loris bertolacci

Sport, Health and Fitness


Hamstring Injury Rates are not going down. Recurrence rates are, but Hamstring Injury remains a frustration. I wanted to explore the INSEASON period as a time when most injuries occur and a block which is totally different to pre-season due to the fight or flight response and recovery needs after games. The research meets practice pretty well in preseason. But inseason, the search for predictive models needs to be approached with caution because of the chaos that AFL brings.

Recent research on fascicle length inseason is fascinating and could lead one to a conclusion that we should smash the Nordics all year round.

“Fascicle lengths of BFlh vary across the in-season period in elite AFL players and the extent of these alterations appears to be influenced somewhat by HSI history. However, independent of injury history, there was a gradual decay in fascicle length as the season progresses.” 1

What I haven’t been able to find is whether the timing of new hamstring injuries occurs timed with “gradual decay in fascicle length”? My gut feel is not quite. I struggle with the definitions of High Speed Running and Accelerations with GPS because it makes intuitive sense to me that hamstring injuries occur at 100% intensity. From a load perspective and fatigue this research is invaluable, but we do know that hamstring injuries occur at close to or at 100% intensity. I have used GPS data extensively, but it almost does not cut it when looking at huge eccentric forces that occur at terminal swing range of lower leg.

So with GPS data tread very carefully! This table from Sherry shows at 95% maximum speed seems 80% eccentric force needed! From 95% to 100% increases 20%. Almost a fight or flight response.


So I am going to assume that there is no spike in hamstring statistics at the end of the year. I might be wrong. Don’t have the data.

Jesse Owens in the mid 30’s jumped > 8m in long jump so produced force and ran what is thought the be equivalent to 10 flat now all things considered. And let’s assume no conditioning but just adapted to maximal speed. AFL players would dream of being as good an athlete as Owens bar one or two maybe. So we always need to understand the neuromuscular basis of adaptation and not just structural. He ran often at 100% and adapted and there was no formal conditioning. In reverse my bet is this can never happen. Yet most of the discussion is what happens in conditioning. The gym.


In professional Soccer in Europe hamstring injuries are on the rise as Ekstrands study shows.

Conclusions Training-related hamstring injury rates have increased substantially since 2001 but match-related injury rates have remained stable. The challenge is for clubs to reduce training-related hamstring injury rates without impairing match performance” 2

In the AFL the issue is more in games. So in Soccer in Europe very tough to get that eccentric loading in a week when multiple matches are played and they have a short pre-season. Whilst studies are showing that teams are not using Nordics have more injury, I really think this research would have to be examined closely to how often teams play and just recovery. But it has to be taken into account despite historical rise in injury rate and one would think greater adherence to injury prevention methods would work. Maybe!

Periodization in the AFL fits a pretty stable model. The research with Eccentric Hamstring Strength is a given in my opinion.

“Low levels of eccentric hamstring strength increased the risk of future HSI. Interaction effects suggest that the additional risk of future HSI associated with advancing age or previous injury was mitigated by higher levels of eccentric hamstring strength.” 3

So there is no doubt that this needs to be addressed pre-season. And then enough sprinting must be included preseason to enhance immunity from injury.

A neat study on Gaelic Football adds to need for maximal velocity running in the prep phase.

“High chronic training loads and exposure to bouts of maximal velocity running reduce injury risk in elite Gaelic football” 4

And then the “little rocks” need to be addressed. 1. Biomechanics and 2. Lumbo Pelvic issues with 2 neat studies demonstrating these vital “little rocks”.



Most clubs will advise players who had a full load the season before to have a break and then ramp up training prior to pre-season starting in November or December depending on whether they played finals or are allowed more weeks off due to their years in the system. Most clubs also will assume that healthy players have done a build-up of training prior to the formal pre-season so usually they are expected to be ready for high speed (maybe not sprinting) from day one.

AFL Periodization Table I made up referring specifically to Hamstring Injury protocols.


When I started AFL in the late 80s a few people made me some glute ham machines! I had used them in Europe in 70’s and also read Dr Yessis review.


So I don’t want to get into a discussion on what type of exercises we would use and when should we progress from concentric to eccentric to maximal eccentric but this search for the Holy Grail probably started in the Greek Olympics!

In the 2000 to 2007 period in AFL it was pretty basic with me. Nordic lowers, RDL’s, Glute thrusts, pilates scooter exercise, 2 up/1down leg curls, back extensions 2 and 1 leg , high bench step-ups, swiss ball curls, isometric bridges and many other variations. Focus was high level eccentric exercises in prexmas block. Sprinting was increased from short accelerations at high speed to maximal velocity by Xmas so we had a big “minestrone” of eccentric stress. DOMS was loved (except by skills coaches) and we tried to take players to the edge but not over to get that immunity going! All this worked and from 2001 to 2006 we had half the hamstring injury rate to AFL averages. That is RAW HARD DATA!  One year tells you nothing but raw hard data of 3 years of more says you are doing something right. But we also made sure lumbo pelvic issues were addressed and biomechanical issues addressed.

I would prefer a player has a high chronic load of maximal speed and low to medium high speed running than low load of maximal speed running because that player will in my opinion be more prone to injury. And a factor called the SPEED RESERVE needs to be mentioned. If players have run at high intensity in pre-season they may never need that in season so the concept of a SPEED RESERVE may overtake the need to whack into eccentrics in season. Go faster, accelerate faster than you will in season and survive preseason and you may have a Speed Reserve which may translate to architecture?

But in general if you adhere to Gabbetts research on loads and get into the players from all angles eccentrically not a bad recipe pre-season.

Come January in the AFL brings a unique problem. This is where research and periodization and psychology don’t quite interact. After the Xmas break all the players and coaches get new boots for Xmas! They know the season is close. Grounds are fast. So every factor needs to be taken into account individually, given skills loads and intensities increase, gym (performance weights) intensity often still increase, and simply the athlete is better prepared so goes a bit faster!

The next phase in February is tricky. And this then falls into the laps of the coaches, high performance department and medical staff to make the right decisions or just have a philosophy. Given Intra club games commence and micro-trauma increases and fight of flight kicks in. How much you push the window in this phase is so individual. Chronic loads may still be elevated but are you still dosing eccentrically at same loads and volume? There is a massive distinction between maximal sprinting and high speed running.


Statistics for Hamstring Injury are not dropping but recurrence is which simply suggests better rehabilitation and return to play protocols. And most injuries are in a game. Recent data is looking at weekly spikes in high speed running as a predictor to injury. The main decision from staff is when did INSEASON start?  Then the next question is IF a player has had a full preseason, have they worked maximally in speed in games. Then do you continue to dose eccentric exercises or do you rely more on the protective mechanism of running at maximal intensity weekly? Again with GPS this is tough. Because players may be > 24km/hr and accelerations of >3 but may never reach maximal speed. GPS data is great for LOAD feedback but not maximal eccentric load feedback.

Let’s examine players who are playing regularly and who are deemed to be reaching maximal speeds in a game on a weekly basis. Should a lower intensity posterior chain program be incorporated? Will there by a massive drop in season on the nordbord or on an isokinetic eccentric test or a flywheel test? Evidence suggests architectural changes occur in season. Can you reliably test players maximally in season though? In my opinion a lot of players will hold back if they feel anything in season. Plus the logistics are massive because in season they take 48 to 72 hours to recover before a max eccentric test can be done. I assume these studies are happening but from an historical perspective some of the fitness tests in season I did were a waste of time.

So there is some “panacea” PRESEASON with the big rocks being a progressive speed program and eccentric hamstring strength program in place that pushes the window and elicits adaptation and maybe a SPEED RESERVE,  PRE-SEASON is the BIG BABY or ROCK with eccentric adaptation and then tick other boxes.

But INSEASON the word multifactorial takes on another meaning. One of my friends in the AFL said the secret is that all staff and players are on the same page. Everyone knows what is happening to a player, their load, treatment and management. Thus information is passed on ASAP after games and with everyone on the same page from Sports Scientists to Welfare Officer to Coach a decision can be made how to dose a player on the ground and in the gym. This leads to a “somewhat” broad brush of administering eccentric dose preseason to very individualized approach in season.

INSEASON the shift should be subtle in my opinion but a half-baked Nordic after a Skills session on a Wednesday night is in my opinion maybe a waste of time. And if a player has kicked a lot that session plus not recovered from the game then a valuable exercise could become another stress which the player can’t recover from before the next game. And this is tough to predict and is part science, part management, part art.

So apart from dosing eccentric when needed of course (players who missed games/game time) loaded players may benefit from a slight shift in exercise protocol in season for hamstring strength. Exercises such as back extensions 1 and 2 legs, eccentric leg curls, swiss ball curls preferably unilateral, hip extension exercises and so on. Some form of performance weights need to be maintained but this is different. For example a trap bar deadlift with low reps. Dynamic warm-ups become critical.

It actually becomes tougher in season and means a lot of work has to be done by STAFF looking at any factor that could assist in preventing hamstring injury from load management to eccentric

dosage to ‘small rocks”. By “small rocks” I mean things like glute activation or range of motion or wellness or anything!

I think there will never be a load ratio or strength test that can accurately predict an injury. Bahr has shown screening cannot predict injury. 5. So in terms of hamstrings just throw a hamstring program at them preseason and track players who have been injured all year round. Despite some people saying they have found some predictive screening protocol I will stick my neck out and say they will always have their hands burnt with a hamstring injury in season when they least expect it.

So in season is more multifactorial management of players. I came up with a little table that reflected how one might approach hamstring injury prevention in AFL and stuck my neck out and put some % in without data, just used ART!

SCIENCE: Ticking BIG ROCKS of Hamstring Strength and Speed Dosage and ticking little rocks with areas such as Biomechanics and Lumbo Pelvic issues

ART: Well you always have to make a decision and would be nice if GPS data or a NORDBORD test removed the grey areas!

MANAGEMENT: Preseason the priority is that players are eccentrically dosed and exposed to maximal sprinting and so player cannot be mollycoddled BUT caveat is enough management to avoid actual injury!

table 2


  1. IN-SEASON ARCHITECTURAL ADAPTATIONS OF THE BICEPS FEMORIS LONG HEAD IN ELITE AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALLERS. Ryan Timmins, Matthew Bourne, Morgan Williams and David Opar. Br J Sports Med 2017 51: 395
  2. Hamstring injuries have increased by 4% annually in men’s professional football, since 2001: a 13-year longitudinal analysis of the UEFA Elite Club injury study            Br J Sports Med. 2016 Jun; 50(12):731-7.
  3. Opar, David A., Williams, Morgan, Timmins, Ryan, Hickey, Jack, Duhig,Steven, & Shield, Anthony (2014) Eccentric hamstring strength and hamstring injury risk in Australian footballers. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46.
  4. J Sci Med Sport. 2017 Mar;20(3):250-254. High chronic training loads and exposure to bouts of maximal velocity running reduce injury risk in elite Gaelic football. Malone S1, Roe M2, Doran DA3, Gabbett TJ4, Collins K2.
  5. Why screening tests to predict injury do not work and probably never will. a critical review. Bahr R.Br J Sports Med 2016; 5, 776-780

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October 29, 2017 Posted by | Rehabilitation, Strength and Conditioning, Track and Field | 2 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



Available on my website now

Loris Bertolacci Site


This E Book is a complete resource for anyone that needs to devise practical programs for hamstring rehabilitation. It delves into the current research on this area to back up the programs.

This 120 page manual includes over 150 Exercises and 8 different programs including specifically designed Running, Agility, Stretching and Weight Programs to help any athlete get on the road to a safer and more sound recovery.

Section 1: Hamstring Theory

  1. Introduction

  2. Anatomy

  3. Overstriding and Hamstring Injury

  4. New Studies Implicates the Core in Hamstring Injury

  5. Other Muscles that Impact on the Hamstring

  6. Hamstring Exercises

  7. Why Injuries

  8. Trunk Stability and Hamstrings

  9. Different sports and Hamstring Rehabilitation

  10. So what do you do if you hurt your Hamstring?

  11. Healing Times and Rehabilitation

    Section 2: Practical Section

    Program Advice

  12. Sample Sessions

  13. Mobilization Sessions

  14. Running Sessions

  15. Mobility Drills

  16. Running Drills

  17. Running Sessions 2

  18. Strides

  19. Agility Sessions

  20. Weights Sessions

  21. Stretching after Training

  22. Plan your own rehabilitation

October 14, 2007 Posted by | AFL, General, Rehabilitation, Soccer, Strength and Conditioning, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | Leave a comment


Soon I will publish an E Book on strength and conditioning programs after a hamstring injury. Specifically soft tissue and not back related etc. One area that seems to cause problems is athletes working too intensely too soon after a muscle injury is diagnosed and taking gambles. Jarvinen’s review emphasizes the need for 3 days immobilization to allow healing as a critical phase. Respecting the stages and phases of healing in soft tissue injury is vital. Some researchers categorize these stages differently. From acute ( inflammatory) up to 7 days to proliferation ( 7 to 21 days) and maturation and remodelling ( >21 days).

Not respecting healing dogma is fraught with danger given that means trying to beat nature. Programs in my e book are based on this dogma. And Jarvinen is very clear about the processes involved.

I was lucky to work in the AFL for 20 years and since 1999 till April 2006 I was operating at approximately half the average games lost for hamstrings in the AFL. I coached sprinters in the 80’s and simply spent a lot of time researching and working this area.

Muscle Injuries: Biology and Treatment: Järvinen
The American Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 33, No. 5

This study emphasizes the need to immobilize in the acute phase which as minimum from healing studies should be 3 days.


Even slight use of the injured muscle in this Acute Phase needs to be avoided according to Jarvinen. He also talks about reruptures at the same site if mobilization is too soon. By resting in this phase less scar is put down.


PARADOX: Use it or lose it!

The rest in the immobilization phase allows the scar to get some strength. In fact after 10 days the scar is quite strong

After the immobilization phase is over then active mobilization enhances the penetration of muscle fibres into the scar tissue, limits the size of the scar and aligns the regenerating muscle tissue.

“If immobilization is continued past the acute phase (first few days) of muscle regeneration, the deleterious effects become particularly evident during the remodeling phase of muscle healing”

September 4, 2007 Posted by | AFL, General, Rehabilitation, Soccer, Strength and Conditioning, Tennis, Track and Field, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 1 Comment

Hamstring Injuries in the AFL. Perception becomes Reality

If you check my CV, you can see I was co-ordinating strength and conditioning programs at Essendon from 1994 and Geelong from 1998.

Hamstrings are the biggest cause of injury in the AFL. The game goes for 120 mins and has 4 breaks. They will start warming up at 1.20 for a 2.10 game and then rest before running out. Then 1/4 time/1/2 time and 3/4 time. Game finishes at almost 5pm! They kick on the run and also bend over at speed. Just a recipe for injury. Also they have to carry some bulk for contact needs, but still run and run. Thus more hamstrings than soccer and rugby for instance.

In 1997 a group of Essendon coaches, fitness, medical and management people went to the AIS to examine training methods.

With respect to injury management it was an important trip for me. I changed my training methods a lot then.

Proprioception circuit before weights. Screening of biomechanics of players. Core stability screening. Core stability and core strength circuits. Specific unilateral training for the lower extremity. Specific attention to gluteal and hamstring strength work. Lots of running drills and faster running. More individualized training. Full time massage therapists. Full time physiotherapists, Full time training. Databases of loads and education of coaches to manage training loads and kicking loads inseason a bit better. Pre- training meetings to plan training with medical staff.

What I saw in the 1998 was a big drop in soft tissue injury after those initiatives, especially hamstrings.

I had done comprehensive isokinetic testing a few times in the 90;s but this multifactorial approach seemed to work better.

I went to Geelong in 1998 with a brief to reduce injury. I implemented the same initiatives. I used Mark Sayers the biomechanist to screen every player. Employed more masseurs. They did lots of core stability and core strength work. They trained faster. And so on. It really seemed to work. We had a huge drop in soft tissue and hamstring injury rates. There seemed to be some consistent line to all this.

I remember one year getting to round 18 and not having lost a player to hamstring injury, Then fatigue hit with a player and we lost a few games to hamstrings but not many. So all these initiatives as a whole seemed to work. Which one helped most? Now that is a tough question. Massage or core stability or running faster? Difficult! I always lean to fast running in the preparation block as a key.

I was operating at about half the incidence of games lost for hamstring injury relative to the AFL.

But perceptions can become reality in elite sport.

Unsubstantiated media reports of huge soft tissue injury rates and hamstring injury in particular often abound.

Now every club gets hamstrings. One must look at trends and overall rates over years with the same staff in a club.

One well informed scribe said I had been sacked from Essendon for too many hamstrings! Just weird . I left. Simple. This type of ‘waffle” often becomes the norm in the media. On TV and radio. Raw hard data was never accessed. Then “JO BLOGGS” starts saying the same thing. Oh well!

The crazy part of all this was that a representative from a Monash University Hamstring Injury Research group had spoken to me about how they had noticed I had a consistent low rate in Hamstring Injuries and how interesting that was. Oh well. All history now!

More importantly the take home message is to use a multifactorial approach to hamstring injury prevention and rehabilitation. Make sure you have ticked most boxes. I will soon be putting some information out on a strength and conditioning program for hamstring injury.


1. Core Stability. Is the inner core functioning properly?

2. Core Strength: Has the athlete got sufficient strength to cope with the forces required in fast sports.

4. Pelvic Stability: Is the athlete unbalanced or does the athlete have a weakness in gluteus medius for example.

5. Overstriding: Is the athletes running technique a disaster? Combined with lack of pelvic stability do they over-stride and tire the hammies out.

6. Hamstring and Gluteal Strength: Does the athlete lack the abilty to switch the glutes on or have little strength both concentrically or eccentrically or the whole lot?

7. Lower back problems; Do they exist? Gluteal referred problems?

8. Previous history of injury.

9. Has the athlete prepared themselves for fast running and adapted to high eccentric loads in pre-season.

10. Is the athlete fit enough? Can they last?

11. Is the athlete too tired from training?

12. Has the athlete trained hard the day before and is doing fast running today and thus will be more prone to injury?

13. Are you too old?


That is why there is no cookbook recipe to preventing hamstrings.

Just need to keep ticking those boxes

August 10, 2007 Posted by | AFL, Rehabilitation, Strength and Conditioning | Leave a comment

Speed, Agility and Womens Volleyball

I watched 2 days of Volleyball at the AVF womens finals in Sydney, following the fortunes of the UNI BLUES team. I closely watched warm ups and running techniques on court.

I read the study below by Katic and not being a Volleyball Coach or having played I was interested in the emphasis on agility. As explained before , change of direction is a physical ability whilst agility involves the ability to read the game coupled with the ability to change direction. ( strength/power/technique etc)

But having read the study and then observing a few games, I would do heaps of running technique, small sprints and change of direction training with female players, so they can cover the court more efficiently.

Women are not as tall, can’t jump as high , so the ability to cover the court may be a bit more important.

Often underpinning the ability to change direction and take off is the balanced strength and power of each leg. Unilateral strength.

Also running drills to get the feet under the centre of gravity and to get in a low ( pre-stretched) position are important. One criticism I had was watching some warm ups and girls did heaps of things like high knees sitting back on their butts. Ok to warm up but the last thing one would want to ingrain into techniques. They should always have their body over their centre of gravity and work through the hips.

Below is the conclusion from this study and one sees the emphasis on agility ( and skill!).

Motor Structures in Female Volleyball Players Aged 14–17 According to Technique Quality and Performance. Ratko Katic Coll. Antropol. 30 (2006) 1: 103–112


*at age 9, selection should be based on psychomotor speed and coordination on solving complex motor problems. These motor abilities will ultimately limit
elite game performance: psychomotor speed by facilitating technique performance, and coordination and/or motor intelligence through faster motor learning and efficient solution of game situations;
*at age 11, selection should be based on coordination in terms of agility and explosive strength facilitating performance of basic technique elements, e.g., service and serve receipt;
*at age 13, selection should be based on explosive strength and agility that facilitate performance of techniques, e.g., block and spike;
*at age 15, selection should be based on specific motor abilities that are primarily related to body height, strength and spike precision, i.e. specific explosive strength and specific agility-mobility; and
*at age 17, selection should be done by evaluation of all specific motor abilities, especially specific speed and specific agility-mobility, enabling elite female volleyballers to efficiently manage all possible game situations and facilitate their technique performance, especially those in field defens

August 4, 2007 Posted by | Strength and Conditioning, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 5 Comments

Proprioception and Volleyball

Interesting looking over some studies from Italy on fitness preparation from a National Conference (3rd Corso Nazionale di Preparatori Fisici per la Pallavolo” Cavalese ) and there seems to be quite a lot of work done with core strength development and proprioception in volleyball specific settings. In fact some of the videos available look a bit dangerous. But the take home message is that proprioception work can be done in sports specific settings, and thus a coach can do a circuit with young players ( development players) that involves bodyweight strength work and core work and balance work, all in one session after Skills.

Some of the exercises that were outlined

1. Some basic prone holds ( on elbows and in push up position) and also on a swiss ball holding a ball in prone and doing a back raise and holding in a block specific pose.

2. Doing a half sit up on a swiss ball and holding a weight and holding the 1/2 sit up simulating a block position with arms extended and strong upper back.

3. On a bosu ball with 2 legs and hold a swiss ball against a wall at varied angles. IE 30 secs hold or less at varied angles.

4. On a bosu ball but without a swiss ball and holding the arms up for 30 seconds in varied positions a few cms away fromt the wall without touching. Do the same exercise but with 2 Bosu Balls. IE One foot on each.

5. Standing on one leg in front of a wall the player can lean to the left or right and roll/hold a ball in an extended position to simulate these positions in volleyball.

6. Do the same exercises on a court in front of a net.

7. Then 2 players can face each other with one on 2 legs and the other on one and balance and simulate blocking over the net.

8, Then in front of the net and on one and two bosu balls do small stable jumps working on core strength and balance Eg: 3 sets of 5 to 6 jumps. ( be careful!)

9. An extension of this could be to do sideways movements across the net and “mount” a bosu ball and then plant and hold and do a block ( even with a coach there) or do the sideways movements, move onto a bosu ball and jump carefully and land on it with balance.

Adding skipping and small hop scotch type activities and landing activities to a full circuit can mean that the coach works on proprioception, strength work and core strength all in a volleyball setting and all in 10 to 20 minutes. Bodyweight squats to pushups to balance work as discussed to lunges to medicine ball work/core work and so on. Use lots of variety but always good technique and relevant to the group you are coaching.

And as always be very careful and don’t do anything stupid or something one would see in Jackass and make sure it is all supervised by a good coach. Thats a disclaimer!

August 2, 2007 Posted by | Strength and Conditioning, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | Leave a comment

Secrets of Loris Bertolacci

This is from 1988 and I wrote it at Essendon Football Club so all history now.

Also I am not sure if anyone read it. I would write these things then shelve them. I must admit I was always very impressed with Brian Donohue who was Sheedy’s right hand man. He always listened intently to what I had to say and really embraced concepts like 3 weeks hard and one easy. Also he was computer literate and kept strict statisitics well before John Orchard did anything. And they were very well organized. He was ahead of his time.

These sheets are a bit like the dead sea scrolls, really but I hope of some historical interest given the development at the time of the 1990 team and the 1993 flag and the implementation of these concepts in those days long gone now that Hird and Sheedy are ready to go.

Hard to read but if of interest have a look. In a way all stuff volleyballers should do in theri development anyway.

I was giving Mateyev a bad wrap in 1988. And functional cycling then was hot off the press from Bondarchuk. Track and Field training techniques were miles ahead in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact all that has changed now with sports science and the information revolution is that lots of fine tuning needs have been studied that help the specific needs of individuals and situations like heat stress and osteitis management for example. These developments are fantastic but the basics remain.

And long term physical development of juniors. HA. Big business now!


August 1, 2007 Posted by | AFL, Development, General, Strength and Conditioning, Track and Field, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

George Bertolacci


My dad loved sport. Talk about functional strength. He used to grab 100kgs at 45 and stand there and military press it for rep after rep. Then he could press me overhead. At his heaviest he was 155kgs and at his fittest was 110kgs. Big.

When I trained in Italy , all his mates in Livorno ( near Pisa) used to tell me about how he was the best arm wrestler going around and how they used to bet on Giorgio in the bars. He had massive wrists and even at my strongest he killed me.

Dad played Rugby Union in Italy with Livorno and was the kicker. He also played representative water polo and was a very good swimmer. He represented Tuscany in Athletics also and did a stint in graeco roman wrestling. All at state level.


He had a game or two of Aussie Rules in 1952, I think with Reservoir and kicked a few with place kicks. He came out to OZ in 1951 ! Apparently he replaced a player who went to Essendon so the story goes. He only had been in Australia for a year but had worked with the Americans in the war and so spoke English. He even had a training run in February with Fitzroy the next year, after a game with Reservoir and rode his bike to the wharf for work then back to the Brunswick Oval for training and promptly did his hamstring badly on the first night of training. So he started athletics again and competed with Coburg. He represented the state in the throws after that and was the anchor man for the wharfies at Port Melbourne and this shot was in the Herald Sun of those days.


He played Table Tennis a lot at a high standard and at 130kgs used to play against 50kg Asian guys at Albert Park. He had a short temper so sometimes the bat went flying and his opponent was in fear of his life.

He did a lot of soccer coaching in the 60’s until he started coaching me in Athletics. He started me in shot put in 1967 and I boomed. But like so many young people by 16 I knew it all and went on a long distance running binge to lose weight and as he had told me would happen, my throwing career faltered.

The last athlete he coached was Saverio Rocca in the discus and the big Sav had to come to my dads house and tell him that he was playing with Collingwood. I could see Saverio was nervous and dad was not happy. After all Sav was a better athlete than he was a footballer and I think dad knew he had lost a huge talent. Before that he coached many athletes and the best was Paul Nandapi. Paul won a heap of titles and medals in the commonwealth games. But with dad at 16 he was throwing mid 50’s with a senior discus and almost 17 metres in the shot put. Then he went to the AIS at 18 . Dad had a real knack of getting young athletes up and he won so many championships over 20 years. He never overtrained them and always made it fun. They sprinted and jumped and did a bit of everything and not too much of anything. It worked. The AIS sent him a plaque years later for his contribution the sport

He started the second pizza shop in Melbourne ( GIPIS) after TOTOS and one day 2 drunk guys came in and started a fight. I ran in and they knocked me out. I was 16. He grabbed them both and threw them in the car and when I came to, made me hold them and we drove to the police. One was the middleweight boxing champion of Australia. One chap once grabbed a pizza and ran out, and dad at 45 sprinted out the shop and ran down High Street and rugby tackled him to the ground. Big fast twitch man. The thief coudn’t believe it. Lots of Fitzroy players lived in the Northern Suburbs and they came to GIPIS after a game. Dad was a great sketch artist and would make funny sketches of players like Gary Wilson.

We always had sportspeople around our house. Kevin Murray ( Fitzroy Captain) lived up the road in Reservoir and was a real friend of the family. Whenever Italian sportspeople would come out to OZ Dad would seek them out and invite them home and Mum ( Rosa ) would cook them a treat. Fencers, athletes, boxers. All world class sportspeople at our house. I remember once dad picked up this boxer who was going to fight Johnny Famechon as he marched to a World Title. The boxer was from Livorno ( dads town) and in the car he told us he was retired ( Ex – European Champ) and was out only to earn some money and help Famechon get up the rankings!

I think a special day was Sundays at the Bertolacci house. We would train at the Preston Athletics Track at Edwardes Lake. Often some good throwers would appear to train with us like Matt Barber and Phil Nettle and other behemoths. They would come home to Lunch with Paul Nandapi and a few other big guys and mum ( Rosa) would have about 100kgs of pasta ready and 189 Schnitzels and bowls of potatoes and so on. They ate and ate. I watched in amazement. Then they went in the lounge room and watched World of Sport and fell asleep. When carbed up they would the weights on Sunday night.


Once Saverio went to Collingwood , dad decided to wrap it up and I wish he had kept coaching. Kept him switched on and a step ahead of diabetes. After that he moved to Rosebud and lost touch with coaching and fell into ill health. Rudy Villani my cousin ( and a great athlete) said at dads funeral that George had given us our love of sport and an appreciation of all sports. He loved to watch great athletes and loved all sports ( loved AFL) and this was very important for our overall sports development.

Thank god he died before all the crap was written about me in the media in 2006. Mum and Dad would never have understood it and to be honest nor have I. Had nothing to do with sport dad. But one thing that dad left me was a love of sport, and that remains and I will coach and produce athletes and high level performance  just like he did .

July 31, 2007 Posted by | AFL, General, Strength and Conditioning, Track and Field, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Plyometrics and Volleyball

Plyometrics and Volleyball seemingly go hand in hand. But Volleyball itself involves a lot of “plyometric” training in skills. Plyometrics really works. Olympic Weights really work. High Intensity anything works. But progressions and adherence to individual needs and training ages requires coaching. And the need to individualize and progress becomes greater with females.

When athletes measure loads with plyometrics they usually don’t do extra jumps in their training as happens in volleyball.

A study by Myer and Hewitt (The Effects of Plyometric Versus Dynamic Stabilization and Balance Training on Lower Extremity Biomechanics) proposes that balance training and plyometric training both will assist in the proper development of landing mechanics and good biomechanics of the lower legs. A weight program was done by both groups. Pretty much this study throws the lot at you. Balance training, plyometrics and also resistance work. But the good thing is that it seems balance work with strength work will assist proper lower leg mechanics in female volleyballers. Thus a conservative program of balance work and weights coupled with Volleyball training can get results.

A few snippets below from the medline abstract below:

The Effects of Plyometric Versus Dynamic Stabilization and Balance Training on Lower Extremity Biomechanics
Gregory D. Myer, and Timothy E. Hewett,

The American Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 34, No. 3

Methods: Eighteen high school female athletes participated in 18 training sessions during a 7-week period. The plyometric group (n = 8) performed maximum-effort jumping and cutting exercises, and the balance group (n = 10) used dynamic stabilization/ balance exercises during training. Lower extremity kinematics were measured during the drop vertical jump and the medial drop landing before and after training using 3D motion analysis techniques.
Results: During the drop vertical jump, both plyometric and balance training reduced initial contact , maximum hip adduction angle , and maximum ankle eversion angle . During the medial drop landing, both groups decreased initial contact and maximum knee abduction angle . Plyometric training increased initial contact knee flexion and maximum knee flexion during the drop vertical jump, whereas the balance training increased maximum knee flexion during the medial drop landing.
Conclusion: Both plyometric and balance training can reduce lower extremity valgus measures. Plyometric training affects sagittal plane kinematics primarily during a drop vertical jump, whereas balance training affects sagittal plane kinematics during single-legged drop landing.
Clinical Relevance: Both plyometric and dynamic stabilization/balance exercises should be included in injury-prevention protocols.

The article on loads for plyometrics (PLYOMETRIC TRAINING LOADS FOR YOUTHS AND BEGINNERS By Phil Lundin, Ph.D., Assistant Track Coach, University of Minnesota) is old but comes from track and field and is a good read on all types of jumps and training protocols and loads.


A summary from this article is quoted below

“The number of contacts recommended for mature athletes in Depth Jump training ranges from 40-100, generally in a series of 8-10 contacts with rest periods of 1-3 minutes which include light running and stretching. Training loads for beginners should be 30 contacts per session twice weekly according to Verkhoshanskiy (1973).
For children and youths, training loads are not completely understood. It appears, however, that conservative jumping programs which follow accepted training principles may enhance leg extensor power among children (Mekhonoshin, 1983).
The choice of exercises should allow for a gradual increase in load during the year. This can be accomplished by: 1. Gradual transition from general to specific jumping exercises; 2. Gradual increase in the number of contacts per session, per week, etc.; 3. Increase in number of sessions employing jumping exercises per week; and, 4. Testing for BDJ on a regular basis allowing intensity (height of DJ) to increase as adaptation occurs.
It must be remembered that DJs are intense and should be used sparingly among beginners, children and youths. Multi-jumps appear to develop leg strength and improve motor effi ciency in jumping movements. It seems
reasonable that such activities should constitute the bulk of exercises for such a population”

What I am leading to is the huge stress that occurs with plyometrics if young volleyballers are not ready for big loads or high impact or are training hard with skills.

Thus the article (Strength and plyometric drills with Penn State volleyball 13 plyometric drills) on the STACK fitness site suggests plyos can take your volleyball game to new heights and seems simple stuff and all things being ok it will . Crank the plyos up and off we go. A good read and all ok in it but if a junior coach uses it with weak biomechanically inefficient players one could have “Osgood Schlatters City”.


The planning of strength work and plyometrics within the training loads of volleyball training is a complex issue both for youths and elite players.

Basic strength work, core strength, balance work and landing mechanics need to be addressed before the next stage is achieved with young players.

Food for thought but development takes years and many kids get burnt by Internet experts. There is doctor google now and nurse google and judge google. Now Coach Google!. Now just look up an internet site and start jumping on and off boxes.


July 30, 2007 Posted by | Development, Strength and Conditioning, Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 1 Comment