Application of Individualized Speed Thresholds to Interpret Position Specific Running Demands in Elite Professional Rugby Union: A GPS Study

PLoS One. 2015 Jul 24;10(7):e0133410. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133410. eCollection 2015.


A number of studies have used GPS technology to categorise rugby union locomotive demands. However, the utility of the results of these studies is confounded by small sample sizes, sub-elite player status and the global application of absolute speed thresholds to all player positions. Furthermore, many of these studies have used GPS units with low sampling frequencies. The aim of the present study was to compare and contrast the high speed running (HSR) demands of professional rugby union when utilizing micro-technology units sampling at 10 Hz and applying relative or individualised speed zones. The results of this study indicate that application of individualised speed zones results in a significant shift in the interpretation of the HSR demands of both forwards and backs and positional sub-categories therein. When considering the use of an absolute in comparison to an individualised HSR threshold, there was a significant underestimation for forwards of HSR distance (HSRD) (absolute = 269 ± 172.02, individualised = 354.72 ± 99.22, p < 0.001), HSR% (absolute = 5.15 ± 3.18, individualised = 7.06 ± 2.48, p < 0.001) and HSR efforts (HSRE) (absolute = 18.81 ± 12.25; individualised = 24.78 ± 8.30, p < 0.001). In contrast, there was a significant overestimation of the same HSR metrics for backs with the use of an absolute threshold (HSRD absolute = 697.79 ± 198.11, individualised = 570.02 ± 171.14, p < 0.001; HSR% absolute = 10.85 ± 2.82, individualised = 8.95 ± 2.76, p < 0.001; HSRE absolute = 41.55 ± 11.25; individualised = 34.54 ± 9.24, p < 0.001). This under- or overestimation associated with an absolute speed zone applies to varying degrees across the ten positional sub-categories analyzed and also to individuals within the same positional sub-category. The results of the present study indicated that although use of an individulised HSR threshold improves the interpretation of the HSR demands on a positional basis, inter-individual variability in maximum velocity within positional sub-categories means that players need to be considered on an individual basis to accurately gauge the HSR demands of rugby union.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletic Performance
  • Football*
  • Geographic Information Systems*
  • Humans
  • Running*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

There are no current funding sources for this study; Co-authors CR & DPT are employed by Leinster Rugby. Leinster Rugby provided support in the form of salaries for CR and DPT, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection & analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. The specific role of each author is outlined in the “Author Contributions,” section.