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

Jarrod Egan from GFC to Celtic to Redbacks to Crows to Port!

Article late 2011 about Jarrod Egan, my assistant at Geelong from 1999 to 2003


  • by: Jesper Fjeldstad. From: Sunday Mail (SA). November 05, 2011 10:00PM

And the Power has confirmed it will venture overseas for a training camp this summer, heading across to New Zealand for what is expected to be four or five days some time in late November.Port Adelaide, which has been able to boost its football spend after a $9 million assistance package from the SANFL and the AFL, signed Egan to complete its most resourced football department in years and say he has already made an impression.

Egan was known by Port Adelaide fitness coach Cam Falloon because of their joint mentor Loris Bertolacci, the ground-breaking fitness coach who played part in the Baby Bombers’ 1993 success at Essendon and AFL’s first full-time fitness coach.

Falloon and Egan met over coffees and for regular catch-ups last year and when Falloon was told there was room to expand his department he didn’t have to think long before knowing whom to target.

Egan came with impressive credentials, having previously worked with North Melbourne, Geelong and Scottish Premier League soccer club Celtic.

As the Power embarked on a early morning session in the parklands yesterday morning, Falloon said the Egan investment was already beginning to reap rewards.

“He’s been a really good pick-up and what we’re really looking forward to adding to the fitness department is some experience,” Falloon said. “We’ve got some really good staff here with Andrew Rondinelli and Ben Serpell but we’ve probably lacked some experience.

“While we didn’t know each other well, we knew about each other and we had a few meetings last year, a coffee and a catch-up, and when the opportunity came up for us to recruit an experienced person he was certainly high up on our list.

“In a very short space of time Jarrod had been able to already make a very significant impact.

“We’re rapt with him.”

Then, in a cheeky manner, Falloon couldn’t resist to rub it in:

“And it’s always good to get someone from the Adelaide Crows.”

Fallon was also chuffed about the trip to New Zealand, which was about team bonding through hard work rather than high-altitude training – the time they will be away won’t be long enough to get the benefits of being in thin air.

“There are some fairly significant plans in place and it’s a really good opportunity to get the group together, work on team bonding and leadership and help the guys who are coming into the system,” Falloon said.

“Brad Ebert from West Coast Eagles and Brent Renouf from Hawthorn … it’s just a good opportunity for the guys to get away, do some hard work together and get to know each other.

“But also have a change of scenery. I guess what we’ve been able to do in the past few years has been to get away for a few days locally so this is a fantastic opportunity to head overseas.

“It’ll be a great thing for us as a group. With the clubs in the past, it’s had a really good effect in bringing the group together.

“It’s been a trend that when clubs do that they tend to have a really good year.”

April 8, 2012 Posted by | AFL, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Long Term Physical Development of Geelong Football Club from 1998 to 2006

There is heaps of confusion now in AFL fitness practices. 2 main areas of confusion are how to interpret GPS Data and also how big and strong should players be. The GPS situation needs to steady a little. The evolution of the technoogy has meant more precise data with better GPS units and  more units. The rule changes have forced people to try and theorize about  major changes in fitness needs. The biggest impact in fitness and AFL games has been the rotations. I saw the trend quickly early in 2005 when other clubs rotated and pushed rotations up as quickly as I could. Is every player now doing a 17 beep test now? Or a 22 YO YO test? Or bench pressing 150kgs? Players are leaner and overall stronger and fitter but physiologies havent evolved as much as people think. More how people are used and the mix is the key.

The danger has been that people have reacted to the GPS data too quickly and said “more steady state running this year = more fitness needed.” But at the same time people have said “we have to play contact footy so need to smash bodies.” Very confusing. Some still fantazise about running teams off their legs. I reckon Bangsbo is pretty right. Good test  the YO YO . Add a repeat speed test, some power test and some basic weights data and then easy to profile players.


Now I was gone from geelong in April 2006 when they were 3rd i think on the ladder and after 2 years in the finals ( 04/05) with young players. From 2007 onwards the club didnt miss a beat with their preparation, development and management with a flag in 2007.. But the reality is that in 2004 and 2005 the players who underpinned their great era had heaps of experience in finals footy and a few wins and heartbreaks. All required in the journey.

When I got to Geelong in 1998, Scarlett,King for example were elready there. Kingy already had done a lot of hard work whilst Matty was very skinny but showed great promise with speed and decision making. Wojcinski was drafted in 98 . So really that year ( 1999)  in terms of specific physical preparation, it  was a bit insignificant because Gary Ayres team was ageing and I simply tried to keep them on the park. Interesting that my assistant in 1999 was Matt Hornsby who then went to Port Adelaide and now Richmond. Basically I did a lot of core stability work and low level unilateral weight training and lots of recovery. Alan McConnell did a lot of small sided games in pxmas 1998 and I also did lots of crosstraining. Simply the whole exercise in 1999 was keeping people playing and also not pushing the envelope in the gym and on the track. Mid 1999 saw the financial crisis at Geelong and I had almost no resources from then.

In 1999 many of the crew that formed the base of 2007 on were drafted. Ling,Corey,Chapman,Enright and so on. That year ( 1999 /2000) was a mix of development of very young players and maintaining an old base of players that got the club to one final versus Hawthorn. My assistant that year was Jarrod Egan. Jarrod is now at Port Adelaide but from 2003  worked at the Kangaroos, then Celtic in Scotland, the  Redbacks and Crows. He was a good track and field athlete and had worked under Vern McMillan at the VIS. Jarrod was great at showing technique both in the gym and on the track. We were very conservative with all the new draft boys and I also sent Jarrod to do his levels in Pilates. Thus we started slowly from the ground up in 99/2000. All the players were screened and the main focus was that any areas of imbalances or core stability/strength issues were addressed. Then all the young players were taught all the different running and agility drills plus technique development  in the gym was a critical part of the Program. By 2000 I was aware that the average age of a good team was 25 and nothing has changed. And all my experiences with players from Gary O’Donnell to all the Baby Bombers then the Lloyd/Lucas era had showed statistically that it would take time.Added to this was the fact that in the 90’s young players were a year or two behind the current draft kids. So 2000 was simply again keeping old players on the park and nurturing and not breaking young babies.

The next crop of players started coming in over the 2000/2001 drafts. All of a sudden by 2002 there was a lot of pressure to succeed. But reality was the club was almost broke and full of kids. I knew we were in for the long haul.  So preseasons 2000 to  2001 were a lot about building the base for the 1999 draftess and repeating the careful physical approach of preseason 1999 with newbies. One thing that I did with players in their second year was put running efficiency and speed developemnt at a premium. I also made the 2nd and 3rd year players do some hard work up the hills at Eastern Beach each pre season. Controlled and timed sessions such as 10*100m or 3 sets of 3 220m’s walk back. I did not rush their weights program in this phase. More important was a gradual build up of all athletic skills with strength and power and also a dedication to keeping players on the park so they could get lots of skill development & games played. The most important factor.

I repeated a camp I did with Essendon in 2000  and we went to the AIS for a week and exposed the players to elite training methods. Not Arizona but just as good.

So by the end of preeason 2002 all the young group had been privy to every conditioning technique and also exposed to some hard work. Not 5*1km stuff  or LSD  but repeated high intensity interval work and exposure to plyometrics and speed/change of direction and acceleration training. Stats in the gym were meaningless still at this stage. Technique was the aim and conditioning.

In preseason 2002 I employed Mark Spivey ( head lead ECB now) and Chris Dennis ( Paris Rugby Union Guru now). Also I got Tahi Reihana in from Rugby League and used John Minns in the gym. ( Ex OZ Shot Put record holder). My brother in law ( Gus Puopolo)  donated Power Racks and weights because still the club was not spending. I also bought second hand weights and scrounged bits and pieces. Mark Spivey added a dimension of Agility Training to the program and also introduced week in/week out sleds and contrast sprints training. Seeing Harley and Hunt ripping sleds and sprinting was great. We also did more bounding and started an aggressive Power Weights program that pre-season. Spives went to the Bulldogs the next year and Chris Dennis took over as my assistant. Chris had captained Vic in junior basketball ( I think!) and he also was great in the gym and on the track. John Minns stood at the Squat Rack every Saturday morning for 2 years and we carefully put 2 good years of hard yakke into their legs and bums. I used Tahi Reihana in the gym but moreso to transfer the weights work into contact work and change of direction. Tahi did a lot of unheraled work with many of the young players. I also used Mark Sayers ( ex All Blacks Biomechanist) to assist me with inclose agility work and screening players for running technique and contact work.

So in preason 2002 players like ling etc ( add Carazzo!) were doing high intensity repeat 150’s with a minutes break and looking ominous. Repeating speed and grunt was the focus n a base of stability and technique.  But there was always a commitement to making sure all the players had a great base to work off. Even players like Cameron Mooney had to spend a year getting problems like OP corrected after coming from the Kangas. And an Individual approach was taken as much as I could with the staffing I had.

So by preseason 2003 most of the players ( except the AblettG/Mackie) group were well on the way to be being powerful runners and inclose contact players. Gazza etc were again in a development situation due to age/low training age and simply not ready.I alsof the players after a few years of development. I tested every players MAX VO2 that year and had every player screened for core stability by Michael Dermansky. Thus I then knew the underlying physolgies. Enright and Ling were high 80 max vo2 adn even Ablett was above 60.Someone like Mooney was close to 50. Thus after years of testing speed and fitness plus wathing them play I had a better idea of what they could do on the park..

In the preseaon of 2003/2004 I changed training a lot. We prioritized Skills and tactical training and didn’t do specific running days as in the previous 2 preseaons. Running was done after Skills. One session was an aerobic bias , one was anaerobic and the Wednesday Run session was speed. But the push in the gym was still on and whilst being individualized, focussed on power and strength.I also employed Donna Rae Szalinzki to fine tune players with anaerboc needs on egros and had more funding and staff that year. Players were creeping up to 22/23/24 and starting to look like men. And play accordingly. Watching Ling. Steve Johnson and David Spriggs run that pre season was amazing. Unfortunately Johnson and Spriggs had accidents socially which meant their 2004 seasons were almost over. A pity because we went close in 2004. Awesome athletes.

The preseaon of 2005/2006 was a washout. A decision was made  to only train once daily ( not mine!)  and we crammed everything into one session and the review of 2006 demonstrated the inadequacies of that preparation. My hands were tied.

By that period and after a close call in the 2005 finals ( after a tough 2005) the players needed to be “topped” off. this happened in 2006/2007 pre-season and the finally the team got their reward.

So I started this bried history saying there is confusion in the fitness areas of AFL. Simply takes time to develop an athlete and AFL players have to run and jump and tackle repetitively. Pretty simple. They are not Sumo wrestlers or dustance runners.And if you rush development you can pay the price after. By 2004 or after 4 tears in teh system players were ready to win finals. Bot a flag.

Interesting that Decathlon in the 2000’s is really the trend that AFL fitness gurus whould examine. Add that to more  Sports Specific Training & fitness related work. What trend is that or more so, what has changed in Decathlon in the last 10 years  that leads me to that link?

Give me a buzz!

April 7, 2012 Posted by | AFL, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Goalkicking, AFL and Sports Science

Recently there was an article on Goalkicking in the AFL. Chris Scott made an interesting comment. “We run a football program here, not a sports science program,” Scott says, bluntly. “I’m heavily in favour of an enormous amount of practice. It’s a collaborative approach, and the sports science guys have input, but we don’t simply say: ‘You manage the total load and we’ll work within that’, which is the environment I’ve been in my whole football life.”

Let’s get this straight Rohan Connolly . July 8, 2011. Read more:

Obviously they have had a frustrating season and also have a player with the yips. And yes there does exist a concern in medical and fitness departments when players go out at any time t do extra kicking.

The argument that it is ok to lose a player or two given more kicking does not really have logic especially inseason. There is more leeway with this philosophy in pre season with kickiig and fast running. But I can assure readers that if a fitness guru does more sprinting to increase speed ( works!) and loses player then much stress surrounds this.

That perfect practice and then more practice works cannot be disputed. Junk training no. And of course practice of a skill  is the aim.

The caveat is simply individual needs. Some players can be bashed with baseball bats and hung upside down all day, then sprint and kick all day and never get injured. Bartel for example. But if a player HAS core instability problems and other musculoskeletal issues then doing heaps of kicking may lead to injury and more so impaired mechanics. That is changed skill to avoid sore spots, tightnesses etc.

Thus everyone acknowledges that more practice ( and practice with a purpose) will improve a skill.  But the specific issue here is that if a talented young player has groin, osteitis issues etc,  then these problems must be addressed first

I think the issue here is simply one of individual needs and then of course how one practices and why and . My major gripe with players (and clubs) is that these technical needs should be addressed in October to Xmas. That is the time to perfect skills.

But losing players. No way, that never works as a philosophy.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | AFL | Leave a comment

Brian Cook deserves a lot of credit for Geelong Football Club

Brian Cook deserves a lot of credit for Geelong Football Club

I started at Geelong in 1998 and my decision to accept a position with Geelong and resign from Essendon was re-inforced by the fact I was informed that Geelong was a well resourced financial club. Well to my dismay by early 1999 the club was found to have a massive debt and the CEO and committee was overhauled and Brian Cook was appointed. What followed was tough to swallow for me. The clubs number 1 priority was to recover the debt. Bendigo Bank sponsored the club and reduced the debt and Frank Costa & co secured this move. But of course till 2004 this meant that funds dried up for me. I had the bare minimum for equipment and staff and Financial Security was prioritized above performance as NO 1 aim of club. Of course we had drafted from 1998 2002 the bulk of players that were developed through that era resulting in finals in 2004/2005 & flags in 2007/2009.

A summary of the history of Brian’s influence is in this article below:


Brian Cook drove all these steps and clearly outlined the process to staff often. Whilst it was a pain to be under resourced I could see the club was heading in the right direction. The facilities were still good and the ground and surrounding areas were great. Just not much money for staff & equipment. So simply I employed people on minimum wages in the fitness area and developed them. Jarrod Egan, Chris Dennis, Mark Spivey, Matt Hornsby, Luke Meehan etc.

Mark Spivey

I am not sure but think it was 2004 when Brian Cook had a meeting with all the staff and said that the priority had changed to team performance given the club had reduced the debt and stabilized finances. Immediately Brian released funds for a gym restructure for example.

But I think that Brian’s main influence was felt in late 2006 when he conducted a review of the club’s footy department. I was terminated in April 2006 but this review was started mid year after the club’s on field performances collapsed and there were other “problems” occurring.

Below is a link to the findings of the review that members received.


He identified the need to get quality staff in administration in the footy department and also the need to get cutting edge sports science and back up with medical staff. I was keen in 2005 to get an International standard Sports Medicine person into the club and in mid 2006 (after I was gone) Chris Bradshaw was recruited. This was a key appointment by Brian Cook.

Brian has a Sports Science background and in the review identified that the pre-season of 2005/2006 had been insufficient to hold up what should have been a tilt at a flag in 2006 after close calls in 04/05. The machinations behind this poor fitness preparation are described by a media release from my lawyers in 2006 in the link below. It was an insufficient fitness preparation in 2005/2006 pre-season for 2006 and Brian’s review was spot on and more so what was implemented with resources, admin and staff.


Also more importantly Brian Cook had the wisdom to realize the club had the right list which was at the right age and development. The players had been in 2 years of finals and were ready. So he stabilized the club, kept the list and added expertise from Neil Balme to the Sports Science area. He created clear lines of decision making with little interference and the rest was history. But I am sure he realized that after 2004& 2005 that the club was on target and didn’t need a cull of players. That was the number one call in my opinion. So many clubs have reacted savagely to a poor year by getting rid of players. Clubs like Freo have ripped their lists apart in the past,

It was reported in the media that there was angst between Cook and Thompson but I can only read and interpret the papers here. Brian Cook settled my termination case in March 2007 and I was happy and respected his input that day and the decision. Again good timing because it got a gremlin out of the system before the season started in 2007. This “angst” between Cook & Thompson is suggested below in an article in the Courier Mail. Obviously the events of 2010 had to be handled professionally by Cook and on field and off field success suggests this has happened.


I think that Brian has a unique mix where he has been CEO at a number of clubs but also has Sports Science qualifications and experience in the sports science area. Thus he understands athletes and training and this subtle mix allowed him to make quality judgements on what was needed to succeed on the field especially after the shemozzle of 2006.

So I think a lot of the credit (apart from the players, coaches & staff of course!) has to be directed at Brian Cook.

June 28, 2011 Posted by | AFL | Leave a comment

What does Running Capability mean in the Australian Football League?

In a previous post I spoke about the confusion that exists when people talk about AFL players and their “engines” or “tanks” or aerobic capacity. James Hird has added to the discussion after Hawthorn beat Essendon.

“There’s no doubt Hawthorn outran us for the whole game and it’s been a bit of a trend over the last four weeks. There’s no doubt that our running capability isn’t like the teams we’ve played and that is a concern,” Hird said.

“Particularly in the second quarter they opened us up through the middle of the ground.”


Most people think aerobic capacity. Certainly still a factor but again more about recovering ATP whilst “resting”.

Now the press is saying Essendon is slow. Is that what they mean (or Hird) by running capacity. A repeated speed test was designed recently for the AFL. The medline reference is below. Way back to Brian Dawson’s repeated speed test ( 20 7 second sprints on 30 seconds) this has been measured. So are we talking about repeated speed?  I would assume this was worked on a lot at Essendon this pre season. Only an assumptiion but a few names in this link give a clue.


Has Paul Chapman got running capacity? Certainly explosive!  Joel Corey? Probably the perfect AFL model. Bit of everything.

So what is RUNNING CAPACITY in the AFL especially with 3 interchange and rotations.? Well when one examines Collingwood  and Hawthorn it is the ability to run  multiple efforts over varied distances for short periods. Get into space a number of times after in close ATP sapping efforts and create the ability to open up the game. The Press has confused the issue. At the end of the day you can only do so many 150’s or 300’s at 100% pace with 2 to 5 minutes rest.

Well again what is running capacity? Is it recruiting enough hybrid athletes that have some speed, some “tank” and can run efficiently. We have seen Decathletes recently be a little lighter so that they can maximize their running points. Geelong Football Club switch back to more traditional conditioning methods this year rather than Game Based & RSA training. Certainly I remember doing a running session with the Geelong boys at Eastern Beach where they did 3 sets of 3 220m up the hills there! They also did 4 sets of 5 50’s one year and also did sessions of 300/400/500/400/300 all split up over every year from 2001 to 2004 to develop the players as efficient players. They also did heaps of sprints. Etc Blah Blah.

So is RUNNING CAPACITY the ability to accelerate hard for approximately 10 to 30 metres and then have the ANAEROBIC capacity to allow this to happen and enough of a “tank” to allow recovery on the bench or when resting in the forward line.

Are repeated speed tests a little confusing? No I found they reflected what happened in a game OK. But more so are traditional training methods ( Interval work etc) more relevant in underpinning changes that create hard running efficient runners?

In the old days ( 90’s) anyone with a beeper test of less than 14 simply struggled t repeat speed, But also those with amazing aerobic levels had no speed to repeat.

Over to you new Essendon Fitness staff. But there is a clue somewhere here in this post!

June 26, 2011 Posted by | AFL, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

AFL fitness, Sports Science and Collingwood!

Has Collingwood got the most amazing sports science program or is AFL success cyclical? How did St Kilda nearly  win 22 games in a season? In the end lost a Grand Final by a bounce or two  each year! David Buttifant is an awesome sports scientist and fitness specialist. I studied with him and he played AFL and did Track and Field. Smart guy! Real smart and experienced and well resourced. Add the practical background of Michael Dugina and the backroom at PIES and you have a potent mix. Jake Niall wrote an article in the AGE ( June 19) on Collingwood, fitness,substitute rule and ages. An excerpt below:

Feathering the Magpie nest.                                                                                                                                                                                                 “Collingwood’s major advantage in a sub rule system lies in the fact that it has a higher fitness level than opponents, and it is able to maintain a higher intensity. To a degree, this is because it has an even spread of talent, but it’s also to do with the natural aerobic base of its players.

This is partly a matter of demographics. Very young teams struggle to run out games – watch the Gold Coast run out of petrol soon. Mature teams, provided they’re not too old, have the benefit of multiple pre-seasons.

Most of Collingwood’s core players – Scott Pendlebury, Dale Thomas, Dane Swan, Travis Cloke, Heath Shaw, Harry O’Brien, Nick Maxwell, Luke Ball – are in the prime 23-27 age bracket. The more physically vulnerable 28-and-overs – Alan Didak, Chris Tarrant, Ben Johnson, Leon Davis – aren’t as numerous and, in most cases, have good endurance. Youngsters Steele Sidebottom and Dayne Beams, too, have huge aerobic engines.”

Read more:


Interesting article. BUT!                                                                                                                                                                                                                              What is a huge aerobic engine? Does Jake mention Repeat Speed! Does Jake mention High Intensity Intermittent fitness? Ability to tolerate lactic? Leg Strength levels that carry players with grunt?

So what is the aerobic base required for AFL? We all know that too much aerobic training slows you down. How then does Swan come on for 6 minutes and explode? They key is a blend of aerobic ability and a unique blend of fitness qualities that allows a player to repeat speed. For example if a player has an aerobic capacity OR tank that is for example a MAXVO2 of 50 ml kg min then that player needs some intervention over a few pre seasons. But when a player has developed a reasonable aerobic base or tank ( for example 59 ml kg min) then the ability to repeat speed and tolerate high anaerobic levels is the key.

Does geelong now live high, train low without getting the initial adaptation of going to Arizona? That would still give you a few % per player that underpins the ability to recover from repeat efforts when resting. Proven.

Without having a clue I think there would be a few teams that would beat Collingwood as a squad in a TAN RUN. Confused? Remember the key is the ability to repeat efforts and speed. Keeping your aerobic capacity topped up will help that for sure. If Dustin Fletcher has to chase opponents all day he struggles to repeat his amazing speed because he is a gifted power athlete. IE His aerobic system is slower at churning out ATP because he hasnt got a “BIG TANK”.  But huge aerobic beasts Collingwood? Not sure. Maybe a bit of adaptation from Arizona & LIVE HIGH TRAIN LOW without slow twitch training. A few would be aerobic beasts I think like many teams. But also beasts under the squat rack.

Cameron Ling is an aerobic monster. You would have to camp on Mt Everest and do high knees for a month to achieve his levels. And he can repeat speed. But ,slow speed! Joel Corey is the perfect intermittent sport athlete. Good aerobic capacity, good speed etc. James Hird also was a potent mix. Not elite in any fitness physiological traits but a bit of everything. Good 10m, OK jump, good aerobic etc. But an aerobic beast? No. Maybe a decathlete who could run a 4 15 1500 and 11 sec 100m and throw a shot 14metres.

Tough area sports physiology. Remember. Repeating Speed. Repeating Effort. Could the Brisbane Lions out labour the Collingwood players on a worksite? More confused. Could Gold Coast outrun Collingwood in a 5km run at Surfers Paradise? Probably yes. Confused? Altitude, leg weights, repeat speed.  What a mix!

The average MAX VO2 for AFL teams does not alter a lot. The average age of teams is a constant.  Other physiological variables alter heaps with teams from preseason to inseason and different programs. And then, then there is RECOVERY. Now that is one thing the PIES do well.

Remember don’t believe everything you read! And go to a specialist if you have a specific medical problem and not a GP. Jake you are a great journo and a budding sports physiologist who needs some work experience to fine tune your understanding of AFL fitness needs.

June 19, 2011 Posted by | AFL, Uncategorized | 3 Comments


Small sided games and fitness through games has really made its mark in team sports training. Lot’s of work filtered through from Hockey and other sports and in AFL we saw the Adelaide Crows pioneer this approach. Nevertheless they used other means (for example ergometer work) to supplement fitness, but less formal running. But has their high injury rate occurred due to high fitness levels and poor motor patterns? Who knows? This is a bad mix and at the base of my discussion. This approach has filtered through to many sports and recently we saw a research article by Gabbett on Volleyball with juniors. Obviously “bang for buck” in simplicity is far greater when things can be combined but my opinion is that there is a downside to what seems a simple solution to fitness. Yet I have seen many problems with this approach.

We have seen an explosion in sports science in Australia and a huge influence on sports such as cycling and rowing for example. Team sports have achieved enormous benefit due to sports science, with areas such as load management, heat management, hydration and many other areas receiving enormous backup. Huge factors and load management has been a big one with GPS and databases etc.

Sports such as soccer are now creating skill based TID schemes where kids are encouraged to play heaps of games and learn lots of skills early and then they are selected later on from a larger pool of skilled players. Simple.

But we have direct evidence that the relative age effect destroys the careers of many young players and only the gifted younger ones come through (and in fact succeed more often) coupled with kids with advanced maturity that sneak through. So many good kids are left behind. That is kids that are born early and who survive due to talent, do well at elite level. On the other hand the “bruisers” with no talent also do well as well as older kids. So many young (born early) players are lost and this is mainly a physical factor due to maturation and/or training.

And look at Tennis. We have a massive generation of players whose parents have mortgaged their houses for coaching and yet no result so far.

Sports Science has been little assistance to track and field. The scientists would say that the coaches do not want to listen. But my opinion is that the sports scientists have little to offer because very few really know how to create advanced athletes. Sports Science is awesome at telling us how to manage a player in Malaysian heat but has little idea how to propel someone over 2 45.

In team sports like AFL we simply aimed at the average. One needs to be good at many areas. Intermittent sports require a broad long term base of conditioning and good acceleration and a sufficiently developed aerobic system to assist repeat efforts. Average to OK in the gym and average to OK in power. All achievable and in the end injury management becomes a key as does talent. My experience in all these team sports is much the same. One usually does not need to create super athletes. But if a team has a core of players who have talent and also have developed all their fitness skills (running/jumping/change of direction etc) then that team should always beat a mob that can play and are fit but lack “fitness” skills. Always the same principle. All things being equal, one factor will make the difference.

Getting back to tennis, my opinion is that strength and conditioning and fitness are simply massive factors why we are falling behind in many sports.  And this needs to happen early. Puberty. And by then kids should be fully developed in all facets of running and jumping and change of direction and also have a broad base of conditioning. What we see in OZ is a huge number of skinny kids with good aerobic qualities and one sided bodies coming up against explosive “Europeans” and now Asians. Forget what happened 30 years ago. No one played tennis.

And with all due respects let’s not really consider many sports in OZ like netball and cricket and AFL because they are not played on the world stage. Our female basketball improved when they started all going OS. So there is nothing to compare here. Even Rugby League is limited in exposure. Rugby Union is only now starting to go PRO all over the world and we will see the effect of that in ten to twenty years.

In Athletics we do not have coaches for kids. Kids are not taught. There are other problems but it is difficult to change bad habits. In AFL usually paid and competent fitness personnel spend 2 to 3 years fixing up massive deficiencies in players from 17 to 20. And that works and we see a reasonable product by 21. That’s ok for footy and then add some skills based games for fitness and VOILA …Fit and at 25 yo the team wins games.

We have seen the push to work a lot on agility versus change of direction. But my experience was that the freaks (e.g. Gary Ablett) had it all. Ability to change direction, balance and then vision and skill.

In Volleyball all I see is skinny little frail kids jumping around and getting fitter BUT reinforcing very poor “fitness” and neuromuscular habits. Once ingrained hard to change. And Volleyball is a real sport. Played everywhere. Lot harder to succeed in than cricket and netball and AFL. So strength and conditioning at an early age is now in my opinion an absolute priority. We must have players ready at 16 to 18 to explode on the world stage. In AFL they usually cannot squat with a broomstick at that age and it doesn’t matter. One has time in the cloistered environment of AFL. But in tennis and athletics and volleyball and soccer, there is no time. Be good early or perish. So know how to play the sport, make decisions on court, do the clean and jerk and bound through the roof. Not balance on a swiss ball.

I have spent 15 sessions with an elite junior soccer team (12 yo) and have done 45 minutes a week of running technique and core and balance work. The results have been great and now many players are starting to challenge other players in state teams from other clubs. The coach says they are more explosive, balanced and change direction. Add skills and decision making and a talented player assumes their right position. And the young boys like doing it as long as they are not being flogged and they are learning and having fun.

The skills based approached in my opinion can be lazy. Simply get heaps of kids doing the sport and see who comes through. Chuck them a ball and let them play. Of course they will get fit.

It is obvious that one has to learn the sport early and learn to make decisions. We know that multi lateral development is the key at least till puberty. But the missing link is strength and conditioning and movement education at an early age. And core development and balance.

Of course if I get kids to play all day at 100% pace in the backyard chasing dogs and jumping fences they will improve in their vertical jump and 5m tests. But we need to slow down and realize that life aint that easy, and ask the question why we struggle in so many sports.

I think sports science has to slow down a fraction and ask the question “Can I get a male volleyballer to vertical jump 95cm?” or a tennis player to explode sideways and drop their centre of gravity and smash a forheand back to NADAL. Having good salt balance in a drink at Wimbledon will not help if you cannot get to the ball.

Let’s remember that the best coaches are ones that combine ART and SCIENCE.

I love sports science and in fact if we can attend to the strength and conditioning issues at a young age and have skilled kids ready to go at 14 to 16 we will dominate the world. My opinion.

So in summary.

Do everything in development. Zero shortcuts.

And forget non-international sports and non eccentric sports (circling/ rowing, swimming, kayak etc) when comparing and or using sports science.



July 18, 2008 Posted by | AFL, Development, General, Soccer, Strength and Conditioning, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 2 Comments