Are you concerned about your health, or your weight? Think you should be getting more exercise, but don’t want to drop the money on fitness equipment or the gym? This is usually what companies begin infomercials with in order to pitch a new product that will work wonders on your body for a fraction of the price and time. Instead of taking the risk of figuring out if those deals are legitimate or not, just invest ten bucks in a soccer ball at any sporting goods store. What are you going to do with it? You’re going to juggle. Not like the kind of juggling you see at the circus, soccer juggling involves using the body to keep a ball up in the air without the use of the hands.
I was a track athlete at the high school and college level for seven years, and curiously enough I hated running. I competed primarily in the jumping events and when I had to run more than a few hundred yards in practice, I got bored and rather irked. I never go running down the street for this reason. Although it is nice to get out in the fresh air and take in the scenery, when you’re bouncing along and gasping for breath you’re not really experiencing any of that. Running on a treadmill or using an exercise bike is nearly as dull for me since on those machines you’re not even really moving! I don’t know about you, but a motivating factor in my exercise involves getting some excitement and enjoyment out of it.
A lot of people complain about aerobic exercise as being too much of a strain on their muscles and tendons. This is true to an extent due to the hard surfaces and number of times the feet are striking the ground and absorbing weight. One of the best alternatives to running and aerobics is swimming, but unfortunately the vast majority of us don’t have access to a swimming pool on a regular basis. What’s another alternative? Well, you could do an exercise on grass, and that exercise is soccer ball juggling.
Soccer ball juggling has a number of benefits:
The first is that you don’t need very much space to perform it. You don’t need a court, field, road, or gym. All you need is a place to stand and several square feet around you to move around on. A backyard is ideal for juggling because it not only provides space but also soft grass to help cushion the impact of your feet. And unlike many aerobics workouts and running exercises, your feet are going to be striking the ground a lot less in the workout as a whole.
The other benefit of soccer juggling is that it stimulates muscles in many places in the body. In order to keep the ball in the air you are going to call upon your quadriceps, hamstrings, abdominals, calves, and trunk muscles. Reaching for the ball during juggling will help to stretch tendons and muscles that are often points of injury during other exercise, such as the muscles that make up the shins. And perhaps the best benefit from soccer ball juggling is that you don’t have to do it for more than ten to twenty minutes to start feeling a burn and breaking a sweat. If you are dedicated to improving, the demands placed on you to keep the ball in the air will burn those calories and put your heart rate up to where it needs to be.
Now I’ll move on to the basics concerning how to juggle a soccer ball. The whole object of juggling is to keep the ball off the ground using any combination of strikes from your thighs, feet, head, chest, or shoulders. If this is your first time, you’re going to want to stretch out a bit before starting. When you’re juggling, you’re going to be using muscles you’re not accustomed to using, especially the muscles of the groin and shins. So take a few minutes to stretch out, paying careful attention to your leg muscles. Now, the most important thing to remember when you first start juggling is that when everybody starts out, they’re not very good. You can’t expect to look like a World Cup player the first time a ball touches your foot, no more than one can expect to play like Clapton the moment they first pick up a guitar. One of the best things about juggling is that its something you can easily track your progress with, and you can begin to set attainable goals for yourself.
Start with your thighs. Toss the ball up in the air in front of you, so that it doesn’t go much higher than your head. When it comes down, raise your leg so that your thigh is parallel to the ground and the ball strikes it on the way down. You want to hit the ball just enough so that it is launched about a foot to a foot and a half in the air again. Don’t hit the ball so hard that it gets launched high up, or else you won’t be able to accurately hit it on the way down. You also want to practice so that when your thigh hits the ball, it’s hitting it more or less straight into the air. This will make the second strike much easier.
Begin using your dominant leg to hit the ball. Then once you get a feel for how the ball moves and how you’re able to control it, try to incorporate your other leg into keeping the ball in the air. This will not only help to develop your skills with both legs, but it will also get your legs moving more and add more to your workout. When hitting the ball with your thighs, try to avoid using your knees. The knee has an irregular surface and is much bonier than the thigh. Striking the ball with the knee will cause it to glance off in skewed directions with much more power than is needed.
When you start to get a feel for using your thighs to keep the ball in the air, try using your feet. Now this is a bit challenging. What you most want to remember is to cock your ankle so that your toe is pointing upward, and the top of the foot forms a “V” with the shin. If you position your foot like this under the falling ball, you will help to cushion the ball’s impact as well as help to propel it upwards instead of outward. The name of the game in soccer juggling is to keep the ball in the air as long as possible. If you kick the ball so far away from you that you can’t get to it in time, you can’t hope to keep it airborne for very long.
As with the thighs, you want to try and incorporate the use of both feet when juggling the soccer ball. This is challenging, but don’t get frustrated if you’re finding you can’t hit the ball properly with your non-dominant foot! It all just takes practice. When I was starting out with juggling, I could only get about four total strikes before the ball would hit the ground. Now after a few months of practice I can easily get over seventy strikes before the ball falls to the ground. The key is to just be patient and to practice what works the best for you.
In keeping with the rules of soccer, you can use any part of your body to keep the ball in the air, except for your arms and hands. You may use your shoulders, but like the knee, shoulders are irregular and hard surfaces that make a well-timed and well-aimed strike difficult. The head is a useful part of the body, just remember to use your forehead to hit the ball, not the top of your head or face! I think we can all agree that getting hit in the face with a ball is not fun. Primarily, you will be using your thighs and feet to keep the ball up.
That’s about it! Soccer juggling is a fun way to get in some good exercise that anyone, regardless of age or sex can use. Do you have two working legs? Then you can juggle a soccer ball. Have fun, and good luck!