Pre-Season Training – Get Fast!

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It’s that time again – the time where the dreaded words “pre-season” are being whispered. Pre-season conjures up images of pain, sweat and tears! If you’ve been a stranger to exercise since the last match of the season, pre-season training is going to hurt…a lot!

In years gone by, pre-season training simply involved going out for a run. Whether it’s a 10k run or an hour run, training would be based around steady state exercise.  However, many of the sports about to embark on pre-season training are what can be termed invasion games; for example, Football, Rugby Union and Hockey.  Despite different skill sets being required for these sports, they all have one thing in common – the necessity for speed. As such, pre-season training should be focussed on getting fast!

When constructing a pre-season training plan, consideration should be given to the demands of your sport. If you play a sport that involves lots of sprints with little recovery time, rapid changes in direction and running backwards, then your pre-season training should reflect this. Sure, going for a 10k run isn’t going to do you any harm and may improve your aerobic capacity, but it’s not specific to the sport you’re playing.

Taking hockey as an example, one recent study which looked at motion analysis of international players found that 4.1% of a game is spent striding and 1.5% is spent sprinting (Spencer et al, 2004). Players were found to put three sprints together, with under twenty second’s active recovery, seventeen times during a match. Looking at GPS data for elite Rugby Union reinforces the need for speed; over 1700m (25% of total distance)  of the game was covered when striding, high intensity running and sprinting (Cunniffe et al, 2009). The average length of sprints varied between 15m and 17m, depending on position. If you’re heading out for a 10km jog, you’re not training a fundamental part of the game.

Undoubtedly, invasion games aren’t all about sprinting. Match duration of 80-90 minutes clearly has an aerobic element to it. Aerobic capacity is often measured as the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilise; this is known as VO2max. Football, Rugby and Hockey players all have VO2max values that are far higher than the average population.

Interestingly, research has focussed on the benefits of high intensity training on increasing aerobic capacity. Helgured et al., (2007) compared traditional long slow distance training (70% maximum heart rate) to a high intensity aerobic group (4×4 minute intervals at 95% maximum heart rate with three minutes rest) and the high intensity group improved far more than the low intensity group. The same outcome was found in a study comparing 30 second sprints on a bike with 4 minutes recovery when compared to endurance training (Bailey et al, 2009).

Running at a steady speed still has its benefits, the main being an improvement in running economy – which means you use less oxygen at a given speed. Also, repeated sprint training can be quite taxing on the body. Going ‘out for a run’ can be incorporated into pre-season training in between higher intensity sessions.

So, repeated sprint training seems to have many benefits alongside helping you get faster. But we’re concerned with getting fast, really fast! Other training methods you can employ to get quicker include:

Sprints with weights/sled: This helps build explosive power, particularly off the mark.

Resistance training: Resistance training with particular focus on the glutes/hamstrings can help you generate more power and improve your sprint speed. Exercises such as box squats increase power and hip drive.

Plyometrics: Plyometric training involves rapid stretching and contracting of muscles. Research has shown that plyometric training can be very effective at improving speed sprint, possibly by reducing contact time with the ground. Examples of exercises include box jumps, bounding and forward jumps.

Stretching: For both sprinting speed and injury prevention, appropriate stretching is necessary.

Getting fast is vital for performance, but how can speed training be structured in to a week? Below is an example of a pre-season training week for an invasion game. This would follow 1-2 weeks of training to ‘ease back in.’


  • Warm Up
  • 5x15m sprints with 10 seconds recovery between sprints. Repeat five times
  • 60 seconds bounding followed by 60 seconds jogging. Repeat ten times. Aim to reduce contact time with the ground when bounding.
  • Jog around the outside of the pitch five times. Jog the first long side; sprint the short side; jog the third and two footed jump the last (aim to reduce the number of jumps each time).
  • Cool down


  • 10km run


  • Resistance training – focus on squats/box squats/hamstrings
  • Upright bike – 5 minutes steady warm up/10 seconds maximal followed by 50 seconds recovery/Repeat 15 times/Cool down


  • Rest


  • Warm Up
  • Sprint 5m forward then 5m backwards; 10m forward/10m back; 15m forward/15m back. Rest 120 seconds and repeat five times.
  • Set out 5 cones 5m apart at different angles, including diagonals. Sprint the first 10m forward and the second 10m backward. Repeat ten times.
  • Standing long jump – 10 attempts. Aim for furthest jump
  • Bound round the outside of the pitch (half the pitch each time). Repeat ten times with 60 seconds rest. Aim to reduce the number of bounds to get around.
  • Cool down


  • Rest


  • 10km run

The above is an outline that can be amended to suit your needs. Follow the above and you’ll be ready for the demands of your sport. The main aspect to focus on for pre-season is you’re not trying to get fit, you’re trying to get match fit – and then includes getting fast!



Bailey, S.J., Wilkerson, F.J., DiMenna, F.J., & Jones, A.M. (2009). Influence of repeated sprint training on pulmonary O2 uptake and muscle deoxygenation kinetics in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology, 106, 1875-1887.

Cunniffe, B., Proctor, W., Baker, J.S. & Davies, B. (2009) An evaluation of the physiological demands of elite rugby union using global positioning system tracking software. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23, 4, 1195-1203.

Helgerud, J., Hoydal, K., Wang, E., Karlsen, T., Berg, P., Bjerkaas, M., Simonsen, T., Helgesen, C., Hjorth, N., Bach, R., & Hoff, J. (2007). Aerobic high intensity interval training improves VO2max more than moderate training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39, 665-671.

Spencer, M., Lawrence, S., Rechichi, C., Bishop, D., Dawson, B. & Goodman, C. (2004) Time motion analysis of elite field hockey with special reference to repeated sprint ability. Journal of Sports Sciences, 22, 9.

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