At KPI, we have a soft spot for goalkeepers having worked with the likes of Liverpool FC Goalkeepers, Alison Becker and Caoimhin Kelleher as well as Non-Stop Goalkeeper in our GK Union. The goalkeeper is the most unique position in football and is completely different from outfield positions. While outfield positions have different physical demands between them in terms of running distances, intensities, and movement skills to be successful, goalkeepers are in their own category as the only players on the pitch who almost exclusively work within a confined area of the 18-yard box. In addition, goalkeepers likely use their upper body just as much as they do their lower-body.
Also, with the evolving nature of the sport and more teams adopting the ‘sweeper keeper’ style of play, goalkeepers may also have to occasionally travel outside of the box to deal with through balls, act as an extra player in possession and make clearances. Because of this, goalkeepers are often required to kick the ball across short, medium and long distances several times during a match.
Finally, the most unique part of a goalkeepers training routine, is the fact that their training sessions far exceed their matches when comparing physical exertion. This is almost a direct opposition to outfield players, and certainly explains the requirement for different treatment from the sports science and medical staff.
The remainder of this article will dig a little deeper into the area of strength and conditioning for goalkeepers, covering the following topics:
- The physical demands of goalkeepers in football
- Common injuries/limitations
- Strength and conditioning recommendations
The Physical Demands of Goalkeepers in Football
With the unique position of the goalkeeper on a football pitch comes its own unique physical demands. Goalkeepers mainly work in the confined area of the 18-yard box and remain close to the goal-line. When we look at the typical training week for a goalkeeper there are also some differences when compared to outfield players. Similarly to outfield players, there is a decrease in training load as match day nears, with the lightest training session being on the day before the game (MD-1) and the highest training sessions often being the day after (MD+1), four days before (MD-4) (Casamichana et al., 2023, Moreno-Pérez et a., 2020) and three days before a match (MD-3) (Malone et al., 2018).
However, on match day we see significant differences in activity between goalkeepers and outfield players. For a starting outfield player matchday is the most intense day of the week for running distance, high-speed distance, sprints, accelerations and declarations etc. In contrast, for goalkeepers this is one of the lightest days of the week. For instance, research shows that during a training week goalkeepers make between 30-60 dives per session, whereas on matchday they only make on average around 10 (Casamichana et al., 2023; White et al., 2020).
Goalkeepers also cover around 50% or less distance than outfield players during matches, who are required to move more skilfully and efficiently over longer distances (White et al., 2020).
As you can see, by just looking at the information on training frequency and rhythm, goalkeepers seem to present a very unique profile…
With respect to physical performance characteristics, goalkeepers are also different. The general consensus in scientific research is that senior goalkeepers maintain superior jump performance compared with their outfield counterparts (White et al., 2018). However, this is not necessarily the case in youth populations (White et al., 2018). Although it appears that jump performance is largely unable to distinguish goalkeepers from other positions at youth level, the greater jump heights demonstrated by senior professional goalkeepers suggests the importance of explosive power for goalkeepers at the highest level. With the data we collected at KPI with the many players we have tested, from all positions, we tend to find goalkeepers perform better in vertical jump tests compared to outfield players which would agree with the suggestion that vertical power is a key indicator for goalkeeping performance.
Strength is another big pillar of physical performance for goalkeepers as it is for athletes of many other sports. Strength underpins power and speed and decreases risk of injury. In football research can be conflicting on strength capacities between goalkeepers and outfield players. For example, some research claims to show that goalkeepers are generally heavier and have greater absolute strength in comparison to outfield players, performing better in strength tests such as hip extension and knee extension (Wik et al., 2019; Arnason et al., 2019; Raus et al., 2015). However, other studies have found no significant differences in strength between goalkeepers and outfield players (AlTaweel et al., 2022). Along with the data we have collected internally would agree that there is not much difference in strength between goalkeepers and outfield players. Having said that, anecdotally, we would confirm and argue that goalkeepers should have superior strength capabilities in the quadriceps, groins, lateral hip and hip extensor muscles to enable them to carry out GK specific movements to a high level. However, with the lack of systematic reviews that have been done on this topic, to get a clearer understanding of the relationship between strength and position more research needs to be carried out.
Short but explosive actions are emphasised in defensive situations for goalkeepers, during 1-on-1’s with strikers and shot stopping where the goalkeeper’s movement must be explosive, quick-thinking, and technical. This marks "agility" as one of the fundamental qualities of the modern goalkeeper with these short bursts of acceleration and deceleration proving vital for goalkeeper performance. In part, this may explain the superiority in jump performance for goalkeepers, being an explosive action, which will assist them with their requirements to move linearly, vertically and laterally efficiently and cover the goal, while facing play and reacting to what’s happening in front of them (Knoop et al., 2013).
Finally, the technical requirements for goalkeepers also present significant differences to outfielders and pose an interesting topic for strength and conditioning coaches. Kicking is demanding across all positions in football, even more so these days for the modern day goalkeeper. Before goalkeepers would only really kick from goal kicks and when clearing the ball down field, but now teams play a more progressive style of football where goalkeepers are on the ball much more frequently. This requires them to hit more frequent short, medium and long passes as well as clearances. Too much heavy kicking can pose a problem for goalkeepers and outfield players alike if not managed properly. As with any explosive action, repetitive high force kicking may pose problems for anterior chain injuries to the quadriceps and/or hip flexor.
Injuries in Goalkeepers
With the unique nature of the goalkeeper position comes different injury risks compared to outfield players. Due to the football-specific actions of a goalkeeper such as shot-stopping, diving, catching, punching and throwing, goalkeepers are much more likely to injure their upper extremities (fingers, hand, wrist, arm, shoulder) compared to outfield players. In particular, their shoulders and elbows are at high risk of injury with research showing that goalkeepers had a 4.6-fold higher incidence of shoulder and elbow injuries than outfield players (Attar et al., 2021).
Additionally, a research study conducted on injuries in goalkeepers reported that goalkeepers sustained 115 (48.3%) hand, wrist, and forearm injuries compared with 1678 (6.6%) of all injuries and 1064 (4.8%) of lower limb injuries (Andersson et al., 2021).
To address the unique injury profile of goalkeepers, the field has seen an introduction of the “FIFA 11+S program,” inclusive of specific injury prevention, strength and warm-up programmes. Following this, scientific literature has evidenced confirmation of this programme showing 50% fewer upper extremity injuries among soccer goalkeepers, compared with a regular warm-up (Attar et al., 2021). While this has proved to be effective, we believe in a much more individualised approach as each athlete is built differently. A blanket programme may help but will only get you so far.
With the constant diving, jumping, landing and heavy kicking, goalkeepers do also suffer from common lower extremity injuries. Ankle and knee ligament injuries are commonplace in goalkeepers, most probably due to the frequent requirement to jump and land, and move explosively in multidirectional planes (Muracki et al., 2021). Insufficient movement technique, strength or fatigue resistance will increase the risk of this happening.
From a muscle perspective, quadricep and hip flexor injuries typically occur during explosive kicking actions that goalkeepers must complete, as the dominant muscle contributor to this action. However, this kind of injury is usually poorly managed as symptoms may not be too intense and may only be present during kicking. For this reason, goalkeepers may continue to play not just to the end of the training session or match of first occurrence but throughout the season without thorough examination and treatment and suffer multiple re-injuries through overuse (Muracki et al., 2021). In similar fashion to upper-limb injuries, this data shows the need for specialised strength and conditioning programmes as well as warm-up routines to help strengthen and condition the body to perform at its best, cope with the demands of the position, and reduce the risk of injury.
Strength and Conditioning Recommendations for Goalkeepers
So far in this article, we have identified that goalkeepers need to be explosive to carry out actions such as diving and jumping, strong to contest with other players for aerial duels, and agile to get around the goal and cover the 18-yard box while facing and reacting to play.
We have also found that due to the specific nature of goalkeepers they are at much higher risk of upper extremity injuries particularly in the shoulders and elbows (Attar et al., 2021).
Based on this we will go through the following physical components and outline how these should be applied for goalkeepers to suit their specific needs:
- Agility movement skills
Being strong is universally advantageous for all athletes. Well trained athletes are typically stronger, faster, more powerful, recover quicker and are more robust and less likely to get injured and this is no different for goalkeepers.
Developing lower body strength is important as it correlates highly with power and jump performance as we know is important for goalkeeper performance and success (White et al., 2018).
As a goalkeeper you want to be as lean as possible while being as strong as possible, as the heavier you are the more difficult it will be to move your body explosively and jump up for crosses and dives to stop shots and also land and decelerate effectively. Bearing this in mind we recommend sticking to your main compound lifts (squats, RDL’s, lunges etc.), working within a lower rep range (3-6 reps) and focus on good tempo and intent (E.g., 3 sec eccentric, max velocity concentric) and avoid high volume work which is more fatiguing and hypertrophic. I also recommended including some eccentric hip flexor and adductor exercises to strengthen and cope with the demand of heavy kicking.
Upper body strength is also very important for goalkeepers as they contest aerial duels with opposing players and must absorb contact while reacting to the ball and catching or punching. At KPI we like to use exercises that mimic the positions goalkeepers get into and challenge them to hold and maintain positions while carrying out a skill and/or receiving perturbations. This trains the core muscles and stabilisers to be able to stay solid and absorb contact. Also, general upper body strength exercises such as presses and pulls can be useful, however, given the upper extremity injury rate of goalkeepers we like to choose more joint friendly exercises. This is particularly important for the shoulders and elbows to strengthen but not put any more unnecessary stress on the joints and connective tissue that already go through high load during training and matches (e.g., landmine press instead of a military press).
With strength you increase the amount of force you can produce; your power work is then teaching you to express that force explosively to transfer onto the pitch in the form of jumping and diving. It’s clear that it is advantageous for goalkeepers to be able to jump high, outperforming their outfield counterparts and separating the elite from the non-elite (Hawkey et al., 2017).
As well as vertical jumping, lateral jumping is also important as goalkeepers dive for saves and navigate the 6 yd box whilst moving side to side.
Also, with the reaction time, goalkeepers must make these decisions to jump or dive so reactive power is vital for performance so they can produce large amounts of force in split seconds.
With all this in mind we would recommend alongside your strength work doing a mix of slow stretch plyometrics (loaded jumps, box jumps, lateral skips etc.) and fast reactive plyometrics (pogos, drop jumps etc) vertically and laterally. A rule of thumb for all power work is that it is done with high intensity but low volume, allowing for plenty of rest between sets and reps to avoid fatigue and keep power output as high as possible.
With the nature of the goalkeeper always having to face the play, react and make split second decisions this means constant changes of directions and lateral movement which are only emphasised in big game moments such as 1-on-1’s and shot stopping which can decide games. As well as being quick-thinking, the more efficient a goalkeeper can change direction and move laterally across the goal, the more effective they will be, making agility a fundamental skill for modern day goalkeepers.
The main components of agility are deceleration and redirection.
The quicker we can decelerate, the quicker we can start to move in a new direction.
The more efficiently we can decelerate, redirect our bodies and project ourselves in a new direction, the more seconds we shave off our time which can make huge differences in a game in big moments. These skills can be worked in isolation (e.g., linear deceleration, lateral push-off) and then can be integrated together (e.g., skips, repeated hops) and then made more sport specific through adding in elements of reactivity and chaos (ball catch) and analysing if technique falters.
So that rounds it up for the fundamentals of goalkeeper S&C from us at KPI! Keep an eye out for further articles that’ll delve deeper into the goalkeeper literature for strength and conditioning. In the meantime, if you’re a goalkeeper who wants to work with us, fill out the form at the bottom of this page and let’s get started!
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