The Australian Football season has only just begun but teams that are looking to reach success at finals time need to be aware of the increased high-intensity activity that occurs within those matches and prepare accordingly.
Australian football is a highly intermittent sport, requiring athletes to accelerate hundreds of times with repeated bouts of high-intensity running overlaid on lower intensity activity. It is also a contact sport, and its athletes require a blend of physiological capacities with a prominent requirement of endurance, but also strength power, speed and agility. Further, players need to maintain or develop these capacities over the course of a long competitive season, with a view to peaking for finals games.
Elite Australian footballers undertake a lengthy and rigorous preseason training regime and therefore the majority of players’ physical development is complete by the commencement of the competitive season. For coaches, it is important for their team to not only reach this completed development but also maintain it throughout the demands of the season and still aim to be in peak physical condition for finals.
Naturally, finals games are instilled with increased speed and pressure due to the importance of the event and when comparing GPS data recorded in the regular season to finals games, the magnitude of effects between the two were significant.
The major insight discovered was that there was an approximate doubling of the number of maximal accelerations players undertake during finals compared with regular season games. This large increase is superimposed on requirements to cover a greater overall total distance and spend more time at high velocity during finals games. This increased volume of running appears to occur in specific periods of play, rather than uniformly across the game.
There was also an associated increase in both the total distance and High Intensity Running distance covered by players in finals games. This means that not only did players spend a greater amount of time running at moderate to high velocities, but that they also had to accelerate hard at these velocities. Further, the greatest increases in the number of maximal accelerations occurred with less than 19 seconds between accelerations and therefore, players accelerated more often from a higher velocity, with less time between accelerations.
As a result, it is important for fitness and coaching staff to successfully manipulate training to condition athletes for increases in both the total distances run, and the number of high-intensity activities that players will need to undertake during finals games in the weeks preceding those games.
Reference: Aughey RJ. Work Rate in Australian Football. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2011;6:367–379.