For decades, Americans have heard soccer aficionados argue that soccer is a great sport for exercise. Soccer, they have argued, will someday supplant baseball as the USA’s favorite summer sport.
The argument makes a lot of sense. A high percentage of soccer players spend a lot of time during games running. A high percentage of baseball players, on the other hand, spend a lot of time standing in the field and sitting in the dugout.
The “ playing soccer as exercise ” argument has apparently convinced more parents and kids that kids should be playing more soccer and less baseball. US Youth Soccer reports that the number of 5- to 19-year-olds registering for its programs has increased from 103,432 in 1974 to 3,055,148 in 2014. Roughly 48 percent of the players are girls. The number of Little League baseball players, on the other hand, declined from about 2.5 million in 1996 to about 2 million in 2010, reported the SB Nation article “Is Youth Baseball Dying In America?”
Playing Soccer for Exercise?
So is soccer really a great sport for exercise? Let’s look at the evidence as compiled by Harvard Health Publications and Wisconsin’s Department of Health and Family Services. The Harvard study “Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of different weights” lists “training and sport activities” in order of how many calories they burn. Soccer ranks tied for 37th among 78 such activities. Playing soccer burns an average of 520 calories per hour in 155-pound people. Soccer is tied with ice skating, tennis and racquetball.
Curiously, baseball is not listed. Softball, a similar game, burns an average of 372 calories per hour in 155-pound people. The training and sport activities that burn the most calories are mostly individual sports such as running, bicycling, and swimming. The team sports that burn the most calories include water polo (744 calories per hour in 155-pound people), football (670), ice hockey (596), and basketball (also 596).
Wisconsin’s “Calories Burned Per Hour” chart has a different analysis. Its figures about how many calories the sport burns in general is very similar to Harvard’s figures. However, the state reports that “competitive soccer” burns 704 calories per hour in 155-pound people. Baseball burns 352 calories per hour in the same people so maybe the soccer aficionados are right. As for other competitive sports, the calories burned per hour figures are 633 for football, 563 for basketball and hockey, and 281 for volleyball. By the way, you lose one pound when you burn 3,500 calories.
Soccer, though, has numerous other benefits as an exercise besides weight loss, reports the Better Health Channel in its “Soccer — health benefits” report. Those benefits include:
- An improvement in heart health.
- More endurance.
- Stronger muscles.
- Better agility.
- Increased aerobic capacity (this means soccer players can sustain their level of activity in other aerobic activities such as cycling, running, and swimming for a longer period of time.)
Soccer experts have a list of exercises that they believe has helped players in the past improve their fitness and, thus, their soccer ability. FitDay recommends four exercises to build muscles — Bulgarian split squats, forward lunges, bent leg deadlifts, and box jumps. The details of these exercises are at this website.
Active.com has 11 tips for soccer players who want to improve their agility and lateral speed. Jumping rope is one of the exercises. Another one is running sideways as fast as possible five to 10 yards to the left and then to the right and then, well you get the point. Hopping also helps, says active.com.
Active.com also recommends four abdominal exercises to improve soccer players’ balance — bent knee crunches, straight leg crunches, scoops and throw downs. The details of these exercises are at this website.
The truth about playing soccer as an exercise, though, is that it is up to the individual. Youngsters who run up and down the field and do a lot of exercises to improve their strength, speed, agility, and balance will improve their fitness significantly and stay trim. Defenders and goalies who don’t move a lot will lose about as much weight during a game as baseball players.