loris bertolacci

Sport, Health and Fitness

Podcast 4: Physical Development in an Under 18 Australian Rules Football Club

Very informative Podcast with Calder Cannons High Performance Manager, Sean Potter on development in the Under 18 Australian Rules Football Club system.

Podcast Link: Physical Development in an Under 18 Australian Rules Football Club

We chat about topics such as maturation and peak height velocity and how it affects selection. I have added a link below to calculate a growth spurt or “Prediction of Age of Peak Height Velocity”

Link: Peak Height Velocity Calculation (or growth spurt!)

We discuss AFL draft age given players are in their final school year. Below is a 2017 Age Article on raising the AFL Draft Age. My opinion is it is too young given copied from the US system where nearly all players are drafted after college.

Link: Age article on raising AFL Draft Age

Sean provides advice for parents on how to develop their children if motivated to get into the TAC system and ultimately the AFL system given the pathway starts at Under 15. He emphasised the need to source good coaches for skills, run technique and S&C. Ranall Hobson has an excellent resource for parents and coaches online.

Link: Ranall Hobson: Excellent resource for parents for run technique.

We also chat about issues with private schools and public schools and how it impacts development. Age article below discussing this aspect.

Age Article “How private schools have taken over the AFL”

Sean also provides an overview of the Calder Cannons program. Most players are drafted from these clubs into the AFL or go to the VFL and other similar competitions so it is a critical stage of development and staff such as Sean have an enormous job to do with little financial reward. There is a lot of dicussion now about job prospects with S&C and Sports Science given explosion of graduates.

The future development pathway of strength and conditioning: a proposed model from the UKSCA

It is a fantastic environment to take the next step into strength and conditioning in the AFL. But given the responsibility the job has, plus the spotlight on the AFL draft every year, more resources should be directed at experts like Sean to make it a full time position and thus optimize development of players.

February 17, 2020 Posted by | AFL, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Episode 1: Fitness in Australian Rules Football. Weekly comments.

Thought I would chat about Bodyfat in the AFL and also issues with players getting injured in non AFL training activities. Short commentaries on fitness issues in Australian Rules Football.One good thing about Aussie Rules is that it involves skill, speed, endurance, strength plus uses sports science and fitness dogma so a good vehicle to chat about fitness and sport.These will be approx 10 minute chats versus normal podcasts I will do with guests.

Podcast. Episode 1. Weekly comments Australian Rules Football Fitness

Mitch McGovern and Charlie Curnow were in the media this week in the AFL, one for losing weight and getting fitter and the other with Kane Cornes criticising him for being irresponsible with off season non training related injuries. I discuss these topics.Bodyfat is calculated by a number of methods in the AFL. One is skinfolds and usually this is 7 pinches and then a sum. We see a range from 30mm total to 60mm in the AFL and the average is probably just under 50mm. Players are leaner in the modern era. The other method is a DEXA scan and this also provides information on muscle mass in different areas and a % bodyfat. Again quite a range in the AFL but anything to far above 12% is frowned upon. There is usually scope within an AFL program to individualize bodyfats and weights depending on individual player genetics and needs. The only issue with “FAT CLUBS” can sometimes be promoting eating disorders and mental health issues. I believe this is quite an issue because males put on a brave face but body image can cause lots of stress. Some players will resort to under eating and this can cause muscle loss and also issues with the immune system. I discuss the SETPOINT theory where there is some evidence for individuals tend to gravitate towards a certain bodyfat and bodyweight. Thus common sense and performance variables should also be factored in. Does the player run well, jump well at a certain bodyfat and eating pattern? So quite a complex issue and requires a team effort approach from dietician to fitness guru to player to get optimum results.

The other topic is how RISK AVERSE does an AFL club get? Obviously skiing in winter would be frowned upon! But Kane Cornes raps Charlie Curnow having a fun game of Basketball with mates and hurting knee? Tough one but reality is we cannot be around 24/7 with players in their social lives. And does a player not play some hoops with his little cousins in the backyard or backyard cricket or soccer on the sand at the beach? Where a player goes out socially, drinks too much and hurts themselves. Agree there should be consequences.But for example in the XMAS break. What does a player do? Run in a straight line? In fact gut feel playing basketball in the off-season could be the very thing some players need rather than clock junk miles. Common sense has to prevail. Obviously clubs will want to know the circumstances surrounding an injury incurred out of training, IE alcohol related or plain stupidity. But bad luck does occur and we are dealing with athletes who express themselves physically.


February 13, 2020 Posted by | AFL, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

PODCAST 3: Fitness needs at a local Australian Rules Football Club with Paul Bacash

In this podcast  I am chatting with Paul Bacash who is the fitness adviser of the West Preston Lakeside Roosters AFL team in the NFL

PODCAST LINK: Fitness needs at a local Australian Rules Football Club

Paul is holding the cup on right hand side of 2nd pic.


Most of the debate is around elite teams in the AFL and AFLW. Yet the majority of Australian Rules Football is played below that level. VFL/NEAFL/QAFL/Under 18/Juniors/Schools etc. Yet most graduates come out of University only reading research about how elite teams train and do not grapple with how to input best practice and current research into a SUB ELITE scenario with big numbers. How do you manage a large group? Communicate? What are the “BIG ROCKS” that will give you major bang for buck in preparing at this level and also for long term development?

Important takeaways here regarding the realities of how to optimally prepare a team at semi pro level. This is where managing large groups, communication and coaching are skills just as important , if not more, than sports science skills. Paul is qualified both as a physical education teacher and masseur and has wide experience in Aussie Rules. This podcast is a must listen for budding exercise science graduates and even Masters graduates to listen to. This team has won the last 2 premierships and what Paul said simply resonated with me. He blends knowledge with passion, hard work and attention to detail rather than talk through a GPS unit. He knows the BIG ROCKS because of this experience and thus prioritises training needs.

Certainly they start training early in the prexmas block which surprised me. But that locks in with the whole chronic load theory. He also emphasised the need to take care of rehabilitation needs in this period so a very professional approach. From fitness testing perspective he simply uses a run around an adjacent lake running track and simply given the numbers he deals with does not burden himself withe too much data which may be incorrect as he explains. They have an athletics track next to them plus a track around Edwardes Lake is in Pic. So this is the test!

Edwardes Lake Runners 250x250

With sports science he would love to use GPS but again given numbers and logistics just uses some basic RPE data. Again he does not do complex assessments of RPE data rather takes a few players and works forward. Novel approach. He wants to know what is happening short term and predict the next few weeks.

He does incorporate lots of injury prevention work either in the warm up or after training. Weight training is set up vie online advice and as much as possible is specific to players needs.

Speed is a priority after Xmas given they start just before Australia Day in late Jan and then have a 6 week block before the first practice match. What was really interesting again is that he does not get too fancy with speed given numbers and needs. Some straight line maximal work weekly and the agility/change of direction work is obtained from the specific AFL drills. Again priorities versus getting too fancy without much bang for buck.

He uses Nordics and slowly doses them over the preseason.

Running is done before or after the Skills and is determined by what load and intensity the Skill drills were.

So this is really worth a listen given many budding High Performance Managers simply struggle to understand how to make the “BIG ROCKS” of training a priority and manage and communicate with a large group.

February 8, 2020 Posted by | AFL | Leave a comment

“Feed the Cats”, the AFL and Aerobic Development.

Interesting to see how the Feed that Cats philosophy with Tony Holler has spread on Social Media. Now he is 100% correct that when developing speed and acceleration the only way is to train at high (maximal) intensity with lots of rest. Plus it is a fundamental need that many in team sports coaches stuff up & thus trash quality athletes. But all you have to do is study some ‘science” and the dogma underpinning this “need for speed”. It is in the books. Read a bit about energy systems and things like neuromuscular and all or none etc. Guess not many do. So agree it is a critical message he vividly communicates so that coaches understand the key difference between speed and fitness.

Feed Cats

Before I wrote this blog article I read his interesting article  http://trackfootballconsortium.com/a-football-coachs-guide-to-feeding-the-cats/. I just wanted to get some tiny insight. He puts forward a little model for planning a week with American Football and does mention what he calls “alactic” intermittent or repeat effort training on the 2nd day. So pretty interesting and by emphasising recovery and quality he certainly rams home the message that many coaches just cram JUNK training in.

But think about the recent US Open final between Nadal and Medvedev. There is a bit more to all this. There is a BUT! I always am the BUT person HA. So many sports do put a lot of stress on the aerobic system to get that ATP “back in”. Added to this is fact that every athlete is different and has different needs. So in one team of say AFL we can have a range of slow twitch players to 50/50 twitch layers to fast twitch players. But they all have to perform over 120 minutes and need to maintain adequate intensity. And the small sided games versus seperate energy system development is always a “nice” debate. Most good fitness people know that SSG can lead to lopsided fitness development because talented players can cruise and lazy players can hide. Granted GPS allows staff to get insight into workrates but many usually supplement extra work.

FEED the CATS is a great way to push home the message to the many ‘dopes” who do burpees and suicides for speed. BUT. I struggle with the twitter fanatics who get off saying that “my athlete” will outrun “your athlete” at the end of the game because he or she is faster. What game? NFL? Basketball? Baseball? AFL? Volleyball? Soccer? Bocce? Chess? And so on. The BUT will be explained later. Yes speed and acceleration need to be developed as a major priority, in a recovered state and with correct work rest ratios. But how do we integrate the fitness needs in high aerobic demand sports that also require high accelerations?In AFL for example often 100 a game from 2 to 20m.

My sport started with AFL as a kid but then I became a Shot putter and Hammer thrower. I was lucky to train in Europe in the late 70’s when the boom for training occurred and simply was there when some of the greats spoke. From Bondarchuk to Tschiene. As a thrower I loved speed and ran so much speed I did 3.9 blocks for 30m hand timed. 160 power clean. 3 metre plus long. In fact when I asked Yuri Sedykh if he sprinted he said NO. Ha I was wasting my time but loved it! After my career and before my AFL S&C career I trained good sprinters and jumpers. Even after AFL I was connected to Australian 100m champions training programs. So why I have self-promoted! I was/am a power/speed lover. My daughter was an International level setter in Volleyball and was super-fast over 10m and change of direction. My dad coached international throwers.

One odd fact with me though was that when I wanted to get fit aerobically to lose weight (hated being fat!) I would get aerobically fit quickly but lose my top end power and speed. ASAP. Years later I did a genetic test and found I had as much slow twitch as fast twitch genetics. Made sense and when I was throwing ok I learnt to do zero aerobic. Ha. I picked the wrong sport. Should have played an intermittent fitness sport. I was dedicated so proved theory you can switch fibres around plus if you want it (in my case loved power) can get it. But I never excelled.

So without quoting research we should be aware of the studies that show some of the HAMS don’t kick in until we are 95/97.5% max speed. There is no argument here. So S&C/core/drills & general conditioning all critical to underpin speed development but the key area is need to reach near max speed (or at least acceleration) at least once weekly. So we agree with fact speed training sits as a very specific standalone need that must be prioritised for many reasons in nearly all sports. Tick.

And all these facts combined is why often athletes in team sports never improve the speed they had as teenagers yet get stronger, bigger and fitter over the years. So critical to at least do one dedicated speed development session a week all year round. Hands up who does that?

BUT and there is a but. I worked in AFL for 20 years plus have worked in Soccer, Tennis and Volleyball and really most sports. BUT the BUT now! The SCIENCE and ART in preparing players for sports like AFL and Soccer (Not NFL or even Basketball) is in developing underlying energy systems that allow speed repeatability without compromising the ability to generate (& improve) high levels of acceleration and speed. Now get that right and you are heading for the Holy Grail.

And that in reality has to be done individually. Factors such as genetics, biomechanics and unilateral force production impinge. Anyone who has done a repeat speed test in sports like the AFL will understand. Superfast players with low Max VO2 levels simply drop off alarmingly. I used to do a simple 6 * repetition speed repeat test going every 30 seconds. And recorded the drop off of players. So whilst having a higher end Max Speed and ability to accelerate did help it was crazy how some players dropped off by the 5th or 6th sprint. Some ok players with ok speed dropped off ever so slightly and some “slowish” players with massive engines had zero drop off and after 5 sprints were often faster than the speedsters. And if you rested 3 minutes and repeated the test, the drop off increased. In AFL rather than Soccer at least we can rest speedsters with rotations which allows them to shine throughout the game but with 80 rotations there still is a limit to that.

I have the evidence that I was able to consistently develop AFL players who could accelerate at quality levels. So please I am not promoting “turtle training”. In Australia at our draft camp we run a 20 metre test with players 30/50cm in front of gate. Poor use of technology but this is the comparison at this stage in the AFL. Needs to go to 30 metres at least and use of a JBMorin type force velocity profile needed. Plus given the compromised start only the FLY 10m can be compared to be honest. In 2005 I had 3 players above 3 seconds for 20 metres using this method and 36 who could break 3 seconds. I deemed a time of 2.92 as “fast” and < 2.85 as really fast. At Essendon in the 90s same. I have the times to back up fact I did speed work once a week with lots of rest! From Michael Long to Dustin Fletcher to Matthew Scarlett. Saverio Rocca was an NFL punter who I trained in Athletics with my dad and after in AFL. Super explosive. Again this is not to thump my chest but to underpin I made speed development a massive priority and it worked. Great players, great teams.

What I also did do from the late 80’s right through to now was test players for MAXVO2 in proper labs, do 3 and 2km runs, Beep tests, YO YO tests and repeat speed tests. Plus also looked at the stats of how players performed. Probably more important. Add GPS data now. GPS does prove key moments are high level acceleration ones but also demonstrates speed drop off very nicely. So yes speed did kill but there was a BUT. Of course many of the greats simply had blistering speed. Gavin Wanganeen is one that comes to mind. Ran the easiest 11 seconds 100m in flats I have seen and ran 2.65 for 20 metres and 1.58 for 10m. Fastest ever I tested. But a team of Wanganeen’s would have run out of steam. A Gareth Bale and a Gavin Wanganeen for sure in any team but not 11 or 18 of them on the field.

I once read a subjective piece about minimum aerobic capacities needed for different sports. Sort of a threshold. Made me really think. Did this exist in AFL? Could I create a norm which allowed me to discriminate? When I examined closely the data I had over years (from speed to fitness to game data) I found that players who had a max VO2 under 52ml/kg/min in very general terms struggled to repeat speed over 120 minutes of activity. The odd exception existed. Must be the ability to get that PC back in! But overall in sports like AFL, Soccer and even tennis ATP is regenerated during rest periods and requires some form of aerobic system. Thus when we had a player with super low genetics for aerobic the only way forward was to repeat speed and not spend too much time trying to work on aerobic system. It killed them agree. Teams can carry one or two of these players but not many in these high aerobic demand sports. And agree they can win you a game. Or play him or her as a bookend. Matthew Scarlett or Dustin Fletcher. Super accelerators. Matthew was a player who I trained for 8 years and simply had a better 5 metres than his 10 metres and a better 10 than his 20 and by 30 metres was so so. and aerobically wasn't the greatest. But at full back he is arguably the full back of century.


In the age of genetics testing we have seen the huge variety of fibre types and adaptability of athletes. So again the notion of making sure player’s energy systems were adequately developed to maintain the repeatability of speed they had was critical. We have people on twitter saying that athletes with greater speed mx and even speed reserve will be faster at end with no aerobic work. Good luck in AFL or Soccer or Field Hockey for example. Currently I am in China working with province teams in Handball, Baseball and Softball. I am trying to get the handball players fitter. Their overall running ability from speed to endurance needs to improve. But I am trying to convince the baseball and softball teams to drop aerobic work and interval work. HA. IE Sports specific that ugly word. When I trained my daughter for Volleyball she worked on speed and power. If she played AFLW she would have to get a heap fitter. Her YO YO 1 score was 15 max but that would have to be 17 for AFLW. If you want to argue with that maybe get a job in AFL and see how you go! This is a pic of Lauren.

And even testing needs to be assessed carefully. The QUEEN MARY effect is where a player has great or ok aerobic but cannot turn so does a crap beep or YO YO test! Jimmy Bartel was such a player. Poor power but ok runner so we improved unilateral legs and power and BEEP / YO YO went up and he didn’t fatigue in games (Plus change direction better). But conversely powerful players can hide a low aerobic system by changing direction really well and thus providing false insight into their ability to last a match. So the whole thing is individual needs!

I remember Cameron Ling after a game in Perth tagging Ben Cousins saying he felt he had done 20 repeat 150’s. Cynically we may think cousins was “er fired” up but this is what it can be like in these sports. This is a pic of Ling and Cousins. Ling was 90+ kgs and had a MaxVO2 of 70ml/kg/min/ I always made sure he maintained his gift of high level aerobic ability but got his speed to adequate levels. But if I had spent all my time developing his speed and shut off his aerobic I would ruin his gift. Very subtle. We worked on improving stride length, range of motion and power but i let him do extra running.


The defining moments are of course moments of high acceleration and explosive ability. But have seen too many players who had those traits not able to display their genetic or trained power and speed abilities because they were spent at key moments. Or super fit players who ran their “taggers” off their legs and still had a burst of acceleration to win a game. Steve Johnson had a MaxVO2 of 65 plus as a kid. Ok acceleration. Just. Good ability with reactive agility. In his prime he would run people off their legs then turn the magic on late in games to win games. First 3km run he did at Geelong college after being drafted he was number 2 behind David Spriggs an ex 1500m runner!


So bottom line enough said. Could talk for days! So 100% dedicate a minimum of one session a week to pure speed and acceleration (even more in off season). The goal is to not ruin a player’s gift of speed or blunt their speed and acceleration development, but still make sure they are simply fit enough to last 90 to 120 minutes of an intermittent sport. That’s the Holy Grail.

How I trained Saverio Rocca for Shot Put in his youth with dad, then in the AFL and  then later years in off season for NFL punting was not the same. Get it! So all you speed freaks out there whose twitchy fingers are ready on twitter to slam me just remember I am a speed freak.

September 18, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Late end stage Return to Play. Hamstring Rehabilitation.

I listened to Jack Hickey’s excellent podcast today on the Pacey Performance Podcast. I thought I would add some experiences I have had in elite sport and as an exercise physiologist to describe issues at the end of Return to Play of soft tissue injury, in this case hamstring. This podcast nicely outlined early stage rehabilitation. By keeping within a pain threshold of 4 (rather than pain free) and pushing players a bit more. This allows for a more individualized approach to prescribing and progressing exercises to injured athletes. Thus the athlete better is more conditioned once return to play is achieved rather than accelerating rehabilitation. Jack described how to progress exercises within that framework and systems to progress running from slow jog to maximal running. He added that this stage was one that could take longer when moving towards maximal speeds, change of direction and game based rehab. Really informative podcast and look forward to reading the research.

I coached sprinters for many years then 20 years in the AFL and then have worked privately with athletes and now overseas. In sports that get close to get maximal speed there is little room for error at end stage of rehabilitation of muscles. Of course things will blow up in your face sometimes but minimizing error at end stage rehab is critical. The implications when working in elite sport or with paying customers who want results are very stressful for the athlete and the rehab person.

Dr Bruce Reid introduced me to a running protocol that had been used in the early 90’s in Hockey. Using variations of flying 10’s and 20’s from 40 walk to jog/10 hold/40 jog to walk to shorter and faster acceleration and deceleration zones. It was comprehensive and spin offs proliferate now. I went for the flying 20m as a mainstay and did 20/20/20 tests with players in the off-season of 1994. I am sure most elite clubs have data on player’s maximal velocity (Most have GPS on this). I used parallax measuring 20m out and 10m in middle.


Timed 2 repetitions at 100% with boots on grass and recorded the data. With track and field athletes and spikes this data is much quicker. Research suggests most athletes reach 90% maxV by 20 and by 40 one can assume 100% maxV. I had bought SWIFT speed gates that year and so also timed 5m/10m/20m indoors. Poor man’s force velocity curve. I also had data on 20 metres timed with a stopwatch off footstrike. Added to this was the NFL shuttle test to allow quantification of change of direction and progressions thereof and integrating change of direction and deceleration into the rehab. Thus I had lots of objective data that allowed me to dump into excel and work out what individual % of each speed for each test was. Of course this is common practice now in elite settings.

Thus I knew what a player’s 90% flying 20 was for example and 95% and 97.5%. Individual thresholds at true 100%. If you do not have data on an individual you should be able to access a past speed test and make a very accurate gueestimate. I categorized male players into slow/medium and fast and there was enough bandwidth there to allow again objectivity in rehab protocols at end stage rehab. Even knowing their 100m time allowed me to put them into a category. Below is a table from an E Book I wrote on Hamstring Rehab in 2007.


I want to add that I wanted players to reach maximal speeds just before entering full impact training with skills. The interplay of GPS with objective timing really helps link return to play protocols with Skills training but I would never trust GPS data as a standalone. If the athlete is by themselves then GPS is better than nothing.

Given it is a blog article I will not reference most of my opinions but most are/were based on a mix of research and experience. But reading research like outlined in image below reinforced what experience had shown me. There is a lot more research now in this area.


So some stories! A guy called Sean Wellman at Essendon Football Club had a very serious hamstring injury in 1996. His electronic 20m (as in AFL draft camp) was 2.83. An explosive player. I had his flying 20m on grass as 2.18. So 90% is 2.4. Still pretty quick in boots on grass. The debate raged about how good he looked at day 20 running a flying 20 at 2.4. I was timing and nervous. His rehab had been solid given we did eccentric work and he was diligent. But at 2.4 I knew it was 90%. So has BicepsF kicked in yet? Probably not. But he looked good. He said “I feel nothing”! He wanted to play as most athletes do. I was emphatic that he should not play on the weekend. Luckily the decision was made not to run. He had significant DOMS the next day and then admitted he did not want to go 100% in test. So many examples abound before and after but I will flip to another club I worked at. No names here HA! Exactly the same scenario. Quality player has a hamstring injury. We are closing in on finals. His rehab has been ok but a bit short. Day 18 now. He is explosive and strong. Doing 20/20/20’s gets to 85% of maximal time. Player says he is ok and everyone there except me says he is ok. Obviously pain free at 85% but now the PAIN FREE scenario needs to change when nearing MaxV. I say no way. Too risky. Too early. Rehab ok but not rubber stamped eccentrically plus the next 15% could be a disaster. In my experience at 80% and above if you pull up sore in or after the run you have most likely had a recurrence. Thus more eccentric conditioning is lost, and weeks are added to rehab. So no mistakes allowed here. Anyway decision was by others that he looks great so majority plus player said go 100%. “Let’s have a look!” they say. I say fine but if “look” backfires he tears. He tore. So we were at the Casino. Roll the dice and see what happens. Couldn’t make it back for finals. My opinion is that if we had followed strict objective criteria at this stage of the return to play process then added three more progressions over a week with a day’s rest between runs (85%/90%/95%) and then trained for  a week at high intensity with skills he would have been fine.

Now I want to emphasise that the reason I felt confident was that in the past when training sprinters and early days of AFL I had made mistakes and learnt off the mistakes. Plus I had done heaps of research and accessed lots of quality people in the field before coming up with some systems.

So getting back to Jack Hickey’s podcast I think creating criteria with pain tolerance and exercise progressions based individually will build a more robust athlete in rehab but my take home message is at other end lock into objective criteria that is time based and simply progress 5% for example a time with possibly 48/72 hours to dose to allow adaptation once 80% maximal speeds are reached in the rehab process.

Remember if you run 95% and above too close to a game then that player might be in an adaptive stage in game i.e. prone to re-injury. So allow time working back from a game for adaptive processes to kick in. Otherwise back at the Casino.

So the laws of physiology and objective measures are critical. The medical and S&C team has to be on the same page. In 2019 we have many more practitioners from medical to S&C that are well versed in all areas.

Also do not be be lazy and sit there and tell a player to go out and run 85% by themselves for 20/20/20. Within the AFL system I think we should look at JB Morins research and at the draft camp test 5/10/15/20/25/30 and create force velocity data then. Thus 30m is closer to MaxV and a much better method allowing profiling and measuring that first step also. He also has outlined how to use this data to show that players are not ready to play given after injury they may get almost the same time but accelerate at different rates. As a sideline I was really disappointed that at the AFL Draft camp they still use the old speed lights and have players stand up with arm up so they can get close to light. So bad. They could also have a more definitive change of direction test (not call it agility!) to assess physical qualities and thus be relevant to rehab needs. Given the closed shop nature of AFL these new innovations in force velocity profiling seem obvious to me. With Dr Daryl Marchant in the early 90’s I helped to set up some AFL Draft Camp tests and initiated the 5/10/20 with lights because we could use indoor areas at VFL park and get reliable data. Time to change and link with rehabilitation processes.

I wrote this blog article to emphasise the importance of objective data being used late in the Return to Play process with muscle injury because of the implications mistakes and recurrences bring. At this point way more science, raw hard data and teamwork and less art. All care and total responsibility.

June 7, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Round 1 AFL 2019, fitness and the media!

Now I am an expatriate in China working in S&C I still will watch AFL and in Shanghai there is a game for points every year! It has been since 2007 that I worked in the AFL but I have worked in elite sport since and also dealt with AFL players/VFL/TAC and local teams plus simply watch it so love an opinion.

The intriguing part of Round 1 is that it coughs up odd results and sends tremors through supporters and staff and provides the media with instant fodder. Articles and media  like the link below were everywhere.

   Nick Riewoldt blasts Essendon Football in the Media after Round 1 Loss to GWS

There are so many media people that cynically it seems best to be a bit brutal ASAP given the adoring public just lap it up. This is rather than simply say things like “ok that was a bad game and lets hope their JLT form doesn’t go into the season but blah blah lets wait and see in 6 weeks.” Boring media! Ha.

So without too much sports science or delving too much into nebulous terms like ‘culture” I will write down a few things that may cause what seems odd Round 1 and even Round 2 results.

  • I found it took 2 full practice matches plus maybe another half of full contact AFL on the back of a solid preseason to make sure a player was ready for Round 1. So some analysis needs to be done on the list to check who did a full preseason after Xmas and played 2*100 minutes plus games.
  • How many players had ops and were in rehab. They might be ready to play sport but not hardened and fit anaerobically for repeat efforts and for collisions and impacts. Melbourne? Again players who are fit aerobically and ok to play after rehab pre-xmas need 2 to 3 games and some adaptive period and then usually they are ready to rock and roll.
  • Does the team usually start slow and finish with a bang. Swans? I wont check the data but they seem to start slowly more often than not. Is that a plan? Are they happy with 3 wins and 3 losses at round 6, but on the back of managing their list in preseason cognizant of the fact it is a massive season.
  • Did the Match Committee simply get it wrong in Round 1 and maybe Round 2 and played an unbalanced list. Simply changing a few players means a different team in the same jumper is on the ground. From a fitness perspective this was massive for me because 2 running players could change the dynamic of how a team plays and  fatigues in early rounds given warmer temperatures.
  • Rounds 1 to 6 depend on fitness slightly more in my opinion. Then it becomes a slug-fest till finals and survival of toughest and smartest. So if you are not 99% ready on Round 1 you can cop a hiding.
  • One big issue in my opinion is getting the week off right. In season a week off is different because players are hammered but in round 1 there are so many issues. Central Nervous Systems being asleep, misjudging speed dosages at the end of week 1 of the bye and 5 to 6 days before Round 1. Often teams carry the same loads they did in the preseason games and don’t alter enough in season.
  • But the big one IMO is dosage of high intensity maximal efforts late in Week 1 of the bye and early in Week 2 of bye before Round 1. Added to this is the need to do something anaerobically at high intensity with repeat efforts. Getting the bye right is part science and part art.
  • The draw! Bad luck! GWS is on fire so the Bombers hit a gun team at home.
  • Not my area of expertise but did they try something different radically in tactics? Do they need to tweak or simply change. Sometimes I found coaching staff were guilty of analysis by paralysis in early rounds and then after 2 to 3 losses and 360 degree meetings the mantra was get the friggin ball and collide.

I could go on about reasons why form in Round 1 and Round 2 are not excellent form guides whilst it seems ( zero data here) that by round 6 or 7 some judgments can be made.

But all we get is a massive emphasis on the Coach and the Culture and subjective words and ex players blasting their old teams. Lets face it the people in the media need to preserve their jobs so they need to say something. Tough gig being in the media.


April 13, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ESSA, ASCA, Cert3, Cert4? Messy.

I went on the Australian Government job outlook website and 2 categories they mentioned were fitness instructors and sports coaches. Job Outlooks for other professions seemed meshed together with allied health. Maybe they don’t want to tell people there is not a huge amount of work for graduate Sports Scientists or Strength & Conditioning specialists.




A while ago a good friend of mine who has an exercise science degree snared a job as coordinating Personal Trainers for a large commercial gymnasium. The Personal Trainers paid approximately $200 a week and signed a contract to be able to access members. They had approximately 35 trainers signed up. Work out the numbers! As long as the trainers had their Certificate 3 and 4 plus first aid/CPR and insurance they were good to go. He had a smattering of exercise science graduates and simply people who pursued PT part time or as a career change. His best trainers (made most $ and most popular) were the ones who had an adequate exercise toolkit but more so had an ability to communicate , get buy in or for simplicity good soft skills. They could sell! And usually these were not the graduates, who were younger, inexperienced and often just not good at talking the talk (& even sometimes walking the walk).




I continued to look through the Government website and could only find sports coaches specified. Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists seemed to be merged into other categories and the filter for Strength and Conditioning came up with nada/zilch.

Late last year it was trumpeted that there would be national standards put into place for Sports Science.


“As a condition of the ASC’s Sport Investment Agreements, national sporting organisations will require all sport science and strength and conditioning staff to have the relevant accreditation with ESSA and ASCA by the end of 2018.”

Now a gymnasium franchise has zero commitment to needing to follow ESSA/ASCA guidelines. From a commercial perspective they can simply employ staff with Certificate 3 and 4 and updated with First Aid. And their KPI’s are results. Member retention and satisfaction. Given the Social media boom in information, sensible people can get a good toolkit and as long as they don’t get their ambition mixed with ability can actually do a good job. Certainly a negative with the plethora of information is that if someone does not have a good theoretical background they cannot decipher the forest from the trees. But the Australian Government is OK with this level of accreditation. And reality is there are some amazing people working in the space. And some crap salespeople with ability to get buy in. Another article spinning off this one is the confusion with the “Soft Skills” bandwagon that everyone is jumping on to get LIKES on Social Media with!

So we get to the dilemma of what to do if you are an Exercise Science Graduate. Career prospects are tight at best in the elite sports area. And I leave out those opting for Exercise Physiology accreditation. But even there courses are appearing before you can blink. One looks at the Ausport article and my opinion is I would be compelled to get accreditation with all organisations. Even to get Certificate 3 and 4! I am not going to discuss the merits of Exercise Science Courses, practical development of students in this article.

Many are opting for Masters as Exercise Physiologists with ESSA and many of the High Performance Masters courses appearing everywhere as they gather work experience. Not a bad thing but the funnel again will get very tight at pointy end. IE Jobs!

ESSA has authority to accredit certain “tasks” in the Sports Science/S&C area. ASCA others. From my understanding ESSA demands graduate status whilst ASCA will allow anyone to do their courses as long as they pay and of course pass the rigorous standards as they move through the levels. So there has to be a question raised there.

Now the Australian Government Job Outlook website says Sports Coaches need a skill level of Certificate 3 and 4. Who is doing these websites! Seriously I thought appropriate levels in sports and working with children were what the requirement? But if a Sports Coach is employed part time in the NIN network or with an NSO or even is simply part of the system, who will accredit them? They cannot come under umbrella of S&C? Of course the public don’t care. If their kids are being coached by a competent person whose number one aim is to help athletes and puts in that’s the big tick. But Australian Government put down Sports Coach as a career and not S&C? My brother in law Gus Puopolo is a sports coach who has assisted hundreds of young athletes and many to International Standards. He earns ZERO.

So the summary is.

Confusion reigns. Graduates are forking out dollars. Certainly with Exercise Physiology (Hicaps) and Sports Science in the elite professional environment there is but then it becomes murky. Many people work in other professions and coach and do S&C part time and/or as an adjunct for their Coaching and so ASCA has a valuable role there.

But I wrote this article because I had to make a decision myself to pay for my ESSA Exercise Scientist, Sports Scientist, Exercise Physiology and HPM accreditation so simply from an economic perspective I am going to forego my ASCA which is a pity because I really enjoyed conference in Singapore last year and also would love to be involved more. I know an Exercise Physiologist who trains UFC fighters plus works in the classical Exercise Physiology space with healthcare! Who classifies her because she is doing S&C with fighters? Does she pay double?



March 24, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Load Management, Roger Federer, Steve Smith and the Sweet Spot.

I was interested to read comments from Roger Federer about how he now trains and maintains his performance and then Ex Australian Cricket Captain Michael Clarke’s response to current captain Steve Smith training harder than most and to make sure he manages his loads in the future to avoid injury.


FED 1.jpg


Roger Federer said after his Hopman Cup win:.

“I’ve played almost 1500 times so you have to be careful now. So it’s nice, I work part time now,” he said, the crowd lapping it up. “I work in the morning, I’m off in the afternoon or I do it the other way around.

Michael Clarke told the Nine Network:

“The key for him is going to be to sacrifice some training sessions so he can make sure he is still on the park as Australian captain,”.

“Because he loves hitting so many balls in the nets, he feels like that gives him the confidence to be able to walk out into the middle and play his natural game and play with that technique he has.

“I just feel over the next 12 months, he is going to have that down pat if he hasn’t already.”

There also is lots of discussion about injuries in tennis given the rush of issues confronting current top players. And in cricket numerous experts always question rotating bowlers.

Of course the discussion can go back to over specialization as kids in tennis and entering a High Performance phase before they have developed robustness through multilateral development.  A 2011 Loyola University Medical Study by Dr. Neeru Jayanthi found that injured young athletes who play a single sport such as tennis spent much less time in free play and unorganized sports than uninjured athletes who play tennis and many other sports.

Steffan Jones is a former fast bowler and now a private coach in cricket.  He believes there are a number of reasons why so many young English bowlers are breaking down including early specialisation which does not give children the valuable experience of different sports and physical challenges. “Bowlers are forced to specialise too early,” Jones wrote in a post on his LinkedIn page which he also shared with Cricbuzz. “External pressures, whether coach or parent driven stop them playing other sports at an age where they need to train the elastic qualities in the body.

And below we both can see how long it takes to mature and also how most sports on average have an average age > 25 at elite levels.


FED 2.jpg


Pierre Paganini has been Federer’s fitness coach since he was a junior. It is interesting to read what Paganini has as a philosophy.

Roger Federer and Fitness Coach Pierre Paganini NY TIMES

Paganini and his prize pupils have focused above all on the long term. “Rog was always, even at age 20, interested in doing what he could to have a long career,” Paganini said.

That has meant not overplaying, building breaks into the season and listening intently to his body’s signals. It has meant reducing, if only marginally, the number of training sessions through the years. Paganini hopes the younger set, the #nextgen if you will, is taking notes.

“I think if we manage to motivate the young ones to give time to their bodies to recover from training before playing and then to give time to their bodies to recover from playing before training, this simple message can help us have fewer injuries in the future,” Paganini said.

And below is a quote from Paganini that shows he has data or information or just knows  that Federer still has the necessary athletic qualities.


FED 3.jpg


So before I talk about cricket it is important to talk about the “Sweet Spot” in loads popularized by Tim Gabbett’s research. My take on this is that for every individual there is an optimal training stimulus and for this individual this “Sweet Spot” changes at different stages of a career. So if an athlete is robust and bulletproof from an ideal development, the concept of training harder and smarter works. Where this gets tough to control is in academies and young athletes because the “Sweet Spot” changes rapidly for every individual. Almost where art meets science. And as athletes mature through their 20’s this changes all the time given training priorities and just being better at their sport. Also as athletes mature they are more powerful so put more stress on their body.


FED 4.jpg


So one would assume that Steve Smith is 28 so at his physical peak and thus can tolerate big loads. What Michael Clarke is pointing to is that if Smith squeezes the Sweet Spot Graph on an upward curve into the ‘pink” then he may have issues. So for Smith, he may be in the sweet spot right now but next year on the back of this test, one dayers, Indian club commitments and other competitions he may have to re-evaluate his “Sweet Spot”.


FED 6.jpg


Glenn McGrath entered the discussion on rotating bowlers.


But despite the physical toll their gruelling workloads have taken, McGrath believes emphatically that the days of rotating the pace attack are over.

“If you asked both of those guys, they would definitely say no (to having a rest),” McGrath said on Sunday.

Yet what is interesting to read is how Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood missed chunks of the recent tour to the sub continent in preparation for Ashes and both Starc and Hazlewood have been explosive and pivotal along with Smith in winning the Ashes.


And in 2013 one can also see that Starc missed large blocks with injury.

Sep 9, 2013: Australia bowler Mitchell Starc is set to miss the Ashes in Australia later this year because of a back injury. … Starc, 23, has an early stage stress fracture of the lower back and Cricket Australia says he is “expected to be unavailable for a prolonged period”

The other interesting subjective notion is that some players who bowl year in year out without rotation may be durable and robust but lack intensity.

And then we read press about the Rotations and Indian cricketers. Winners are grinners.




So right from when puberty is almost over to when an athlete retires there exists a “SWEET SPOT” in training to maximize performance and develop robustness. This is totally individual and so when past players and experts talk generalities about how they bowled day in and day out, just do some research about the athlete they are pointing to and also how they were developed..

What is important is that young athletes are developed carefully and exposed to a systematic and progressive increase in loads after puberty and this is individually aligned with maturation.

Once mature it is critical that an athlete and coach knows what training stimulus, loads  and competition program will maximize performance and minimize risk of injury. And this individualized prescription always needs to be re-evaluated.

And it is better to be proactive than reactive.






January 7, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“You’ll have to change your running style to be world class” -Almost every coach who recruited me except Clyde Hart. Be careful making technical changes and make sure the change is absolutely necessary. Tweet: Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson went on twitter today and said something which every coach and Speed guru should think about. The decision to change a Running Style needs careful consideration. My opinion or observation is that more experienced coaches tend to move more slowly and carefully when making a decision on why , when and how to alter or tweak a running style.

Below is the tweet and  the quote “make sure the change is absolutely necessary” resonates.

“You’ll have to change your running style to be world class” -Almost every coach who recruited me except Clyde Hart. Be careful making technical changes and make sure the change is absolutely necessary.

If you want to know a bit more about Johnson below is a link to You Tube and Wikipedia.

Michael Johnson Breaks 200m & 400m Olympic Records – Atlanta 1996 Olympics

Michael Johnson Wikipedia



Clyde Hart Was Johnson’s coach and a link to Wikipedia is worth a look.

Clyde Hart: Michael Johnson’s Coach



I have attached a powerpoint from Dan Pfaff where he addresses the question of technical models and also whether a new model exists? I have borrowed 2 pictures from this presentation to make a point.




2 examples from the same sport. Looks okay at first glance! So would we tell the little fella to lean more. Nope! Why? because as he gets stronger over time he simple will re-adjust technique and acceleration phases. In fact if we tell him to lean more it will wreck his acceleration profile. So unless there is some glaring fault in the lads technique that a coach is 99.99% sure will lead to improved performance in an LTAD perspective, not just short term then might be worth just setting up quality sessions.


There is lots of research going on now about mechanics and lots of opinions. One of the researchers here has trained World Champion athletes and a sacred cow is challenged.

“Overall, the present findings did not support that front-side mechanics were crucial for sprint performance among the investigated sprinters”


I will still video someone and look at whether they are overly rearside or fronstide and what their acceleration phase looks like going into maximum speed to assess whether any changes are needed.


Justin Gatlin though does question an over emphasis on high knees in coaching young athletes.

Justin Gatlin Reveals the No. 1 Sprinting Mistake Slowing Down Young Athletes


There is an enormous amount of research going on right now by people such as Peter Weyand from SMU and JB Morin and so many others in the area of acceleration, maximum speed , technique and biomechanics.


But the words of  Prof. Anatoly Bondarchuk ring in my ears. I asked him if  the foot contact of Yuri Sedych (still holds World Record in Hammer!) was at X degrees on ground contact,  because I had spent years copying his technique. Bondarchuk looked at me and said ” Loris! , use biomechanics not sedykh position. You are Loris. Different. Use biomechanics, not positions. Do not copy Yuri.” Below is the position I tried to copy for 3 years wasting my time! So the subtle point is there does exist optimal biomechanics for every individual but looks different for every individual.

Anatoliy Bondarchuk Wikipedia




So I wanted to put one practical example from the AFL that I encountered. Cameron Ling was drafted in 1999 as a forward. He had very rapid turnover and a very small stride length. He also had limited ROM when screened. Cameron also had very small glutes! Not much hip extensor stuff happening. Plus his power in general was a bit down. We analyzed hs technique using Mark Sayers who is a Sports Scientist. Looked ok. So simply we spent a year working on physical changes . Glute and hamstring strength, range of motion both statically and dynamically, leg power, sled running, horizontal bounding and so on. There was a marked change in his technique and after a year he improved .25 in his 20 metres speed test and acceleration profile. Because he had a MAX VO2 of 69 ml/kg/min at 90 plus kgs he was able to repeat his speed all day. Rest is history. Great player.




Coaching Cues | Science for Sport

Even with young athletes, tread carefully and might be a good idea to read Nick Winkleman’s excellent wealth of information on how to cue speed before telling kids they are doing it all wrong. Below is a link to one of these articles.

Education Hot Topic What We Say Matters Part I Hot Topic: What We Say Matters, Part I by Nick Winkelman



I have put a few comments on TWITTER stimulated by the Michael Johnson tweet and really they ask quite a few questions from Elite to Beginner and why, when and how  we should change running styles.

Stuart McMillan‏ @StuartMcMillan1

Very important question to attempt to answer BEFORE we try to affect mechanics. IMO – inputting a technical change that leads to a detriment in performance is a dangerous game. I’d rather apply small ‘tweaks’, and monitor closely as we go

Paul Glazier‏ @PaulGlazier

Before that, how do we know, with any degree of certainty, whether a particular technical change will: 1) lead to improved performance; and, if so, 2) is reliable/robust under pressure? Biomechanists/biomechanical analyses should help answer these questions but do they/can they?

Paul Glazier‏ @PaulGlazier

Replying to @StuartMcMillan1

Agreed. A heuristic/trial and error approach, monitoring performance outcomes following intervention, is the way to go. Commensurate with active exploration/guided discovery, which can lead to robust, albeit not necessarily orthodox-looking, movement solutions.

Dr. Linda Blade‏ @coachblade

Replying to @StuartMcMillan1

Absolutely correct, Stuart! Within the “Athlete Factory”, HP coaches & development coaches occupy different stations on the conveyor belt. Early stations => MAJOR tweeks Late stations => MINOR tweeks This is the ideal, right?

James Smith‏ @thethinkersmith

Replying to @PaulGlazier

Not only biomechanics, in addition, all realms of psychomotor and sensorimotor discovery due to the orders of magnitude faster computational processing speed of the brain in comparison to volitional motor functions. The knowledge will stem from theory driven experimentation.

Paul Glazier‏ @PaulGlazier

I agree with your sentiment but that could be some gamble with an already high-performing athletes whose livelihood depends on their performance! There are lots of examples of major-winning golfers who have tried to “improve” only to fade into obscurity.

Victor Hall @TeamEXOS #AthletigenACP

“When making technical changes we may see a decrease in speed before the net gain begins to emerge – it is important to trust the process.” –



December 10, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How strong is strong enough in sports?

I had been training a young tennis player from when he was 16. He was just a suburban player and had no history of resistance training, not a great athlete but quite a skilled sportsman. When I tested him for speed and power throughout a 2 year period his scores were benchmarked average. After 2 years of conditioning I was able to get him to the stage of squatting 100kg parallel for 6 reps comfortably and  deadlifting a few reps on 100. In this period he quickly improved his ranking in Australia to become quite a good player at National Level. I was standing next to Nicholas after a squat set and simply said. “ Mate let’s slow down adding kgs on squats  for a while and let’s make sure you work on tennis more and also speed.” Liam Annet (current S&C at Melbourne City) was standing next to me and asked how did I come to that conclusion. Apart from speed tests and jumps I wasn’t measuring him with GYMAWARE or any other tools.

With my tennis player it was simple. He was 18 and ranked 200 in Australia. 2 years before hardly had a point. Getting stronger (BW squats to 100kg reps) had made an enormous difference to his game. But it was time to use that conditioning and improve his tennis instead of trying to squat 170kgs and sneak to 190. Lots of people can play out there.  And with all sports it becomes the law of diminishing returns. Massive improvement at first with strength then just gets harder to transfer to sport. So my decision was based on his level of tennis and also on his ability to move and fitness. Athletes love the sanctity of the gym because it makes them feel all powerful and confident, but what happens in the sport is what matters. He was a bit confused but pretty quickly understood my advice.




I remember Anatoly Bondarchuk (famous coach!)  in early 90’s came to Australia. I asked him what the best test for throwing a 7.25kg hammer thrower was. (I was a hammer thrower!). Anyway he said the best test was throwing a 7.25kg hammer. HA! OMG I was so annoyed because even then I was doing all these fancy tests but only throwing 60 meters!

I started hammer throwing at 18 and simply had the worst technique. I loved the gym and also competed in weightlifting. By time I was 21 I was power cleaning 147, full squatting easy reps on 200+ and throwing just 59 metres. I had developed bad habits by pulling the hammer and with a rapid increase in strength in my opinion just made matters worse. And when I trained in Europe at 23 (1978)  I did learn a lot about plyometrics and fine tuning exercises such as overhead shot but still came back to Australia and hit the gym. BY 26 I power cleaned 160kgs and only threw 63 metres. I did  get better when I came out of retirement in late 30’s by just getting to an OK strength level ( 145 clean)  and making sure technique was better. And Bondarchuks words always annoyed me. I met Yuri Sedykh also in 1991 and he had thrown 86 metres, but strength levels were not much more than mine.




Obviously we see Social media videos with athletes like Greg Rutherford and Christian Taylor doing step ups with 200kgs and hang cleans with 150kgs. At the pointy end sometimes it becomes the only avenue left for improvement. IE Get more power! So for triple jump a good base of strength with quality training can get you to high 16m for example but then just gets back to power to get a few more cm. The decision to push hard in the gym is simply that, a decision that is reflected in performance. If you are sure a 20% increase in your hang clean will directly impact your performance go for it.




And if you are not genetically gifted sometimes an athlete has to roll the dice and go hard early in the strength area. For example if you are a 23 year old sprinter who runs 11.5 (male!) and have done heaps of running, odds are you won’t break 10 seconds so maybe going for broke in the gym is warranted to get that 10.99.

Now how do you decide what you need to lift in the gym after you have a base of strength? Well the starting point is analysing your sports performance then assessing what you need to improve in skills and conditioning. For me I think once I power cleaned 125kgs and squatted reps on 150kgs looking back would have been good to hold that level of conditioning and push to say 60+ metres by throwing better and being more athletic. Then once that was stabilized maybe push a clean to 140kgs and work my way to 65 metres. But I simply pulled myself into oblivion on the platform! Wasted a lot of time. And hammer throwers who took steroids and had crap technique and threw far don’t count. The number of times I have been to conferences and seen videos of this thrower who had amazing strength and power annoys me. As an ex thrower it annoys me seeing academics putting this stuff in front of people. We all know you have to be strong!

I  am a firm believer in testing all the jumps (vertical and horizontal) and having a speed/power profile and for intermittent sports a test of high level aerobic capacity. Having information allows a coach to examine the sports performance and make more informed decisions on what to concentrate on. It is always a decision based on “will this improve my performance”. And every year from beginner to older athlete emphasis is different.

So this article is not about whether to lift or not. Getting stronger is critical and also for injury prevention. But the law of diminishing returns needs to be respected. And is what you are doing improving your sport?

It is a tough one because  lots of athletes feel omnipotent when they smash iron in the gym! When you pump iron sometimes you feel invincible but reality nearly always hits when the guy next to you with 25% less bench press knocks you over in a game. How many lifters, bodybuilders and cross fitters go home thinking they can stop a nuclear bomb with their hand, but then get on the sports field and cannot perform?




And I also disagree with the anti-weights brigade Measure your theories with performance folks. In 2017 we have evolved to the point where an individual approach is required for athletes and the tools are there. Not whether to lift or not. So have I answered the question of how strong is strong enough? No. Ha. Just start training and analyse what you need to improve your sports performance and dose accordingly.

November 25, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment