Sixteen players take part in a Women’s Australian Football League (AFLW) game. The game is made up of four 15-minute quarters. They are action packed and fast paced games which involve non-stop running, tackling and ball skills requiring players to have strength, endurance, as well as speed and agility. There are no standard dimensions for Australian Football League (AFL) grounds. They are are oval shaped between 135 to 185 metres long and 110 to 155 metres wide. The Melbourne Cricket Ground for example, is 165 metres long and 135 metres wide.
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Elite AFLW players can run up to 6500 metres and average between 5120 to 6505 metres per game (Clarke et al., 2018). Clarke et al. (2018) reported that midfielders, small forwards and small backs achieved higher relative total distances (125-128 m min−1) compared tall backs and tall forwards and (102-107 m min−1). They also reported greater relative high-speed running (HSR) distances for midfielders and small backs (∼28 m min−1) compared to tall backs (17 m min−1).
Taylor, Wright, Dischiavi, Townsend and Marmon (2017) conducted a systematic review of the activity demands of multi-directional team sports. They compared the results from 81 studies, evaluating straight-line running, accelerations, decelerations as well as the jumping, cutting and lateral movements. They reported that players changed activity every 2-4 seconds, and found that sports similar to AFLW, soccer and hockey demanded the most running.
Rebecca’s training program consists of 3×1 hour sessions. Two of these sessions will be performed in her local gym, and the other session performed at home under her own supervision. The gym sessions target whole body functional movements and the home session will focus on functional skills and aerobic conditioning.
The gym sessions have been set as whole-body functional movements as her gym experience/recreational sport has been minimal over the last 7 years, and 2 sessions a week is not enough time to target specific muscles. Full body workouts will target all muscle areas. They will increase Rebecca’s general fitness without her suffering exercise burnout or becoming fatigued and unable to continue training or attend work.
Each gym session will commence with 10 minutes of active/dynamic warm-up. An active/dynamic warmup is a crucial component of Rebecca’s exercise session, as the focus is to increase muscle temperature and increase blood flow to the working cardiac and skeletal muscles. An active/dynamic warmup is also important for decreasing muscle and joint stiffness as it prepares Rebecca’s body for the exercise session (Fletcher & Jones, 2004).
The weighted resistance exercises included in the gym sessions are performed in the range of 3 sets of 6-12 reps with 1-2 minutes rest. This will target strength and muscle mass gain, while not hurting her body too much for recovery purposes. Rebecca will be using approximately 60-75% of her estimated one-repetition maximum (1RM). These percentages are ideal for strength and mass gain, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM., 2017). In her home gym sessions Rebecca will be using approximately 85% of her estimated 1RM. This percentage is ideal for for improving overall cardiovascular fitness.
Each session will conclude with 5mins of dynamic/active cool down. This is important for helping Rebecca’s body to gradually return to homeostasis; ensuring her core body temperature returns to 370C. An active/dynamic cool down is also crucial for ensuring Rebecca has adequate venous return to reduce the risk of post exercise muscle stiffness and to remove lactic acid build up. The sessions have been placed with rest days in-between and in a particular order to avoid any injury risks arising.
AFLW is a physically demanding sport that involves long bouts of running with short bursts of high intensity sprints, rapid cutting, jumping, landing, accelerations and decelerations. The protocols throughout the exercise program include; strength, aerobic fitness/conditioning, plyometrics, skills and stability/mobility and injury prevention. These protocols have been included as they are focused on improving the fitness, skill and well-being AFLW athletes.
Muscle strength, power and endurance are also key fitness components of AFLW. Strength is important for tackling, bumping and contesting a mark or loose ball. Power is vital for many of the technical skills required including kicking, jumping and sprinting, while endurance assists players endure fatigue. Young et al. (2005) suggests forwards and backs possess slightly greater upper body and leg strength than midfielders.
Resistance training to improve muscle strength is an important aspect for AFLW athletes. Muscle strength is needed to perform tackles, bumps and enables a player to stand their ground in contests and break through tackles. An effective strength and conditioning program also safeguard the well-being of players by assisting them to avoid injury and long rehabilitations.
Muscles with a greater cross-sectional area produce greater strength. Maughan, Watson and Weir (1983) used computed tomography to obtain a cross-sectional image of the leg from mid-thigh level from 50 participants (25 males and 25 females). They also measured the maximum isometric force of the knee extensor muscles and found a positive correlation between muscle strength and cross-sectional area. These results highlight the benefits of incorporating a strength/conditioning protocol in Rebecca’s training program.
Strength/Conditioning and Injury Prevention
There is substantial published research highlighting the benefits of strength training in preventing injury. Gabbe, Branson and Bennell (2006) studied 220 players from seven amateur AFL clubs and found that eccentric hamstring exercise could reduce the incidence of hamstring injury.
A strength/conditioning protocol has been integrated into the exercise program to increase Rebecca’s muscle strength and power and to prevent lower limb injury.
Aerobic Fitness/Conditioning Protocol
Aerobic fitness is an important fitness component for AFLW with many players running 5 km throughout a game. Anerobic fitness or speed is crucial for getting to the ball first, and agility and reaction times are important for evading opposition players. Speed and acceleration are important for breaking away from opposition players, and superior running speed is advantageous for longer sprints, such as when making a lead. A higher percentage of fast twitch fibres has been shown to be advantageous for speed development as they use anaerobic metabolism to create fuel and fire more rapidly (Cissik, 2002).
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Player demand in AFLW is becoming exponential. Aerobic training can increase an athletes V02 max by up to 20% (Pollock, 1973). It is therefore essential that Rebecca continually builds and develops her aerobic power in order to sustain output for the entire game.
Rebecca aims to increase her cardiovascular fitness through running, sprints, cutting drills and accelerations/decelerations. She aims to increase muscular strength and endurance through gym strength exercises. Rebecca’s training program aims to improve stability and mobility through multiple dynamic stretching, warmups, cool downs and plyometric exercises, and increase her lean muscle mass in order to manage the physical demands of tackling.
An Aerobic fitness/conditional protocol has been integrated into the exercise program to increase Rebecca’s ability to use oxygen in the production of energy to power muscle contractions.
Plyometric exercises are a major aspect of AFLW. Vertical and horizontal jumping and landing, speed and agility are major performance factors that are concurrent with the success of the athlete in the sport. Plyometric exercises link strength and speed to produce explosive power. They involve rapid stretching followed by rapid concentric contraction, or shortening to develop the reactivity of the muscle. Plyometric exercises include; jumping, skipping, hoping, lunges, jump squats, and clap push-ups.
Plyometric training studies with 28 male and female athletes completed by (Miller, Herniman, Ricard, Cheatham, & Michael, 2006) showed that athletes who trained using plyometrics displayed an increase in strength and explosiveness which in conjunction are the main principles of jumping and speed gains in sport. They used plyometric exercises to determine the effect on agility and concluded that a 6 week plyometric training program ranging from between 90-140 foot contacts per session in increasing intensity over the weeks before tapering significantly increased T-test agility (speed) scores by 4.86%. Participants also showed an increase in Illinois Agility Test (acceleration/deceleration) scores of 2.93%. These results highlight the benefits of incorporating a plyometrics protocol in Rebecca’s training program.
Plyometrics and Injury Prevention
Plyometric training also has significant effects on stabilisating the lower limbs and this can significantly reduce injury. A study conducted by (Hewett, Stroupe, Nance & Noyes 1996) on female volleyball athletes found that landing forces from block jumps decreased by 22% and knee adduction movements (medially and laterally directed torques) decreased by approximately 50%. These results demonstrate that plyometric exercises have a significant effect in preventing knee injury in sports that involve jumping.
Plyometrics have been integrated into the exercise program due to the significant positive impact an athlete’s speed and agility skills as well as strength, power and endurance.
Tackling is a fundamental aspect of AFLW. Correct tackling biomechanics are important in order to decrease the risk of an injury or concussion occurring. Electromyography (EMG) data taken on rugby union players show that muscle activation commenced 300ms before impact with the trapezius, erector spinae and gluteus maximus muscles contracting in anticipation of the impact of the tackle (Seminati, Cazzola, Preatoni & Trewartha, 2016).
Stability/Mobility/Flexibility and Injury Prevention
Lloyd (2001) highlights the importance of stability/mobility/flexibility protocols to reduce the prevalence of ankle and knee injuries in AFL players. Lloyd (2001) reported that over 56% of ACL injuries occurred without contact from another player and that cutting movements appeared to cause these injuries as the load applied to the ligament was greater than its capacity to bear it. He concluded that stability and balance training programs stimulated ligament receptors, facilitated joint stabilisation. These results demonstrate that a stability/mobility/flexibility protocol significantly reduces ankle and knee injuries and highlights the benefits of incorporating a stability/mobility/flexibility protocol in Rebecca’s training program.
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