Why You Need High Speed Running

 In Running

Why you need high speed running

High speed running or sprinting carries with it large potential performance benefits, whilst also larger risk of some injuries. Here we discuss why you need it and how to minimise the risk of injury from high speed running.

1. To Reduce The Risk of Injury of High Speed Running

This may sound counter-intuitive, however; you need to do high speed running to protect against the risk of injury associated with high speed running (HSR – 85-95% of max sprinting speed) or sprint running (SR – greater than 95% of Max speed).

High speed running is a common mechanism of soft tissue injury in athletics and running based sports. For example a study of 210 athletes, followed the occurrence of 28 hamstring strain injuries in AFL, of which over three quarters were to the biceps femoris muscle. High-speed running was the primary mechanism of injury (60.7%) followed by kicking (17.9%) and running while bent over to collect the ball (7.1%) (1). With HSR or SR being a common mechanism of hamstring injury, as well as calf and quadriceps strains, how does one reduce the risk of these injuries.  The performance benefits of HSR and SR, as well as the nature of competitive sports means avoiding these activities is not possible. In order to optimally prepare players for the high speed elements of match-play, players require regular exposure to periods of HSR and SR during training environments (2).

GPS-derived data from sports such as elite rugby league demonstrate that greater volumes of HSR resulted in more soft tissue injuries, where-as other studies show that short periods of increased high speed running volume is related to injury (3, 8).  Recent studies have reported a U-shaped relationship between exposure to maximal running speed and subsequent injury risk (4, 5). Whereby those who have higher chronic training loads (of HSR and SR) allow for players to be exposed to increased volumes of running at reduced risk. Data suggests that a 3:21 day acute chronic workload ratio for both high speed and sprint based running has been shown to be related to injury risk in elite football players (5). While there is also an association between running exposure and the risk of hamstring strain injury (HSI) in elite AFL players, with risk greatest when looking at acute loads prior to injury (7–14 days). Players exposed to large and rapid increases in HSR and SR distances were more likely to sustain a lower limb injury than players who were exposed to reduced distances. However, players with higher chronic (long term) training load were able to tolerate greater distances at maximal velocity with reduced injury risk compared to those with lower chronic load.

This indicates there appears to be a level, whereby the consistent exposure to HSR and SR, without rapid increases in the short term, is protective against soft tissue injury. Additionally higher intermittent aerobic fitness allows players to tolerate higher running volumes and changes in running volumes at reduced risk of injury (5).

Another investigation has observed that faster players over 5, 10, and 20m were at reduced risk of subsequent injury. Additionally that an athlete’s ability to do repeat maximal efforts over a short period of time can protect them from subsequent injury risk. In order to optimally prepare players for these maximal velocities and high-speed elements of match-play, players require regular exposure to periods of high-speed running during training environments (7).

Therefore there is reduced risk of injury from HSR or SR by attaining higher levels of aerobic fitness and developing high chronic levels of HSR and SR through gradual exposure.

2. Nothing replicates the loads of high speed running as high speed running.

Want the most demanding muscular and tendon challenge, sprint. It is difficult to mimic both the amount of tensile load and the high rate (or speed) of loading. High-speed running is the most commonly cited mechanism of HSI (6). It has been suggested that this is due the hamstrings reaching peak lengths and levels of force and activation during the terminal swing phase of high-speed running, where they act to decelerate the flexing hip and rapidly extending knee. Additionally, it has been suggested that the forceful eccentric contractions associated with high-speed running may lead to the accumulation of eccentrically induced muscle damage,leaving the hamstrings more susceptible to strain injury (6). Other research has looked at subjects’ maximal isometric contraction force of the knee flexors ranged from 4120 to 8241 N, the knee flexor force during the initial stance phase of sprinting was 40% larger than that produced by the maximal isometric knee flexion. The peak hamstring force across the knee joint ranged from 5777 to 11,554 N, which is at least 8 times the subjects’ average body weight. (8) Clearly, a huge load acts on the hamstrings during sprinting. Below illustrates some of the muscular loads with sprinting in bodyweights (BW).

Not only is the load relative to body weight very high during faster running, the rate of loading is also much higher. This speed in which load is applied can only be mimicked by progressive increases in running speeds. Exercises such as hopping, a maximal hop, or accelerations don’t produce the same rate of loading as HSR or SR.

3. Performance Benefits

It is no secret that numerous sports benefit from players being able to move quicker than their opponent; make a breakaway, get to the ball first, chase down a defender. Meanwhile in running it is largely accepted that the best improvements to running performance involve a combination of a large amount of easy running and a small amount of high speed running. This is often described as the 80/20 rule. See more about the 80/20 running here.

Quick tips for implementing high speed running to your program

  1. Don’t just sprint – begin by running speeds a bit quicker than your 1km time. If a 1km rep isn’t something your familiar with use a 3 of 5km time.
  2. Gradually work on bringing the speeds quicker for 30-60sec intervals
  3. Have a walking recovery between reps
  4. Follow high speed days with a rest day or only easy running
  5. Remember rapid increases in the amount of high speed running or running at significantly faster paces that you are used to carry an injury risk if you don’t build gradually.


Happy Running, Happy Sprinting.



Lewis Craig (APAM)
POGO Physiotherapist
Masters of Physiotherapy

Featured in the Top 50 Physical Therapy Blog


  1. Opar, D. A., Williams, M., Timmins, R., Hickey, J., Duhig, S., & Shield, A. (2014). Eccentric hamstring strength and hamstring injury risk in Australian footballers. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46.
  2. Malone, S., Owen, A., Mendes, B., Hughes, B., Collins, K., & Gabbett, T. J. (2018). High-speed running and sprinting as an injury risk factor in soccer: Can well-developed physical qualities reduce the risk?. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 21(3), 257-262.
  3. Gabbett TJ, Ullah S, Finch C. Identifying risk factors for contact injury in professional rugby league players—Application of a frailty model for recurrent injury. J Sci Med Sport 2012;15:496–504.
  4.  Malone S, Roe M, Doran D et al. High chronic training loads and exposure to bouts of maximal velocity running reduce injury risk in elite Gaelic football . J Sci Med Sport 2016 Aug 10th pii: S1440-2440(16)30148-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2016.08.005.
  5. Malone, S., Roe, M., Doran, D. A., Gabbett, T. J., & Collins, K. (2017). High chronic training loads and exposure to bouts of maximal velocity running reduce injury risk in elite Gaelic football. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 20(3), 250-254.
  6. Ruddy, J. D., Pollard, C. W., Timmins, R. G., Williams, M. D., Shield, A. J., & Opar, D. A. (2018). Running exposure is associated with the risk of hamstring strain injury in elite Australian footballers. Br J Sports Med, 52(14), 919-928.
  7. Malone, S., Hughes, B., Doran, D. A., Collins, K., & Gabbett, T. J. (2019). Can the workload–injury relationship be moderated by improved strength, speed and repeated-sprint qualities?. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 22(1), 29-34.
  8. Sun, Y., Wei, S., Zhong, Y., Fu, W., Li, L., & Liu, Y. (2015). How joint torques affect hamstring injury risk in sprinting swing–stance transition. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 47(2), 373.
  9. Duhig, S. J., Shield, A. J., Opar, D., Gabbett, T. J., Ferguson, C., & Williams, M. (2018). Infographic. The effect of high-speed running on hamstring strain injury risk. British Journal of Sports Medicine, bjsports–2018–099358. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2018-099358

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