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Manchester United star Wayne Rooney's legs display muscularity and power.
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Soccer players with all kinds of bodies receive a warm welcome to the game. You may see string-bean calves on built-for-speed amateur forwards or chubby little thighs on soccer-tot boys and girls. Somewhere in the middle lies a golden mean found on many of the game's top players. Their well-built legs fall right around halfway between the spindly pins of basketball's best vertical leapers and the sculpted, rippling musculature of Olympic sprinters.
Soccer players heavily involved in clearing, crossing or shooting the ball, including pros such as the English Premier League's Wayne Rooney, typically have calves that appear well-developed, often resembling a chunky block of two-by-four that has somehow appeared between ankle and knee on the back of the leg. These powerful calves result from the game's biomechanical emphasis on pushing up on your toes -- both to cut as part of changing direction, as well as to jump.
Because the quads control knee extension -- and thus crucial elements of running, kicking and jumping -- they tend to also be exceptionally strong in soccer players. Developed quads contribute to the booming вЂњcrackвЂќ that accompanies a strong player's connection with the ball, which sounds almost like a baseball bat hitting a ball, especially when performed by professional goalkeepers. Most of the muscular strength of a booming kick comes from repeated kicking itself, notes physiologist Donald T. Kirkendall in вЂњSoccer Anatomy.вЂќ But you can also boost your results effectively with strength training.
The back of the upper leg can be a problem spot for soccer players, especially female players. Even if the hamstrings look meaty and powerful, weakness in this area can predispose a player to either hamstring strains or torn ligaments in the knee. The increased pace of the modern game has made hamstring injuries of greater concern to amateur players and pro teams alike. In the 1970s, few players sustained hamstring strains, Kirkendall writes. But now, professional team trainers can expect to see up to six hamstring strains per season. You can take care of your hammies with curls on an exercise ball, deadlifts or partner-assisted hamstring curls.
Not all movement by soccer players is straight ahead or back; soccer's planes of motion include lateral cuts and spins, graceful launches diagonally into the air and shots taken with the entire leg hip-high, like a martial artist. Soccer players recruit additional muscles, including the hip adductors for shooting and tackles, and the hip flexors for jumping. The muscles of the ankle, foot and toes also contribute to your ability to jump, cut and connect with the ball.