Speed training in football

Before we start to describe possible training for speed in football we would like to give some thoughts about speed again.

Different facets of speed in football

As it was repeatedly stated speed is an important factor in football (even in youth (25 see references below)) for all positions (34), with straight sprints representing the highest amount of action performed by the scoring player (11), we want to state the different facets (16, 21).

 

There is:

  • Straight line speed (which can be further divided into first step quickness 0-5 meters, acceleration 0-10, maximal velocity)
  • speed as part of change of direction movements
  • execution speed of movement and
  • dribbling speed
  • explosive (a rapid acceleration and reaching velocities over 25 km/h for < than 0.5 seconds from standing or walking) vs. leading sprints (9) (characterized by a gradual increase in speed to over 25 km/h for > than 0.5 seconds)

As a result, all different facets should be trained in football, also throughout the player’s development.


In order to give guidelines of how the training could possibly look like, coaches need to understand sport science guidelines (Intensity, volume, number of repetition, time of recovery between sprints).

 

Conditions for all facets of speed training

General guidelines that should be met for ALL training possibilities are below.


Training sessions per week: That will depend on the type of training applied, the time of the season and on the goal. If speed should be sustained then 1-2 sessions are useful during season. The training frequency can be higher in pre- and post-season 2-3 times to improve speed.


Total duration for training intervention: The total duration of all cited references was between 4-10 weeks, and therefore we also recommend similar durations.

 

Intensity: ALL sessions (and therefore all sprints within a session) need to be maximum – an all-out emphasis. Generally, the quality and not the quantity seem to be important. The intensity will therefore have impact on the duration of the sprint and the total amount of sprints per session. The duration for a single sprint should be <15 seconds to ensure the highest intensity/running speed and the absence of lactate.


Time of recovery between sprints: Speed training is anaerobic in nature, targets the neuromuscular system and therefore must include sufficient recovery after each exercise/sprint (full recovery of up to 1 minute per 10 meter of sprint!!). However, we believe that due to the nature of football (where players never have a full recovery period) a recovery period of ~30 seconds per 10 meter is sufficient. The literature only give vague approximates for the recovery duration. For example 72 seconds (2) was measured for very high-intensity efforts, which not only measured sprints.

However, as if we take the average from the next paragraph, it seems that with an average sprint distance of 20 meters there are 72 seconds of recovery.

 

Time-motion-analysis (TMA) shows/set the load (distances and number of sprints) and the total volume (total distance number of sprints * distances) for the training (to ensure progression throughout training schedule). Sprints with an average distance of 18-20 m are executed in a professional football game (8) and the sprint type activities account for 6-12% of the total distance covered (9, 30) and may reach values of up to 350 meters (2, 13). Additionally, there are positional specific amount of sprints (1, 7) and durations (7), with wide midfielders and attackers performing the highest amount of sprints in total (7), up to 36. Despite these numbers, research also suggests that there is variability between matches (13) and all aspects of sprinting (number of sprints, duration of sprints, distances of sprints) increase with the age of 16 in youth football (14).

Dribbling the ball reduce the speed (therefore the intensity). As a result speed of dribbling does not train running speed. However, is a skill/”performance” of football players that needs to be trained.

Effect of training

It seems evident from the literature that there are many different training protocols.


Sprint (24), resisted sprinting (36), assisted sprinting (36, 37), SAQ drills (17), repeated sprinting (35, 38), coordination (38), plyometrics (10, 26, 27), strength (4, 12, 19, 27, 28, 32, 39, 40), complex and contrast training (22) and combined methods (19, 32) were seen to improve sprint ability of youth and adults soccer players.


Despite the evidence, we would like to state a more practical approach and display how the training modalities might affect the different facets of speed, as we believe most of the coaches have limited time with the athletes.

Possibilities to train for speed

  FSQ
Acc Max velocity Speed as COD
Execution speed Dribbling speed
Sprint training without ball (24) - 3, 5, 6, 23, 31, 33, 41) yes yes yes ? ? no
Sprint training with ball
no no no ? ? yes
Sprint training including turns ?
? no yes
? no
Sprint training with ball incl. turns no no no ? ? yes
Resisted sprint training (36) - (5, 15, 18, 20, 33, 41) yes yes unlikely ? ? no
Assisted sprint training (36, 37) - (18, 20, 23, 29, 37) ? ? likely ? ? ?
Strength/power training (4, 12, 19, 27, 28, 32, 39, 40) yes yes yes yes ? ?
Plyometrics (10, 26, 27) ? ? yes ? ? ?
SAQ drills (17) yes yes ? ? ? ?
Repeated sprinting (35, 38) ? yes yes ? no yes
Coordination drills (38) likely yes ? ? ? yes

Note: Yes = highly likely, No = highly unlikely, ? = possible however no scientific knowledge present, likely = we believe that there is an effect, unlikely = we believe that there is no effect

 

Limitations of the studies and additional thoughts

 A variety of participants were used in the studies, youth, male and female professional football players (as well as other type of athletes) - therefore the results have to be considered carefully.

 

There were a variety of training modalities (intensity, loads and volumes) and training frequencies per week for each training possibility.

 

Coaches should weight the importance of an improvement in speed carefully. A decrement of 0.1 seconds (for example) over a 30 meter distance (which is a good improvement already), can give the player the cutting edge, as the distance difference between 4.20 vs. 4.30 seconds over 30 meters equals 0.70 meters. However it might take the faster player 0.10 seconds to make the decision to run and therefore his speed advantage is diminished already. Supporting previous thoughts we would like to state that The International Association of Athletics Foundation uses 0.10 seconds to determine a false start in a 100-sprint, as human beings need 0.10 second physiologically/biologically to give a signal from the brain to the muscle to start accelerating. If sprinters start before that time threshold, they have anticipated the signal and therefore it’s a false start.


However, generally there are many ways to improve speed. Below we provide some guidelines for each training possibility.

Coaches should weight the importance of an improvement in speed carefully. A decrement of 0.1 seconds (for example) over a 30 meter distance (which is HUGE already), can give the player the cutting edge (the distance difference between 4.20 vs. 4.30 seconds over 30 meters is 0.70 meter), however it might take the faster player 0.10 seconds to make the decision to run and therefore his speed advantage is diminished already.

The International Association of Athletics Foundation uses 0.10 seconds to determine a false start in a 100-sprint, as human beings need 0.10 second physiologically/biologically to give a signal from the brain to the muscle to move (and therefore to start). If sprinters start before that time limit, they have anticipated the signal and therefore it’s a false start.

However, generally there are many ways to improve speed. Below we provide some guidelines for each training possibility.

General guidelines for all and/or each training possibilities

Our example-session adheres to scientific knowledge as well as includes most of the training possibilities mentioned above and technical elements.

General guidelines for all training possibilities

Sprint training
Sprints over 5,10, 15, and 20 meters with a total amount of 8-15 sprints per session and a total distance of maximal 500 meters per session are recommended. Progression in number of sprints and total distance should be included into the training.


Sprint training with ball
Sprints over 10, 15, and 20 meters with a total amount of 3-10 sprints per session and a total distance of max 200 meters per session are recommended. Progression in number of sprints and total distance should be included into the training. Sprints with ball are fewer compared to without ball therefore, lower amount of sprints are recommended.


Sprint training including turns
Sprints over 5, 10, 15, and 20 meters with a maximum amount of 4 turns per sprint, a total amount of 8-15 sprints per session and a total distance of maximal 500 meters per session including are recommended. Progression in number of sprints, number of turns and total distance should be included into the training.


Sprint training with ball including turns
Sprints over 10, 15, and 20 meters with a maximum amount of 4 turns per sprint, a total amount of 8-15 sprints per session and a total distance of maximal 500 meters per session including are recommended. Progression in number of sprints, number of turns and total distance should be included into the training.


Resisted sprinting
Multiple possibilities for resisted sprint training exist. Options are: sled towing, towing weights, sprinting with a parachute, sprinting uphill. All options have in common that players sprint against some sort of resistance. As a consequence we would need to give recommendation for each option; however there is only limited knowledge (1 or 2 references) for most of the options and none for some of the options.
The most used resisted training mode throughout the literature was sled towing. A training frequency of 2 times per week, totals loads of up to 10 kg or relative load of up to 10% BM on the sled, and sprint distances of up to 30 meters and a total of 8-10 sprints per session were used.


Assisted sprinting
Multiple possibilities for assisted sprint training exist. Options are: sprinting downhill, getting towed and supramaximal treadmill running. All options have in common that players will run at a higher speed that they are able to reach unassisted.
The limited scientific evidence suggested, two training sessions per week.


Strength/Power training for speed
Multiple strength/power exercises exist to improve speed. Options are: all exercises that extended the hips and/or the legs (please refer to strength exercises to see examples), to improve horizontal force/power production. However, there are also vertical movements in football and therefore vertical countermovement and/or squat jumps can be used. Unfortunately, there are too many possibilities throughout the literature, therefore we would like to refer to our section strength training to get training ideas/protocols


Plyometric training for speed
Plyometric training involves utilizing the stretch-shortening-cycle (SSC) as it is common in jumps.  Unfortunately, there are again multiple training protocols that are still to be investigated with regards to the dose/response relationship. Just as an example training load per session were between 24-120 jumps. It is still to be proven if 24 jumps are enough to improve speed or if 54, 55, ….120 are needed. Single and double leg vertical and horizontal jumps should be incorporated into the training, also in different direction.

SAQ drills
Eight weeks of training, with up to three sessions per week were used.

Repeated sprinting
Please refer to our repeated sprint section.

Coordination training
Multilateral coordination exercises, speed ladder runs, high knees etc performed at 2 to 2.5 km/s pace for a distance of 10 meters for two sessions per week over a 12-week period.

As the last paragraph we would like to give an example of sprint training incorporating technical and tactical aspects of the game.

Training for speed incorporating technical and tactical aspects of the game

From a practical point of view it depends on the environment (level of play, budget, manpower etc) how much time can be spend with the players.

 

Therefore, the training for speed could possibly involve not only the physiological aspect (speed) but also some technical (such as finishing or even with regards to a qualitative approach to improve sprinting technique) and possibly some tactical aspects (counterattacking).

 

Depending on the set up of the exercise, it is possible to combine multiple training goals.

 

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