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11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

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11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

11 AUG 2018 / 1 COMMENT

Improving acceleration
performance in football
players
https://jbmorin.net/2018/08/11/improving-acceleration-performance-in-football-players/ 2/28
players
11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

This work was commissioned by the English Football Association as part of


their strategy to improve the physical capability and reduce the injury
vulnerability through profiling English national team footballers. All
references used appear at the end of the post.

I would like to thank Dr Ben Rosenblatt for his help in editing the dra of
this article.

Introduction
Unlike the 100-m dash, football is not about who creates the highest
linear running velocity during a single e ort in a sprint lane, and
maintains it towards the finish line. Most of the time, football is about
changing velocity, i.e.  accelerating one’s body mass. Starting from
various velocities (rarely standing still) and positions, a player has to
produce high amounts of “pure acceleration” to leave an opponent

behind (o ense), get the ball/position first, or catch-up with an


opponent (defence). Other actions require the production of “mixed
acceleration” (negative-positive) during changes of direction, cutting
manoeuvres, or even vertically-oriented acceleration in the case of
single- or double-leg jumps.
This article focuses on understanding the biomechanical determinants
of sprint acceleration in football, how to evaluate them accurately in field
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11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

conditions, and how to improve them on an individual basis. This may


eventually help improve players’ physical performance, and better
managing sprint related injuries. Note that our view of player’s
performance and readiness/availability does not distinguish between
physical preparation and injury prevention/rehabilitation. Seeking to
improve players’ performance includes, de facto, injury management
(primary, secondary prevention and rehabilitation post-injury)

1 – Understand: produce and transmit force to the


ground…under constraints

A payer’s body accelerates by interacting with the ground. The “prime


mover” is the lower limb neuromuscular machinery (pelvis, glutes, thigh,
lower leg and foot muscles), but acceleration occurs as the result of the
ground (playing surface) reacting to the player’s pushing actions. The
driving and propulsive force is the ground reaction force (GRF). The more
you push into the ground, the higher the GRF magnitude. Thus,
accelerating and sprinting fast is about (i) producing force, but also (ii)

transmitting it to the supporting ground in a mechanically e icient


manner, so that (iii) the resulting GRF will propel the player’s body mass
where and how quickly the player wants to. Sir Isaac Newton’s
fundamental law of motion overall states that the acceleration is
proportional to the sum of the external forces applied to a mass, and
inversely proportional to that mass. In football, it means that maximizing
acceleration means producing high amounts of GRF, per unit of body
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mass. However, the second (too o en overlooked) part of this law states
that the direction of the acceleration is the direction of the force. In
football, it means that the direction of the acceleration depends on the
orientation of the GRF.So it is not only how much force you can produce,
it is also how you can orient it in the direction you want your body to
accelerate.
Football players, like sprinters, also face two other major constraints
during their sport-specific force production to accelerate: contact time
and velocity of motion.
During sprint acceleration, the foot is in contact with the ground for 100
to 200 ms (1 to 2 tenths of a second). By definition, propulsive actions
and GRF application can only occur during this very short time frame.
Thus, no matter how much absolute force output a player is capable of.
On the pitch, it is about how much GRF is produced within  this short
contact duration. This has major consequences on training, since
explosive force output (the force that can be produced within the first ms
of a maximal voluntary e ort) rather than absolute maximal force (which

may require much more time to be reached) should be the main


objective.

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Football is not only about linear sprinting…but acceleration capabilities are key for many
situations of the game

The second sport-specific constraint is the velocity of motion at which


the GRF is produced. One major physiological feature of skeletal muscle
physiology is that the level of force output depends on the shortening
velocity, as evidenced by English Nobel Laureate Archibald V. Hill. The
slower the contraction velocity, the higher the possible force output, and
vice versa. In practice, during sprint acceleration, there is an individual
linear relationship (the “force-velocity relationship”) between a player’s
GRF output in the direction of motion and their running velocity. For
example, if two players are able to produce the same GRF while jogging

at 2 m/s, they may have totally di erent capabilities when accelerating


from a 5 m/s run, etc… And they also may totally di er when tested for
maximal force output during very slow, gym-based exercises like a back-
squat or a leg press. From the above described constraints of football-
specific motion, it is clear that there is a major gap between isolated,
single muscle or lower limb maximal force output (as measured in the
gym through 1RM or isokinetic tests) and sprint/football-specific force
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output.

In summary, how muscle force output will “transfer” to football-specific


acceleration depends on:

–      The velocity of motion


–      The forward orientation of the ground reaction force produced
–      The contact phase duration

The best athletes (sprinters, rugby, football players) in terms of sport-


specific accelerations are not those with the greatest gym-based testing
numbers, but those who are able to produce the highest amounts of
GRF, in the horizontal direction, during 100-200 ms contact phases, at
already moderate-to-high running velocity.

In other words, this sport-specific context implies that the players with
the greatest isolated muscle group or lower limb strength capabilities at

low velocity of motion and/or during longer, two-leg exercises will not
necessarily be the best at producing and applying force e ectively
during a sprint acceleration.
The key is thus how to evaluate this sprint-specific force output and how
it is oriented when applied onto the ground.

2 – Evaluate: from the laboratory to the eld


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Although innovations are still needed to evaluate sprint GRF during real
soccer actions, recent research has made on-field assessment possible,
that where hitherto only performed in laboratory setting. Research so far
has presented the aforementioned concepts and data using
instrumented sprint treadmills, and sprint tracks equipped with force
plate systems. For each step of a linear acceleration, GRF is measured
and the vertical and horizontal components computed, so that the
ability of the athlete to (i) produce and (ii) orient the GRF vector forward
is measured accurately, along with increasing running velocity.
The issue was that all in all, three or four labs in the world could produce
this kind of comprehensive analysis, and to date no specific data have
been published on high-level football players. The good news is that our
research group group has worked in the recent years to propose a field
method based on at least 3 split times (10, 20 and 30-m) or velocity
measurements that allow accurate computations from much more
accessible inputs. This method is based on the laws of dynamics and has
been validated against force plate reference systems. Basically, the

practical and cost-time-e ective aspects of this macroscopic approach


far outweighs the inevitable slight loss in accuracy. We also published a
spreadsheet and tutorial to run the entire analysis from only three to five
split times, and get the results directly. Note that an iPhone and iPad app
named “MySprint” also runs these computations—all you need is
athletes to run a 0-to-30m all-out sprint, and to record the sprint with the
iOS device (slow motion at 120 to 240 frames per second). 
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Since the assessment and subsequent computations only require


players to give their best e ort over a 30-m, it becomes very practical to
accurately know the players’ individual maximal force, velocity, power
output specific to sprint acceleration, but also their force output at any
given velocity or distance (through the force-velocity profile), and how
horizontally they orient their push throughout the sprint, from early
steps to maximal velocity.

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11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

Field assessment of sprint acceleration mechanical outputs using a radar gun

Finally, using the same slow motion video approach, another app based
on our research (named “Runmatic”) allows accurate quantification of
running contact time and GRF output during high-speed treadmill
sessions. Thus, added to the standard, non-specific, gym-based
assessment of “absolute” strength capabilities, a much deeper analysis
of each player’s force-velocity-power profile (strengths and weaknesses)
is now possible, at any point of the season: pre-season, post-congested
schedule, before-a er seasonal break or international games, post-injury
(hence the importance of pre-injury data collection… i.e.regular
monitoring), during and post-rehabilitation, prior to clearing the player

for return-to-play, etc…


Of course, the main aim of this individual profiling is to tailor and
perform more individual, thus e icient, training programs. Physical
preparation in high-level team sport should aim for “collective
individualization”.

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11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

iOS app “Runmatic” makes running pattern


assessment easy, cheap and accurate

3 – Improve: towards a really individual approach

Since football players on a same given team or group almost never show
the same sprint mechanical profiles (many combinations are possible
from the above-listed mechanical determinants of sprint acceleration
performance) we think it is impossible to provide e icient strength and

conditioning programs in football that do not include, at least partly,


di erent training stimuli. Providing the same program (exercises, loads,
velocity of motion, targeted mechanical features) for developing
acceleration performance to a group of team sport players would mean
that they allshare the samemechanical features. It is obviously not the
case. We don not want the team to sprint faster on average, but each
single player.
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11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

In this section we provide some evidence-based tracks of improvement


of the sprint acceleration capability, within the specific mechanical
context of football actions: acceleration capability is proportional to
force divided by body mass, depends on the running velocity, on the
amount of GRF produced within the very short contact duration, and on
the overall orientation of the GRF vector (more horizontally-oriented is
mechanically more e ective). The following sections discuss key points
that should be taken into account when designing individual training
programs, allowing to progress from non-specific to sprint-specific force
capability.

Body mass: avoid the “stronger-heavier-slower” cycle


Football definitely requires a certain amount of lower limb maximal
absolute strength. There is no doubt it is useful when facing contacts,
loss of balance, or overall for a better “toughness” and resistance to
stress and strains induced by training and competition, including some

injury mechanisms. That being said, in the context of acceleration


performance, improving players’ strength must absolutely be considered
within the context of the associated gain in muscle mass. Not to mention
fat mass, of course. If the objective is to develop acceleration
performance only, it is crucial to consider force development methods
that are not associated with an increase in muscle mass, and to carefully
monitor the training-induced changes in both force and body mass.  As
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explained before, acceleration depends on the ratio of force output to


body mass. Consequently, if the relative improvements in strength are
smaller than the associated change in body mass, stronger, yet heavier
players, may also become slower. This phenomenon may be even worst
if, as we will see now, the strength work led to non-sprint-specific force
improvement.

Running velocity: what force at what velocity?


A “strong” player is usually seen as “a player with a high maximal force
or 1RM capability”. This is confusing, since force capability depends on
the velocity of motion. The question “is this player strong?” must be
answered with “it depends on the velocity”. Some sub-10s sprinters are
not strong in the sense of gym-based 1RM numbers, but they can
produce more GRF than anybody else when their body is moving at 8-10
m/s. This is key since a er only 2 or 3 steps, the running velocity of a
football player who started to sprint from a standing still position is
already 4 to 5 m/s…way faster than during any gym-based exercise. This

is a conservative estimation since most accelerations in football start


with an initial velocity that ranges from jogging to high-velocity pace.
Always remember that stronger athletes in a low-velocity context are not
necessarily stronger in a very-high-velocity context, and that, in trained
athletes, the “transfer” of improvement in maximal strength (at low-
velocity) to sprint-specific strength (high-velocity) is far from certain.
The sprint force-velocity profile allows to know exactly what force a
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player produces (be it the overall GRF or the specific horizontal


component of this GRF) throughout their entire, individual running
velocity spectrum (from zero to their individual maximal speed). Thus,
inter-players comparison may easily show what player needs what kind
of training stimuli, to improve what specific part of the profile. We have
heaps of examples of players with similar 30-m sprint performance and
very di erent (sometimes opposite) force-velocity profiles, or players
with di erent 30-m performance resulting from very di erent “weak
points” in their profile.

2 players with similar sprint 20-m time and maximal power, but very di erent underlying
mechanical outputs…likely need (partly) di erent training content

Training exercises, loads and programs should thus be designed with


respect to this individual force-velocity profile. For example, some pilot
results we obtained in football players show that progressive, well
designed, very heavy sled work (80% body mass or higher) led to
improvements in the mechanical features on the force end of the profile:
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improvements in the mechanical features on the force end of the profile:
maximal horizontal GRF, maximal forward orientation of the GRF vector.
Alternatively, very heavy sled may not be an e icient training stimulus to
develop the middle part of the profile (intermediate velocity, i.e.maximal
power zone), and likely ine icient to develop force output at the very
high velocity end of the profile. Here, high-speed and “overspeed”
training may logically be e icient training stimuli, which is what our
current research is testing.
Just as the assessment and interpretation of the force-velocity profile
should be player specific, the training solutions should be specific and
depend on the training objective. A lot of “it depends”… but that’s what
elite sport performance is all about.

Contact time: as strong as possible…within 100 to 200 ms


No matter how much maximal, absolute, force a player is able to
produce during a two-leg, gym-based test (not to mention isokinetic
single joint torque tests), what counts on the pitch, and what will
accelerate their body mass is the amount of GRF they are able to

produce during a single-leg contact of roughly 100 to 200 ms. Again, no


systematic direct correspondence exists in trained athletes between
“explosive force” and “maximal force”. So specific training programs
should absolutely take this time constraint into account.
Plyometrics, rebounds (preferably horizontally-oriented) and other
explosive lower limb actions are interesting stimuli, provided that the
general rule is “high force within short support time”. It is not either high
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force or short contact time, it is both high force and short contact time.


Very interestingly, no strength and conditioning exercise is better than
top-speed running to put the players in this high-GRF-low-contact-time
context. Added to the potentially preventive feature of regular, optimally
dosed top-speed exposure, maximal velocity work is very likely a
recommendable stimulus for this specific mechanical capability.

Ground force vector orientation: accelerate your body forward


Some football actions require to jump and accelerate in the vertical or
oblique direction, but this is beyond the scope of this article. In the case
of sprint acceleration and change of direction manoeuvers, the e ective
force is the component of the GRF that is directed horizontally. Note that
the vertical component is not useless; it allows the body to remain
balanced and standing. But as much as possible, an e ective GRF
orientation should be made in the direction of the targeted motion. All
exercises (bounds, resisted sled push, pull, broad jumps) should follow
this “as horizontally as possible” rule. Here again, very heavy sled push

or pull are an e icient training stimulus to improve the players’ ability to


orient their GRF forward, from the beginning of the sprint (maximal
e ectiveness) and as running velocity increases (limit the decrease in
e ectiveness with increasing velocity).
One possible explanatory mechanism may be a specific overload of the
hip extensor muscles (glutes and hamstring), that have been related to
an e ective GRF orientation. On this point, experimental evidence
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confirmed the logical anatomical and mechanical analysis showing that


a rapid and powerful hip extension before and during the sprint running
stance is associated with a high horizontal (backwards) force production
(thus forward propulsion of the body). This is especially the case when
the player is already running, in an upright body posture, as it is almost
systematically the case in football.
High loads will also allow a more inclined position of the body during the
sprint acceleration push, and also keep this inclined position longer over
the acceleration, so more time is spent applying very horizontally
oriented ground force (which is not possible with lighter loads).
Practice and observations also show that the work done at the ankle and
foot to transmit the power generated by the lower limb is huge in heavy
sled conditions compared to lighter loads.

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Produce force…and transmit it to the ground. Foot-ankle complex likely play a key role in
the ability to orient the ground reaction force vector (and in turn the overall body
acceleration) in the forward direction

This also contributes to improved “technique” through less energy


dissipation at the ankle and more energy transferred to the ground. This
is key; whatever your lower limb power generation capability, if your
ankle-foot system is not able to transmit that power output into the
ground and it “deforms” under tension, this impairs your technique—
and by extension, your acceleration performance. We currently have no
consistent experimental results to support this view of things but our
practice shows that heavy sled work  “magnifies” this foot-ankle
weakness, that we don’t evidently observe with lighter loads.
For overall weaker players, the above-mentioned points still apply, but
in addition, the overload generated by heavy sleds may potentially add

to lower limb strength (and horizontal ground reaction force in


particular) in both absolute and sprint-specific terms.

Ankle-Foot work in unresisted vs light vs heavy sled sprints

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One final note concerns the longer contact times induced when sprinting
against high resistances. This seems counterproductive in light of the
previous section, but an e icient training program must include all the
key mechanical features and their associated stimuli, while ensuring that
the long-term, overall “net” e ects are positive. We are confident in the
fact that the very heavy resistance work described in this section, if
appropriately balanced with the short-contact/high-GRF work described
before, may be part of an e ective program. In addition, current research

aims at testing the hypothesis that very-high resistance sprint training


induces an increase in ankle sti ness, which is very likely a key feature of
the ability to produce high amounts of GRF over short contact time
periods.

Conclusion

The individual comprehensive analysis of the players’ mechanical 19/28


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The individual, comprehensive analysis of the players’ mechanical
profile is quite young, we moved from split-time based testing of
acceleration capability to the more in-depth profiling. Basically a split
time is a very poor level of information, and only tells you a player is
“slow”, “medium” or “fast” over a given distance. It does not give insights
into the mechanical reasons explaining why, nor into the possible
margins of improvement. Since a chain is only as strong as its weakest
link, the individual profiling approach proposed here will help identify
each player’s strength and weaknesses, and address performance
“leaks”, while monitoring both progresses and performance “assets”.
Future research should try to design and test more specific and
individually tailored training programs and studies, instead of just giving
X or Y common training regimen to a group of players and studying the
group response. All the necessary methods are now easily available.

Last but not least, you may have the highest muscular power and the
strongest hamstrings-glutei-quads in the world, you will not perform
well and/or be at risk if you don’t have an e icient and safe sprint
“technique” and overall movement pattern (pelvis-trunk control and tilt,
knee-ankle position during swing and stance, etc…).  It is not only about
how fast you can run, but also how you run…But that’s an other topic,
and the aim of our current research. In Spiderman, Uncle Ben says to
Peter “With great power comes great responsibility”…you should see
sprint mechanics in football players this way: “with great power comes
great movement pattern / stride mechanics responsibility”.
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11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

Football is a team sport, but a high level of individual physical performance may contribute
to the overall level of  the team. Modern training should consider an individualised
approach of force-velocity-power capabilities

REFERENCES
This paper was initially written as a research practical synthesis, without
systematic reference citations. All points made are based on published

evidence, non-referenced  opinions are  stated as such. All references,


articles and spreadsheets mentioned are freely available within this
Website. See other blog posts and “Publications” sections

Some of these references are listed below:

Buchheit M et al. Mechanical determinants of acceleration and maximal


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11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

sprinting speed in highly trained young soccer players. J Sports Sci. 2014
32(20):1906-1913.
Cross MR et al. Training at maximal power in resisted sprinting: Optimal
load determination methodology and pilot results in team sport
athletes. PLoS One. 2018 13(4):e0195477.
Cross MR et al. Optimal Loading for Maximizing Power During Sled-
Resisted Sprinting. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2017 12(8):1069-1077.
Cross MR et al. Methods of Power-Force-Velocity Profiling During Sprint
Running: A Narrative Review. Sports Med. 2017 47(7):1255-1269.
Mendiguchia J et al. Field monitoring of sprinting power-force-velocity
profile before, during and a er hamstring injury: two case reports. J
Sports Sci. 2016 34(6):535-41.
Mendiguchia J et al. E ects of hamstring-emphasized neuromuscular
training on strength and sprinting mechanics in football players. Scand J
Med Sci Sports. 2015 25(6):e621-9.
Mendiguchia J et al. Progression of mechanical properties during on-
field sprint running a er returning to sports from a hamstring muscle

injury in soccer players. Int J Sports Med. 2014 35(8):690-5.


Morin JB et al. Very-Heavy Sled Training for Improving Horizontal-Force
Output in Soccer Players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2017 12(6):840-
844.
Morin JB and Samozino P.  Interpreting Power-Force-Velocity Profiles for
Individualized and Specific Training. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2016
11(2):267-72.
https://jbmorin.net/2018/08/11/improving-acceleration-performance-in-football-players/ 22/28
11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

Morin JB et al. Sprint Acceleration Mechanics: The Major Role of


Hamstrings in Horizontal Force Production. Front Physiol. 2015 24;6:404.
Morin JB et al. Technical ability of force application as a determinant
factor of sprint performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 43(9):1680-8.
Jiménez-Reyes P et al. E ectiveness of an Individualized Training Based
on Force-Velocity Profiling during Jumping. Front Physiol. 2017 9;7:677.
Rabita G et al. Sprint mechanics in world-class athletes: a new insight
into the limits of human locomotion. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2015
25(5):583-94.
Samozino P et al. A simple method for measuring power, force, velocity
properties, and mechanical e ectiveness in sprint running. Scand J Med
Sci Sports. 2016 26(6):648-58.
Samozino P et al. Optimal force-velocity profile in ballistic movements-
altius: citius or fortius?. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 44(2):313-22.
Samozino P et al. A simple method for measuring force, velocity and
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Federation lead by Cyril Brechbuhl with the help of
@GregoireMillet1 and Laurent Schmitt.
Link to paper:journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Full…

14h

JB Morin Retweeted

PJ Vazel
https://jbmorin.net/2018/08/11/improving-acceleration-performance-in-football-players/ 26/28
11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

@pjvazel

My talk in Vancouver on start & accel is


available! I go through slomo close-ups of world
class sprinters, presenting the first (unpublished)
studies with sprinting on forces plates in the early
60s and athlete’s GRF signature (cf vert vs horiz
debate) eveltraksport.com/courses/copy-o…

23h

JB Morin Retweeted

Univ Saint-Etienne
@Univ_St_Etienne

Focus sur G. Millet #Fellowship #IDEXLYON


@UniversiteLyon : nouveau Professeur
@Univ_St_Etienne
venant de @UCalgary. Objectif : création d'une
équipe de recherche de pointe dans le domaine de
la fatigue à #SaintEtienne. #LIBM #IRMIS
goo.gl/SQcUgS

Nov 13, 2018

JB Morin Retweeted

Routledge Sport, Leisure, and Tourism


@tandfsport
Are you a #SportScience researcher looking for a
career boost? Journal of Sports Sciences
(@JSportsSci) has an Executive Editor position
available, find out more and apply today: bit.ly/JSS-
Executive

https://jbmorin.net/2018/08/11/improving-acceleration-performance-in-football-players/ 27/28
11/15/2018 Improving acceleration performance in football players – JB Morin, PhD – Sport Science

Nov 13, 2018

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