How One Simple Exercise Can Help Improve Your Heading Ability
The simple act of jumping to head a ball and landing safely afterwards is an integral part of a player's game.
To improve your jumping techniques and minimize injury risk on landing, focus on practicing your take-off using different legs and from different starting positions. Learn to jump using each foot to take off and train your landing techniques so that you don’t roll over on your ankle as you hit the ground afterwards.
An easy way to practice this is to mark an area on the ground roughly two feet square; this will be your target area for landing.
Begin by approaching the square on the jog and making a high leap as soon as you are within easy distance of being able to land comfortably in the square. The objective of the exercise is to land on the one foot and stay still, checking your momentum as you land; staying balanced on the foot as it hits the ground.
This will increase your body’s ability to react by engaging the muscles affecting the ankle, knee and hip; helping to tune them to act together in a manner which we refer to as ‘co-contraction.’
Co-contraction is important for injury prevention, and most exercises used in post-injury rehabilitation will focus on improving the body’s ability to engage the muscles simultaneously in order to stabilize the joints affected by whatever injury has been sustained; whether to the knee, ankle, or hip etc.
Similarly, the same exercises are used in a preventative setting by training the body to react to potential injury situations.
With this particular exercise you can make it as basic or advanced as you like. Add a heading movement at the top of the jump for example, arch the back and use the neck muscles as you would to gain distance, vary your run up speed and learn to take off on each foot; but all the time remember that the objective of the exercise is to train your landing skills.
Controlling the landing is the key to injury prevention; so make sure that once you have mastered simply being able to land in that square, you progress the exercise by adapting it to make it just that little bit more challenging.
Use your imagination - you can even have someone throw you a soccer ball to actually head; but bearing in mind the object of the exercise is to encourage your body to improve your landing skills, heading the actual ball is secondary to making a controlled landing.
However, as your jumping and landing skills improve, so too will your ability to head a soccer ball.