Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Soccer Training Improves Balance In Adults

For the athlete, balance or postural stability is an important element in sports performance. For the adult, non-athlete, balance is essential in completing many everyday activities as well as preventing injury from falls. For this later group, balance training is widely used in many therapeutic and rehabilitation programs. Improving postural stability and control can improve walking and reduce the risk of falling, especially in unstable or unpredictable situations. Unfortunately, prophylactic balance training is less common. Most exercise programs do not use this as a way to maintain or improve postural control in otherwise healthy individuals. A new study from Denmark shows that soccer training can improve balance in healthy, untrained individuals and is more effective than traditional fitness training. This may, in turn, lower the risk of injury.

The study compared soccer training to continuous running and interval running. A total of 43 subjects were placed in one of four groups (three training plus an inactive control group). The age of the subjects ranged from 21-45 years and all were considered healthy but not involved in a regular exercise program.

The three training groups exercised three times per week for 12weeks. The soccer group spent 45 min each session playing 5v5 matches on a 30m x 45m pitch. Matches were played without a goalkeeper. The continuous running group ran each session for 45 min at 80% of their maximal heart rate. The interval training group, used a series of 2 min high-intensity run performed at >90% of maximal heart rate. An array of parameters related to balance and postural control were measured before and after the 12 weeks training period ended.

All three training programs lead to improved fitness levels. In terms of balance and stability, the researchers found that all three improved several markers of balance. However, the unique finding of this study is that the soccer-training group showed the greatest improvements in the individual parameters. While all three types of exercise benefit balance, participation in soccer results in the greatest payoff.

Why might soccer training be so effective in improving balance? Balance is linked to the vestibular (equilibrium), somatosensory (neuromuscular reflexes) and visual sensory systems. Each of these can be trained and may have been improved in al three training groups. What is unique about soccer compared to running is the unstable positions that the player experiences. Sprints, turns, stops, starts jumps all tax both the vestibular and somatosensory systems. Reflexes and equilibrium are all improved as these unpredictable situations are repeatedly encountered. Also, soccer requires focus on the participant’s external surroundings such as the ball, the goal and other players. This focus may improve the visual sensory system. Thus, soccer seems to positively affect all three systems linked to balance and postural control.

Why is this important? Balance and postural are critical factors in preventing falls. As one ages, the risk of falling and suffering an injury increases. Stumbling ad tripping are all too common, especially when older adults encounter uneven surfaces, steps and curbs. Participating in soccer training as a young adult may have a prophylactic effect, reducing the risk of falling as one ages. Better balance may translate into the ability to better navigate unfamiliar and difficult terrain. Perhaps this will reduce the need for rehabilitation training later in life.

Thus, adult soccer training appears to have an additional benefit. We have known all along that improves health related factors (fitness, body weight, blood pressure, etc). Now it seems that playing soccer also improves balance, which may lead to enhanced mobility and reduced risk of falling. So, chalk one more up for the adult league!


Jakobsen MD, Sundstrup E, Krustrup P, Aagaard P (2010) The effect of recreational soccer training and running on postural balance in untrained men. European Journal of Applied Physiology, DOI 10.1007/s00421-010-1669-2.