Football Conditioning: Speed, RSA and endurance

The past 2 months we have discussed how soccer itself can be used as a training tool to improve the players fitness instead of running, or other traditional forms of fitness training; and, how when we use different sized games (small-, medium-, and large-sided games) and different rules, we are able to elicit different training effects. This month we will focus on which games should be used to develop different physical components, namely: speed; repeated sprint ability (RSA); and, speed endurance.

Before discussing which specific game develops each physical component, it’s important to understand why they are important. When analysing the physical requirements of the game we find that 10-20% of a football match involve high intensity activities, with these activities ultimately deciding where games are won or lost.

Speed is a key performance characteristic in football, with speed training being broken down into 3 basic components: acceleration, maximum speed & agility. It has been reported that football players rarely achieve maximum sprint speed in matches, with the acceleration phase having a higher value in football performance – this is when a player explosively moves away from an opponent over a short distance.

Taking this into consideration, as well as that football players complete numerous directional changes, agility has been suggested as being of more functional importance than straight-line speed. Agility has two key functions in football, firstly it contributes to the ability to out-manoeuvre opposition players, and secondly, having an injury prevention characteristic.

Repeated sprint ability is seen as being an important component in football due to the requirements of the match-play, whereby players repeatedly have to produce maximal and/or near-maximal actions in a short duration, with brief periods of recovery in between.

Speed endurance training is done to enhance a player’s power and capacity to perform high-intensity activities. Speed endurance, can be divided into two specific categories, namely: speed-endurance production (SEP) and speed-endurance maintenance (SEM). A player’s power is enhanced during SEP training by improving the player’s ability to recovery after a maximal effort, which will allow for an increased amount of maximal intensity efforts. A player’s capacity for high intensity actions is improved during SEM training by reducing the player’s recovery periods and forcing the player to develop speed when fatigued.  

Now about each of the physical components and why they are important, lets look at what games will develop them.


Researchers have found that total distance, distances run at high speed (>14km/h), as well as absolute maximum velocity all increased with an increase in pitch size and player number (10v10 > 7v7 > 5v5), and that total distance, very high and maximal speed distances were higher in the game format that included goalkeepers (versus possession), whilst there were a greater number of accelerations and decelerations in the smaller sided (5v5 > 7v7 > 10v10).

Simply put, if you want to train maximal speed, use bigger field sizes and larger games (8v8 – 11v11). If you want to train agility, use smaller field sizes, with smaller player numbers (4v4 and 5v5).

Repeated sprint ability:

In a paper published by ISSPF faculty member, Dr Adam Owen, it was found that a progressive overload of 3v3s played on a 30x25m pitch (Table 1), over a 7-week period was able to significantly improve RSA, and total sprint time.

Speed endurance:

Finally, it has been found that 1v1 of short durations (20-40 seconds) and a recovery period of ≥ 4 times exercise duration is capable of developing SEP; whilst 2v2 games of 30 – 90 seconds in duration, with a rest period of 1-3 times the exercise duration was able to develop SEM.


I hope this has shed more light on the value of different sized football games and how they can not only develop player fitness (as we discussed in February and March), but important physical components associated with the game. This is not to take away from generic running drills that develop these components, but rather to highlight that if timelines are short and you want to include football specific actions in your development of players, then there are options available to you.

If you would like to know more about soccer specific physical training, take a look at the courses offered by our Official Education Partner, the International Soccer Science and Performance Federation on

Joshua Smith; MSc., PGDip, BSc (HONS)

High Performance Manager

AmaZulu FC

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