Greater Association of Relative Thresholds Than Absolute Thresholds With Noncontact Lower-Body Injury in Professional Australian Rules Footballers: Implications for Sprint Monitoring

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Sprint capacity is an important attribute for team-sport athletes, yet the most appropriate method to analyze it is unclear. Purpose: To examine the relationship between sprint workloads using relative versus absolute thresholds and lower-body soft-tissue and bone-stress injury incidence in professional Australian rules football. Methods: Fifty-three professional Australian rules football athletes’ noncontact soft-tissue and bone-stress lower-body injuries (N = 62) were recorded, and sprint workloads were quantified over ∼18 months using the global positioning system. Sprint volume (m) and exposures (n) were determined using 2 methods: absolute (>24.9 km·h−1) and relative (≥75%, ≥80%, ≥85%, ≥90%, ≥95% of maximal velocity). Relationships between threshold methods and injury incidence were assessed using logistic generalized additive models. Incidence rate ratios and model performances’ area under the curve were reported. Results: Mean (SD) maximal velocity for the group was 31.5 (1.4), range 28.6 to 34.9 km·h−1. In comparing relative and absolute thresholds, 75% maximal velocity equated to ~1.5 km·h−1 below the absolute speed threshold, while 80% and 85% maximal velocity were 0.1 and 1.7 km·h−1 above the absolute speed threshold, respectively. Model area under the curve ranged from 0.48 to 0.61. Very low and very high cumulative sprint loads ≥80% across a 4-week period, when measured relatively, resulted in higher incidence rate ratios (2.54–3.29), than absolute thresholds (1.18–1.58). Discussion: Monitoring sprinting volume relative to an athlete’s maximal velocity should be incorporated into athlete monitoring systems. Specifically, quantifying the distance covered at >80% maximal velocity will ensure greater accuracy in determining sprint workloads and associated injury risk.

O’Connor, Ritchie, and Bartlett are with the Faculty of Health Sciences & Medicine, Bond Inst of Health & Sport, Bond University, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia. O’Connor, Thornton, Ritchie, Anderson, Bull, Rigby, Leonard, and Bartlett are with Gold Coast Suns FC, Carrara, QLD, Australia. Stern is with Bond Business School, Bond University, Gold Coast, QLD Australia. Bartlett is also with the Inst for Health & Sport, Victoria University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.

Bartlett (Jon.Bartlett@vu.edu.au) is corresponding author.
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