How do you prepare your players for sprints in a match?


In the last two blogs, we explained how to determine the optimal weekly training load for a team, and how to distribute this load over the week. For most teams, the weekly load for high accelerations will already be close to the optimal training-to-match ratio. In contrast, the weekly sprint load will (in most cases) be lower than the recommended weekly load. Since sprinting load should be increased for most teams, it is essential to know which exercises should be performed to reach this goal. Therefore, in this blog, we provide guidelines on how to safely increase the sprints for a team over the weeks. Furthermore, we will provide more detailed information about the workload of different exercise formats. 

The advantages of sprints exercises

As already mentioned, the first focus of most teams will be to increase the sprint load of the conditional session (i.e. the session on MD-4 or MD-3). One of the easiest ways to do this, is to add sprint exercises to your training program. And even though sprint exercises might not be the most sport-specific exercises, they have several advantages. One of the advantages is the ability to control the sprint distance: based on the number of repetitions you decide to do, you can calculate the sprint meters that the players will cover.

Get your players accustomed to sprints

This ability to control the workload, will decrease the risk of overloading the players. But this isn’t the only advantage of sprint exercises. When a substantial increase in sprint distance is planned over several weeks, sprint exercises are a great way of getting players accustomed to these increased demands. Once the players are used to the higher sprinting load during the week, it is advised to move towards reaching more sprint distance in game formats. Since these exercises are more sport-specific, this will further prepare the players for the match. 

Difference between the game formats

But which exercises challenge players to perform sprints? Fortunately, sports scientists of FC Barcelona have given us insights into the demands of different game formats. They have compared the intensity of a match ( sprint distance divided by the duration) with the intensity of different exercises (see Figure 1). In this figure, you will see that the game formats with more players (and larger field sizes) have more focus on sprinting. Whereas the game formats with less players (and smaller field sizes) put more focus on high accelerations. 

The optimal game format

If we want to replace a sprint exercise with a game format, it is recommended to replace them with the larger game formats. However, in practice we come along situations where there are not enough players to play a 9v9. In that case, it is advised to play a 5v5 or 6v6 on a larger field size. So instead of playing a 5v5 on a field of 40m by 33m, a field of 55m by 40m might be chosen.

Figure 1: the intensity of 5v5 (40x33m), 6v6 (40x33m), 9v9 (72x65m) and a 10v10 (105x65m) compared to match intensity. 


In the case when the weekly sprint distance is increased over several weeks, sprint exercises allow us to control the sprinting distance the players will perform. This ability will limit the risk of overloading the players. Furthermore, sprint exercises are a great way of getting players accustomed to higher amounts of  weekly sprinting distances. These factors make sprints a safe approach to increasing sprint distance for a team. However, once players are used to the increased weekly sprinting distance, it is advised to expose them to the same amount of sprint load during game formats. 

For which game formats with more numbers of players (or with larger field dimensions) will put more focus on sprinting. Thus, get your players accustomed to the higher sprint demands of a training program via sprint exercises. Once they are used to this, you can optimally prepare them for the match demands via different kind of game formats. But, make sure you choose the right game format with the right field dimensions!

JOHAN’s tip of the week

Do you want to know the intensity of different exercises for your team? Download an ‘Exercises Progress’ report in our new Reporting Module. This will provide an overview of the intensity of the exercises for the whole team and the individual players!

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