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High Speed Running Exposure: How Often Are Your Athletes Running Fast?

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The demands of field based team sports are typically characterised by a relatively large volume of running at varying speeds. We tend to see anywhere from 10% all the way up to 30% of the total running distance occur at high and very high speeds.

Naturally, there are going to be some factors that play a significant role in determining your athletes high speed running outputs. Both sport and playing position will have the largest impact followed by a whole host of other factors such as tactics, opposition running patterns and weather conditions to name a few.

With all of this in mind, lets explore why high speed running in both training and competition is important and why we need to be adequately exposing our athletes to running at high speeds to mitigate injury risk.

High Speed Running and Performance:

It's no secret, high performing teams have all round strong physical capacity. This statement is true across all sports. Sure, it would be possible to find exceptions to this rule on both a team level and an individual athlete level but there is no denying the fact that running volume at high speeds remains one of, if not the most, important variables that practitioners assess in relation to match performance.

It would appear that just running further on its own is not a major determining factor for match outcomes. The speed at which that running is undertaken must be assessed and coaches can analyse this via GPS data from matches.

Armed with the understanding that athletes who perform well in matches typically undertake higher volumes of high speed running on game day, it would make sense to plan and factor this element into weekly training sessions.

What the evidence says:

When athletes decrease the volume of high speed running they complete on a weekly basis, this is typically associated with an increased injury risk. Meaning, if as coaches you don’t factor high speed and very high speed running in to your weekly training sessions, you are putting your athletes at increased risk of injury.

It important to consider that many factors contribute to performance in a multitude of ways and that the relationship of these variables is non-linear. Meaning, if an athlete increases their lean muscle mass by 1kg that wont necessarily become 1 second faster over 100m.

It is because of this non-linear relationship that coaches should provide athletes with a well-rounded athletic development program. This program should involve elements relating, but not limited to, Strength & Conditioning, Technical & Tactical Development and Recovery.

Take home points:

Your weekly training sessions must include dosages of high speed running for your athletes. This can be achieved with structured circuits that involve specific running efforts interspaced with rest or it can be achieved during match simulation drills. A practical way to do this is at the completion of a team warm up. Once athletes are fully primed for a session, take 2-3 minutes and complete 2-4 high speed running efforts with adequate rest periods.  

By using an external load monitoring tool like the SPT2 GPS, you will be able to gain insights into the high speed running loads that your athletes undertake during competition. Armed with this information, you will now be able to set high speed running targets for your athletes as part of a training week. A working example of this would be if you have an athlete who achieves a total of 1200m at high speed, they will want to accumulate approximately 1200m during a full week of training.

Understanding when it is appropriate to expose athletes to doses of high speed running is very important. Ideally, coaches should wait until at least 48-72 hours post competition to expose athletes to high speed running. This will allow for adequate recovery from the high load of match play. If athletes are not recovered to a point where they can complete high speed running sets this may also lead to an unnecessary increase in injury risk.

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Buchheit, M., 2020. Managing High-Speed Running Load In Professional Soccer Players: The Benefit Of High-Intensity Interval Training Supplementation. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 23 April 2020].

Carling, C., Bradley, P., McCall, A. and Dupont, G., 2016. Match-to-match variability in high-speed running activity in a professional soccer team. Journal of sports sciences34(24), pp.2215-2223.

Coutts, A.J., Quinn, J., Hocking, J., Castagna, C. and Rampinini, E., 2010. Match running performance in elite Australian Rules Football. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport13(5), pp.543-548.