Predicting sprinting speed in a mixed group of athletes is fairly easy to do. For example, in a group of athletes who differ substantially by body mass (i.e., American football players), typically the lighter athletes will run the fastest. When physical characteristics are relatively similar among athletes however (such as among soccer players), it becomes a little more difficult to predict speed. Maximal relative lower body strength (i.e. 1 RM squat/body mass) has been shown to be a strong predictor of sprinting speed in a variety of athletes. However, 1 RM testing can be difficult to perform with large groups of athletes and with limited equipment and coaching staff. Furthermore, some coaches prefer not to risk injury with frequent maximal strength testing with their playeys. Thus alternative methods of predicting sprinting speed are desired. For example, anthropometric or power-based tests would be practical and convenient while limiting injury risk in players.
A new study published ahead of print in Research in Sports Medicine evaluated the predictive ability of sprinting speed from anthropometric and physiological parameters. A sample of 181 high level Greek soccer players (aged 18-29 years) were separated into quartiles based on their 20 m sprint time. The sprint times for each group were as follows: Group A 2.84–3.03 s; group B, 3.04–3.09 s; group C, 3.10–3.18 s; and group D, 3.19–3.61 s. The height, weight, percent body fat for each player was evaluated for anthropometric variables. Vertical jumps and the Wingate anaerobic test was evaluated for physiological performance variables. Comparisons among groups were made with one-way ANOVA’s while relationships were quantified with correlations.
The results revealed only small, positive relationships between 20 m sprint times and anthropometric characteristics (r values range from 0.23 – 0.27). In other words, younger, lighter, shorter and leaner soccer players tended to run the fastest, but the relationship is considered small. However, vertical jump and peak power from the Wingate Anaerobic test significantly related to 20 m sprinting speed (r values ranging from r = -0.30 – -0.58). The vertical jump was the strongest predictor of sprinting speed. Therefore, it appears that a simple vertical jump test may help coaches discriminate which players are faster. This may also support the use of vertical jump testing as a key performance indicator or as a simple assessment of neuromuscular fatigue.
Nikolaidis, P. T., Ruano, M. A. G., de Oliveira, N. C., Portes, L. A., Freiwald, J., Leprêtre, P. M., & Knechtle, B. (2016). Who runs the fastest? Anthropometric and physiological correlates of 20 m sprint performance in male soccer players. Research in Sports Medicine, 1-11.