Soccer players come in all shapes and sizes. From Lionel Messi’s slight build to Zlatan Ibrahmoic’s 6’5”, 210 lb frame, size doesn’t dictate ability in the sport. Skill, agility, vision, and intelligence are just a few of the many unique assets of a professional player.
Despite the variety of body types you may see on the field, one thing that most soccer players have in common is strong, well-defined, and muscular legs, particularly in the upper thighs and calves.
Fans often wonder how big thighs benefit players or how do calves help in soccer?
This article takes a look at the cause and effect of muscular legs in soccer, exploring the reasons for building strong legs and the importance of the various muscle groups for players.
We’ll be discussing:
- What causes soccer players to have big thighs
- The demands of the game
- The importance of strength and conditioning
- How different muscles effect ability
Can you hang with the pros when it comes to leg workouts? Let’s find out!
Does Soccer Make Your Thighs Big?
The primary movements involved in soccer are running, kicking, and jumping. Secondary actions involve turning, stopping, and lunging. Each of these movements is powered by leg muscles.
While training and playing soccer help develop and strengthen leg muscles, players are unlikely to build large thighs solely from participating in the sport.
Sprints, drills, shooting, passing, and jumping will help condition and lean out the leg muscles but additional strength and conditioning work is generally needed to make your thighs big, akin to those of a professional player.
However, it’s also important to note that genetics have a significant influence on muscle growth. Some players have enhanced composition genes and superior testosterone levels naturally, contributing to easier and faster muscle mass development.
While it’s unclear if genetics make you a better soccer player, they can unequivocally give you an edge athletically.
What’s more, your genetic makeup may be a more likely cause of big thighs than playing soccer regularly.
How Do Soccer Players Develop Big Thighs?
As a dynamic sport that involves a mixture of passive movements and explosive actions, soccer requires players to have well-conditioned, strong, and flexible legs.
The modern soccer player trains certain muscles for the specific skills, movements, and demands of the sport, including
- Long and short-range passing
- Stretching and extending to tackle or intercept loose balls
- Slide tackling
- Taking goal kicks
- Agility and balance
- Shielding the ball and holding off opposition players
- Impact from collisions
- Injury prevention
Meeting the Demands of the Game
While it may seem like a simple game, soccer is a very demanding sport. Players compete in 90-minute games multiple times per week, with training sessions in between. Professional teams often compete for 3 to 4 times per week, especially if they go far in knockout, cup competitions.
For example, toward the end of a Spanish regular season, it’s common for FC Barcelona and Real Madrid to be competing for the domestic league (La Liga), two domestic cups (Copa del Rey and Supercopa de España), and the Uefa Champions League.
This is often a disadvantage for major teams, as the demanding schedule makes it difficult for players to perform to a high level every game. Injuries to key players can lead to massive falloffs as the season closes.
Most teams participate in 34 to 38 regular-season league games. Depending on how far they go in cup competitions, you can add another 5 to 10 matches on top of that. Factor in pre-season friendlies and international games and it’s common for top players to take part in 50 to 60 games per season.
In 2020/21, Portugal and Manchester United “magnifico”, Bruno Fernandes, played a total of 84 games for club and country.
While this may not seem like much compared to sports like basketball and baseball, you have to consider the length of games and the average distance soccer players run compared to other sports.
Throughout a game, soccer players run an average of 7 miles, with hard-working midfielders frequently covering closer to 10 miles.
This is far more than most mainstream sports. In baseball, the average distance run per game is a mere 0.0375 miles, compared to 1.25 miles in American football (receivers and cornerbacks), and 2.55 miles in basketball.
Soccer players’ leg muscles must be capable of covering such distances, week-in, week-out for the duration of a season.
Strength and Conditioning
Much of soccer players’ leg size comes down to the work they do in the weight room. According to Chicago Fire’s strength and conditioning coach, “strength is a quality that underpins everything.”
“…strength underpins endurance, agility, speed…it underpins power production, everything you need to be an athlete…body strength is probably the quality that is most important for any soccer player, no matter the position.”Jordan Webb, M.S., C.S.C.S.
While Webb recommends working out the upper and lower body as part of a strength and conditioning program, it’s no surprise that some of the main areas of focus are on the upper legs.
New York Red Bulls strength and conditioning trainer, Adam Rotchstein, alludes to four pillars of leg day for soccer players:
Some of the most popular exercises performed by soccer players to build thigh muscles and leg strength include:
|Exercise||Active Muscle Groups||Purpose of Exercise|
|Squat jumps||Glutes, quads, hamstrings, and hip abductors||Developing power and stability for jumping and shooting|
|Weighted split squats||Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, and knee tendons||Single-leg balance and strength|
|Lateral squats||Groins, glutes, hip abductors, and hamstrings||Mimics explosive movements for tackling and changing direction|
|Romanian deadlifts||Erector spine, glutes, hamstrings, and adductors||For general strength and to develop power safely and efficiently|
|Reverse leg curls||Hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, and shins||Leg strength, knee stability, and injury prevention|
|Barbell hip thrusts||Glutes and hamstrings||Improving sprinting, jumping, and single-leg explosivity|
|Weighted Step-ups||Quads and hamstrings||Builds strength and stability in the thighs|
|Kettlebell swings||Hips, glutes, and core||Helps explosive power movements from the core and upper thighs|
|Box jumps||Glutes, quads, calves, and hamstrings||Teaches the body to absorb force and improves power generation|
It’s also quite common for soccer players to focus on single-leg strength. Virtually all main movements in soccer are made on one foot. Running, jumping, passing, shooting, and controlling the ball are all single-leg actions.
Not all players follow the same strength and conditioning plans of course.
Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool), standing 6’4” and weighing over 200 lbs, will have much larger squat, deadlift, and lunge capabilities than the likes of Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), who is just 5’8” and 141 lbs.
Depending on the player’s height, weight, body composition, range of movement, and injury history, the may be recommended to stick to certain exercises and weights.
Sports science plays a huge role in professional soccer. Major franchises hire elite sports scientists to design, plan, and execute specialized performance systems for all players within the team.
Sports science professionals cover all aspects of player performance, including strength and conditioning, injury prevention, rehabilitation, recovery, nutrition, and supplementation.
Soccer Players’ Leg Muscles
Different leg muscles are responsible for different movements and actions in soccer.
How Do Quads Help in Soccer?
The quadriceps are located on the front of the thighs. These muscles control knee extension, meaning they are important for all aspects of the sport, from shooting to running.
Quadricep fibers are stretched and elongated when striking the ball, putting them under duress. This is one of the main reasons that soccer players build such big and muscular quads.
Under-trained quads often lead to injuries. They may also contribute to injuries to other muscles and tendons due to the body compensating for inefficiencies.
This is why most players have large quads. If you examine a photo of a soccer player shooting the ball, you can often identify the individual muscles that make up the quadricep.
How Do Hamstrings Help in Soccer?
Your hamstrings are located at the back of the thigh. This area of the thigh consists of three individual muscles, called the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. They attach to the pelvis and run down the leg to the tibia (shin bone).
As the hamstrings cross two different joints (hip and knee), they experience a significant force when players run and kick the ball.
As soccer players are often required to go from standing to a full sprint in a matter of seconds, they must generate a lot of power. Hamstrings are responsible for propelling players forward when sprinting.
They also stabilize the body when changing directions, for dribbling, tackling, or intercepting the ball.
Hamstring injuries are the most common type of injury in the sport. All professionals must work on building strength and endurance in their hamstrings to reduce the risk of injury and their legs for soccer. This is another reason that players have bulging thighs.
How Do Calves Help in Soccer?
Calves are another key muscle group in soccer.
While strong and supple calves are linked to speed and jumping ability, their actual size can vary significantly and may be dependent on genetics.
Jack Grealish’s monstrous calves may enable him to jink and weave through defenses in the premier league, but Kylian Mpabbe’s more modest lower legs somehow generate blistering speed and tremendous feats of athleticism for PSG and France.
Training the calf muscles is important for maintaining elasticity in the Achilles tendon. Achilles injuries can be devastating to a soccer player’s career so building strength and stability in this area is crucial.
How You Can Develop Large Thighs For Soccer
As we’ve discussed, developing large thighs for soccer is a multifaceted process. While you don’t have to forge bodybuilder quads and hammies, it is important to have strong and conditioned legs to meet the demands of the sport.
The three key areas of focus for strengthening thighs are:
- Warming up
- Specialized exercise