According to a 2007 survey by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), more than 265 million people worldwide actively compete in soccer each year, solidifying the sport’s position as the most popular sport in the world. But even if you’re not part of the global 4% who partake in the sport, you can still enjoy a good workout using nothing but a soccer ball. Pick up a standard-sized soccer ball for about $20 from any sporting goods store and get to work in your own backyard.
Soccer balls (like most other sports balls) are versatile and can be easily incorporated into a variety of workouts. Because they’re designed to be kicked and thrown and are appropriate for both indoor and outdoor use, you can easily make the ball conform to your needs. The trick is knowing how to use it. Start by trying these exercises, then get creative and make up a few exercises of your own.
Using a Soccer Ball for Fitness
1. Warmup Dribbling
Controlled kicking of the soccer ball, moving it with you from point A to point B (rather than simply kicking it straight from point A to point B), is referred to as dribbling. The idea is to control the ball’s movement by tapping it lightly with the inside of your foot as you walk or jog, keeping it slightly in front of your body, so when you reach it you can tap the ball again, usually with the opposite foot as you continue moving forward.
Dribbling takes concentration, especially if you’re new to the skill. Also, it frequently requires a change in walking or jogging speed, because if you kick the ball too hard (or if you kick it at an angle), you must speed up to catch it. This makes it an excellent warmup drill because you must focus, concentrate, and gradually increase your heart rate.
Choose two points approximately 20 to 30 yards apart and spend five minutes dribbling the ball back and forth between the two points. As you become more skilled, try to dribble without looking down at the ball, or try changing up how you kick the ball, experimenting with tapping it with the outside parts of your feet instead of the insides.
2. Overhead Squats
Squats are an exercise that many people think they perform correctly, but few actually do. Two common mistakes are placing too much weight in the ball of the foot as the squat is performed (rather than putting the weight in the heel), and tipping forward at the hips and leaning the torso toward the ground, rather than keeping the chest upright and forward-facing.
One way to help correct these mistakes is to do a squat while holding an object overhead. The problem is that many people start by holding weights overhead, in the form of dumbbells or barbells – but if your form is still incorrect while holding weights, you open yourself up to injury.
Instead, continue your warmup by performing squats while holding a soccer ball overhead. Hold the ball between both hands with your arms extended directly above the shoulders, in line with your ears. Position your feet hip-distance apart, and keep your toes angled slightly outward. Balance your weight on your heels, so that you can wiggle your toes if you want to. Tip your hips backward, keeping your weight on your heels, and look up slightly so you can see the soccer ball. Continue sitting your hips back as you bend your knees, lowering your butt toward the ground as you keep your torso straight and tall. When you’ve bent your knees as far as you comfortably can (aiming for at least a 90-degree angle), reverse the movement and return to standing. Continue for a full minute.
3. Toe Taps
After your warmup and squats, incorporate a few bouts of high-intensity intervals to challenge your heart and lungs. Toe taps are exactly what they sound like – you simply place the soccer ball on the ground directly in front of your body, with your feet hip-distance apart. Then you start jogging in place, tapping the top of the soccer ball with the ball of your foot as you jog. So when your left foot is on the ground, the ball of your right foot taps the top of the soccer ball, and vice versa. Start slow to get the hang of it (even walking in place if needed), and gradually pick up the pace to go as fast as you can.
The idea is to keep the taps as light as possible, and to avoid “pushing” the ball with your feet so it doesn’t roll away. It takes concentration and focus to get it right, which makes the exercise more difficult.
Once you’ve grown accustomed to the movement, go as fast as you can for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds, then repeat. Perform a total of eight rounds.
4. Staggered Pushups
The great thing about a soccer ball is that it can add instability to traditional exercises, enabling you to improve your balance and coordination. This is because as you use the ball to perform standard exercises, such as a pushup, the ball rolls around and the small stabilizing muscle groups must engage to keep it steady.
Pushups help strengthen the upper body and core, and a staggered pushup on a soccer ball will help engage the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder while requiring greater core activation. Kneel on the ground behind the soccer ball, placing one hand directly on top of the soccer ball and one hand on the ground. Lean forward so your shoulders are positioned directly above your palms.
At this point, you can decide whether to do the pushup with your knees on the ground, or with your legs extended. If you plan to do a knee pushup, walk your knees backward until your hips are extended and your body forms a straight line from knees to head. If you plan to do a full pushup, step your feet behind you and balance on the balls of your feet, extending your body so you form a straight line from heels to head.
From this position, tighten your core and bend your elbows, lowering your chest toward the ground. When you’ve gone as far as you comfortably can (aim to touch your chest to the soccer ball), reverse the movement and push yourself back to the starting position. Roll the ball to the opposite hand and repeat the exercise, this time balancing your other palm on top of the soccer ball. Perform two sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
5. Unstable Plank
The unstable plank can be performed in one of two ways: You either balance both hands on top of the soccer ball, requiring greater stability of the shoulders, or you balance both feet on top of the soccer ball, requiring greater stability of the hips. Either way, the traditional core-strengthening plank exercise is taken up a notch.
A standard plank is performed when you balance on your forearms and the balls of your feet, your body fully extended and straight, your elbows directly below your shoulders. This position is held for a period of time, usually 30 seconds or longer, as you tighten your core and keep your body steady.
An unstable plank is performed exactly the same way, but with the addition of greater instability and more difficulty. If you choose to balance your feet on the soccer ball, position the ball in between your feet and get into a plank position. When you’re ready, move one foot on top of the soccer ball, steady your balance, and then move the other foot on top of the ball. Hold the position as long as you can while keeping your torso completely straight.
If you choose to balance your hands on the soccer ball, position the ball between your hands and get into a plank position, this time balancing on your palms instead of your forearms. When you’re ready, move one palm on top of the soccer ball, steady your balance, and then move the other hand on top of the ball directly next to your first hand, so that your thumbs touch and your fingers wrap around the ball on either side. Hold the position for as long as you can while keeping your torso straight.
With the warmup dribble, the overhead squat, toe taps, staggered pushup, and unstable plank, you can substantially challenge your entire body from head to toe. Cycle through these exercises several times for a full-body workout, or get creative and come up with other ways to exercise with a soccer ball. It’s amazing what you can do with a tool that only costs $20 – or even less if you pick one up from a garage sale or second-hand sporting goods store.
Do you exercise at home? What tools do you use to keep your workout effective, but inexpensive?