twitch muscle fibers to react quickly.” Speed is very important and can make the difference in the result of a game. Soccer uses both slow and fast-twitch muscle fibers. You use your slow-twitch muscle fibers when you are jogging and moving around the field (more endurance based). You use your fast-twitch muscle fibers when exploding off the ball and making a quick sprint to score a goal or run after the ball-handler. Soccer players must utilize both muscle fibers to really excel in the sport.
In terms of the actual conditioning, Barrieu says “We run hard in practice so we can run past people in games. That’s what we’re known for as a team—great runners. Improving running ability and capacity is quite easy to achieve, but it’s physically and mentally demanding.” This helps Donovan be one of the more conditioned athletes on the soccer field. He can practically out run anyone with the ball and is known as one of the fastest US players.
Barrieu’s conditioning routine is based on decreasing the length of runs while increasing the intensity over a period of time so that the players’ can improve their lactic threshold, which is the point at which lactic acid builds up in the muscles and impairs movement. A higher threshold allows a player to run harder and longer. Traditionally, VO2 Max (maximal oxygen uptake) has been viewed as the key component to success in prolonged exercise activities. However, more recently scientists have reported that the lactic threshold is the most consistent predictor of performance in endurance events. Therefore, it’s extremely important to train and build on the lactic threshold.
Donovan possesses a lean physique. Soccer is all about constant running so being muscular helps cope with the physical toll your body takes on the soccer field.
“We start with longer duration and lower intensity, because the guys are coming back from a long season,” Barrieu says. “Starting their training with sprints would be counterproductive and increase the risk of injury. The running gets more intense and aggressive toward the end of our progression.” Barrieu never includes jogging in their workout, which Barrieu deems as like walking. Soccer players must be conditioned to run hard on the field. If they are consistently jogging at a slow pace then that really won’t help their team. They need to ramp up their conditioning to be in top shape on the soccer field.
Barrieu puts the National Team through strength training 2-3 times a week during training camp. He sets two main strength goals for the Team USA—prevent injury and improve explosiveness. “To keep the guys healthy, I have them do a large number of exercises on one leg or on stability pads. This strengthens the stabilizing muscles in the ankles, knees and hips,” he says. “For the upper body, we do rotator cuff work to protect their shoulders from the joint injuries that are common among soccer players.” Soccer requires a balance of explosive power and muscular endurance. Players should focus on converting as much of their strength into soccer-specific power.
Donovan saw immediate gains from Barrieu’s strength program, saying, “When we were in Korea in ’02, I was at my strongest—not just physically fit in my lungs and heart. I could run at a higher intensity without my muscles getting tired or sore.”
Barrieu uses Olympic lifts, such as hang cleans and push presses, to train the players’ central nervous systems to react faster, teaching them to extend their hips and correct muscle imbalances. “The demands of soccer require a lot of quad and abductor strength,” he says. “When the quads and abductors are stronger than their opposing muscle groups—the hamstrings and glutes—muscle imbalances result, which can lead to common soccer injuries. So besides the explosive benefits, these lifts load the hip extensors—the hamstrings and glutes—to help correct the imbalance.” Correcting these muscular imbalances are very important. For example, soccer players in particular are prone to developing overly strong quadriceps compared to their hamstrings and there must be certain exercises to help compensate for this indifference.
Barrieu deems that a strong core is one of the most important body muscle groups for a soccer player. Most of the soccer players have strong, ripped six pack abs from their training and diet. Team USA averaged a body fat percentage under 7%! Whenever you see these guys shirtless you can see how ripped they truly are!
“Our core training is another remedy to the problem of weak hamstrings, glutes and abductors caused by overdeveloped quads,” he says. “Strong quads and weak or tight hamstrings create a deficiency in the lower abdominal region, so we focus on that area. The hip and core complex is a complicated system, with many parts, so we make sure that all the corresponding muscles know how to work together simultaneously. This is accomplished through stability-based exercises rather than straight strength-building ones.”
NOTE: This is only part of Landon Donovan’s workout routine, in which we offer some additional commentary to his regimen. To see the whole routine and to go more in-depth with athlete workouts, be sure to check out STACK Magazine