Which commonalities do Antonio Valencia, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon share? – For one thing all of them are players for some of the top club teams in Europe. For another thing they are the three fastest players in 2016 in professional soccer, according to a FIFA survey. Antonio Valencia even reaches a maximum velocity of 35,1 km/h! These numbers are not only impressive, but also cause trouble for opposing defenders on a regular basis. Foundation for this performance is an excellent speed ability. But how do you actually work on your sprint ability? This article will help you, to understand the role of sprint training in soccer.

The role of speed training

If you imagine a training pyramid for soccer player which is made up of different blocks, notice that strength and speed are indeed important. On the other hand are they only small parts of the whole performance issue. Especially in grassroots soccer, it can be quite difficult to incorporate these areas into the already scarce training plan. In general, the less time available, the more soccer-specific skills should be trained. More exercises with the ball, with opponents and shots. Especially short distance sprints are easy to fit in most exercises. The importance of it becomes even clearer, when you hear that more than half of all sprints in a game, cover distances of 1 to 10 meter. In order to execute a specific speed training in soccer, you first need to understand what it is, that makes the difference between a fast and a slow player.

What are the decisive features for speed?

The speed of a player is influenced by a lot of different factors. For one it is inseparably connected to the development of strength ability. Which means that an isolated speed training without a functional strength training will only be effective to a certain performance level. Unlike endurance training, soccer strength and sprint training poses more of a problem. Improvements in this area are considerably more difficult to achieve. The assumption that a sprinter is born a sprinter is not something that should be dismissed outright as generally much of the sprint and strength capabilities of a player are in fact genetically predetermined.

"Intense power and speed training mainly stimulates the formation of the intermediary fiber types."

The reason for this lies in the biology of muscle fibers. Simply put, there are three different types of muscle fibers. The different muscle fibres are for slow, medium and fast movements and intensities. Endurance training can be relatively successful in stimulating muscle fiber switch, which for example converts the intermediary fibres to slow fibres. Therefore, the muscles will be better aligned for endurance performance and endurance capacity increases. The conversion of medium or even slow, to fast twitch muscle fibers triggered by exercise is however only to a limited extent possible. Intense strength and speed training mainly stimulates the formation of the intermediary fiber types, which can play a vital role particularly in areas of strength endurance, runs with medium speeds and also muscle building. Coordination ability is another, often underestimated, factor that greatly influences a player’s speed performance. If movements and sprint techniques are poor and imprecise, the speed in soccer specific actions will be bad as well. Especially for the short distance sprints a well developed reaction ability and quickness of action is crucial.

Sprint exercises in soccer

The training of the conditional skills should be a focus especially in the preparatory period. Looking at Figure 1 “training sessions in hours per week” (from Gonzales 2007) the division of conditional training for the Bundesliga teams is displayed. In addition to the main focus of “endurance” is the training of strength and sprint ability, which are the key factors for soccer speed training. They are particularly aimed to develop these facets during the preparation period. As the season begins with the competition period, exercises in this area are mainly focusing on the preservation of performance capacity. On average in Bundesliga teams, two hours a week during the preparatory period, and one hour per week during the competition phase are invested in the training of strength and sprint abilities.

Knowing the determining factors for an athlete’s speed will be useful for our yown soccer training. Exercising in the preparation period should include sprints and jump combinations over various distances. Right here training of soccer specific techniques including ball can already be combined with conditional training. There is usually sprint training from 6-10 total sets of various distances where each set includes 6-10 reps. Typically, the intensity and distance at the beginning is less and is increased towards the end of the training session. If you have time for an intense speed training with your team, sprints can be executed with resistance bands or speed parachutes. If your players are 16 years or above, use a weight sled to improve sprint related strength. To work on your resistance speed and overspeed without any equipment, exercise sprints downhill and uphill. Keep in mind, that the rest inbetween sprints plays a huge role in the effectiveness of your speed training. The shorter the rest, the more you work on your sprint endurance rather than on your max. velocity.

"The less time available, the more soccer-specific skills should be trained. More exercises with the ball, with opponents and shots."

With the season closing in, the speed training becomes even more soccer related. It is necessary, in order to get your athletes ready for the challenges of a game. Depending on the age of your players the exercise can be complex. Use different forms of start signals, which will improve the reaction ability and quickness of action. To increase the coordinative tasks even more, sprint exercises will combine soccer specific movements with sprint and jump combinations, as well as changes of direction. Short distance sprints are also used to start one on one and more complex game related exercises. It will help your players to transfer their improved speed ability into game actions.

Exercise example: Soccer sprint training

It’s off to practice now. The following exercise combines soccer specific movements with short distance sprints and change of directions. To add some complexity to the exercise you can set up a second exercise course to have a competition between your players. Use different forms of start signals as another variation.  

To the exercise

If you’re interested in more soccer speed exercise go and have a look at our database