misfits banner

Abby Wambach's body of work

Abby Wambach
Washington Freedom player Abby Wambach exercises for hours each week to stay in shape. For a breakdown of her workout goals, click here. (Benjamin C. Tankersley for The Washington Post)
By Vicky Hallett
Thursday, June 24, 2010

You don't need to know sports to understand why soccer is "the beautiful game." Just look at the players' defined calves, rippling thighs and six-pack abs -- it's a physique you can think of as "the beautiful frame."

So how do you get a World Cup-caliber body?

That's what I went to the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown to find out. While the top men are in South Africa this summer, the women are gearing up to fight for the world title next year in Germany. And one of the stars of the dominant U.S. team is 30-year-old Abby Wambach, who plays for the Washington Freedom and could probably knock me over with her index finger.

"You can always get more physical," she says.

It's hard to believe that's possible for the already fit Wambach, but the goal of the team's training regimen is to become stronger, faster and even more accurate.

Since their season is underway (the Freedom's next home game is July 4), they have scaled back their gym visits to twice a week. But strength and conditioning coach Calvin Poston manages to makes it count by having them stand on one leg to perform many of the exercises, including squats and biceps curls. Not only do they handle more weight that way, they're also working on their stability, which is critical during games. Even though the focus of weightlifting is on maintenance and injury prevention, that doesn't mean they're not lifting hard. When Poston has the players grab dumbbells for two sets of chest presses, Wambach goes for 45-pounders.

The players can't get too sore, however, because nearly every day they have to hit the field for practice, which starts with jogging to warm up. They move on to dynamic stretching, including high knees, downward dog (to get at those calves) and spider-womans (from push-up position, swing one footforward to the outside of your hand so you're in a deep lunge). They also do some plyometrics, usually in the form of hopping around cones. "It gets the body ready to react quicker," Poston explains.

Speed is essential, especially for forwards such as Wambach, who needs to be able to bolt whenever there's a chance to score. Endurance is just as important because the game is 90 minutes long with only one break at halftime.

"It's not like a marathon or a sprint, but you have to be able to do both," says Head Coach Jim Gabarra, a former member of the U.S. men's team.

Combining the two skills is required for the rest of practice, which moves on to drills and then four-on-four matchups. The pace is hectic. The breathing is heavy. But it's Wambach's favorite part of the day because she gets to do what she loves most: play.

And that's the real secret of why soccer physiques are so spectacular. When you're running in zigs and zags after a ball, you don't realize how many miles you've covered, how many calories you've burned -- or how cut you're looking in those cleats.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company