How to individualise your running-based training

In Functional Strength Training for Australian Rules Football, we covered the very important principle of individuality, and of course it also applies here. We are all very different in a number of ways, and this has big consequences when it comes to training for any task, including running training. Everyone reading this;


  • Has a different level of experience – right down to each individual drill (you may be very experienced at 400 meter runs, however a complete beginner at agility or fartlek work)
  • Will adapt and progress at different rates – and this will also vary from task to task or session to session - so ensure that you monitor your own individual progress, and don’t jump ahead of where you are at
  • Has different physical limitations or injuries
  • Plays at a different level of footy or has different work requirements and commitments
  • Plays different positions as well as plays different roles to each other in their own teams
  • Will have different goals with what specific athletic task in footy they most need to improve. There are plenty that will be universal for everyone, but there will be lots that differ – and also differ in the degree to which they need to be improved


It is important to realise that despite the quality information and scientific method that has gone into the outline of the program section, it is still general in nature. Not general in the sense of ‘just another standard cut and paste program’, but general in the sense that every program that isn’t designed and tailored to an individual is general in nature. The only program truly specific to you and your individual footy is one that is undertaken after all of the above details are considered and measured.


We have this discussion specifically around running in a little more detail in Agility, Speed & Conditioning for Aussie Rules Footy, in which we referred to various GPS analysis and numbers;


‘Midfielders have the highest workloads, and this extra work is accounted for by spending greater amounts of time in all speeds zones above 8kmph, particularly between 8 and 14 kmph. This defines their continuous running characteristics of high volume at moderate speeds, with frequent surges into higher speeds. This also confirms the findings that midfielders spend significantly more time running at steady state intensities above 8 kmph. This indicates that midfielders have less low intensity recovery time, and are required to spend a greater amount of time at intermediate intensities.’

Given that recent GPS research reports describe a high intensity intermittent movement profile for all playing positions, development of repeated sprint ability should be a primary focus for game- specific player preparation. However, the specific nature of repeated high intensity exercise training may need to differ across playing positions. For example, nomadic players complete a greater number of high intensity efforts during a game, sprint for longer and have shorter recovery periods between bouts compared with players in other positions.’

What are your Goals?

Just as with strength training, you must consider what your own priority goals from your running conditioning training are. Specifically, what is it that you would most like to see improvement in, so that you can measure the effectiveness of your training? Also, based on the position or the role that you play or are aiming to play next season, what does this means in terms of what you most need to improve? For example, agility may be letting you down, or in your role, you may not need to focus as much on building your engine as others (a full forward compared to a running half back or wingman.) This is vital and often overlooked. I will repeat again, Your program must begin with assessing and writing down the answers to these things (even if fairly broad at first), in order to keep you focused on what you are really trying to achieve, as without these specific goals, you will not be able to truly measure whether you are improving in your most important areas.

This not only goes for the exercises and the rate of progression from week to week with the intensity of the sessions, but also relates to how you perform or how hard you train in each individual session. As highlighted in Functional Strength Training for Australian Rules Football too, there will be occasions where you simply don’t feel up to training at a particular level. In such a scenario, don’t try to push through a high intensity session, but rather give yourself a day of complete rest, with just some foam rolling and stretching, or make the session much shorter and lighter, and just ‘roll the legs over’ a little. To quote Tudor Bompa in Periodization Training For Sports;


One of the biggest problems in the sports training world is the sacrifice of quality for quantity. Planning is never written in stone and should only be used as a guideline for program design.’


A quick tip: genuine improvement in performance rarely comes from getting ‘fitter’ in the traditional sense. A foundation is important sure, but it is the speed, acceleration, deceleration and direction change – and the ability to repeat these (the ‘fitness’) that the real improvement is seen.


Map out your general plan – but when in doubt, less is more

This is more relevant right now than ever before, as the current situation in footy for many leagues has left players with no games this year. This gives a blank canvas for 6 months before team pre-season even starts again, let alone before the next season rolls around. The worst thing you can do over the next 6 months – do no physical work. The second worst thing you can do (not far behind either) – aim to run yourself into the ground and ‘get as fit as possible.’


It is a natural thing to gravitate to more volume for the sake of it with the extra time, and the reality is that the lack of games or team trainings will allow for more pre-season-style volumes and intensities to be hit during these coming months but only for short and planned periods. So it is definitely an opportunity – but not for endless junk volume.


But as with the early stages of pre-season, start small – with a foundation of quality work – and then slowly increase the volume of quality work. In a nutshell;


1.Basic acceleration, deceleration and change of direction from the start. Progressing as you go.


2.A small foundation of interval/style training (calculated MAS work will mean that you aren’t cooking yourself with too much intensity too early), that is expanded and adapted in both volume and intensity as you progress.


3.And then importantly also cycling in de-load/rest periods every 3-4 weeks.


The actual specifics of what this looks like are very much dependent on your personal situation.


One final point – be flexible

For a plan to be truly successful and effective, it must remain fluid and flexible, being able to be adapted, progressed and regressed when required, or able to have slight tweaks light rest days and the like factored in. Don’t ever look at a program as set in stone – it always will remain a relatively general guideline to follow depending on how things progress. This applies to even the most personalised program.


If you would like more detailed and personalised direction, checkout our personalised online programming, or if you would prefer even more personalised and detailed in-person coaching (for those lucky enough to live in the beautiful city of Adelaide), check out our Athletic Development Coaching and Junior Athletic Development Coaching.

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