Linear speed

Although game specific speed is an important factor in overall performance, linear speed is still a very important component of speed to develop. Linear speed is the ability to express speed in one direction with or without the ball. While speed is predominantly innate and genetics play a significant role, all players can improve their individual speed capabilities through specific forms of training. During a game, players must execute a number or a range of different skills and manoeuvres. For example, after executing a change of direction such as a side step which results in a line break, the player will often return to linear speed.  Consequently, it should not be neglected in a training programme as it plays a significant role in the outcome.

Figure 7. The transition into maximal speed can occur after an initial evasion of an opponent.


Linear speed, refers to sprinting speed which is represented by players running at maximal or near maximal speeds. Maximal running speed is a product of effective acceleration and in rugby, acceleration is a primary concern, particularly for forwards. Forwards are less likely than backs to achieve maximal running speed as they typically do not travel for distances longer than 5-10m. Maximal speed is still very important, especially for backs. It is a common misconception that rugby players do not need maximum speed as they predominantly travel distances of between 5 and 30m. Whilst 100m sprinters take between 50-60m to reach maximum speed, field sport players reach maximum much sooner. Delecluse and colleagues in 1995 reported that maximal speed from a static start was reached at 36 m for field sport players. In rugby, it is likely that longer sprints begin from a range of starting positions, particularly a flying start (where the player is already on the move) and top speeds are reached sooner. Thus, it is important not to compare maximal speed training for rugby players to that of 100m sprinters as the demands are different.

Figure 8. Developing maximum speed is important, especially for backs.


While brief bursts of acceleration will be more common in the game of rugby particularly for the forwards, both acceleration and maximal speed should be trained throughout the season. Coughlan and colleagues in 2011 observed frequency of entries into speed zones of a forward and back during a game. Data indicated that the back approached maximal speed 16 times throughout the game, whereas the forward approached maximal speed 3 times. More recent research by Reardon, Tobin and Delahunt in 2015, noted that backs achieve an average of 34.5 high speed running efforts during a game while forwards achieve an average of 24.7 efforts. The high-speed running thresholds were individualised to the players and represented efforts above 60% of their maximal velocity.

The data from the research suggests that linear speed is still an integral component of rugby despite the fact it is multifaceted in nature and requires a combination of fitness and cognitive components such as agility. Furthermore, maximal speed training should also be considered in the training program.  While it will be more specific for the back, it is not uncommon for the forward to reach their individual maximal speed and thus this should also be considered in their training program.

Figure 9. Linear speed development can be improved through a variety of drills including resisted sled towing.


Training to improve acceleration and maximal speed should include technical drills to improve mechanical efficiency in addition to free sprints, resisted sprints, and tertiary methods of training such as weight training and plyometrics.