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Common Injuries and Injury Prevention for AFL Athletes

Author: Billy Jones

Introduction

Australian Rules Football (ARF) is an intermittent sport that requires great amounts of high-speed running, multidirectional agility and aerobic endurance. In the elite male competition (AFL), players can cover between 12-15km depending on the player’s position during the 120 minutes of match play (3). Due to the reduced match duration in the female competition, the players in the AFLW can cover between 3.5-7.0km per game depending on their positional requirements (1). The joints of the lower limbs, hip, knee and ankle, are most commonly injured with the shoulder being the most injured area of the upper limb (6). These will be explored further throughout the blog with preventative exercises provided for each. 

Hamstring Strains

The muscles of the hamstring group (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, biceps femoris) are two-joint muscles spanning from the hip to the knee. When the leg is fully extended during running the muscle is maximally stretched at both ends across the hip and knee which increases the risk of hamstring strain injury (2). As ARF is a running dominant sport this situation occurs constantly (2). To cope with the high-speed running demands of the game and reduce the risk of muscle strain it is important for players to strengthen their hamstrings eccentrically (contraction as the muscle lengthens). Furthermore, football coaches should ensure that sprinting is programmed into their training to better prepare their players for game demands. Listed below are hamstring focussed exercises that will improve hamstring strength and help to prevent injury during training and games. 

  • Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

  • Double Leg Hamstring Bridge
  • Eccentric Hamstring Slides
  • Hamstring Nordic Lowers

Knee Injuries

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) have been found to be the most commonly injured ligaments of the knee during football (6). They can be fully ruptured which in most cases requires surgery to reconstruct, or partially torn. Conservative management is also an option other than surgery for some athletes however, with the high contact nature of ARF and high forces that go through the knee, surgery is highly recommended. Other common injuries that can occur are medial and lateral collateral ligament tears and meniscal injuries. Many of the mentioned injuries can even occur simultaneously making knee injuries quite formidable. Injury to the knee can cost the athlete months away from playing their sport therefore, prevention through conditioning is key. Poor change of direction technique, knee instability, angle of landing and direct impact to the knee joint are risk factors for ACL and PCL injury. Training should be focussed around strengthening the muscles around the knee joint and improving change of direction and landing technique. Exercises listed below are some that can be done at home with minimal equipment that will help in reducing the risk of knee injury. 

  • Single Leg Squat
  • Split Squat
  • Single Leg Skater Hops
  • Drop Jump with Lateral Cut
  • Two Foot Change of Direction

Ankle Injuries 

Ankle ligament sprains are common in football in all levels of competition. There are various mechanisms that can cause these injuries with the most common being landing in a compromised position following a marking contest and the foot becoming trapped under another player during a tackle (6). Previous injury to the ankle is the main risk factor for sprains to occur. Evidence has suggested that risk is doubled for up to 1 year post injury which highlights ongoing dysfunction and the need for preventative exercises to be completed (4). Following initial ankle sprain the joints protective mechanisms that make corrections to joint position (proprioception) to maintain stability can be damaged, leaving the joint at higher risk of reinjury (7). Without intervention athletes may begin to experience chronic ankle instability which is painful and leads to consistent time away from the field (5). Implementing proprioceptive training such as balancing exercises has been proven to be effective in reducing ankle sprain injuries (7). Completing ankle focussed plyometric and resistance exercises is also beneficial in improving mobility and strength of the joint. Included below are exercises that can be done at home to ensure the ankle is ready for training and competition. 

  • Single Leg Balance – 4 Point Star
  • Single Leg Hop with Spin
  • Pogo Jumps
  • Ankle Hops
  • Ankle Inversion/Eversion

Shoulder Injuries

Due to the contact nature of the sport shoulder injuries occur frequently during training and competition. Injuries to the shoulder joint have accounted for 11.5 games missed per club per season (6). It is important that footballers strengthen the muscles around the shoulder to ensure contact does not result in injury (6). Contact during overhead marking, impacts to the posterior aspect of the shoulder during contested ground balls and direct contact to the anterior portion of the joint are all patterns that can lead to glenohumeral instability or dislocation (6). Increasing the strength and size of the muscles surrounding the glenohumeral joint and focussed rotator cuff strengthening are both ways to ensure stability of the shoulder. In turn this will lead to a more robust joint capsule which can deal with the rigours of ARF. Below are some exercises that can be completed to improve shoulder stability that can be done with minimal equipment. 

  • Banded No Moneys
  • Prone Shoulder External Rotation @90 Degrees
  • Push Up with Shoulder Tap
  • Banded Pull Aparts

Conclusion

Australian rules football is a physically demanding sport that requires multiple fitness qualities. As with all sports, injuries are always a concern as they can result in valuable time lost away from the playing field, so it is within everyone’s interest, both athletes and coaches, to work to avoid them. Identifying what areas of the body are commonly injured and the mechanisms that cause them is crucial for effective exercise prescription. Performing exercises such as those above will help mitigate injury and keep the athlete on the ground and away from the rehabilitation group. 

References

  1. Clarke, AC, Ryan, S, Couvalias, G, Dascombe, BJ, Coutts, AJ, Kempton, T. Physical demands and technical performance in Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) competition match-play. Journal of science and medicine in sport21(7): 748-752, 2018.
  2. Foreman, Addy, Baker, Burns, Hill, Madden. (2006). Prospective studies into the causation of hamstring injuries in sport: A systematic review. Physical Therapy in Sport, 7(2): 101–109, 2006. 
  3. Harrison, P, Johnston, R. Relationship Between Training Load, Fitness, and Injury Over an Australian Rules Football Preseason. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 31: 2686-2693, 2017. 
  4. Owoeye, OB, Palacios-Derflingher, LM, Emery, CA. Prevention of ankle sprain injuries in youth soccer and basketball: effectiveness of a neuromuscular training program and examining risk factors. Clinical journal of sport medicine28(4): 325-331, 2018.
  5. Powden, CJ, Hoch, JM., Hoch, MC. Rehabilitation and improvement of health-related quality-of-life detriments in individuals with chronic ankle instability: a meta-analysis. Journal of athletic training52(8):753-765, 2017.
  6. Saw, R, Finch, CF, Samra, D, Baquie, P, Cardoso, T, Hope, D, Orchard, JW. Injuries in Australian Rules Football: An Overview of Injury Rates, Patterns, and Mechanisms Across All Levels of Play. Sports Health, 10(3), 208–216, 2018. 
  7. Schiftan GS, Ross LA, Hahne AJ. The effectiveness of proprioceptive training in preventing ankle sprains in sporting populations: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport: 18(3), 238–244, 2015.
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AFL Preseason Training Program

If you play footy, then you need this program.

Why?

Because the countdown is on back to games, and the chances are your training has slipped off.

Maybe not entirely, but there is NO WAY your body is in the same condition after stopping training and games for a whole season because of ‘Rona.

But with the 2021 season looking good – it’s time you got ready!

So… where do you start and how do you get ready? 

Luckily for you, we’ve put together the perfect solution.

It’s called the AFL Preseason Training Program.

This program has been designed to build you in to a robust athlete, that is more resilient to injury, keeping you out playing footy. Which then forms the base for us to capitalise on and improve your performance.

Strength and conditioning for AFL plays a crucial role in an athlete’s performance – the major aim for this 4 week block is to build a base foundation of running and strength work – that can be capitalised on when team trainings resume and when phase two of the program roles out. 

This AFL preseason training program has been put together by Chris Radford who has multiple years experience working within the AFL / VFL and NAB league competitions.

Western Bulldogs – North Ballarat Roosters – GWV Rebels

This 4 week program has everything included in it: 

  • Running
  • Agility
  • Skill sessions
  • Full gym program – strength, power and injury prevention 

Everything all included to ensure you are at your best – with the program delivered through our online platform making it super easy to access everything on your phone. 

All of the strength and conditioning exercises come with video demonstrations by one of our coaches. 

If you want to make sure you’re playing footy, and not putting yourself at a greater risk of sitting on the sideline, then you DO need this.

Click the link below and bulletproof yourself from injury and increase your performance in time for when footy season starts.

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Training the Female Athlete:

Hey ladies, ever wondered why some days you feel like you have lots of energy and you are on top of your game and other days you just feel really tired and slow? Ever struggled to manage your weight whether that be trying to lose weight or gain/maintain weight? Ever had your period stop and not known why? Well, be rest assured you’re not alone, the female body is a wondrous thing, however it is important that we respect that, and we adjust our training and nutrition to adapt to our ever changing bodies. Unfortunately we are often guided by training and nutrition information that has been researched with male participants as female participants are seen to have too much variability with the fluctuations in hormones throughout the menstrual cycle. The only problem being, is that we are not smaller versions of males, we are our own person with different and fluctuating needs, that means for us to be able to get the most out of our bodies and our training we need to adapt and change our training and nutritional needs in accordance with these fluctuations.

So yes ladies this post is going to talk periods and how best we can train around them to get the most from our training but also some dietary considerations we may need to make at different stages.

So lets discuss the menstrual cycle…..

Prior to puberty the development of both boys and girls is very similar with relatively the same body size, body composition and physiology (5). Once we hit puberty however there are key physical and physiological changes that occur for both sexes (5). Males have a significant increase in testosterone which results in increased muscle mass and height (5). While females have an increase in oestrogen which increases physical development, increasing fat tissue and resulting in the onset of menarche (or the menstrual cycle) (5).

A little more about the menstrual cycle. There are two key hormones that affect the menstrual cycle, oestrogen and progesterone (4,5). Oestrogen arises with the onset of puberty and the menstrual cycle it is produced to prepare the body for pregnancy (4,5). However, oestrogen also plays a role in bone and muscle strength as well as ligament and tendon stiffness. It helps to maintain normal cholesterol levels and affects brain, heart and skin health (4,5). Progesterone prepares the uterus for the potential of pregnancy by triggering the thickening of the lining in the uterus to accept a fertilized egg. It also causes the body to rely on fats for energy rather than glycogen, the body’s preferred fuel source (4,5).

A diagram depicting the fluctuations in hormones during the menstrual cycle:

There are four phases to the menstrual cycle each with varying hormone levels and consequently effects on the body.

Phase 1 (Period: Days 1-5):

Hormones and the physiological and psychological changes:

  • Hormones are at their lowest during this phase (4,5).
  • You may find you have changes in your mood leading to increased stress, potential accidents, poor reaction times and poor perception of exercise difficulty (4,5).
  • There is also a reduction in the body’s immune level response due to an increase in the bodies utilisation of magnesium and zinc (4,5).

Effect on training:

  • Initially during this stage it is important to allow the body to recover. It might be a good idea to reduce skill and precision training and include more simple low stress tasks (4,5).
  • You may initially want to reduce training volume load and include strength training (4,5).
  • As you progress to the mid to late stages of this phase you can include anaerobic and power-based activity, lactic acid based work and strength training (4,5).

Nutrition and it’s affect during this stage:

  • During this stage the body has a greater reliance on carbohydrates/glycogen for energy (3).
  • As the body is using more glycogen (carbohydrates) for fuel during this stage you may want to increase you carbohydrate intake (3).
  • You may also want to increase magnesium and Zinc intake during this phase to help increase the body’s level of immunity (3).

Phase 2 (Follicular Phase: Days 6-14):

Hormones and the physiological and psychological changes:

  • During this stage oestrogen levels are increasing to their highest (4,5).
  • Oestrogen has an anabolic effect for muscles and bones (building and strengthening muscles and bones), while there is also an increase in ligament laxity during this phase. Therefore injury risk is higher during this phase for injuries such as ACL and ligament related injuries (4,5).
  • There is an increase in glycogen storage as well as fat, protein, water and electrolyte stores (4,5).

Effect on training:

  • Include high intensity, low volume complex tasks (4,5).
  • Include anaerobic and power based activities as well as lactic acid based work and strength training (4,5).
  • Symptoms may vary during this stage from person to person but it is important to train appropriately, for some the focus may change to maintenance rather than improving physical capacities, however some may feel fine during this stage and be able to continue to push hard (4,5).

Nutrition and it’s affect during this stage:

  • As the body is using more glycogen (carbohydrates) for fuel during this stage you may want to increase you carbohydrate intake (3).
Some of the various symptoms women experience throughout the menstrual cycle:

Phase 3: (Ovulation: Days 15-23):

Hormones and the physiological and psychological changes:

  • Oestrogen levels start to drop before progesterone levels start to increase. Testosterone is at it’s peak during this phase (yes ladies we do still have testosterone in our body however we have much lower levels than that of men) (4,5). 

Effect on training:

  • Now is the time to do more strength and power training (4,5).
  • Intensity can be quite high during this phase (4,5).
  • Symptoms during this stage can vary from person to person so it is important to train appropriately according to your symptoms (4,5).

Nutrition and it’s affect during this stage:

  • If you are experiencing poor sleep quality during this phase you may like to increase your magnesium intake as magnesium levels have an affect on our sleep (3).
Example sources of Magnesium:

Phase 4: (Luteal phase: Days 24-28):

Hormones and the physiological and psychological changes:

  • Progesterone rises and oestrogen slightly elevates (4,5).
  • Progesterone causes increased inflammation and muscle breakdown, brain fog can also occur and temperature increases (0.3-1), therefore it is important to have adequate recovery during this phase (4,5).
  • There is an increase in glycogen stores in the liver and muscle tissue and a decrease in the blood stream. This will lead to a greater utilization of fat stores during this time (4,5).
  • There is a depression of blood lactate concentration (4,5).
  • There is the greatest retention of water, sodium, chloride and potassium during this stage potentially causing bloating (4,5).
  • There is greater protein breakdown during this stage leading to lower muscular endurance (4,5).

Effect on training:

  • Include high intensity, low volume complex tasks (4,5).
  • Include anaerobic and power based activities as well as some strength training, due to decreased blood lactate levels. Strength training may decrease however during this phase due to the increase in muscle breakdown (4,5).
  • Include low intensity and high volume aerobic work as the body has the ability to cope with low impact prolonged stressors at this time (4,5).

Nutrition and it’s affect during this stage:

  • The body has an increased reliance on fats rather than carbs during this time so it may be difficult to hit higher intensities for prolonged periods. It is therefore good during this phase to change the focus from long duration, high intensity work to working on more technical skills (3).
  • Maintain or increase protein intake to counteract  the increase in muscle breakdown (3).
  • There is an increase in sodium loss causing bloating, therefore you may want to increase salt intake during this phase to help reduce bloating (3). 
  • The body has an increased utilization of magnesium and zinc during this phase lowering the bodies immune levels. Therefore it is important to increase magnesium and zinc intake during this time (3).
  • Increase omega-3 fat intake to help manage inflammation (3).
Example sources of Zinc:

Now that we have some understanding of just how much the menstrual cycle can affect our training and just how important it is for us to respond appropriately to this to gain the most out of our training. We now need to take the next step and look at tracking our period and the symptoms that follow it. There are many great apps out there that can help you do this but one of my favourites is the FitrWomen app. This app allows you to track the days of your period but also the symptoms you may be having, it then provides you with some helpful tips on how best to train and fuel yourself during the various stages. One of the great reasons why we should track our period is that we are then able to learn about our bodies, know how we are going to feel at certain times, but also how best to fuel and adapt our training to allow us to get the most from our body during the various phases.

Oral Contraceptive:

Now some of you may be asking how does this change if I am on the oral contraceptive pill and a great question to ask. As we know the oral contraceptive pill is designed to prevent a Woman from getting pregnant, it does this by preventing the natural rise and fall of progesterone and oestrogen in the body throughout the cycle. This means that the two hormones stay at a stagnant level throughout the cycle until it is time for you to have your period at which time both oestrogen and progesterone drop (2).

So what does this mean for your training and nutrition. For the most part it will mean that these things can stay very consistent throughout the month with you experiencing less symptoms associated with the natural cycle (2). With the exception being when you are on the period phase where you will still experience all the same symptoms as usual (2). Even though your hormone levels are kept relatively consistent when you are on the oral contraceptive pill it is still important that we listen to our body and respond appropriately (2). 

A diagram of hormone levels when taking the oral contraceptive pill:

But what if I don’t get my period?

Some may think this is odd but it occurs far more often then you would think. When a female has an absence of her period it is called amenorrhea (1). This can occur when an individual has increased their training loads with inadequate nutrition (1). Meaning that an individual has increased their training load without increasing the volume of food they are eating as well making sure that food meets their nutritional requirements to fuel not only their body for every day living but also for their increased training load (1). It can be accompanied with an eating disorder, however this is not always the case, and can be due to a lack of education and awareness (1).  When there is a cessation of the menstrual cycle this can lead to fertility issues later on if not dealt with. It is difficult to determine the prevalence of this disorder however it could be as high as 50% of athletic populations (1). As with all previous nutritional information in this post it is only a guide and if you need more guidance with this it is best to seek the advice of an accredited Dietitian.

So if you only learn one thing from this blog post then I hope it is to become informed about your body and treat your body the way it deserves to be treated, with care. Remember that we are not a mini man nor are two women the same, so it is important that we do not compare ourselves and our abilities to other males or with each other and that instead we choose to further improve ourselves for ourselves.

References:

  1. Dusek, T. Influences of high-intensity training on menstrual cycle disorders in athletes. Croatian Medical Journal. 42(1): 79-82, 2001.
  2. Larson, B. Cox, A. Colbey, C. Drew, M. McGuire, H. et al. Inflammation and oral contraceptive use in female athletes before the Rio Olympic Games. Frontiers in Physiology. 11: 497-455, 2020.
  3. Manore, M. Nutritional needs of the female athlete. Clinics in Sports Medicine. 18(3): 549-563, 1999.
  4. Oleka, C. Use of the menstrual cycle to enhance female sports performance and decrease sports-related injury. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. 18: 318-326, 2019.
  5. Pitchers, G. Elliott-Sale, K. Considerations for coaches training female athletes. Professional Strength and Conditioning Journal. 55: 19-29, 2019.
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Development of Muscle Mass: How much is optimum for performance?

Increasing muscle mass is often the goal of resistance training programs for the general population. However, when designing training programs to increase muscle mass for athlete populations it is important to consider the potential advantages and disadvantages this may have on performance. 

Advantages of increasing mass:

  1. Generally, a larger muscle is a stronger muscle. This is especially true if the increase in muscle mass is the result of an increase in the amount of contractile elements of the muscle fibre ultimately increasing the force generating capacity if the muscle. Therefore, there is greater capacity for strength and power.
  2. The inertia of a body is proportional to its mass. Think of a basketball player under the ring attempting to hold their position for a rebound.  A player with more mass will be harder to move compared to a player with less mass.
  3. An increase in mass may allow an athlete to move with greater momentum which is valuable for collision-based sports. Momentum = mass x velocity there for an athlete with more mass running at a given velocity will have greater momentum and more chance to inflict damage upon their opponent. 

Disadvantages of increasing mass:

  1. Acceleration is an important speed quality for many sports. Acceleration = force / mass. Therefore, if as a result of training we have in increase in mass without a subsequent increase in the ability to generate force acceleration will be compromised. The same thought process can be applied to an athlete’s ability to decelerate, change directions and jump. Therefore, if we increase mass without consideration of force production important components of performance can be negatively impacted. 
  2. Increases in body mass leads to greater impact forces when running and jumping. The cumulative stress associated with the greater impact forces from these activities means that more recovery from training and competition will be needed. If additional time needs to be budgeted for recovery, then that time needs to be taken from other aspects of training such skill work or the development of physical qualities.
  3. Endurance performance is important for most sports. An athlete’s Aerobic power or VOmax is expressed in millilitres (mL) of oxygen per kilogram (kg) of body weight per minute –

(mL·kg-1·min-1  ). If an athlete consumes 4,000 mL·min-1 with a 70kg body mass the VOmax = 57.1ml·kg-1· min-1 . If body mass is increased to 73 kg with no improvement in Ouptake VOmax would decrease by 4% to 54.8 mL·kg-1·min-1.

Practical Applications

  • When prescribing training to athletes do not just assume that an increase in mass will be of benefit for the athlete. Carefully consider how the change will impact their performance.
  • If attempting to get a hypertrophy response, training with heavy loads (approximately 90% of maximum) that presents a neural stimulus for strength adaptation is recommended.

Note: The above information is a snapshot of a manuscript published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal that I co-authored with colleagues and students. 

Young W, Talpey S, Bartlett R, Lewis M, Mundy S, Smyth A, Welsh T. (2019). Development of Muscle Mass: How much is optimum for performance? Strength and Conditioning Journal. 41(3) 47-50

Full text: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329333781_Development_of_Muscle_Mass_How_Much_Is_Optimum_for_Performance

Author: Scott Talpey, PhD. CSCS, ASCA LII. Senior Lecturer & Program Coordinator Master of Strength and Conditioning Federation University Australia.

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Keys to Developing Speed in Team Sport Athletes:

Want to be like Jake Neade able to evade players, create space and close space on the field?

Ever wished you could be like Eddie Betts and seem as if you have all the time in the word to get around your opponent?

Ever wished you had the same speed in the fourth quarter as you had in the first quarter? We have the answers for you, as we take a deep dive into speed and running mechanics for team sport athletes.

No matter whether you play Australian Rules Football, Rugby League, Cricket, Basketball or Tennis, appropriate speed and running mechanics is the key to optimal efficiency on field/court and the potential to reach higher velocities.

Some might argue ‘why would you take time to teach  team sport athletes how to run fast in a straight line, when they spend the vast majority of their time changing direction throughout the game?’. Here are some of the reasons we believe it is super important for a team sport athlete to learn how to run fast in a straight line:

  • Athletes will express linear sprinting mechanics with every lead or defensive play that they make.
  • By teaching correct technique we can create greater efficiency within an athlete. An athlete that doesn’t waste their energy through unwanted movements is able to develop greater speeds at the same or lower energy cost.
  • Athletes who work on linear sprinting mechanics will often improve their speed without the reliance on heavy resistance training.
  • A faster athlete tends to create greater space offensively and close space easily defensively.

Speed is a fundamental component of all field and court based sports, especially when looking at acceleration. Max speed however must not be over looked, even if it is rarely reached throughout a game. The greater max velocity we can reach will influence the velocity which we can achieve during acceleration. Fundamental to speed however is technique; poor technique can lead to energy leakages where an athlete is putting energy into a movement or action that has no positive benefit to their overall speed outcome. Energy leaks can come in many forms with some of them being:

  • Poor foot mechanics.
  • Poor postural integrity and pelvic stability.
  • Over emphasis on back side mechanics.
  • Excessive forward lean.
  • Excessive overarch through the spine.
  • Unwanted tension throughout the body.
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This athlete is showing excessive overarch of the spine, excessive backside mechanics, ultimately resulting in too greater forward lean and a flat foot strike.

These are just some ways that many field and court sport athletes will waste energy when accelerating throughout the game. This accumulated waste of energy leads to greater levels of fatigue in the later stages of the game, impacting performance. Many of these factors rely on good technique as well as strength and body awareness. So what exactly do we mean by each of these points?….. Let me explain each one a little further so we can gain a greater understanding for the importance of teaching correct running mechanics. 

Poor foot mechanics:

When our foot strikes the ground during sprinting we should have what is called a ‘forefoot landing’ (landing on the front part of our foot). It is important to note that this does not mean landing on our toes, rather the ball of our foot. This means that the athletes foot should also strike just behind the knee, placing the athlete into a drive phase as soon as the foot strikes the ground.

When an athlete is striking the ground with their midfoot or worse still their heel (whilst sprinting), they are doing what we call over striding. In doing this they are putting on the breaks, of which they then have to overcome before they can accelerate forward again. This is a very slow way to run, if you imagine accelerating and then braking your car whilst driving you are basically doing the exact same thing. Not only are you slowing yourself down but you are placing a greater load and stretch on the hamstring muscle group placing them at greater risk of a strain or tear.

Poor postural integrity and pelvic stability:

This is often due to a lack of strength and a lack of body awareness, as the athlete allows the shoulders to rotate excessively in opposition to the legs, or for the trunk to slump, or lastly they allow for the hip on the swing leg side to drop (commonly referred to as a Trendelenburg gait). When the trunk is moving in opposition to the legs excessively this is wasting energy that could otherwise be used to accelerate the athlete forward. A lack of stiffness in the trunk results in a loss of stiffness in the lower limbs, often resulting in collapsing through the hip, knee and ankle, while the Trendelenburg gait exacerbates the loss of stiffness through the lower limbs, further contributing to a flat foot strike. When there is a loss of stiffness in the lower body this results in a loss of elastic energy, a form of energy used that has one of the highest speeed of usage making it very advantagious for us to use this form of energy when trying to run FAST!

Over emphasis on backside mechanics:

Once again, this type of athlete tends to have more of a heel strike on landing (resulting in pronounced breaking forces). Excessive backside mechanics also means that the athlete is extending the leg too far behind the body, creating a long lever which is SLOOOW. Ultimately this results in the athlete not gaining a high enough knee lift at the front to allow the athlete to apply high force into the ground, which would otherwise result in greater maximum velocities achieved.

Excessive forward lean:

This can be as a result of having excessive backside mechanics. Disproportionate forward lean means that the athlete doesn’t trust their elastic system to absorb and produce energy quickly. Instead they rely on strength, making the athlete heavier on the ground, losing potential energy as they collapse through the lower limbs. Stiffness and elasticity can however be trained/developed without the use of a great deal of equipment.

Excessive overarch through the spine:

This means that the athletes hips are pointed low or they have an excessively anteriorly tilted (forwards tilting) pelvis. Ultimately this decreases the available range of motion that the athlete can achieve at the front of their body, leading to excessive backside mechanics. As with excessive forward lean the lack of range at the front of the body means that the athlete is not able to produce as much force into the ground as potentially possible. It also means that the athlete is more likely to heel strike and overstride, increasing injury risk.

Unwanted tension throughout the body:

When an athlete creates tension often through their arms and neck they are putting energy into something that is not going to help them move forward faster. It is important that an athlete be relaxed so that their energy can be better used to produce greater force into the ground, allowing them to move quickly and efficiently in a smooth rhythmical manner.

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An elite sprinter showcasing correct max speed running mechanics; upright with a slight forward lean posture, high knee lift, forefoot landing, stiffness through the trunk but also a relaxed upper body.

So how can we best correct these patterns and produce a faster more efficient athlete? We do this through the use of drills where we break down the complexities of running mechanics and teach it in parts. We can then gradually put these parts together to produce a rhythmical a correct running pattern. So what are some drills that we can use.

  • Wall drive acceleration drills:

Wall drive acceleration drills allow the athlete to develop correct posture, whilst also allowing the athlete to practice correct swing phase pattern and foot strike pattern. Progressing to resisted accelerations, also develops correct positioning and posture throughout the acceleration phase. When the band is added in it allows the athlete to maintain a good posture whilst learning to apply force into the ground correctly through movement.

Wall drive acceleration
  • Wall slide drill:

This drill teaches the athlete correct upright posture in max speed, along with correct lower limb mechanics as it forces the athlete to bring the leg up and forward (heel to butt) rather then allowing the leg to lag behind the body.

Wall slide drill
  • Step overs:

This teaches the athlete correct foot strike mechanics, teaching a forefoot landing with the foot striking just behind the knee. It also teaches the athlete the importance of speed through their foot strike, as they aggressively attack the ground. Think step over the ankle and grab the ground.

Step overs

Lastly, for us to really get fast we need to run fast and regularly run fast. So there are a few different ways that we can approach this working on acceleration speed, max speed and then the use of resisted and assisted sprinting.

  • Standing start/rolling start:

It is important to practice various starting position and scenarios as the athlete will be required to accelerate from various means during a game. It is important however to start basic with a standing start get the mechanics and the positioning right before challenging the athlete with varying starting positions.

  • Max speed running:

It is super important that team sport athletes still work on their max speed even though they will rarely reach max speed within a game. A greater max speed capacity will ultimately increase their acceleration capacity and overall maximum velocity they can reach. 

  • Resisted/assisted accelerations:

Resisted accelerations are a good way to teach the athlete correct running position and force application over an extended duration, when the resistance releases it is important that the athlete is able to maintain their positioning. It also overloads the sprint forcing the athlete to apply greater levels of force into the ground then what would normally be produced. Assisted sprinting forces the neuromuscular system to work over time as the body tries to keep up with the pull of the bungy.  

It is important that these tools are used in conjunction with appropriate change of direction techniques and agility drills to allow the skill of running to be integrated with other technical skills required such as change of direction and agility based work.

These are just some of the tools that you can add to your tool box to improve your speed and running efficiency throughout the game, however if you have any specific questions or would like us to tailor a running program for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Recovery 1%er’s

In a previous post about recovery (Recovery Essentials), we spoke about the importance of recovery after competition/training, and the fundamentals of recovery. Recovery is a key component of every athlete’s performance, having the ability to recover effectively after a training session or competition means that they are able to reduce the effects of fatigue and therefore perform better in subsequent training or competition. There are 4 main aims of recovery for an athlete:

  • Repair muscle damage (with every bout of physical activity performed by an athlete they create micro-tears within the muscle – the muscle’s then need adequate rest and protein stores to re-synthesise / repair the muscle).
  • Reduce muscles soreness (due to the build-up of metabolic waste and the muscle damage created during activity this can lead to delayed onset muscle soreness – DOMS, this can last anywhere from 24 to 48 hours after exercise).
  • Clear metabolic waste (during physical activity there is an increase in the production of blood lactate, an excess build-up of this can result in impaired muscle function)
  • Refuel energy stores (after exercise there is a depletion of fuel stores such as glycogen, fat and protein, it is therefore important that these stores are replenished after exercise).

As spoken about in our previous post the most crucial components to an athlete’s recovery include:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Hydration

It is important that we target these areas of our recovery first prior to looking for alternate recovery options. It is well known however that there are many alternate recovery options on the market that can be used to potentially further aid the effects of recovery. Throughout this blog post, we will be discussing the use of what we like to call the 1% er’s of recovery, what are they, what effect they have and how you can effectively use them to aid your recovery.

Cold water immersion/Hydrotherapy and hot/cold showers:

Hot and cold-water therapy (otherwise known as contrast water therapy) is a form of recovery many will know about as it is widely used across many sports. The idea behind contrast water therapy is that it creates a ‘muscular pump,’ whereby it causes the blood vessels within the muscles to dilate (vasodilation) when in hot water and then constrict (vasoconstriction) when in cold water (8). Doing this creates a pump-like action within the muscles aiding in pumping the blood back to the heart and lungs to be re-oxygenated and pumped back around the body (8). The idea is that in doing this you can remove any metabolic waste products from the muscles reducing the effects of DOMS and aiding in a faster recovery. Research has found that simple CWI or CWT can result in improved recovery from high-intensity activity (8).

An example protocol for CWT may look like 1 min in cold (15 degrees) and 1 min spent in hot water (38 degrees) repeating this seven times with a short transition between temperatures (8).

Coldwater immersion (CWI) is another method commonly used by athletes for recovery. This method involves the athlete submerging themselves into cold water (15 degrees) for 14 minutes. CWI cause vasoconstriction of the blood vessels, this consequently reduces blood flow to the muscles this reduction in blood flow to the damaged muscles can result in a reduction in inflammation and oedema within the muscles (8). There can also be an analgesic effect caused by CWI whereby there is decreased nerve conduction and excitability, thus reducing communication with the sympathetic nervous system leading to a reduction in perceived pain (8). Overall research has shown that CWI can reduce the effects of DOMS 24, 48 and 96 hours post-exercise (8).

Contrast water therapy, switching between hot and cold baths.

Pneumatic Compression Devices (Normatec):

Pneumatic Compression (PC) devices such as the Normatec Boots have been marketed to aid in removing metabolic waste from the muscles. The theory behind these devices is that through intermittent compression they create or mimic a muscular-venous pump consequently circulating blood from the muscles towards the heart and lungs to be re-oxygenated and back to the heart to be pumped back around the body (2). The mechanical ‘squeezing’ of the muscle is thought to push swelling out of the extremity and promote blood flow back to the heart and lungs (2). The actual effectiveness of this device is similar to that of active recovery, it has been found that similar blood lactate removal has been found for athletes after an active recovery versus a 20-minute session using a pneumatic compression device (2). Due to this evidence, it is possible that PC devices could have an effect on reducing DOMS by reducing the level of blood lactate within the muscles. Some research has found that it could result in recovering from DOMS at a more rapid rate, however, this is no significant difference when compared not using a PC device (2).

It has been thought that the use of PC devices could aid in glycogen resynthesis post-exercise. Glucose is the bodies main fuel source for activity and after approximately 90 minutes of continuous exercise, it is said that an individual’s glycogen stores will be depleted, if not replenished during activity. It is therefore important that athletes performing this type of exercise look to replenish their glycogen stores within the first 60 minutes after activity. It is thought that the aid of the PC device creating a muscular pump may lead to a more rapid replenishment of glycogen stores. It has however been found that this is not the case and that the rate of glycogen resynthesis does not change with or without the use of PC devices (2).  

Overall, the consensus is that PC devices may provide some reduction in DOMS through the reduction in blood lactate levels aiding a quicker return to homeostasis. It is important to note however that this device will not improve performance.

Normatec recovery boots.

Massage:

Massage is a widely used recovery strategy however the effects of it on improved subsequent performance is debated widely in the research. The idea behind massage is that it creates a squeezing like action of the muscles similar to that of PC devices pushing any swelling and metabolic by-products away from the peripheral muscles and back to the heart and lungs allowing for the blood to be re-oxygenated and pumped back around the body (10). In some studies, it has been found that this can have a positive impact on DOMS as well as improved muscle flexibility post-exercise (10). This may provide the athlete with some relief from post-exercise fatigue, however, it’s impact on subsequent performance has not been proven (3).

Athlete receiving massage.

Stretching:

Flexibility is the range of motion (ROM) of a joint or related series of joints such as the spine (7). There are various types of flexibility that an athlete can use such as flexibility for ROM enhancement whereby the joints are taken through excessive ROM placing muscles and tendons under unaccustomed tensile stress, an example of someone using this type of stretching would include dancers and gymnasts (7). Another form of stretching can be used prior to a session commonly called dynamic stretching where the joint is taken through a ROM in a gentle active manner, this forms part of many athlete’s warm-ups prior to commencing their sport (7). Stretching for recovery however, is used to reduce stiffness and soreness after a training session this is generally performed via static stretching (7).

Stretching can be categorised into several different forms including active or passive, static or dynamic, and acute or chronic. For the sake of this article, we will be focusing on the use of static stretching for recovery. Static stretching involves taking a joint through its ROM to a point of resistance a holding it there for a given period (7). It has been found that static stretching via pain-free ROM with minimal resistance may reduce post-exercise DOMS and improve post-exercise ROM (7). It, however, has not been found if stretching post-exercise can improve subsequent performance, it may, however, reduce post-exercise fatigue and soreness (7).  

Stretching for recovery.

Thera-guns:

Thera-gun is a massage device that looks like a drill. It uses percussive massage therapy to treat muscle soreness post-exercise. Percussion therapy is s form of soft tissue manipulation that is intended to reduce muscle soreness and increase ROM (5). It is said to do this via delivering rapid long vertical strokes to the muscles resulting in a neuromuscular response (5). Through this impact on the neuromuscular system, it is said to have effects on improving ROM after exercise (5). The percussive therapy is believed to improve muscular blood flow resulting in a reduction of DOMS through the aid in the removal of metabolic by-products (5). There is however limited research on this recovery modality making it unclear on the true effects it may have, leading to the presumption that it may have more of a placebo effect. It is clear however that the Thera-gun has limited to no effect on subsequent performance (5).  

Thera-guns.

Foam rollers and massage balls both normal and vibrating:

Now we have all heard of the humble foam roller to use for recovery, well how about a foam roller or massage ball that vibrates. Seems like a great idea, so let’s delve a little deeper and determine just how effective they are in aiding recovery after exercise. When using a foam roller an individual uses their own body weight to apply pressure and produce friction over a muscle or group of muscles, increasing muscle temperature and decreasing pain associated with DOMS (6). The way the foam roller works is that it works to release tension in the facial lining of the muscles as it increases muscle temperature (6). Massage balls, however, can be used to target trigger points within the muscle (think of this as a knot in the muscle), when pressure is placed on this point for a period it can lead to a relaxation in the muscle tissue (6). Using a vibrating foam roller or massage ball combines this pressure and friction-based therapy with percussion therapy in an effort to achieve the same results. It has been found that vibrating foam rollers and massage balls can have a slightly enhanced effect on recovery over a conventional foam roller and massage ball (6). The effect that both devices have is on a reduction in post-exercise perception of pain as well as increased ROM shortly after treatment (6). Again, foam rollers and massage balls have not been shown to have a positive effect on subsequent performance (6).   

Vibrating Foam Roller.

Float tanks:

A relaxing form of recovery where an individual lies face up in a quiet dark environment, in a tank of Epsom salt and water heated to approx. skin temperature (4). The level of Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) within the water is considerably higher than that of the dead sea allowing an athlete to effortlessly float within the tank (4). It is believed that the Epsom salts within the water promote the removal of blood lactate from the muscles having a significant impact on perceived pain post-exercise (4). As with all other recovery modalities mentioned this does not appear to have an impact on athlete subsequent performance not impacting muscle strength, or blood glucose levels, factors important for improved subsequent performance (4).  

Float Tank.

Summary

So, what is to come from all these different recovery modalities?

The key take a ways are:

  • The best form of recovery for improved performance comes from sleep, nutrition and hydration.
  • These modalities can be used as supplements to the above however they should not be relied upon.
  • These recovery modalities may have an impact on muscle blood lactate levels and perceived soreness post fatiguing exercise, however, they won’t have an impact on an individual’s subsequent performance.
  • Through the research these recovery strategies have not been found to significantly improve performance…… however, if you find there is a strategy that aids in your recovery, and you find it super beneficial to use, then use it – every little bit helps to make sure you are recovered and ready for the next game/competition.

References:

  1. Eston, R. & Peters, D. Effects of cold-water immersion on the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage. Journal of Sports Science. 17: 231-238, 1999.
  2. Hanson, E. Stetter, K. Li, R. & Thomas, A. An intermittent Pneumatic Compression Device reduces blood lactate concentrations more effectively than passive recovery after Wingate testing. Journal of Athletic Enhancement. 2(3): 20-24, 2013.
  3. Hemmings, B. Smith, M. Graydon, J. & Dyson, R. Effects of massage on physiological restoration, perceived recovery, and repeated sports performance. Journal of Sports Medicine. 34: 109-115, 2000.
  4. Morgan, P. Salacinski, A. & Stults-Kolehmainen, M. The acute effects of flotation restricted environmental stimulation technique on recovery from maximal eccentric exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27(12): 3467-3474, 2013.
  5. Pournot, H. Tindel, J. Testa, R. Mathevon, L. & Lapole, T. The acute effect of local vibration as a recovery modality from exercise-induced increased muscle stiffness. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 15: 142-147, 2016.
  6. Romero-Moraleda, B. Gonzalez-Garcia, J. Cuellar-Rayo. Balsalobre-Fernandez. Munoz-Garcia. & Morencos, E. Effects of vibration and non-vibration foam rolling on recovery after exercise with induced muscle damage. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 18: 172-180, 2019.
  7. Sands, W. McNeal, J. Murray, S. Ramsey, M. Sato, K. Mizuguchi, S. & Stone, M. Stretching and its effects on recovery: A review. National Journal of Strength and Conditioning. 35(5): 30-36, 2013.
  8. Vaile, J. Halson, S. Gill, N. & Dawson, B. Effect of hydrotherapy on recovery from fatigue. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 29: 539-544, 2008.
  9. Winke, M. & Williamson, S. Comparison of pneumatic Compression Device to a compression garment during recovery from DOMS. International Journal of Exercise Science. 11(3): 375-383, 2018.
  10. Zainuddin, Z. Newton, M. Sacco, P. & Nosaka, K. Effects of delayed-onset muscle soreness, swelling, and recovery of muscle function. Journal of Athletic Training. 40(3): 174-180, 2005.

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Running Phases Part 3: Speed Endurance:

Now that we have spoken about both acceleration and maximal speed running it is time to turn our focus to speed endurance. Speed endurance, when spoken about in its standard form, is the ability for an individual to maintain a near maximal velocity for an extended period (3). This will range between anywhere from 10 to 40 seconds or 100 to 400 meters. The ability for an individual to hold a near-maximal speed will be greater in those that are highly trained than those that are not (3, 4). Speed endurance is referred to most when speaking about events ranging from 200m to 800m on the track. It is rare that a team sport athlete would run further than 100m in a single effort, however, commonly, they would perform multiple short sprint efforts with little rest between referred to as repeat sprint ability (RSA) (1, 3). The ability of a team sport athlete to do this is underpinned by the same physiological systems as that of speed endurance (1, 3).

AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 25: Track & Field: 2000 Summer Olympics, Australia Cathy Freeman in action, winning 400M final at Olympic Stadium, Sydney, AUS 9/25/2000 (Photo by Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (SetNumber: X61190 TK11 R7 F24)

What exactly is it that affects our speed endurance and repeat sprint ability? As with acceleration and maximal speed running our strength power and technique are all paramount to our performance outcome. Now, however, we also have a greater impact from our energy systems. Throughout this article we will take a close look at the energy system contributions during speed endurance running and how we can manipulate them in training to further improve our speed endurance capabilities.

Energy systems:

To begin we have three ways in which our body can produce and utilize energy during exercise, that being the ATP-CP system, the anaerobic glycolysis system and the aerobic glycolysis system. The ATP-CP system is when the body uses already stored energy in the muscles to produce energy at a rapid rate, this however only lasts for approximately 10 seconds (5, 6). The anaerobic glycolysis system is when glucose is turned into energy with limited amounts of oxygen, unfortunately, this does result in the production of some fatiguing by-products such as lactate and hydrogen ions (5, 6). It is for this reason that we can only rely on this energy system for a short period (10-40 seconds). The aerobic glycolysis system is when glucose is converted into energy in the presence of oxygen (5, 6). This energy system has no fatiguing by-products and can, therefore, be relied upon for and extended period (40 seconds to 90 minutes) (5, 6). It is, however, a slow way of producing energy and therefore if you are wanting to move fast your body will place greater reliance on the ATP-CP and anaerobic glycolysis systems. It is important to note that these systems do not work in isolation, rather working simultaneously with one energy system being dominant at any one time (5, 6).  Speed endurance and RSA are heavily reliant on the anaerobic glycolysis system so let’s break it down a little further.

A diagram showing the energy system interplay during activity.

When we use our anaerobic glycolysis system glycogen is converted into glucose which is converted into a molecule called pyruvic acid (6). Due to the insufficient amounts of oxygen in the muscles, two fatiguing by-products are produced, lactic acid and hydrogen ions. The lactic acid and hydrogen ions can then be converted to produce more energy (6).

Sounds like there is no issue right?

However, when there becomes a greater production of these by-products compared to the muscles ability to utilize and clear these products, they build up in the muscles inhibiting chemical processes that ultimately lead to energy production (5, 6). When this occurs we have a greater reliance on the aerobic system (where oxygen is available) and ultimately slow down due to the greater reliance on oxygen for energy production (5, 6). This is evident when watching a 400-meter race, at the elite level the athletes may be able to hold their speed for 300 to 350 meters, while after that point they inevitably begin to slow down (5, 6). It has been stated that for a 400-meter runner the anaerobic glycolysis system will be the predominant energy system used for 60% of the race while the aerobic energy system will become dominant over the last 30% of the race (5, 6). In a team sport, however, this may seem a little more difficult to see, rather than seeing them slow down on one continual effort you may see then perform less high-intensity efforts and/or have a reduced intensity during those efforts.

Fatigue setting in towards the end of a 400m race.

Then we ask the question of how are we best to train this energy system to allow ourselves or our athlete to run faster for longer or perform high-intensity efforts for a longer period?

One of the big factors when attempting to train any energy system is that you have the right work to rest ratios. This is referring to the amount of time you are working compared to the amount of time you are resting. When looking to target the anaerobic glycolysis system we want our rest period to be the same, double or half that of the work period so a 1:1, 1:2 or 2:1 ratios (5, 6). By doing this we are not allowing the body enough time to fully recover and replenish energy stores before performing the next high-intensity effort (5, 6). This means that as the efforts (or reps) continue there is an increased build-up of lactic acid and hydrogen ions in the muscles, again causing us to fatigue and slow down.

However, the more you train this system the greater ability you gain to be able to buffer the fatiguing effects of hydrogen ions and lactic acid (5, 6). This allows you to maintain a high velocity for an extended period, or continue to perform repeated high-intensity reps (1, 2). It is important to note that this does not mean that there is a decreased build-up of hydrogen ions and lactic acid within the muscle, rather just that you can with stand their fatiguing effects for a longer period before it causes you to slow down (2, 5, 6).

The following are some potential sessions that you could perform to improve your speed endurance:

4 x 150m [walk back recovery]

5 x 80m fly’s (30m build up in acceleration) [1min recovery between reps]

1 x 30 seconds (run as far as possible) [1min rest] run the remaining 400m distance

The following are some example sessions you could perform to improve your RSA:

10 x 100m leaving every 30 seconds

6 x 30m leaving every 10sec

8 x 60m leaving every 20 seconds

References:

  1. Dawson, B. Repeated-sprint ability: Where are we? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 7: 285-289, 2012.
  2. Lockie, R. Murphy, A. Schultz, A. Knight, T. & Janse De Jonge, X. The effects of different speed training protocols on sprint acceleration kinematics and muscle strength and power in field sport athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26(6): 1539-1350, 2012.
  3. Marcello Iaia, F. Fiorenza, M. Perri, E. Alberti, G. Millet, G. & Bangsbo, J. The effects of two speed endurance training regimes on performance of soccer players. PLOS One. 10: 100-116, 2015.
  4. Miguel, P. & Reis, V. Speed strength endurance and 400m performance. New Studies in Athletics. 19(4): 39-45, 2004.
  5. Ohkuwa T. & Miyamura, M. Peak blood lactate after 400m sprinting in sprinters and long-distance runners. Japanese Journal of Physiology. 34: 553-556, 1984.
  6. Plevnik, M. Vucetic, V. Sporis, G. Fiorentini, F. Milanovic, Z. & Miskulin, M. Physiological responses in male and female 400m sprinters. Croatian Journal of Education. 15: 93-109, 2013.

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Running Phases Part 2: Max Speed:

Following on from our acceleration post we move into maximum speed or velocity. Maximum velocity is reached after our acceleration phase (after 4-6 seconds) where velocity is maximal and is maintained for only a short period of time (generally 3-5 seconds) (4). In lower level athletes this phase will be reached sooner, while in higher level athletes it will take longer for them to reach their maximum velocity, of which will also be far greater than that of lower level athletes (4). For some sports such as tennis, netball or basketball, maximum speed is somewhat irrelevant as players will never cover enough distance to be able to reach their maximum speed (4). For field sports such as AFL, soccer and hockey and track and field where there are greater distances that can be run, maximum velocity becomes important (4). It is argued that because in field-based sports it is often that sprints are started from a walk, jog or running start that they may be more likely to reach their maximum velocity earlier (4). This can occur as a field sport athlete’s maximum velocity is generally slower than that of a track and field athlete (4).

Daniel Rioli running at max speed.

What exactly is maximum velocity and how can we train for it? Maximum velocity is the highest possible velocity you can achieve and maintain for a short period of time before muscular deceleration and fatigue slow you down (4). As we increase our running velocity our stride length will also increase until a moderate speed, while stride frequency will increase until we reach our maximum velocity (4). As we increase our running velocity our muscles must shorten and lengthen at increasingly rapid rates (4). There are a few mechanical properties that allow us to do this including, strength, power and technique (4).

Strength:

Just like with acceleration there are various types of strength that can affect our maximal speed and all of these need to be considered when training to improve our maximal speed (1, 2, 6). It has been found that maximum speed running has a greater reliance on maximum strength and reactive strength (1, 2, 6).

Maximum Strength:

As stated in our previous acceleration article maximum strength is the maximum amount of force you can apply to an object or how strong you are (1, 2, 6). It has been stated that one of the single best predictors of maximal sprint velocity is that of maximal force relative to body weight (1, 2, 6). Ways that this can be measured include through a 1 repetition maximum (RM) or through an Isometric Mid-thigh Pull Test (1, 2, 6). From this measure it can be determined how much force an individual can apply to the ground with each stride during their maximal velocity phase.

Isometric Mid-thigh Pull test – assessing maximum strength.

Reactive Strength:

As stated in our previous article on acceleration, reactive strength is our ability to rapidly change from an eccentric to a concentric muscle contraction (1, 2, 6). This type of strength uses the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). This relates to our ability to store and utilize elastic energy within our tendons allowing them to act like a spring (where they are stretched to their maximum potential, before rapidly releasing energy as they recoil back to their resting state) (1, 2, 6). This means that we can have faster ground contact times (GCT) increasing our stride frequency and the velocity at which we are travelling (1, 2, 6). This form of strength is commonly measured through a countermovement jump test (assessing the slow SSC) or a drop jump test (assessing the fast SSC) (1, 2, 6). It has been found that the drop jump test has a greater correlation to maximum speed sprinting due to the shorter contact time and the smaller knee flexion angles produced (6).

Countermovement Jump is a powerful exercise using the slow SSC.

Power:

Power is the change in force being applied with respect to time, this means that the amount of force that is applied is proportional to the speed at which force is applied (1, 2). During maximum velocity running power is just as important as during the acceleration phase. As stated, stride frequency is at its greatest during the maximum velocity stage of running, this also means that out GCT is also at its greatest (1, 2). Therefore power is important as the greater amount of force you are able to apply to the ground over a short period of time, the shorter the GCT you will have (1, 2).

Technique:

We know the 2 biggest factors affecting an athlete’s maximum velocity include stride rate and stride length (3). An athlete however can only run as fast as their technique will allow them (3, 5). Poor technique will lead to poor body position, poor leg turn over, over striding (creating braking forces) and collapsing at the hips (3, 5). So, how can we improve our technique to improve our maximum velocity and reduce our risk of injury? There are 3 technique factors that we will talk about below.

Triple extension/slight forward lean:

Triple extension is the ideal position we can form at toe off during all phases of running. This is when we form a straight line from the shoulder to the ankle, linking the whole of the posterior kinetic chain together (erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings and calves) (2, 5). This allows the big power house muscle groups to work together in a synergistic manner, allowing you to apply greater force to the ground with every step (5). When we break this chain the end resultant force that we are able to apply to the ground is reduced. Reducing our stride frequency and ultimately slowing us down (3, 5). This can lead to technique faults such as over striding (creating breaking forces), collapsing at the hips and poor leg turn over (3, 5).

Active clawing action:

This means that with every step your forefoot actively lands on the ground and pushes the ground behind you (3, 5). Doing this will mean that you are able to achieve the next technique point. It will also help to prevent you from overstriding (creating a breaking force), and/or have poor body position as it forces you to lean forward (3, 5). The best way to think of running and especially running at high velocity, is that it is just falling forward and catching yourself with every stride (3, 5). However, if we are able to turn that catch phase into a positive clawing action this will lead to the propulsive phase of the gait cycle efficiently (3, 5).

Negative shin angle:

When the foot lands behind the knee on ground contact, doing this will mean that you are not over striding and will force you into a forward lean position (3, 5). This foot positioning and shin angle also allows us to have a greater use of our SSC with every stride, one of the fastest ways for us to produce and utilize energy within our muscles and tendons (3, 5). Leading to shorter GCT and a faster stride rate, ultimately increasing your maximum velocity (3, 5).

Usain Bolt at max speed.

Some ways that we can teach these technique points include:

A March/Skip:

Ankling:

Bounding:

Butt Kicks:

References:

  1. Barr, M. Agar-Newman, D. Sheppard, J. & Newton, R. Transfer effect of strength and power training to the sprinting kinematics of International rugby players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28(9): 2585-2596, 2014.
  2. Lockie, R. Murphy, A. Schultz, A. Knight, T. & Janse De Jonge, X. The effects of different speed training protocols on sprint acceleration kinematics and muscle strength and power in field sport athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26(6): 1539-1550, 2012.
  3. McFarlane, B. Developing maximum running speed. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal. 18: 24-28, 1984.
  4. Miller, R. Umberger, B. & Caldwell, G. Limitations to maximum sprinting speed imposed by muscle mechanical properties. Journal of Biomechanics. 45: 1092-1097, 2012.
  5. Nagahara, R. Matsubayashi, T. Matsuo, A. & Zushi, K. Kinematics of transition during human accelerated sprinting. Biology Open. 3: 689-699, 2014.
  6. Young, W. McLean, B. Ardagna, J. Relationship between strength qualities and sprinting performance. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 35: 13-19, 1995.

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Running Phases Part 1: Acceleration

Acceleration is a hugely important part of most sports, whether that be leading for a mark, accelerating to hit a drop shot, running from a pack or simply exploding from the blocks in a 100m sprint. Your ability to accelerate and accelerate efficiently is the key to generating speed quickly to perform these tasks (3).

Acceleration training should be a major focal point of all athlete’s training where their sport involves some sort of speed and explosive power. This is especially evident in change of direction based sports where having the ability to produce high speeds over short distances (0-30/50m) is paramount (7, 8), while having the ability to react and accelerate quickly can be the difference between first and second place in track events.

Acceleration is the rate at which the speed of an object is changing from a stationary position or slowly moving state to maximum speed (6, 7). This generally occurs over 0-30m or within 4 seconds (8). Once the athlete moves past this distance, they move into reaching their maximum velocity or speed. There are three key factors that aid in us accelerating quickly; strength, power and technique (1, 2, 6). We will talk more about these throughout this article, whilst discovering the most efficient way to accelerate.

Strength

Firstly, let us look at what exactly strength means in the context of exercise and sport. Strength is your ability to apply force against a load or resistance. This could mean applying force to fend off a player in a tackle, to a racquet to hit a ball, or in this context to the ground to drive yourself forward horizontally. When we talk about force in the sprinting and acceleration context, the greater amount of force we can apply to the ground combined with the speed at which we can do it, the greater reduction we can have in our ground contact time (GCT) (1, 2, 5). GCT is the time the foot is in contact with the ground per stride (1, 2, 5). GCT differs when comparing the initial acceleration phase to the mid-acceleration phase, indicating that there is a difference in strength qualities (maximal strength, explosive strength and reactive strength) required as we progress through the acceleration phases (1, 2). Let’s discuss each of these in more detail.

Maximal Strength  

To put it simply maximal strength is the maximum amount of force that you can apply to an object, or ultimately a measure of how strong you are (6). This can be measured via a 1 Repetition Maximum (RM) test (the total amount of weight that you can lift for one rep) (6). When your 1RM is derived from compound lower body lifts such as a squat or deadlift, we gain insight into how much force you can apply to the ground. Of course, being able to produce high levels of force is of no benefit to acceleration if you can’t express this quickly, or throughout the running pattern. Maximal strength can be best developed through compound lifts:

Worlds Strongest man performing a Deadlift.
  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Bench Pull

Explosive Strength

This is the ability of our muscles to apply maximum force to an object or the ground in minimal time (1, 2). If we think of the rate of force development curve (the rate at which we are able to produce force) explosive strength is simply the tip of that curve (1, 2). Explosive strength is commonly measured via a standing vertical jump test or broad jump test. Combining this measure with your maximal strength measure can provide an indication of the amount of force you can apply to the ground and how quickly you can change from an eccentric (muscle lengthening) to a concentric movement (muscle shortening) (1, 2). Some activities we can do to help develop our explosive strength include:

Olympic Weightlifting Clean and Snatch.
  • Olympic lifting derivatives
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Medicine ball throws

Reactive Strength

Now we start to put the two together, where reactive strength is our ability to rapidly change from an eccentric to a concentric muscle contraction also known as the stretch shortening cycle (1, 2, 6). This pertains to our ability to hold elastic energy within our tendons as they act like a spring, being stretched to their maximum capacity before being released (1, 2, 6). Some common ways of developing this type of strength includes various plyometric exercises such as:

Hurdle Jumps with a short contact between.
  • Drop jumps
  • Pogo jumps
  • Hurdle jumps

Power

Power can be explained as the change in force with respect to time, the speed at which force is applied is proportional to the amount of force that is applied (1, 2). This is different to explosive strength as it is not necessarily the maximum amount of force we can apply (2). Power is important during acceleration as when we talk about the GCT, the faster we can apply force to the ground the more rapidly we are able to move (1, 2). For example, the amount of force and the speed at which you apply that force to the ground in walking is far less than that of a run, and then again of sprinting (1, 2). As you progress through the acceleration phase your ground contact time shortens indicating a greater use of power than explosive or maximal strength (1, 2, 6). Some of the common ways we can develop our power include:

Box jumps.
  • Box jumps
  • Squat jumps
  • Non-countermovement hurdle jumps

Now that we understand the need to apply high levels of force quickly to move fast, let’s look at the best way to do that making us as efficient as possible.

Technique

There are many technical factors that can be looked at during the acceleration phase, and all phases of running for that matter, to make us more efficient. We will be looking at three key factors:

The First Three Steps

The first three steps of our acceleration phase whether it be for a straight-line sprint or to a change of direction, are important. Getting the initial stages of the acceleration phase right will have a flow on affect to the subsequent stages of the acceleration phase. So, what do we want our first three steps to look like?

It is important that as we take our initial movements to accelerate our steps are low and short. As we move through our acceleration phase these steps will get larger and our heel lift higher (4, 7, 10). It is ideal that these steps are fast, however initially they will be a lot slower than that of maximal speed steps (4, 7, 10), needing to apply high levels of force to produce movement.

Triple Extension

Triple extension is when we form a straight line from our shoulders to our ankles (9), the ideal position to adopt at toe off during all stages of running, but more importantly during the acceleration phase. This position allows compliance through the posterior kinetic chain, linking together our larger muscle groups (erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings and calves) to work together in a synergistic manner to achieve the same common goal (move us forward fast) (9). When we lose triple extension, we break the kinetic chain, resulting in muscle groups working in isolation to achieve the same goal (9). This quickly depletes efficiency and increases our chances of sustaining an injury in muscle groups which are adopting a greater load to compensate (9).

Forward Lean Position

Lastly, our forward lean position places the whole body’s centre of gravity is ahead of the base of support, bringing the trunk closer to the ground reaction forces (9), and in combining this position with triple extension we are able to apply greater amounts of force to the ground (9). This forward lean position means that we are able drive the ground behind us with every step, rather than potentially overstriding and creating a breaking force with every step (4). This position will be far greater in the initial stages of acceleration, slowly transitioning into a more upright maximal speed position. Think of yourself as a jet aeroplane slowly increasing your height as you move forward.

Asafa Powell showing triple extension, forward lean and low, short initial steps.

Here are three drills that can aid technique in these areas:

Wall March

A March & A Skip

Falling Start

References:

  1. Balsalobre-Fernandez, C. Tejero-Gonzalez, C. Campo-Vecino, J. & Alonso-Curiel, D. The effects of maximal power training cycle on strength, maximum power, vertical jump height and acceleration of high-level 400-meter hurdlers. Journal of Human Kinetics. 36: 119-126, 2013.
  2. Barr, M. Agar-Newman, D. Sheppard, J. & Newton, R. Transfer effect of strength and power training to the sprinting kinematics of International rugby players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28(9): 2585-2596, 2014.
  3. Coh, M. Jost, B. Skof, B. Tomazin, K. & Dolenec, A. Kinematic and Kinetic parameters of the sprint start and start acceleration model of top sprinters. Gymnica. 28:33-42, 1998.
  4. Harland, M. & Steele, J. Biomechanics of the sprint start. Journal of Sports Medicine. 23(1): 11-20, 1997.
  5. Hunter, J. Marshall, R. & McNair, P. Relationships between ground reaction force impulse and kinematics of sprint-running acceleration. Journal of Applied Biomechanics. 21: 31-43, 2005.
  6. Lockie, R. Murphy, A. Schultz, A. Knight, T. & Janse De Jonge, X. The effects of different speed training protocols on sprint acceleration kinematics and muscle strength and power in field sport athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26(6): 1539-1550, 2012.
  7. Mero, A. Komi, P. & Gregor, R. Biomechanics of sprint running: A review. Journal of Sports Medicine. 13(6): 376-392, 1992.
  8. Murphy, A. Lockie, R. & Coutts, A. Kinematic determinants of early acceleration in field sport athletes. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2: 144-150, 2003.
  9. Nagahara, R. Matsubayashi, T. Matsuo, A. & Zushi, K. Kinematics of transition during human accelerated sprinting. Biology Open. 3: 689-699, 2014.
  10. Standing, R. & Maulder, P. The biomechanics of standing start and initial acceleration: Reliability of the key determining kinematics. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 16: 154-162, 2017.

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RUNNING AND OVERUSE INJURIES:

Not uncommon scenes at the lake in recent weeks.

With COVID-19 impacting our lives in so many ways now, it is so important that we keep some form of routine. For so many of us routine would mean doing some form of organised sport most if not all days. However, with all group gatherings diminished to only two people it has meant much of our beloved sport has been postponed or cancelled. In trying to stick to our routine many of us have turned to other forms of exercise such as running, cycling and body weight circuits. This is great to see that so many people are still getting out there and doing something to maintain their health and fitness or to continue working towards their goals even if they may have been postponed.

Running seems to be one form of exercise that so many of us have taken up, it requires minimal equipment and not a great deal of prior training to do (….so it seems). However, with running as with all sport and activity it doesn’t come without its risks and potential for injury, with 37-56% of runners sustaining some form of overuse injury (). So, while all of us go gun hoe on our fitness routines with all this spare time we have on our hands let’s take a minute to take a step back and just assess what we are doing.

You want to do some running to stay fit and healthy however you haven’t done too much continuous running before. Living in Ballarat you might think well a lap of the lake seems simple let’s start there; you feel alright afterward so the next day you think well I might do that again or maybe Vic Park. The only thing is you have never run on consecutive days before, nor have you done so many kilometres in a week. The first week goes by and you’re doing ok, but then part way through the second week you start to get some niggles, in the Achilles, hamstrings, knee or shin. You don’t think too much of it because you think “I have to keep exercising and this seems to be all I can do now” so out you go again the next day. Two days later you are limping out of bed with horrible pains in your legs, you can’t explain why but you concede that you cannot run for a while.

What can you do or where could you have changed things? To start with if you have already come across an injury yourself initially it is best to rest and seek further advice from a professional as to what exactly it may be. Most importantly however, what could we have done to prevent this from happening at the start?

Firstly, let’s look at some of the common injuries that a runner may sustain. These include Achilles tendon pain (tendonitis/tendinosis), medial tibial stress syndrome (known as shin splints – Check out out video on this), lateral or medial knee pain (ITB syndrome), or high hamstring pain (proximal/distal hamstring tendinopathy) (2, 3). There are a few common causes that all these injuries have:

  • when we increase our load too quickly or rapidly change the type of training we are doing.
  • Wearing out dated shoes increasing impact loading on the body, commonly seen through the doors at the Running Company Ballarat (https://www.therunningcompany.com.au/ballarat/) (2, 3).
  • Another cause of injury within running especially those that are new to running, is technique with a few common faults among us that can lead to greater strain being placed on different muscle groups leading to an injury.

Load Management

So, then what are some things that we can do to avoid this happening to ourselves? Firstly, it is important to monitor how much you are doing and how quickly you are increasing that load, for this we use the overload principle whereby we never increase our load by more than 10% (2). For example, if you have never really done too much running before then starting off with 3 runs a week giving yourself plenty of rest between each is a good start. Then when you are feeling comfortable you can increase the amount you are doing; keeping in mind that we don’t increase by any more than 10%. Therefore, if you are running 15km a week to begin with then your first increase would only be to run and extra 1.5km for the week. Hence, you might add an extra 500m to each run, rather than adding an extra 5km run for the week. It is also important that at the end of each 4 week block of training we reduce the volume of training we are doing, this allows for the body to recover and adapt to the new stimulus before reintroducing a higher volume again (2).

An illustration of how load increase may look over a 4 week block.

We also need to look at the type of surfaces that we are running on, as running on hard surfaces frequently increases the impact forces placed on the body, resulting in an increased injury risk (2, 3). Therefore it is important that we are running on a variety of surfaces including grass, gravel and pavement or road (2, 3). This allows for our body to adapt to the different stressors placed on the body associated with the different surfaces (2, 3).  While running around your block on the pavement each day may seem the easiest, it will be well worth your while going to an oval or park lands once a week and running on the grass, as it reduces the impact loading on your body.

Abrupt changes in running type can also contribute to an increased risk of injury, hence it is important that we don’t rapidly change the type of running we are doing (2, 3). For example don’t decide one day that you are going to run up a hill 10 times when all you have been doing is running on flat ground. What you might do instead is gradually introduce hills to your runs, where you might start to run over a few rolling hills before tackling a hills session, where you would progressively increase the pace at which you run up the hill each session. This will give your body the opportunity to adapt to running hills in a slow, progressive manner.

Technique

Lastly, on the technique side of things, as much as running seems a very simple task, just put one foot in front of the other quickly…… There are some key technique aspects that we can look at to reduce the risk of injury as well as make you more efficient at running. These are just a few key mistakes that many of us make.

Over striding:

Over striding means that when our foot strikes the ground we are landing on our heel (1, 5). In doing this we are essentially putting on the breaks, we must then overcome this braking force before we can apply force to the ground, propelling us forwards (1, 5). Not only is this less efficient, but it also places greater stress on the hamstrings and the lower back (1, 5). This occurs as your hamstrings are placed on stretch whilst also applying force to overcome the breaking forces being applied, potentially leading to knee or hamstring injuries (1, 5).

Incorrect and correct technique.

Increased hip flexion on foot strike (sitting in a bucket):

This means that when our foot strikes the ground we have a greater flexion angle at the hips, increasing our chances of overstriding, decreasing performance and increasing injury risk (1, 4, 5). This type of running style is more likely to lead to knee injuries due to the greater load placed on the quadriceps throughout the running cycle (1, 4, 5). This increased force produced by the quadriceps places an increased load on the ligaments and tendons surrounding the knee leading to potential knee injuries, such as ITB syndrome (1, 4, 5).

Incorrect and correct technique.

Shoulder rotation rather than arm swing:

This is a common mistake many make as we don’t necessarily see the importance of the arms in the running cycle. The arms however create an opposing force, we move the opposite arm forward to the leg that is forward allowing us to keep our body in a straight line and move in a straight line (1, 5). If we are to allow our shoulders to rotate, we are forcing our lower body and pelvis (hips) to rotate in the opposing direction resulting in us not running with a straight trajectory (1, 5). This is a far less efficient way of running, leading to greater fatigue and a further breakdown in technique (1, 5).

Incorrect and correct technique.

Leaning back when running:

This could mean that we are tight through our erector spinae and/or potentially lack flexibility through the hip flexors (1, 5). This will ultimately result in a reduced stride length and/or over striding, forcing there to be a greater energy cost for every step (). This is a less efficient running technique causing us to use more energy to cover the same distance.  

Incorrect and correct technique.

These are just a few key technical running errors that many people make. You may be asking however how can I fix these? Below are a few key running drills that you can complete to help teach you correct running technique.  

A march/skip:

Ankling:

Seated Running Arms:

Bounding:

Conclusion

If you have any questions on anything please get in contact with us: info@radcentre.com.au.

Or if you are interested in our coaching services for either running technique or strength work to compliment your running get in contact.

REFERENCES:

  1. Folland, J. Allen, S. Black, M. Handsaker, J. Forrester, S. Running technique is an important component of running economy and performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.17: 1412-1423, 2017.
  2. McGrath, A. Finch, C. Running the race against injuries: A review of the literature. Monash University Accident Research Centre. 104: 1-66, 1996.
  3. Mechelen, W. Running Injuries: A review of the epidemiological literature. Sports Medicine. 14: 320-335, 2012.
  4. Mizahi, J. Verbitsky, O. Isakov, E. Daily, D. Effect of fatigue on leg kinematics and impact acceleration in long distance running. Human Movement Science. 19: 139-151, 2000.
  5. Moore, I. Is there an economical running technique? A review of modifiable biomechanical factors affecting running economy. Sports Medicine. 46: 793-807, 2016.