Lionel Messi’s 40 Yard Dash and Olympic Lifts for Soccer Players

This article is guest blogged by Mat Herold, a former D-1 soccer player and certified strength and conditioning coach with a Masters of Science degree in Exercise Physiology.  Visit his website at

His previous article on SpeedEndurance was From Soccer Player To Jumper: 1 Year, 14 Lessons Later

In American Football, the 40 yard dash is the most coveted event in the combine. Tenths of a second can mean getting drafted or not drafted, with millions of dollars on the line. Why am I telling you this? Because speed matters. In soccer, though the 40 yard dash is not talked about as much, speed matters as well.

Messi and his Legs

Watching Messi play for FC Barcelona against Real Madrid, I can’t help but to think about what Messi’s 40 yard dash time would be. My guess is it would be 4.5 to 4.75, but I am only speculating. Cristiano Ronaldo ran a 25 meter dash in 3.61. Messi is incredibly explosive over the first 15 yards. After that he tends to not be as impressive but he can still move. The faster the acceleration the easier it is to continue that speed as well which is why the start of the 40 or any distance is so important (highly related to leg strength).

If you noticed in the close-up shots during the game yesterday, Messi’s legs are freakin’ huge. Whether he trained with weights to acquire big powerful legs like that or not does not matter. What would it take to get your legs to look like that? If it is not your genetics, then you better hit the weights. Playing soccer may be enough stimulus for some to develop big legs and be very athletic, but for many it will not be enough. For me, it was not nearly enough and it was not until I got stronger that my speed and jumping ability improved like crazy.

Weight training properly (which should not take up too much of your time if done right) will transform your game. Using key basic exercises building stronger legs will go a long way in enabling you to generate more force into the ground per your own body weight leading you to run and move at greater speeds.

Physics anyone?  Norwegian soccer research reveals that doing squats with maximal loads dramatically improves jumping ability, sprinting speed over 10 meters, and running economy.

Here’s why: ‘Because of the high resistance, the movement speed is slow, but the muscular contraction when you push with your quads is fast,’ says Jan Hoff, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. In other words, you’re teaching your muscles to activate faster. In Hoff’s 2008 study, participants who did three squat sessions a week for 8 weeks saw a 5 percent increase in running economy, which means they used less energy to move on the field. That translates to over half a mile more covered in a match.

Another benefit to strength training: It reduces your risk of soccer injury by 50 percent, according to a University of Maine study.

Proper Speed Training:

  1. Maximal Intensity (sometimes loads are used in the form of hills, sleds, vests)
  2. Long rest intervals to ensure maximal recovery of the nervous system
  3. Emphasis on technique

Olympic Lifts for Soccer Players

My view on the necessity of the Olympic lifts for soccer players and athletes who are not Olympic lifters has changed a lot over the years. If you don’t want to put on a lot of unnecessary size, Olympic lifts are great. If technique is good, they are great exercises for any athlete. Are they necessary? No. Can they improve speed and power and offer an advantage? Yes. Here are some pros and cons, of course some will be missing but here are some major ones that come to mind:


  1. Full body movements
  2. Fun
  3. Require aggression, speed, and focus
  4. Minimal soreness
  5. Trains posterior chain and teaches good posture
  6. Teaches absorptions of force
  7. Teaches reversal strength coming out of the bottom of the catch
  8. Offer immediate feedback on power output (although so do broad jumps, vertical jumps, and timed sprints but Olympic lifts show more of the strength speed aspect)


  1. Technical
  2. Can be dangerous if technique is bad especially on the catch phase
  3. Need bumpers and ability to drop weights so can be hard to access in regular gyms
  4. Strictly a sagittal plane vertical movement (up and down) and does not train rotation or lateral movement.

I like them and I use them in my training especially when pressed for time. For most soccer players I would not worry too much about them. If you get stronger and perform various plyos, jumps, sprints, etc., you will be more than covered.

About the Author

Mat Herold is a former D-1 soccer player and certified strength and conditioning coach with a Masters of Science degree in Exercise Physiology.  Visit his website at

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee

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