Is Riding a Bike Good for Soccer?

Prince William's wife Kate greets female soccer players training on spin bikes in England.
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You may be that go-getter Nestie who just loves all sports and physical activity. You’re the one who shows up at soccer practice actually on your bike -- not by car, bus or foot. But you may wonder if it’s good to ride your bike a few miles on days when there’s no game, practice or pickup game scheduled. The answer to your question is changing rapidly as theories on the best way to train soccer players evolve -- and with the arrival of spinning on the fitness scene.

Traditional Soccer Training

    For the most part, soccer trainers do not especially advocate riding a bike for soccer players. The classic text “Complete Conditioning for Soccer” by University of North Carolina team sports conditioning coach Greg Gatz lays out the traditional approaches to soccer training, focusing on offseason work on strength, speed, endurance and agility. Gatz sees cycling, along with swimming or tennis, primarily as an option for a change in the soccer player’s normal routine in the first two weeks after a season ends.


    Although biking can be an excellent means of achieving aerobic and anaerobic endurance, most U.S. soccer trainers prefer to maintain training methods that keep their players’ feet on the ground, touching the ball -- and moving sideways at times, not always forward. Coaches of any age, even down to youth levels, find that small-sided games of fewer than 11 players per team do as much as anything else to create cardiovascular fitness. For example, coach Debra LaPrath, in “Coaching Girls’ Soccer Successfully,” advocates the two-on-two plus-one arrangement, with one rotating player always on offense -- and getting gassed in the process -- on a small field. A regular three-on-three game or four-on-four can equally create tremendous fitness.


    Meanwhile, cutting-edge coaches in Europe are reevaluating cycling as a training tool -- but not regular tooling around on a touring bike outdoors. They are incorporating indoor cycling, or spinning, with its exceptionally intense cardio workout, as a means to improve professional soccer fitness. Clubs including London’s Arsenal and Chelsea, and Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid, have installed spin rooms in their advanced training centers. England’s national women’s team also takes advantage of spinning cycles for training at a new training center that opened in 2012. The idea is beginning to appear in the United States as well, with at least one varsity boy’s team in Vermont incorporating spinning into its preseason soccer conditioning.


    You may have to pick one sport or the other if you are passionate about both cycling and soccer. The authors of “Faster, Better, Stronger: 10 Proven Secrets to a Healthier Body in 12 Weeks” note the risks of cross-training between the two sports. You don’t want to do too much aerobic work -- such as long bike rides -- if you want to stay good at soccer, which requires explosive moves across short distances of 40 yards down to a short as 5 yards. Still, if you endure a slight lower-body injury, light biking may be just the ticket to keep you close to soccer shape during your recovery.

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