The North Carolina Courage are one of the best women's soccer teams in the world.
Not only are the reigning NWSL champions, but they've led the league in points both of the past two seasons. With Kristen Hamilton leading the way, they're poised to defend their crown in 2019.
Through the first 17 games of the season, Hamilton, a 5-foot-4 attacker, has the most goals (8) of any Courage player. Last summer, STACK caught up with the NWSL star to get the inside scoop on her training.
"In the offseason I'm in the gym four to five days a week. I'm lifting, doing strength work, just getting as strong as I can. Because (the NSWL) season can last six to seven months, you know your body is going to break down, so you want to be as strong and as fit as possible going into the season so you can maintain that," Hamilton says.
Hamilton says there are four "big lifts" she looks to hit every week during her offseason training. They are the Front Squat, the Back Squat, the Deadlift, and the Romanian Deadlift. So there's essentially some form of Squat or Deadlift in Hamilton's program every strength training day, but the different variations help her target different muscle groups and ensure she avoids overtraining. Front Squats target the quads more than the Back Squat, for example, while Romanian Deadlifts targets the hamstrings and hips more than the Deadlift.
In addition to those major strength-builders, core strength is also a key focus in Hamilton's routine. "Core strength stabilizes everything—your core stabilizes so much," Hamilton says. "So that's definitely incorporated in my routines. I do a core circuit towards the end of almost every one of my workouts."
Her core circuit encompasses Dead Bugs along with a 3-minute Plank series that includes Front Planks, Side Planks, Front Planks with Leg Raises, and Side Planks with Reach Throughs.
Activating and strengthening the glutes is another crucial part of Hamilton's program. She utilizes a glute activation series every single day, be it before a weight room session or before a practice. "The glute work is something I'd tell every athlete about. It stabilizes your whole lower-body. Girls, and young girls in soccer, in particular, are a lot more prone to ACL tears and knee injuries. The more glute strength you have, the more you'll reduce your risk of those," Hamilton says. "One of the biggest things I do every single day is a glute activation series. (I put a mini-band around my ankles or knees) and walk sideways, walk forwards, walk backwards. I do that before every training session to warm up my glutes and get them firing and stabilizing correctly."
Outside of the weight room, cardiovascular fitness is an absolutely critical part of Hamilton's routine. Courage head coach Paul Riley encourages an extremely aggressive style of play, and the players need stellar endurance to make it work. Hamilton performs intense aerobic training during the off-season, but Riley also integrates plenty of fitness work into the team's practices. One of the most brutal conditioning drills they perform is known as the Superfield.
"I'd say we're definitely the fittest team in the league. That's attributed to the amount we run on the field and the style of soccer we play," Hamilton says. "We're a very high press, high attacking, aggressive team. If you want to play and you want to be on the field, you're going to have to be fit enough to do that work."
As far as on-field skills, Hamilton provides two tips for youngsters: get as many touches on the ball as you can, even if it's just dribbling and juggling in your own backyard, and don't be afraid to compete against older athletes.
One way you can often accomplish both of these goals?
Regularly playing in pick-up soccer games around your neighborhood. The smaller sides will allow you more touches on the ball and foster greater creativity and confidence, and mixed-age play will often give you the opportunity to sharpen your game against older, more-developed competition.
Photo Credit: Andy Mead/Getty Images
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