Train to Be the Best

By Terry Jacoby, FUEL Soccer Contributor

Lew Porchiazzo is an assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Michigan who works every day with some of the best athletes in the world — all focused on performing to the best of their ability.

So his advice to younger athletes just starting to kick a soccer ball or trying out for that club program or playing on their high school team is a little bit surprising, considering what he deals with every day in Ann Arbor.

“Personally, I encourage athletes to get involved in multiple sports,” said Porchiazzo, whose current assignment at Michigan is with men’s soccer, softball and women’s gymnastics. “From an athletic standpoint, conditioning standpoint and even a burn-out standpoint, I recommend playing more than one sport. I don’t think young athletes should specialize in one sport at an early age. And that’s just not my opinion, but many others share that viewpoint.”

One person who shares his view knows what it takes to climb the ladder from youngster playing the backyard to competing with and against the best players in the world.

“Yeah, in the off-season I like to play tennis and basketball,” said Dax McCarty, the Chicago Fire midfielder who was named the Man of the Match for the U.S. Men’s National Team for his performance in a 2-1 win over Ghana earlier this season. “I believe in a lot of cross-training fitness because it works on muscles you might not be using a lot in soccer.”

McCarty said growing up in Winter Haven, Fla., allowed him to have a soccer ball on his foot 12 months a year.

“Growing up, I would play a lot of pick-up soccer,” said McCarty, a University of North Carolina standout, now in his 12th MLS season. “I would play soccer almost every day with my friends. We just loved to play. But we also did other things including a lot of water sports. Growing up in Florida was obviously a big plus.

“I find that playing other sports recharges the battery, too. And any different kind of fitness that gets your heart rate up is going to help you.”

Training and conditioning programs have changed quite a bit since McCarty and his buddies were kicking around a soccer ball in the street. It’s even changed considerably over the past couple of years. These aren’t your parents’ – or even your older sibling’s – workout rooms anymore.

And as one would expect, pushing all the buttons of change is technology.

Michigan, like many other universities and professional sports teams all over the world, uses Catapult, an athletic tracking technology that measures all facets of athlete physical performance. Catapult has become the global leader in athlete analytics, protecting thousands of elite athletes at the intersection of sport science and analytics and enables insight in to athlete risk, readiness and return to play.

“Catapult is a GPS system that also has some other functionality that helps us get an idea on the stress being placed on student-athletes during training sessions,” Porchiazzo said. “It tracks total distance and speed of that distance, so you know how long they spend sprinting compared to jogging or walking. It uses a metric called training load and what a training session should look like several days before a game vs. the day before a game vs. game day. It helps us get an assessment on where our players are individually and is something we started using this past year.”

As far as strength training, soccer athletes train consistently in the off-season from January through April two to three times a week. It’s more of a traditional weight lifting and strength program. Circuit training also is part of the mix in the off-season, both on the field and in the weight room.

“I will pull out everything from medicine balls to foot ladders to hurdles to sleds so we can bring some diversity to the training and apply different movements,” said  Porchiazzo, who isn’t against using old-school workout techniques. “Sometimes, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

Porchiazzo also believes there isn’t one set of rules when it comes to training and that there are a number of different and effective ways of getting strong and fit.

“What I construct I believe is the ideal way, but just because it’s ideal doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of different options that are just as effective and appropriate for specific individuals,” he said.

Lucy Edwards, the standout midfielder for the DePaul Blue Demons, would agree with that statement.

Edwards had a unique advantage growing up when it came to fitness and working out. The two-time All-Big East Second Team player is the daughter of 1980s DePaul basketball standout and former NBA player Kevin Edwards.

Growing up in the household of a professional athlete, Edwards got to see first-hand the dedication required to perform at the highest level.

Edwards believes that she is the best judge when it comes to getting in shape and players need to listen to their own bodies and understand where to focus their attention.

“We do get workout programs for the off-season, but I don’t always stick to them,” she said. “I feel I know my body and what works and what doesn’t.”

Porchiazzo, who graduated with a B.S. in exercise science from William Patterson in 2009 and a masters in exercise physiology from Eastern Michigan University in 2011, says in a perfect world, “a majority of the field players would be on a similar workout program.” But there is some individualization, especially at this level of training and fitness.

“The first thing we look at is their injury history and their individual strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “We try and identify any deficiencies they may have and address them specifically. There also are some common deficiencies that we will make part of everyone’s program, but if there is a history of say hamstring injuries, we will address that individually.”

So when do you start getting ready to jump back into a season with daily practices and multiple games every week? It all depends on what shape you are in and what you have been doing during the off-season.

“Generally, I would say about eight weeks before the first day of camp you want to get back into it especially if you maintained a base level of fitness,” Porchiazzo said. “Anything less than that, and you are probably going to be pushing it and even risking injury. You need to ease back into things.”

Anaerobic vs. aerobic
Lew Porchiazzo, assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Michigan, works with the Wolverines men’s soccer program. He says soccer players benefit the most from both anaerobic and aerobic workouts, transitioning from a heavy aerobic workout in the beginning of the off-season to more anaerobic as you get closer to the start of camp. Here are examples of both:

Aerobic: “Running distances that are typically 3 minutes or longer. An example would be a mile run with a goal time for our players of 6 minutes. So if we did three one-mile repeats it might be three single miles in under 6 minutes with a 3 to 6 minute rest.

Anaerobic: Running distances under 3 minutes. An example would be a 300-yard shuttle whether it’s in increments of 50 yards and back or 25 yards and back in the ballpark of 50 to 65 seconds. We might do eight of those with a 1 to 2-minute rest.