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I have been playing non-competitive five-a-side football with school and work colleagues for a few years, and have drifted in and out of it as people move away, the weather puts people off, people get injured, and so on.

There's nothing at stake for me in not being very good - we don't play competitively and it's purely as a hobby - but it would be more fun for me and for others to be better at it to improve the challenge. I often find that I can read the game fairly well and can see exactly where I need to be, where my feet need to go, and so on - I just can't move fast enough to make it happen. It's inevitable that muscle memory will be somewhat lacking and part of the problem is just lack of practice, but I'd still like to do what I can to be a better player.

What exercises can I do to improve my footwork and speed over short distances?

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2 Answers

Shuttle runs, short wind sprints, lateral shuffle sprints are good exercises.

For short burst speed, you need to practice short burst speed. Work into it though, simply going out one day and hammering a bunch of shuttle runs is a good way to pull muscles. The more you do it, the faster you will be. Also practice form drills, such as high knees and butt kicks. Better form will allow you to put more energy into motion rather than into controlling sloppy feet.

For agility, there are tons of drills. Lateral shuffles, grapevines, ladder step routines, running cones with turns at the diagonals, things of this nature. Basically what you are learning is how to control your body weight and momentum to get you going in the direction you want, rather than having to completely stop.

Lose weight if needed. Excess weight can slow you down immensely, and make it much much harder to get up to speed, change directions, etc. The commonly accepted estimate in cross country running is that every pound lost is equivalent to 2-5 seconds per mile faster for the same effort (Depending on the persons' running efficiency, etc.)

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The things that will help your footwork are different than the things that will help your speed. JohnP's answer addresses footwork, and some aspects of acceleration and running, and they are all good things, but his answer omits strength. If you are stronger, particularily in your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and core, you will be faster.

In addition to on-the-field drills like shuttle runs and form drills, you should include barbell lift like back squats, deadlifts, and power cleans. These will make you faster.

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