Rúben Dias is the star Portuguese professional soccer player who helped Manchester City to earn the Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League title all in the past season.
He’s thought by many to be one of the best defenders in the world. Undoubtedly, he is a force to be reckoned with on the pitch but to earn his enviable reputation and long list of accolades, such as being named the UEFA Champions League Defender of the Season in 2021, Rúben Dias knows that he needs to work just as hard in the gym as he does on the field. Fortunately, for those looking to follow in his coordinated footsteps, the player shared his “Central Defender Gym Routine” in a YouTube clip posted to the Manchester City YouTube channel where he and the teams Head of Strength and Conditioning, Simon Bitcon, provided valuable insight into the methodology of training a dominant defender. Here is the workout, followed by an analysis of each move.
The “Central Defender” Workout
Filmed on location in the Manchester City team gym, here is the routine:
- Barbell Front Squat— 3 Sets x 8 Reps
- Hip Thrust Machine— 5 Sets x 5 Reps
- Double Leg Box Jump — 5 Sets x 5 Reps
- Resisted A-March— 5 Sets x 5 Reps
- Cable Pallof Press— 5 Sets x 5 Reps
The Workout Analysis
Barbell Front Squat
Front squats target the lower body and primarily your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. “This really, is about developing bilateral, or double leg strength,” says Manchester City’s Head of Strength and Conditioning, Simon Bitcon. “And, for a central defender, this is really important because leg strength is important in terms of getting up for headers.”
The front squat requires greater recruitment from the quad muscles than the traditional variation, meaning that when done correctly, they put less stress on the lower back. Core and upper body strength is still required however, in order to maintain the barbell in the front rack position. For Dias though, the barbell front squat is a great way to develop his ability to accelerate in closed spaces or chase down an attacking player. “It’s very important to keep a good posture,” says the centre-back of this exercise. “Position is everything.” (And he should know!)
Hip Thrust Machine
“Mainly (it’s) for an extension of the hip,” says Bitcon of the hip thrust. “So, you engage the big sprint muscles, the glute muscles, and this … is about acceleration. A central defender will sometimes be in some deep positions where they actually have to attack the ball. And the key exercise, in terms of driving through the floor is the glute muscle, and this is a great exercise to strengthen that.”
The hip thrust engages the glutes and also relies on support from the hamstrings and lower back. Performing the movement requires you to push through your feet and drive the hips skyward. Just like the elite defender, you should be looking to squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement for maximum engagement. “I actually insisted, a lot, for (Manchester City) to buy this machine,” shares Dias. “That’s a true story,” confirms Bitcon.
Double-Leg Box Jump
“This exercise is slightly different than the other two,” explains Bitcon. “The other two (are) more based on strength, so: higher forces produced, which is obviously a key thing for power. (Box Jumps are) more based on speed. So, we are combining the two together, to elicit power.”
Box jumps are a plyometric exercise that develop explosiveness, coordination, and lower body strength. All these things are essential if you want to be a top tier football player. “Power is very important for a centre-back”, says Bitcon. “Because they probably do more headers than any other person on the pitch, so the ability to produce vertical force with speed is really important.”
“Basically, it’s used by a lot of athletes that need to sprint quickly,” explains Bitcon of the resisted A-March. “It teaches the importance of hip extension. It teaches the importance of ankle stiffness as well, which is the key determinate of sprint performance and speed.”
The Resisted A-March is a form of sprint accessory training where the movement pattern requires an individual to march forward while attached to a resistance chord. The aim is not just to march forward, but to raise the knee during each step so that it is at a ninety-degree angle with your hip joint, as demonstrated by Dias. Practicing this move will especially develop hip flexor and core activation. Bitcon also explains that this exercise is great for developing the potential force that can be produced by your Achilles tendon, in order to further maximize speed.
Cable Pallof Press
“It’s really an anti-rotational exercise,” says Bitcon. Anti-rotational exercises focus on developing your body’s ability to resist rotational forces. The benefits include a more stabilized posture and improved core stability. The Pallof press was named after the renowned physical therapist, John Pallof, who popularized anti-rotational movements. In this exercise, you extend your arms forward by gripping a cable with both hands. You then push it out straight in front of you while an opposing force attempts to sway your grip over to one side. Bitcon says that this move is brilliant for those that want to remain stable and less easily moved out of position by opposing players.
“For me to be in the gym … and to have this work outside the pitch is essentially about a search for balance,” summarizes Dias at the end of this workout. “More than strength, it’s about balance. It’s about covering the little spots that you might miss on your daily activity on the pitch.”