Physical demands specific to playing position


We all know that playing on different positions in football requires different skills: Messi might be the best midfielder in the world, he is probably not the best defender. Next to differences in technical and tactical demands between playing positions, physical demands are different as well. In today’s blog we will discuss the differences between playing positions and how it affects your training schedule.

Physical differences per position

In our last blog, we saw that physical match demands differ between age categories and competition levels (Eredivisie & Premier League). However, these are team averages and in this blog, we will see that there are differences per playing position. For example, a fullback does more near-maximal speed runs than a central defender. Midfielders, being the link between defensive and offensive players, cover more total distance but do so at a lower intensity than attackers and defenders.

Physical demands midfielders & defenders

In Figure 1, we see that midfielders (AMID, DMID), central defenders (CDEF) and fullbacks (FULL) cover more total distance than the team average during the game. However, midfielders and central defenders cover less distance at higher speeds compared to attackers. This also has implications for the training sessions. Although everyone needs to be exposed to high-intensity sprint distance, there should also be a focus on longer sprints with a lower intensity (70/80% of maximal speed) for midfielders for example.

JOHAN Sports - Fysieke benchmark per playing position

JOHAN Sports – Fysieke benchmark per playing position

Physical demands strikers

Moving on. Wingers (WIN) cover the least amount of meters in the match (together with the striker, STR), but what they do they do well. Wingers (together with fullbacks) are characterized by many high-intensity meters in a match. Understandable, especially when we look at their primary position task: waiting for those few moments in a game and then go all out in an attacking near-maximal sprint to bypass their direct defender.

Therefore, prepare your wingers and fullbacks for matches by exposing them to sufficient amounts of near-maximal sprinting exercises in training sessions.


Besides differences in playing levels, there are differences between playing positions. We see that midfielders, fullbacks and central defenders cover most total distance in a game, but midfielders and central defenders do so at lower intensities (<20km/h). Interesting is that although wingers cover least amount of distances in a game, they perform the most high-intensity sprint meters. These differences in playing positions have implications for training sessions: wingers and fullbacks need to be exposed to higher amounts of close to maximal sprinting than other players.

JOHAN’s tip of the week

Knowing the total amount of high-intensity sprint distance per playing position alone does not provide all information. We need more. It is important to know how these are distributed across the game. For example, when a fullback performs a total of 200m of high-intensity sprinting, was it built up by many short distance sprints (40x5m) or by just a few long distance sprints (5x40m). Therefore, look at the average sprint length (total sprint distance divided by number of sprints) to help you select the best sprint exercise.

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