Running – Accelerate, decelerate and change directions

The title basically says it all about this brief, yet important discussion that we are going to have about your conditioning program. Whilst this discussion is aimed mainly at getting you thinking about the types of running training that you are doing in preparation for footy, this also ties in with the strength training too – and we will explain why here, and what to do about it.


We put the question to you in the first intro article into running conditioning, what does running in a game of footy look like? The answer was something like, sprint for 30 meters, then jog for 15-20 seconds before sprinting again, before slowing down and changing directions, and re-accelerating, running back the other way you just came from. Of course this could take on a whole variety of different combinations and distances and tasks, however the key point that we were covering in that article, is that the running component in footy actually looks nothing like the running being done when you set off on a 5km or 10km run, where the speed is fairly constant, and you just run in a straight line.


In this article, we are mostly interested in the deceleration, changing directions and re-accelerating.


It is possible to sum up in 1 sentence the point we are going to make here – you must focus on training accelerating, decelerating and changing directions in order to effectively condition for footy. That is it in a nutshell, but lets now cover why.


For starters, running in a continual direction with forward momentum does not mimic the actual running pattern of a game – and as a result, will not truly prepare you for the running demands of a game. Even when performing interval running training – where you perform various combinations of hard running with periods of total rest (walking/standing) or active rest (slow jog) which is a far better from of running for properly preparing the appropriate energy systems and fast twitch fibers needed for footy than doing these monotonous 5km runs – there is still no deceleration and change of direction component vital in footy. This does not mean throw this interval training out the door – keep doing it and doing lots of it – but it just means that this acceleration/deceleration/change of directions is another component to add into your running training (if even for 10 minutes before your intervals a couple times a week at first.)


This change of direction conditioning need not be complicated – simple shuttle runs will do the trick. And just while we are talking about shuttle runs, if you doubt the importance of doing this form of conditioning, try a quick comparison;


  1. Run 200 meters flat out, give yourself a 90second -2 minute rest, and repeat it.
  2. Run a shuttle run flat out, to10, 20, 30 and 40 meter markers, give yourself a 90 second – 2 minute rest, and then repeat it.


Both are the same distance, but the second one you will find is much harder. Why is this? Because accelerating, decelerating and changing directions before accelerating again places more work on your body than just running continuously, even with the interval method. And this extra work, means extra work for both;


  1. Your energy systems (acceleration and deceleration are more metabolically challenging than just continuing on ahead)
  2. Your muscles and joints (There is a lot more loading going through your muscles and joints, particularly when slowing down and changing directions.)


This not only has relevance from a performance point of view, but also an injury reduction point of view. As just stated above, the deceleration component in running places a great eccentric load on the muscle and joints, meaning that if the body isn’t sufficiently prepared to cope with this load, injury is more likely. World renowned college conditioning coach Mike Boyle talks about how prevalent this issue still is in college sports in America – where young athletes head away on their own and follow individual running programs given to them by their coaches in preparation for the pre-season, and they follow it to a ‘T’, but then pick up muscle strains and tears in more match-simulation style work, and practice games, as a result of being insufficiently conditioned to cope with decelerating and changing directions. As stated, basic shuttle runs, at progressively increasing speeds (certainly not flat out until your body builds to this) are the simplest way to do this.


This is where effective strength training exercises are also important. That is because effective strength exercises actually strengthen the muscles and joints, in particular positions that have a high level of functional carryover to the movement of deceleration and changing direction. So a good example would be a multi-direction lunge, like we covered in Functional Strength Training for Australian Rules Football, but there are others too, with a high level of carryover. Plyometric Training also comes into play here too, and as we have this discussion, hopefully you can see just how all these training modes tie in together to complement each other, rather than simply being separate training modes.


But this discussion can be a very in-depth one, and indeed we do cover it in great depth in Agility, Speed & conditioning for Aussie Rules Footy, where we tie it together with the strength training too. However, in this introductory article into change of direction based running conditioning, which we will continue to touch on and expand on in other articles, suffice to say, make sure you are conditioning decelerating and changing directions (with something as simple as shuttle runs) and combining this with functional strength training exercises which will have a high level of carryover to this movement, such as lunging variations.


Strength Coach


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