Do Footballs Players Sprint Enough?

An investigation of the number of sprint occurrences during matches to provide a theoretical framework for S&C coaches.

James de Lacey

By James de Lacey
Last updated: April 28th, 2024
3 min read


  1. Background & Objective
  2. What They Did
  3. What They Found
  4. Practical Takeaways
  5. Reviewer’s Comments
  6. About the Reviewer

Original study

Buchheit, M., Simpson, B. M., Hader, K., and Lacome, M. (2020). Occurrences of near-to-maximal speed-running bouts in elite soccer: insights for training prescription and injury mitigation. Science and Medicine in Football, 5(2); 105-110.

Click here for abstract

Background & Objective

A chronic level of high-speed running (18-22 km.h-1) can help protect against hamstring injuries, however, these speeds may not actually be fast enough. Evidence suggests sprints that are >90% of maximal velocity, could be enough to protect against hamstring injury (see HERE). Over- and underexposure to these intensities leads to a higher risk of injury, suggesting an optimal dose may exist.

Due to the lack of data relating to the occurrences of sprint speed (>80 %, >85 %, >90 % of maximum velocity), the authors of this study investigated the number of sprint occurrences during matches in these percentages to provide a theoretical framework for S&C coaches.

What They Did

Data from thirty-five professional players (age = 23 ± 3 years) who competed in the 1st French and European Leagues were analysed from four consecutive seasons. Maximal sprint speed (MSS) was measured using global positioning system devices (STATSports) during either 1) sprint training sessions (3-4 flying 20-30m sprints racing each other), or 2) during match-play.

The two main variables examined were: 1) the number of cumulative runs reaching >80%, >85%, >90% of players individual MSS, and 2) the cumulative distance above each threshold. Players were classified into four main positions, central defender (CD), wide defender (WD), midfielder (MD), or attacker (AT). Congested periods were also analysed consisting of 2-6 matches played successively <4 days.

What They Found

  • The number of occurrences and cumulative distance were not different between match halves, but somewhat position-dependent with AT performing the most and MD performing the least number of near-maximal runs.
  • AT and MD did not reach >90 % MSS at all in 35 % and 65 % of their matches, respectively.
  • AT and MD exhibited >3 occurrences >90 % MSS in 11 % and 2 % of their matches, respectively.
  • For all positions, the number of occurrences >90 % during a match was 2 sprints.
  • During congested time blocks, cumulative match occurrences were found in AT (11 runs over 52 days, approximately 1 run every 4 days) and CD (18 runs >90 % MSS) over 31 days, approximately 2 runs every 4 days.

Practical Takeaways

  • During training, S&C coaches want to address what the athlete generally misses during match-play and sports training (e.g. does match-play allow for high speeds or change of direction to be performed?). Based on this study, there is a large chunk of the season where no near-maximal sprints were performed, along with congested periods where more sprints are performed.
  • The authors suggest that for players who are likely to play two matches per week, they should maintain their chronic sprint load to 2-3 times their typical match load. What might this look like?

Compensation session when a match is not played: 

  • CD: 3-4 runs >80 %, 1-2 runs >85 %, and 1 >90 %.
  • WD: 6-8 runs >80 %, 3 runs >85 %, and 1-2 >90 %.
  • CM: 3-4 runs >80 %, 1-2 runs >85 %, and 1 >90 %.
  • AT: 5-6 runs >80 %, 2-3 runs >85 %, and 1-2 >90 %.
  • Sprints should be varied in terms of execution for performance and injury prevention benefits (e.g. swerve runs, attack vs. defence, or sprinting while looking over the shoulder).

Reviewer’s Comments

“With much of soccer match-play sitting within the middle-intensity zone (approximately 4.5-5.5 m.s-1), it’s important to touch on the high-velocity end during training to ensure adequate exposure to maximal sprinting.

When two matches are played a week, this will likely be enough to keep a chronic loading of near-maximal sprinting. It’s important to keep bench and non-players topped up with sprint work frequently, as to not cause a spike in load when the player is asked to play two games a week.”

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James de Lacey

James de Lacey

James was the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Romanian Rugby Union. He has previously worked in America’s professional rugby competition Major League Rugby with Austin Elite and the NZ Women’s National Rugby League Team. He is a published author and has completed a MSc in Sport & Exercise Science from AUT, Auckland, NZ.

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