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Pre-season training can often hold the stigma of being brutal, unrelenting and taxing on the body and mind. Covering the months of November right through to March athletes embark on a journey to get their bodies into the most pristine condition to tackle their upcoming season. Here are 7 key tips to make sure you get the most out of your training.

1. Don’t go too hard too early

It’s really easy to go blaring out of the blocks during the initial part of pre season. Gone are the days that day 1 of preseason consists of endless sprints until you puke. Going too hard too early can vastly increase your chance of suffering a soft tissue muscular strain and/or a tendon injury. Our goal here is to gradually load the tendons that aren’t yet accustomed to high impact loading. This might include going for light tempo jogs 2-3 times a week building the distance gradually or doing lightly weighted strength exercises to prime your body for what’s to come. I personally like to think of preseason as a large skyscraper building. You can’t construct a soaring building without a strong base or else it’ll come crashing down just like your body will without a strong base of training. Your body will thank you for this as those gruelling sessions kick in.

2. Embrace what’s coming

We all dread that first session back in January when the coach blows the whistle calling for the 3km run (or 2km run depending on what your club chooses for assessment).  We don’t all have to beat Mark Blicavs astonishing 5 minute 39 second run (2km) or Kane Kornes 9 minute 14 second effort (3km), however embracing the fact it’s coming and training accordingly will hold you in good stead to achieve your best time (retrieved from www.afl.com.au/). Once we’ve established that strong base of training we can move onto some more intense training. Interval training and Fartlek training both can improve your aerobic and anaerobic endurance, increase your VO2 max and your overall mental and physical output. You may be devised a specific program by your strength and conditioning coach however I’ve included one session of each to help you with your training. As well as this training it’s a good idea to actually run the 2km or 3km effort once a fortnight in place of one of your sessions to assess your improvements.

Interval session (the times set to achieve are only a guide; please adjust them according to your fitness levels).

Set 1 600 m < 120 sec Rest for 90 seconds 400 m < 90 seconds Rest for 120 seconds
Set 2 400 m < 90 seconds Rest for 90 seconds 600 m < 120 seconds Rest for 120 seconds
Set 3 500 m < 105 seconds Rest 105 seconds 500 m < 105 seconds Rest for 120 seconds
Set 4 400 m < 90 seconds Rest 90 seconds 600 m < 120 seconds
Set 5 600 m < 120 seconds Rest 90 seconds 400 m < 90 seconds

Distance covered: 5 km

Fartlek session

10 minute warm up jog

60 seconds on/60 seconds off x 5 reps

2 minute recovery walk

60 seconds on/60 seconds off x 5 reps

10 minute warm down jog

On phase: Slightly quicker than your 5km run pace

Off phase: Slow jog

3. Don’t do more than 3 key runs a week

Key runs can be defined as your main running sessions and we don’t want you doing more than 3 key runs once you’re into the full swing of pre season training. These three sessions might be a mix of interval training, fartlek or even hill sprints and must be spaced out between each other. Some athletes during preseason like to get in two-three hard running session during the week and then a long tempo run at 5-6 minutes per kilometre pace for 8-12 kilometres. Three key running sessions are more than enough to reach a physiological improvement without overtraining your body, providing you’re recovering well between the sessions.

4. Make your strengths a focus during training but don’t forget about those areas that need improvement.

Bob Murphy Bulldog great is a massive advocate on making your strengths a big focus during training. Every player at every level has something unique they can bring to the table for their team. That may be outstanding pace, precise foot skills or a Toyota Camry like aerobic engine, whatever it may be make sure it really stands out by paying constant attention to it and persistently working on it. That doesn’t mean you can forget about the areas in your game that need attention, as there will certainly be times in games where they’ll need to be called on. We’ve all been stuck on our opposite foot in a game or forced to chase a rebounding flanker off the line. A 70:30 ratio works well , we’re your working on your strengths for 70 percent of the time and your areas of improvement for 30 percent. Try getting to training 15-20 minutes before it starts to get this extra work in and you’ll notice a massive difference in minimal time.

5. Spend more time in the gym for less time on the sidelines

Hamstring strains topped the charts as the most prevalent injury once again following this AFL season. In 2018 it was recorded that on average AFL clubs sustained 4.9 new hamstring injury incidents resulting in 16.6 games spent on the sidelines. Overall hamstring injuries accounted for 14 percent of injuries recorded (resourced from www.afl.com.au). The British journal of sports medicine recently released an article outlining how beneficial strength training is in reducing the incidence of injuries amongst athletes. One of the muscle groups they investigated was hamstring injuries. The strength training group that included eccentric hamstring exercises was associated with the highest level of injury risk reduction. Overall they found strength training to reduce sports injuries by 66 percent. It was also noted that a 10 percent increase in strength training volume resulted in a 4 percent reduction of injury risk, over all the groups tested (Lauresen, Andersen & Andersen, 2018).

 

Coaching and Athlete Development

 

6. Softer running surfaces might be the go-to most the time, but not necessarily all the time.

Due to the progressive high load you’ll be putting your body through try to do the high impact work on softer surfaces. Grass will absorb the impact better and will be a little more forgiving on your joints than footpaths and roads. Imagine bouncing a golf ball on grass compared to a footpath. The grass will absorb most of the bounce whilst bouncing the ball on a footpath with the same effort will send the ball flying much higher. Running on softer surfaces such as grass and trails will allow you to use more stabilising muscles to help strengthen your ankles and feet. This doesn’t mean you need to steer completely clear from harder surfaces. It’s a good idea to change it up with some running on harder surfaces such as asphalt roads and footpaths. Harder surfaces will enable you to run quicker on a more consistent surface. I personally like to run my weekly tempo runs on harder surfaces to keep that variety a part of my training, which is very important.

7. Don’t forget to reset and recover between sessions.

We all love it and if we’re not doing it we’re more than likely thinking about it. You guessed it sleeping. Getting an adequate amount of sleep should be at the top of every athlete’s recovery strategies. An increase in human growth hormone occurs during quality uninterrupted sleep which will enhance recovery form physical training. Sport requires us to process information quickly and react accordingly and have high levels of motivation and focus, which can be impaired with inadequate sleep quality and time. Mental and physical performance can come down to how rested the mind and body is so make sure you’re getting good quality sleep in every night. Time can depend on training loads but 8-9 hours is a good amount of actual sleep. Remember that no supplement or drug can replace the mental and physical benefits of high quality sleep.

About the Author: Anthony Liberatore is an osteopath at Competitive sports clinic located in the Essendon district. Anthony has a special interest in all sports related injuries and exercises rehabilitation.

References

Lauresen, J, Andersen, T & Andersen, L. 2018. Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysis . British journal of sports medicine . 52(24), pp. 1157-1163.