loris bertolacci

Sport, Health and Fitness


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

Volleyball Base: A new conditioning site for Volleyball

My daughter Lauren Bertolacci and boyfriend Dave Jones have started a conditioning site called Volleyball Base.


They are now very experienced athletes but also have worked professionally in conditioning and rehabilitation. Their site will be very practical but also provide great information on integrating sports science into the game of volleyball. Lauren is NO 6 playing with Fighting Kangaroos in Germany and Dave is playing with Liepzig.


I will be involved with an Italian site on conditioning ( http://nuke.preparazionefisica.it/) and translate their material for an English site. I will contribute to this site, but colloborate and closely support Lauren and Dave on theirs. Thus I am sure we can integrate the best of many worlds and create a strong discussion area for a potential boom sport in Australia.

So much resource and money and talent in sports science and coaching gets somewhat wasted in Australian Rules Football given it has little international exposure and is a “fishbowl” sport. Volleyball in Australia needs this input from here in OZ and also Overseas ( Italy and Germany) and Sports Science and elite sports training methodology must be become a focus in Australian Volleyball at every level , and as Lauren said there is heaps of expertise in OZ.

I hope all our endeavours help the sport and then of course, hopefully, some sponsors realize it is a huge sport. Probably No 3 participant sport in the world but as someone said recently, Soccer is a religion in many countries, so maybe it is the 2nd biggest participant sport around.

January 4, 2008 Posted by | Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 1 Comment



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

Lauren Bertolacci. New webpage.

My daughter Lauren is now in Germany playing for the Fighting Kangaroos. Go the Kangas! Anyway, she has started a new site and in between training and playing and learning how to speak German she is working on her site.

So have a look. Soon I will work with Lauren on a few articles that are volleyball specific. She is qualified in Human Movement and thus can talk about her experiences in volleyball and strength and conditioning for volleyball.


October 5, 2007 Posted by | 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

Lauren Bertolacci comments on Womens Volleyball in Australia

August 09



I’ve arrived, I’ve settled in and I’ve trained. And I love it. The environment and atmosphere among the girls is one of hard work and with a central goal in mind. Everyone us positive and pushes each other at training. The group a a general rule is quite young, and big. Our middles are fast, and both us setters play a similar game. I’m really looking forward to this season and I think I will take a lot from it. The level isn’t as big a drop from France Pro A as i expected, and I think a lot of that is due to the attitude of the girls here, its still a very fast, powerful and skilled game.

Just to clear a few things up, I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of negative things about the new Australian womens program, or lack of it. OK, so the program isn’t the AIS, there is no full time training just yet, the group of girls selected is a totally fresh and unexperienced group, and the AVL was on occasions a little bit scrappy. But lets put this into perspective hey. The program broke down at the end of 2005, there was no full time training anymore, and the girls that were there, only three were playing overseas getting that training somewhere else. A camps based program was put together, and a team selected for world champ qualifiers. A massive effort and with a few things against us, we lost to Taipei in a very close match and didn’t progress. 2006, there was no FIVB tournaments, and thus pretty much no program. We are in a phase of rebuilding now, it happens, you can’t be at the top of your game forever, players retired, moved to beach, and it leaves holes in a team. To say that we are not heading in the right direction now is totally wrong and unfair. We are not as strong a the team of 5 years ago, I don’t dispute that. But this group, including the new head coach, is trying to build a new culture in womens volleyball, and you have to start somewhere. That is now, the AVL was a success, especially considering it was in its first year and every team was a new group thrown together who hadn’t played together before, and in my opinion, put on a decent show. We are heading in the only direction we can, and that is forward. Right now this group needs positive people behind it, its young, inexperienced, but has a passion for the game and to build a new and successful program. You can’t ask for anything else at this stage, and we will prove we can do it. The program will build from here, hopefully into a fulltime one, and womens volleyball in Australia will follow and progress into a much bigger force, that younger players will aspire to be involved in, and we will grow from there. I don’t argue that we have gone backwards in previous years, but from here, the only way is up.

August 10, 2007 Posted by | General, Volleyball 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

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

Kristen Jansen and UNI BLUES

I watched the UNI BLUES vs QLD game on Saturday 28 th at Dandenong. Exciting game. Obviously I am a VIC so good result but the contest was the issue and QLD provided a real fight. I was very impressed with the athletic qualities displayed by  Kristen Jansen. Very quick and agile and looked strong and lean. I am not really in a position to judge volleyball skills but subjectively Kristen looked like a very fit player. Very explosive. It would be interesting to see whether my subjective observations correlated with fitness tests or screening. Sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t. And yes of course UNI BLUES looked real fit.

July 29, 2007 Posted by | Volleyball Strength and Conditioning | 3 Comments