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The modern-day Full Back

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Modern soccer demands complete players in every position. And yet there are always position-specific differences, especially when it comes to the physical abilities. In the second part of our blog series “Physical demands of the soccer player" we take a closer scientific look at the position of the Full back..

"The six-position is considered the central position in the game, you can get the ball from every side, you're practically involved in every action and you need the 360-degree all-round view. Nevertheless, I realize with myself, that the full back position is probably even more complex". With these words, German national player Joshua Kimmich is quoted a few days ago in an interview with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Bayern Munich’s number 32 must know, after all, there is practically no better right full back in this year’s Bundesliga. The demands of this position could hardly be higher, not only in terms of technique and tactics, but especially on the physical load of the players. "As a full-back, you have the sideline as your orientation and boundary, but you have a lot more intense runs, more important defensive one on ones, and today you usually find the world’s best and fastest opponents on the wing position. And ideally, you should also participate in the offensive game" says Kimmich.

The scientific facts

The subjective feelings and experiences of the national player can be substantiated with impressive scientific figures. Various studies evaluating the performance levels of the European top leagues for championship and Champions League matches between 2007 and 2015 came at an average distance run of around 11.0 km per game for the full back position. Of this running distance an impressive 782m were performed as high-intensity runs (19-25km/h) and an average of 347m as sprints (more than 25km/h). Especially in comparison with the other positions, you can see that the days when full backs were regarded as mere defenders are long gone. Today they have to show defensive as well as offensive abilities and especially in the transition game have to overcome long distances of up to 50m at a stretch at high velocity, which is why depending on the system they are referred to as wing backs rather than full backs. The frequent change between defense and attack is also evident in the recovery time between high-intensity actions (> 19.8 km/h) which at 74 seconds is 27 seconds less than for center-backs.

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A British study evaluating the performance development in the Premier League from the 2006/07 season to the 2012/13 season, shows that full backs have not always been delivering such impressive numbers. During this period an increase of 35% in high-intensity runs and as much as 62% in sprint distance, despite almost the same total distance run, could be measured for full backs. These values represented the largest increase of all considered positions. The cause of this increase was seen in changes in systems and tactics, away from rigid formations and towards dynamic gameplay philosophies. Full-backs are no longer only concerned with defensive tasks by coaches but may and should become increasingly involved in the attacking efforts of their team. Be it creating majority situations, playing diagonal passes or even crosses and shots.

"More running, more sprinting!"

A 2016 study on position-specific game requirements in different formations supports this impression and confirms a significant influence of the formation on the physical demands of the respective positions. In a modern 3-5-2 full backs, in this specific system mostly referred to as wing backs, posted the largest total distance run per game and also covered the longest distance for high-intensity runs. Especially compared to the performance levels in a 4-4-2 system, it becomes clear what influence the modern tactics have on the physical demands of a full back: More running, more sprinting!

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Position-specific training

The knowledge of the increasing demands for modern full backs, must now be implemented in your training sessions. First, coaches should become aware of the possibility that, depending on the formation, they may also change the physical load of their players. In a modern 3-5-2, the full-back will probably be more heavily loaded than in a 4-4-2 formation. A position-specific training is therefore extremely useful, so that the players can meet the requirements of the game philosophy. As Joshua Kimmich summed up perfectly, this, however, is extremely complex for the full-back. It requires not only a well-trained speed ability for linear sprints on the wing position, but also an excellent basic, as well as football-specific endurance to withstand the constant change between trotting, running and sprinting.

A position-specific exercise might look like this.

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In this exercise setup, the full back, or wing back, will run a distance of 30-50m according to the requirements of a soccer game. The tempo dribbling is performed at a high-intensity pace and completed with a football-specific element, the cross. The player then transitions into slow jogging Tempo to the opposite station. The recovery time between runs should match the scientific game data of 70-100 seconds.

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To increase the load and complexity of the exercise, a previous "1v1" on the outside lane can then be integrated. This guarantees that the full-back will be trained in all position-specific components.

Your Team


[1] Tierney, P. J. et al (2016). Match play demands of 11 versus 11 professional football using Global Positioning System tracking: Variations across common playing formations
[2] Bush, M et al (2015). Evolution of match performance parameters for various playing positions in the English Premier League.
[3] Bradley, P. S. et al (2013). Match performance and physical capacity of players in the top three competitive standards of English professional soccer.
[4] Bradley, P. S. et al (2009). High-intensity running in English FA Premier League soccer matches.
[5] Bradley, P. S. et al (2010). High-Intensity Activity Profiles of Elite Soccer Players at Different Performance Levels.
[6] Di Salvo, V. et al (2007). Performance Characteristics According to Playing Position in Elite Soccer.
[7] Dellal, A. et al (2010). Physical and technical activity of soccer players in the French First League - with special reference to their playing position.
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