How to Get Stronger Thighs & Calf Muscles for Soccer

Heather Mitts needs strong legs to be effective at defense.
i Stanley Chou/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

So many female soccer players arrive to the game ready-made with powerful thighs and calves -- already classically built for a game that requires leg strength. But you may be built more like slender and graceful Heather Mitts, a women’s national team defender -- who has to focus on lower-body workouts to hold her ground against stronger opponents. In a way, your strength program is almost simpler than those with powerful thighs and calves already locked in place.

Your Focus

Strong-legged female soccer players need to pay close attention in their workout program to the hamstrings to restore the hammies’ balance to their mighty quads. Otherwise, hamstring strains and pulls may become a problem. You will need to join your teammates in hamstring work, such as by performing stability ball leg curls and barbell deadlifts or good mornings. But you will have much more latitude to go full-bore on quad and calf work without fear of over-strengthening your quads compared to your hamstrings.

Thigh Isolation

The seated leg press machine offers a classic way to isolate the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh. You can warm up with 10 minutes of treadmill jogging or dribbling outside to get a bit sweaty and then set the weight plates so you can readily complete two to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. You can add explosiveness to the workout by “jumping” away from the leg platform on alternate sets.

Calf Isolation

You can add more resistance to the classic calf raise -- which involves just rising up on your toes and lowering repeatedly -- to work the muscles at the back of your lower legs. Donkey calf raises, for example, involve supporting yourself on your hands on a workout bench. Have a soccer buddy sit on your back just above your hips while you perform calf raises. The ultimate calf isolation involves having a partner of about your height and weight clamber aboard your back piggyback style as you perform a slow toe raise in an upright position.

Total Leg Workouts

Along with most soccer conditioning coaches, Mitts advocates complete leg exercises rather than isolations so you work the hamstrings and shin muscles as well as the thighs and calves, all at the same time. She performs step-ups onto a bench as she holds dumbbells touching her shoulders, with the addition of a hold -- one knee raised -- once atop the bench. This works the quadriceps and core, as well as the hamstrings and calves. In his book “Soccer Anatomy,” physiology professor Donald T. Kirkendall also recommends squats, box jumps and lunges for total leg power.

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