Speed/ Plyometrics/ Conditioning

Australian Rules Football: How to Train for Power & Endurance without Causing Negative Effects

Q: G’day Joe, 

If you’re not familiar with AFL (Australian rules football) HERE is a highlight reel. 

As you can see it is physically similar to rugby, requires the speed and endurance of a soccer player, and similar ball handling skills of a bballer. 

The game last roughly 120 minutes and is broken up into quarters.

The elite midfielder’s will typically:

– spend approx 20% game time on the bench
– run over 15km per match, the majority of the kms are repeated sprints
bench press around: 150kgs (330lbs)
Run sub 2.9s for 20m 
Score over 16 on a beep test 
VO2Max: over 65
Vertical jump: around 30 inches. 

These guys are professional athletes. 

The numbers for power and strength tests are not staggering when compared to NFL athletes, however, as you can appreciate there is a necessity to combine power and endurance. The best players have this: 

Pre-season:

Skills and drills need to be trained (minimum 3 hrs a week). 
High intensity interval training would be great for repeated sprints and increasing aerobic capacity (? minimum 3 sessions a week)
WS4SB would be great for power and explosiveness. 3-4 sessions a week. 

The question is how do you combine the two forms of training without causing negative effects? 

Thanks,

Marc

A: Marc,

Thanks for the question. I’ve received quite a few emails regarding Rugby and Australian Rules football during the past couple of months. It definitely seems like there is an increased interest and demand for quality training information on the topic. This is probably due to the fact that these are two of the most brutal sports on earth…and training for them can be “confusing” due to the many biomotor capabilities that each player must possess. Because of this; I decided to provide some much-needed information regarding the training for these unique sports.

Ironically, our current intern (Alexander Brooker) happens to be a rugby player from England. He has played the sport – as well as researched it extensively – so I felt comfortable asking him to ‘tackle’ your question. I think the readers of my website will appreciate his well-researched, in-depth answer that’s provided below.

Here you go…

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First of all, huge respect to you for playing Aussie Rules Footy – I consider it one of the hardest, if not the hardest sport on Earth. It requires you to be very proficient in many different biomotor capabilities, plus you need to be a bit psycho too!

australian-football1

You haven’t mentioned how long your preseason is, what level of athlete you are in regards to the Process of Attaining Sports Mastery, your previous training, competition calendar, how old you are, physical parameter measurements etc., so this means I cannot give you a definitive answer. However, I can give you a framework and some ideas of how to manage the training process.

I personally view ARF as an aerobic-alactic sport. There is an obvious demand for a very powerful aerobic system (15km per match, length of the game, etc.) and also a powerful alactic system is needed for the jumps, tackles, sprints etc.

Firstly, if you program the training process correctly, there will be NO NEGATIVE effects between improving the alactic and aerobic systems, and contrary to popular belief – they will actually COMPLEMENT each other.

You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the glycolytic (lactic) system. There is a glycolytic component, but if you have a powerful aerobic system, then you do not need to venture into glycolytic training in the training process. The lactic component has been found to be so much smaller than most intellects thought. The degree to which you can still be in an aerobic environment can reach very high heart rate intensities, so the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) can be very misleading for this reason. The nature of intermittent activity in Aussie Rules – in order for it to be lactic – would require the movement rates to be so high (with such minimal rest) that it is not seen consistently.

Studies from Douge 1982 explains how over the course of the game a player will perform 100 or more sprints, and Wadley et al 1988 describes that these high intensity efforts are normally over 20m and are present for roughly 20% of the game. The other 80% of the game is spent at low to moderate intensity, which is why the aerobic system is so valuable to replenish energy stores and remove all of the accumulated byproducts.

When you start to look at the different muscular contraction regimes that are associated with accumulating higher levels of blood lactate, this is where physical activity such as the tackle (if sustained for a long enough time) would be lactic — but it never is.

The majority of your training should definitely be either aerobic or alactic. It is important to recognize that technical/tactical coaches are going to be implementing lactic loads in the sport practice – unless you’re getting your say in regards to program management (and that you yourself correctly understand bioenergetics and programming of sports training).

So, if you know that there is enough lactic work already being done in training, then you certainly do not need to do ANY in the physical preparation. (Except for maybe the last stage of the training plan, but more on this later…)

Here are some reasons why you should keep everything either alactic or aerobic when training for ARF:

The more powerful the aerobic system, the greater the lactate buffer system! Without even training in a glycolytic environment, you’re improving your lactic capacity because of the creatine phosphate, adenosine triphosphate biogenesis, each 3 energy systems releasing chemicals to allow contraction. The more you can keep an athlete in an aerobic environment before they go into lactic, the less stress on their body to produce the work. Why make things harder for yourself?

Here’s a good example using the 400m:

Very big aerobic component, as well as lactic and alactic

Those who stay in aerobic longest are putting out the required work at the required intensity level at less stress to their body

It only makes sense even if sport has substantial lactic component (which ARF does), to have the strongest aerobic system possible because of less stress to the body

Creation of creatine phosphate, creation of adenosine triphosphate is less “expensive” to the organism with aerobic than alactic

 

Obviously there is no possible way to improve speed and power qualities without the alactic mechanism.

Here’s something to keep in mind while trying to improve your skill levels:

Practice intensities that become too high too soon almost ALWAYS do nothing to perfect technical skill. This is because players are so taxed that they’re scrambling to just hold on; this is an absolutely terrible environment for learning!

Even with older, more advanced players, it is also inefficient if lactic loads are introduced too soon because they will not be able to improve on their maximal outputs on any particular movements.

“Lactic training is too slow for speed development, and too fast to recover from in 24 hours.” Charlie Francis

In technical/tactical sessions, there’s a continual suppression of speed qualities because no one is moving fast enough. Instead, they are simply watering down their skill from drills at the incorrect intensities.

When you start to understand Maximum Outputs vs. Operational Outputs (James Thinker Smith DVD; see reference), you truly begin to understand how terrible some training sessions are and no one is ever in a situation where they can properly recover, either.

Maximum output = what you can do.

Operational output = what you have to do.

Time motion research reveals this (stat data) – average speed, nature of physical activity, metres travelled etc.

But you don’t need any fancy diagnostic machinery.

Charlie Francis says, “Watch the players, not the game”. Watch how they move and you will get all the information you need.

What most technical/tactical coaches fail to understand is that if you are always spending time in the zone of what they HAVE to do (Operational Output), you’re never improving what they CAN do (Maximal Output).

Why is it so important to improve what they can do?

The higher your maximum outputs are, the less energy you have to expend to operate in the field of what you have to do – and as a result – it increases because the maximum increases.

You can improve work capacity without doing any endurance by simply improving maximum outputs!

Teams would operate at such greater levels if they weren’t always in “operating” speed.

So, the key for technical/tactical development is to begin with purely technical loads and/or aerobic loads because the technical loads are working simple movement skills (running, passing, etc.) at very low speeds. Most people overlook this and think they’re wasting their time, but what this does is provides a long time to develop the speed of movement with technical precision in either system (alactic or lactic).

The sequence of training blocks and the bioenergetic character of the training blocks should be consistent regardless if it’s technical/tactical work or general physical prepatory work. We know from Issurin that we are looking to secure a work load compatibility between ALL training stressors at any given time; this doesn’t mean everything has to be the same (everything alactic) — it means that if the block’s dominant regime is alactic, then every other regime MUST be compatible with it.

The convenient thing is nearly ALL alactic and ALL aerobic qualities are compatible with one another because they are so far away from each other on the spectrum. Charlie Francis also goes into great depth on this.

Aussie_high_intensity_for_sports

Aussie_high_intensityCOMPONENTS

Lactic work is when things get tricky because it is too close (in the middle) of the spectrum and the lactic competes with either aerobic or alactic work. This is when you have to be careful when you’re in a block and lactic is the dominant quality. BUT for ARF, it should NEVER be the dominant quality; it should be present at some degree in the technical/tactical work (eg. training match) during the final stage of training.

It does not need to be addressed in the physical prep because practices and games themselves will do the work for you. You should allow specialized constructed practices and games to raise the specific fitness level. Don’t get too carried away too early, otherwise you will limit your room to improve further down the road.

Besides form, the hormonal and biochemical implications of what happens if you do not adhere to workload compatibility just doesn’t make sense on an intuitive level. This is why it’s important to know what you can and can’t achieve in a given training block.

Improve aerobic qualities and develop a faster speed reserve and you will just get better. The only time that you would want to introduce glycolytic as the main regime of the block (and you should delay this introduction to the last stage of training in a specialized work capacity stage) is at the last possible moment before the onset of the competition calendar. However, you only can do this effectively if you have a competent program manager who keeps as much of the prior training process aerobic and alactic.

This is going to cause a shitstorm – but another pro for aerobic is that it will improve your speed indirectly. This is explained later.

You mentioned about High Intensity Training and using it for aerobic capacity development. Here’s something to keep in mind — Hypertrophic cardiac myopathy. Also, many of the studies on HIT training are flawed as they normally use untrained populations and most studies are only for 4-6 weeks. What if you want to do it for longer than that? My personal opinion is to stick with tempo training (which is touched upon later).

In terms of combining the aerobic and alactic training; the easiest and most efficient way of doing this is using a High/Low system, which was popularized by the late great Charlie Francis.

Here’s a basic guideline of a High/Low approach. There is a categorization of the training means:

High Central Nervous System Intensity: Any speed, agility or conditioning drill performed at >75% effort. “Even though sprinting between 75-95% does not require maximal efforts, it is still High CNS Intensive because of the organisms inability to recover from – and repeat similar efforts – within 48 hours”. (James Thinker Smith, 2005). There is a similar case with resistance training too. ‘Although lifts less than 90% of 1RM do not qualify as Maximum Effort, they must be considered CNS intensive if one attempts to perform the repetition(s) with maximum attainable speed (Dynamic Effort Method)’; this is due to higher threshold of motor unit activation.

My opinion is I would utilize Prileprins Chart as a framework with your resistance exercises. I recommend that you primarily focus on accumulating the load and then intermittently intensifying the load. By adhering to this, your maximal strength will increase without having to lift maximally (>90%1RM).

Aussie_prileprin_chart

Low Intensity Central Nervous System Intensity: This includes means such as auxiliary resistance exercises, tempo’s etc. It includes means that you can recover from in 24 hours.

Here is a guideline that you could use for a typical week. Please remember this is highly adjustable, this is just for understanding the concepts. “Utilize experience, knowledge, intuition and recovery ability to manipulate the training parameters so as to appropriately accommodate your specific physiological state and sporting requirements.” –James Thinker Smith, 2005

 

Pre-Season

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
  HIGH LOW HIGH LOW HIGH LOW OFF
AM   Field Based Session, low intensity working on technical precision   Field Based Session, low intensity working on technical precision   Field Based Session, low intensity working on technical precision
PM SAC Tempo SAC Tempo SAC Tempo
Intensive MB Throws Extensive MB Work Intensive Jumps Auxiliary Resistance Exercises Intensive MB Throws Extensive MB Work
Resistance Exercises   Resistance Exercises   Resistance Exercises   
Therapeutic Massage (any low intensity massage) Hydrotherapy Deep Tissue Massage Hydrotherapy Hydrotherapy Deep Tissue Massage 
Aussie_cns_wave

Notes:

-SAC: This stands for Speed, Agility or Conditioning. It will be performed at >75% maximal locomotion

-MB: Medicine Ball

Some people consider tempo work as a mere recovery method. However, it is so much more than that. Tempo’s are submaximal linear or multi-directional locomotion performed at <75% of your maximum velocity. They will help to improve your speed by increasing capillary density – the vascular network (there is miles of it in your body) – you can generate more heat by the motor neurons. It is well known that the more heat you can put around the motor neurons, the less the electrical resistance. This means the fiber starts to take on the characteristic of a white fiber because the only difference is in the innervation. Also, a very good aerobic network allows you to maintain a warm up so that you can have longer breaks between your runs. This guarantees that the following repetition will be at a better quality/intensity. Sprint mechanics can be easily improved while running at submaximal speeds, and obviously a better sprint form will improve your maximal velocity. The increased capillary density slows blood flow through the tissue, allowing more time for nutrient transfer and waste removal. (Charlie Francis)

It’s very important to know what is going on at field sessions because its very easy to overload yourself if you do not account for what is already done – or what will be done – in practice (which is out of your control). For example, it’s best to do skill work before weight work. You only have a given capacity for each day. After a training session, you must subtract from what you have planned for that day – so you are not over volumised. This is known as Charlie Francis’ “Fill the Glass” concept.

For example:

You could be at the end of your capacity (the glass) after your speed work. This would indicate you to not perform the remaining training means. The goal is to train for as long as possible with minimal risk of injury. The athlete who trains for 4 years consistently, beats the guy who trains hard for a year, gets injured, trains hard for 2 years then gets injured again etc.

If your technical session ends up being more intensive than you planned then you must readjust all of your other training means for that day, otherwise you will go over your capacity for that day (overflow).

 

aussie_glass
Don’t let this be your body!

 

I hope this serves you some use, as well as some things to think about. I feel that I have answered your question the best I can with the limited information you have given. I would like to end on this great quote:

“Let it be known that the training process is a living thing. No training model or program is ever set in stone. So long as the human being is composed of biological units, the application of training means and methods must remain as adaptive as the very infrastructure of our organism.” – James ‘The Thinker’ Smith

 

Questions, comments, concerns – feel free to email Alex at Brooker@freakstrength.com or drop him a comment and start a discussion below!

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REFERENCES & SPECIAL THANKS TO: 

-Joe DeFranco for allowing me to write on his site, cheers mate!

James “The Thinker” Smith (www.powerdevelopmentinc.com) – all of the information on his site, our consultations and his specific publications: High Low Sequences of Programming and Organizing Training 2005, Maximal Outputs vs Operational Outputs DVD.

-Charlie Francis all of the material he has available. (Printed with permission from Angela Coon for one time use. www.CharlieFrancis.com)

Supertraining (2009 edition)

www.freakstrength.com – all of the information

Douge B (1982) – Testing in Australian rules football. Sports Coach 6:29-34.

Wadley G and Le Rossignol P (1998) – The relationship between repeated sprint ability and the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 1:100-110

2 Comments

  1. Christian there comes a time in a mans life when you must learn to appreciate the specific skill, talent and know how you must have to play a difficult game like Aussie Rules Football.
    There is nothing wimpy about playing footy try saying that to Mark Ricciuto or Glen Archer im sure they along with many others can mix it with rugby players in the strength speed power areas.
    We could say that rugby players are just meatheads but we won’t because we appreciate every sport for what skill set you need to play that sport.

  2. Joe great response. I must correct something however.

    First Aussie Rules is in no stretch of the imagination phyically similar to Rugby. Unless ofcourse you are comparing Elite adult aussie rules players with an under 6 rugby team.

    Second the only men in Australia that find themselves playing aussie rules is due to their “moms” realising they are too soft to play rugby. Consequently they find themselves making a big deal about a pointless, skilless soort for the rest of their life.

    Anyways just wanted to ensure someone cleared this up. I am sure the reader that posed this question is a great guy, just a bit of a wimp!

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