Periodisation and programming of speed

Speed will determine the outcome of an event such as the 100m, however, in rugby, it could be the difference between a successful line break or tracking back to make a tackle from an opposition line break. Gamespeed is also an integral part of rugby, as the ability to anticipate scenarios during a game and break or evade tackles will positively influence performance. Planning the various components and training variables of speed and agility and integrating them into the annual programme can be a difficult and challenging process for the coach.

Volume and frequency

Once the goal and structure of the session has been defined, coaches must then address the acute training variables such as the overall volume of the session and frequency per week.

The volume of the speed session is an important component. Too much volume and players will fatigue, and the quality of the session will be reduced. Not enough volume and there will not be enough of a stimulus to elicit the desired adaptation. Typically for acceleration, distances of between 5 and 30m are appropriate. When training for maximum velocity, the distances will increase to between 30 and 60m. Between 3 and 8 repetitions over 1 to 2 sets will be appropriate for developing acceleration and speed. The dosage will be dependent on the individual player and their ability to recover between repetitions. Longer sprints will typically be completed over less repetitions when compared to shorter sprints. Furthermore, if the quality of each sprint begins to reduce, then the session should be stopped.

The minimum frequency for developing acceleration and speed is 1 to 2 sessions per week.


The intensity of the session is also an important component. Intensity can be classified into three categories: low, medium, and high.

Low intensity runs do not tax the central nervous system, and thus need 24 hours or less of recovery time. Runs performed at less than 75% of maximum are low intensity. Technical skills, active recovery, or endurance efforts are normally trained at this intensity.

Any run performed between 76% and 94% of the player’s best time are classified as medium intensity. These runs may tax the central nervous system, not necessarily to a great degree, but enough to require more than a 24-hour recovery time. Training at this intensity is not intense enough to elicit positive adaptations in the development of speed but is too intense to allow for a quick and efficient recovery. Consequently, medium intensity training is inadvisable in most cases.

High intensity runs are performed at a working intensity of 95% to 100% and are the training component that results in speed improvement. Effective acceleration and maximum velocity requires maximal effort, thus, free sprints in training should be performed at a high intensity. Training at this intensity will require large central nervous system demands that facilitates the enhancement of overall speed through neuromuscular changes. After training at this intensity, 48 -72 hours recovery may be required before speed is trained again.

Rest and recovery

Maximising sprint quality requires careful management of volume and recovery. Sufficient recovery is vital between speed efforts to ensure that the next effort also occurs at maximum pace.

A guideline of one-minute rest per 10m sprinted should allow for sufficient recovery. Should a player’s sprint times deteriorate from the first effort to the second effort then it is likely that the recovery duration was insufficient. In some cases, such as with 20m efforts, up to three minutes may be required. Similarly, up to  five minutes recovery may be needed for longer efforts of 30m. Using an electronic timing device such as speed gates can be useful in monitoring any deterioration of sprint times.

Recovery between sprint sessions is equally important. Typically, high intensity speed sessions will require 48 to 72 hours rest before the next session. Volume of the session will also play an important role. A session totaling 300m will require less recovery time than a session totaling 700m (Jeffreys, 2013). Knowing your player’s recovery response is important in managing the speed-acceleration training unit.