High-Speed running and Sprinting in Professional Football: A Review

In my very first blog post, I’ll do my best to start a practice of bringing short and sweet 3 to 5 minutes reads. My major focus will be on quick review of novel research and everyday life of S&C coach, packed together with my personal opinion and ideas from practice, regarding Professional football environment. For English-speaking readers, I ask for your understanding considering English grammar, given that we do our best to present our thoughts, ideas and experience in a foreign language. If you are Grammar Police Agent run and don’t look back!

This time I would like to draw your antention to new review article from Marco Beato at al. (2020): Implementing High-Speed Running and Sprinting Training in Professional Soccer. Marco is an Asociate Professor at University of Suffolk, Ipswich, UK, with strong background in professional football within UK and Italy. Considering his scientific activities, Professor Beato is definitely a person whose posts you would like to follow if team sports are your field of interest. (Marco’s LinkedIn profile here). Without further delay, we go straight to the point.

It is very well known that a football match involves a large number of high-intensity activities interspersed with short periods of low-intensity recovery, usually standing or walking. Although the values are very variable, time-motion analysis indicates that the player covers an average distance of 10 to 13 km, with more than 900m at velocity greater than 19.8 km/h (High-speed running) and about 250-300m at velocity greater than 25.2 km/h (sprinting). These are the most common reference values used in football, in order to define high-intensity activities. Also, the use of the same values further facilitates comparison with other teams and leagues. It is interesting that elite competitions and lower leagues mostly differ according to these parameters, while the total distance covered is very similar.

At first glance, it is very interesting that high-intensity activities cover only 10% of the total distance covered. However, the key moments of the match happen in these activities. Therefore, it would be very logical to mark it as a priority in the training of football players. In addition, most research indicates that the volume of high-intensity activities during the match is constantly increasing, which singles out the physical preparation of players as a key factor.

Football training involves a large number of change of direction drills and curvilinear running, which are of great importance in the development of football players, but research shows that the straight-line sprinting is the most common activity that preceded the goal (regardless of whether it is a goal-scorer or assistant). A higher frequency of goals was also noticed during the last 10 to 15 minutes of the first and second part of the game, which coincides with the periods in which due to fatigue there is a decrease in high-intensity activities. All this indicates more than enough the importance of inclusion and periodization of HSR and sprinting in football training. It would be over-simplified to observe these activities exclusively through their aerobic and anaerobic nature. It is necessary to observe them through neuromuscular adaptations and power output, thus through their immeasurable importance on performance and reduction of the soft tissue injuries incidence.

Field runs could be a great individualized addition to specific football activities after training or as a separate session.

What the authors did not emphasize, and what stands out as a problem in the last decade or so, is the excessive use of small-sided games, which significantly reduces the possibility of reaching higher velocities. It is not surprising that a number of recent studies have shown that often the entire training microcycle does not cumulatively lead to the same volume of high-intensity activities as single competitive match. Encountering the same problems in several professional environments in which I worked, I became interested in the solutions of other coaches. This problem can affect competitive performance, and can be especially devastating for non-starters. It is very clear that this group of players must train in a completely different way. A large number of teams practice that the two groups of players (starters vs non-starters) train together only the third day after the match (MD+3). Another problem could be the use of fixed velocity zones without considering individual characteristics and status in the team (same for everyone), which can lead to overestimated HSR exposure in some and underestimated in others.

Straight-line sprinting is the most common activity that precedes the goal, regardless of whether it is a goal-scorer or assistant.

With all this said, The authors presented guidelines for the effective implementation of HSR and Sprint training in football in the form of 6 simple take-home messages:

1. The peak velocity value for each player is best determined by taking the value from competitive matches or measuring a straight line sprint on 30-40m. However, as a coach with more than 5 years of experience with Catapult system, I’ve never seen training values as high as the maximum value monitored during several competitive matches.

2. Shorter distances (<30m) are very successful for developing acceleration capabilities, but not suitable for maximal sprint exposure activities.

3. The use of large- and medium-sided games can largely meet the needs of football players for HSR and Sprinting activities. However, due to their unpredictable nature, they must be constantly monitored, in order to achieve an individual goal for each player.

4. Additional field runs can be a great team or individual addition to specific football activities after training or as a separate activity, to ensure a sufficient amount of HSR and sprinting.

5. The periodization of HSR and Sprint activities largely depends on the training status, the player status (starter vs non-starter) in the team, as well as the position in the team. Therefore, it is almost impossible to present universal and clear recommendations.

6. Sprint training can lead to decreased incidence of muscle strains and ruptures (especially hamstring injuries) due to a very specific mechanical load. Some recent research suggests that no single exercise in the gym can lead to the same muscle stimulus as a sprint. Therefore, one activity does not exclude another, but it is necessary to implement both in order to reduce the risk of injury.

Thank you for reading, I am glad to have you around, so feel free to give a feedback and share.

Article used for Blog Post with the permission of the author. I thank him for a great discussion on this hot topic. Please find the original article here.

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