loris bertolacci

Sport, Health and Fitness

ESSA, ASCA, Cert3, Cert4? Messy.

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




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




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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

So the summary is.

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

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



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

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

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


FED 1.jpg


Roger Federer said after his Hopman Cup win:.

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

Michael Clarke told the Nine Network:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FED 2.jpg


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

Roger Federer and Fitness Coach Pierre Paganini NY TIMES

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

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

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

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


FED 3.jpg


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


FED 4.jpg


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


FED 6.jpg


Glenn McGrath entered the discussion on rotating bowlers.


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

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

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


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

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

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

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




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

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

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

And it is better to be proactive than reactive.






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Johnson Wikipedia



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

Clyde Hart: Michael Johnson’s Coach



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




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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

Anatoliy Bondarchuk Wikipedia




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




Coaching Cues | Science for Sport

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

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



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

Stuart McMillan‏ @StuartMcMillan1

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

Paul Glazier‏ @PaulGlazier

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

Paul Glazier‏ @PaulGlazier

Replying to @StuartMcMillan1

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

Dr. Linda Blade‏ @coachblade

Replying to @StuartMcMillan1

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

James Smith‏ @thethinkersmith

Replying to @PaulGlazier

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

Paul Glazier‏ @PaulGlazier

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

Victor Hall @TeamEXOS #AthletigenACP

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



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

How strong is strong enough in sports?

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

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




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

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




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




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

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

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

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

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




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

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


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

Continue reading

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

Western Bulldogs captain Bob Murphy says clubs should not rule out older players at national draft

Bob Murphy from the Western Bulldogs recently wrote an article about the AFL Drafting system which basically targets 18 year olds. I was a fitness adviser for 20 years so saw first hand how long it took players to mature but also since 2007 have worked with young players 12yo onwards to draft age . Basically just kids!

Western Bulldogs captain Bob Murphy says clubs should not rule out older players at national draft

I have picked some relevant comments from this article:

“Of the top 50 selections in last year’s national draft, just three were aged 20 or over, while 49 of the first 50 picks in 2015 were teenagers.”

“A player must be 18 on or before April 30 the year following the national draft to be eligible for selection. Before 2009, the age was 17.”

“If they don’t get picked up at 17 then they are done,” Murphy said.”

“I’m not a massive American sports head, but I think their college system is a good way to go,” Murphy told foxfooty.com.au.

“Guys don’t reach professionalism until they are 21. I reckon that would be ideal for footballers.”

I presented in 2002 that at a Conference that the AFL Draft system was not elite and too young.

Optimal Age for Elite Sport

The AFL will vigorously defend their system but they do not have to compare themselves to anything else in the world unlike sports like Soccer , Volleyball & Basketball etc  IE a bubble.

The process starts at 15 really where players are funnelled at Under 16 level then again at Under 18. So miss the first cut and it is tough! Why parents should invest in personal trainers at 14 years of age which is a bit early but probably necessary to get an edge.

The evidence is compelling that it takes many years to develop an AFL player and really many players are missed and lost  in sub elite competitions.

I also am of the opinion that many young players at 16 only dream of being drafted and put their careers & VCE as a second priority but very few get drafted.

The AFL Draft system is organized and that is what people in the system like.

But it is not a best practice system when viewed from a long term athlete development perspective.

March 26, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Time to start measuring LOAD in Tennis

Tennis is a massive industry. We all get seduced by these earnings outlined in FORBES for 2015.   Business of Tennis FORBES magazine


The coaching industry is also massive and at the top of the tree are these academies all around the world which simply are big $ all round. Players arrive and train non stop and there is no doubting the quality of some but there in starts some issues with loads and ongoing awareness of what is required to reach the holy grail in tennis.

The best Tennis Academies World Wide


What do Tennis Coaches earn in OZ?

And then the basic coaching business worldwide is massive with tennis coaches operating out of clubs and creating squads. Add the fitness component to what many parents pay and added medical and equipment costs and one can see why there are not too many 1990 Hyundais is suburban tennis car parks at squad training.

Then there is the stark reality that few players ever “make it” on the senior tour and less make any $. A very odd sport when the 800th AFL player can do quite well whilst the 300th tennis player eats no brand food daily .

% of players earning $ on PRO TOUR!

Given the massive $ input from parents, they often become very involved stakeholders in driving the young player and planning and training. Coaches obviously know who pays them so the end result is simply a mess and crazy loads and commitment.

Subjectively I have found a certain machismo about tennis coaches who preach mental toughness and hard driving training but I struggle to understand the premise of their philosophies.

So where I am heading? Well when young players engage in AFL or Soccer for example there is some regularity with training and competition. Tennis is quite the opposite. Cynically it is worth the coaches telling players to train more because at an average of $60 a session that is good business. Then with tournaments at every level LOADS are all over the place because one can lose on Day 1 and do nothing or play 3 games a day for a week.

Recent research talks about a sweet sport of training. Also recent research does lead to fact that training has to be consistent and quite hard. But with tennis no one has any idea of what the sweet spot is. And the fallout is massive from injury perspective and also psychological. We all hear about the parent who drove their child from birth to success but do not hear about all the failures in every city of the world off the back of millions of $ invested in coaching and development ( or lack of).

Tennis Load Management and Injuries . British Journal Sports Medicine

So with the advent of wearables that measure everything, video analysis, using perceived exertion rate, wellness input and many other objective systems one can track LOADS and hopefully find a sweet spot for individuals. Some elite players have been well managed and some have snuck thorugh poor management and massive loads due to luck and more so often good genetics. ( Made of steel!). My gut is many in the tennis industry may not want to track loads because it may cost them income.

Tennis needs a lot more research to understanding how much training is required, how much skill development, time on court and so on. It is a closed shop at the elite level.

Reality is we have been led to believe that tennis is different! Always hear the same story from every sport. But there is a sweet spot of training and leaving school at 14 and doing nothing but training all day may not be the best solution.

More to come on this topic

September 25, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rookie Draft AFL & GPS of Sub Elite players

I was reading an article by Michelangelo Rucci about the possibility of the Rookie Draft and his logic why it would not work and also that it had not worked 20 years ago and then was wondering if the AFL would allow Recruiters to access GPS data from Sub Elite competitions like the WAFL and SANFL to assist in their mid season Rookie Draft?

Rookie Draft AFL

Interesting quote in article was:

“We’ve learned a lot about players that have not had a big pre-season,” Worsfold said, in yet another of his rather impressive post-match press conferences that contrast his image as the “say-little” coach when he was at West Coast.They are massively prone to injury. We’ve had five, six go down with hamstring injuries. Again and again for more than a decade, AFL players have said – to the point it has become a cliche – that the elite game will “get you” without a solid pre-season.That summer training regimen becomes the foundation to survive in an increasingly physically demanding football code.”

And straight away I thought of the current research in the chronic/acute ratio now all the rage in loading dogma and utilizing GPS & RPE metrics mainly.

So I am going to be lazy and use an analogy from this blog site :http://www.smartstride.com.au/


Quoting from this website off current research

“We need to push ourselves a bit and do more than what our bodies have been used to in order to get a training benefit – it’s how our muscles get stronger, and it’s how our fitness and running performance improves1, 2. However, if we do too much, as we’ve all probably experienced at some point – our chances of breaking down and getting injured increase1, 2.

But….if we do too little, not only does our fitness drop off and our performance suffers, ironically our risk of injury also increases1, 2.

So, with our training load, it’s exactly like Goldilocks – we don’t want to do too much, but we don’t want to do too little, either – we want to find an amount that’s somewhere in the middle; that ‘just right’ amount that will help with fitness & performance, and minimise our chances of injury.

So then Rucci says that the players drafted at the Bombers after the WADA Ban had not done pre season and thus were prone to injury. First of all this was a risk the club took versus getting players training with the WAFL & VFL for example ( understand the need to bring role models in).

But then he says that players coming from leagues below AFL will be just as injury prone. There is a little bit of logic in this because usually GPS data shows slightly less Sprinting in leagues like the VFL, WAFL, NEAFL etc.

But the gap has narrowed so much and a fit 22 to 25  year old who has done all the preseason in the WAFL for example plus played every game plus has no injury history in my opinion would not have too high a SPIKE in High Intensity load if they were drafted into the AFL midseason. There is a gap in High Intensity workload but not Volume thus  I really think fit players with no injury history and an adequate full load would quickly ADAPT at a soft tissue level versus a 29 year old with no preseason and an injury history.

Some pretty good references below on the current understanding of how much load and when. Bottom line is if a player SPIKES a load inseason off a low preseason load there is a massive risk. The same Inseason Weekly load (ACUTE LOAD)  for a player who had a high average weekly preseason load (CHRONIC LOAD) will lead to a lower Ratio when Chronic load is divided by Acute load and thus less probability of injury.

So then will recruiters be able to access preseason and in-season training loads (GPS/ RPE) of 2nd tier leagues when deciding who they will draft mid season.

They should if they can!


  1. Blanch & Gabbett, (2015). Has the athlete trained enough to return to play safely? The acute:chronic workload ratio permits clinicians to quantify a player’s risk of subsequent injury. British Journal of Sports Medicine, published online ahead of print.
  2. Gabbett, (2016). The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter & harder? British Journal of Sports Medicine, published online ahead of print.
  3. Heiderscheit, et al. (2010). Hamstring strain injuries: recommendations for diagnosis, rehabilitation, and injury prevention. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(2), 67-81.
  4. Opar, et al. (2012). Hamstring strain injuries – factors that lead to injury & re-injury. Sports Medicine, 42(3), 209-226.




July 5, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Using Video Analysis before Musculoskeletal Screening in Healthy Athletes

Due to financial restraints ( consumer) I have tried to develop a much quicker method of screening athletes. I do have to emphasize that re “healthy” athletes I mean an athlete that can run, jump, twist or turn at 95% and above with no pain.

In the Age of video analysis with APPS being available this is pretty easy to do.

And without going into an in depth analysis of the FMS screening protocol or any protocol I fail to see how apart from very basic screening tests, how one can be very specific in screening individual athletes.

By very basic I mean for example a dorsiflexion test. But again maybe a basic bodyweight squat will lead to that test anyway.

So what I propose is that when clients do not have hundreds of dollars to spend on screening and you have to wrap up a fitness test with screening , that they simply are asked ” What injuries have you had in past and recently” & “are you sore anywhere”.

Then despite the COOL SPORTS SCIENCE advice that fitness testing is passe I actually think it is the ultimate screening tool ( plus game related footage).

So with a junior soccer player doing a Max test over 20m, a change of direction test, a jump test, a YO YO test then a basic squat and 1 leg squat and getting some video will lead to lots of information and maybe some specific investigative screening .

Loaded with this information from watching the athlete and also looking at frame by frame video then one can decide ( added to past injury history) what screening to do. ROM? More power? Specific core needs? Refer on to medical advice?

Otherwise why not do 3 zillion tests. Crazy.

And the results can be very informative also because athletes may be biomechanically OK but poor power profile or vice versa.

So let the kids rip and then see what happens at max intensity then analyze!


May 23, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is there a case for Decelerated ACL Rehabilitations?

Below is a link to an article on the recurrence of ACL injuries in the AFL.

Article on AFL Website “Recurring ACL injuries” May 6, 2014 Adam McNicol

“Eight of the injuries suffered in 2013 were cases in which players needed a second reconstruction after their initial graft failed. In three of those cases, a LARS graft had been used. Sparking concern is the fact that no more than four players experienced the failure of a knee ligament graft in one year during the previous decade”

Hamstring strains continue to be NO 1 injury in the AFL without fail, so one has to tread carefully about making too many conclusions after one years data.

But what interests me a lot is the concept of accelerated ACL rehabilitation. Because it is a fairly easy rehab program versus many others, in my view it is fraught with danger. So many athletes feel quite ok by 6 months and many young athletes simply cannot understand why they can’t twist, turn and play when they feel ok. The science behind grafts doesn’t gel with them. If it doesnt hurt and feels ok running “I should be ok!”

There are many studies appearing that look at the time to return of ACL rehab. and also recurrence rates and numbers vary. One interesting study given my interest now is often with the young athlete was a 2012 study American Journal of Sports Medicine: “Return to High School– and College-Level Football After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction. Below is a summary of study:

” One hundred forty-seven players (including 68 high school and 26 collegiate athletes. Return to play rates for all high school and collegiate athletes were similar (63% and 69%, respectively). Based on player perception, 43% of the players were able to return to play at the same self-described performance level. Approximately 27% felt they did not perform at a level attained before their ACL tear, and 30% were unable to return to play at all. Fear of reinjury or further damage was cited by approximately 50% of the players who did not return to play. ”

But I thought an interesting excerpt from an abstract was made in the following study about return to play after ACL rehab.
International Orthopaedics February 2013,  Return to sport following anterior cruciate ligament reconstructionJulian Feller, Kate E. Webster

“Little is known about how to determine when it is safe to return to sport following ACL reconstruction or how to predict whether an athlete will be able to successfully return to sport. Finally, it needs to be recognised that return to sport following ACL reconstruction is associated with a risk of further injury and the development of osteoarthritis”

Yet time and time again on the internet or at conferences we get neat little packages of when to progress through a ACL rehab. and it reads so nicely given it is a ‘boxed in” with progressions such as ability to balance or ability to leg press or hop on the spot. Usually a neat powerpoint with each slide being a neat progression.

Given what is is appearing in studies of graft maturation and also the fact that players often take a minimum of 18 months to get some real form going one wonders if a more conservative approach is required. My subjective experience has been that athletes who  have progressed slowly and taken 12 months to rehab seem better off. I said seem! No data.

One study I read about graft revascularization said that it took 2 years to come back to normal.

Skeletal Radiology (2013) “By 2 years postoperatively, revascularization completion coincides with the homogeneously low signal intensity of the graft, closely resembling native ACL”

I know that some people can play at 6 to 9 months and are ok. And certainly avoiding high risk positions sometimes can be lucky or simply things just stick.

Another older study threw up the interesting notion of how well players perform at 18 months and this study suggests not as well which is my subjective experience.

Outcomes of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries to Running Backs and Wide Receivers in the National Football League The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 2006
The present study found that approximately four fifths of NFL running backs and wide receivers who sustain ACL injuries return to an NFL game. The majority of returning players first compete in an NFL game 9 to 12 months after injury. On return to competition, running backs and wide receivers after ACL injury are approximately two thirds as productive as they were before injury. These players were selected as the focus of the study because running backs and wide receivers are the offensive skill positions with the highest frequency of injury,3 and components of their performance can be objectively measured.

And an even older study spoke about how one leg hops did not return to normal after 18 months. This is something I have often seen given lack of confidence when hoping. At one conference I went to recently a study had players hopping 3 hops the same as the good leg after 6 months. But the distances quoted were very poor so in my opinion meant little given there was doubt that the athlete has been tested maximally on the contraleteral leg. And so many footballers just hop so poorly anyway. I did a million hops myself and with athletes and have a good feeling for benchmarks for 3 hops. In my opinion these tests have to be maximal otherwise like a lot of testing is pretty useless data.


J Athl Train. 2002 Strength, Functional Outcome, and Postural Stability After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction

“After ACLR (mean = 18 ± 10 months), subjects did not have significant loss in bilateral or single-limb postural stability when assessed with a Biodex Stability System.Functional hop performance were not within normal limits when compared with the contralateral limb and a control group.  (as assessed with a single-leg hop-for-distance test) may not return to normal (±5%) for up to 2 years”

Exercise Physiologists and rehabilitation specialists often get very excited about getting a player back to play. But with the statistics seemingly showing that there are many issues associated after an ACL rehabilitation, I wanted to throw up a curve ball.

What would these statistics be if worldwide everyone for 10 years  slowed down and progressed slowly and played high level sport ( twisting/pivoting/accelerating etc) after a 14 or even 18  months ACL rehab?

I remember once at a conference an eminent doctor in the AFL saying that 3 weeks was enough for an AFL hamstring rehab because whilst there would be the odd clanger 4/5 weeks was just too long and hurt clubs on the field missing good players. Well years later clubs were forced to take longer with hammie rehabs and recurrence rates were lowered.

Tough one the ACL reco. But what worries me so often is the cavalier attitude of young athletes who have been reconstructed, the lack of understanding of what is happening and the excitement that many rehab professionals have in getting an athlete back on the pitch early. Plus the Internet!






May 6, 2014 Posted by | Rehabilitation | Leave a comment