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Dean Ritchie, Will G. Hopkins, Martin Buchheit, Justin Cordy and Jonathan D. Bartlett

Purpose:

Load monitoring in Australian football (AF) has been widely adopted, yet team-sport periodization strategies are relatively unknown. The authors aimed to quantify training and competition load across a season in an elite AF team, using rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and GPS tracking.

Methods:

Weekly totals for RPE and GPS loads (including accelerometer data; PlayerLoad) were obtained for 44 players across a full season for each training modality and for competition. General linear mixed models compared mean weekly load between 3 preseason and 4 in-season blocks. Effects were assessed with inferences about magnitudes standardized with between-players SD.

Results:

Total RPE load was most likely greater during preseason, where the majority of load was obtained via skills and conditioning. There was a large reduction in RPE load in the last preseason block. During in-season, half the total load came from games and the remaining half from training, predominantly skills and upper-body weights. Total distance, high-intensity running, and PlayerLoad showed large to very large reductions from preseason to in-season, whereas changes in mean speed were trivial across all blocks. All these effects were clear at the 99% level.

Conclusions:

These data provide useful information about targeted periods of loading and unloading across different stages of a season. The study also provides a framework for further investigation of training periodization in AF teams.

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Johann C. Bilsborough, Thomas Kempton, Kate Greenway, Justin Cordy and Aaron J. Coutts

Purpose:

To compare development and variations in body composition of early-, mid-, and late-career professional Australian Football (AF) players over 3 successive seasons.

Methods:

Regional and total-body composition (body mass [BM], fat mass [FM], fat-free soft-tissue mass [FFSTM], and bone mineral content [BMC]) were assessed 4 times, at the same time of each season—start preseason (SP), end preseason (EP), midseason (MS), and end season (ES)—from 22 professional AF players using pencil-beam dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Nutritional intake for each player was evaluated concomitantly using 3-d food diaries. Players were classified according to their age at the beginning of the observational period as either early- (<21 y, n = 8), mid- (21 to 25 y, n = 9), or late- (>25 y, n = 5) career athletes.

Results:

Early-career players had lower FFSTM, BMC, and BM than mid- and late-career throughout. FM and %FM had greatest variability, particularly in the early-career players. FM reduced and FFSTM increased from SP to EP, while FM and FFSTM decreased from EP to MS. FM increased and FFSTM decreased from MS to ES, while FM and FFSTM increased during the off-season.

Conclusions:

Early-career players may benefit from greater emphasis on specific nutrition and resistance-training strategies aimed at increasing FFSTM, while all players should balance training and diet toward the end of season to minimize increases in FM.

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Dean Ritchie, Will G. Hopkins, Martin Buchheit, Justin Cordy and Jonathan D. Bartlett

Context:

Training volume, intensity, and distribution are important factors during periods of return to play.

Purpose:

To quantify the effect of injury on training load (TL) before and after return to play (RTP) in professional Australian Rules football.

Methods:

Perceived training load (RPE-TL) for 44 players was obtained for all indoor and outdoor training sessions, while field-based training was monitored via GPS (total distance, high-speed running, mean speed). When a player sustained a competition time-loss injury, weekly TL was quantified for 3 wk before and after RTP. General linear mixed models, with inference about magnitudes standardized by between-players SDs, were used to quantify effects of lower- and upper-body injury on TL compared with the team.

Results:

While total RPE-TL was similar to the team 2 wk before RTP, training distribution was different, whereby skills RPE-TL was likely and most likely lower for upper- and lower-body injury, respectively, and most likely replaced with small to very large increases in running and other conditioning load. Weekly total distance and high-speed running were most likely moderately to largely reduced for lower- and upper-body injury until after RTP, at which point total RPE-TL, training distribution, total distance, and high-speed running were similar to the team. Mean speed of field-based training was similar before and after RTP compared with the team.

Conclusions:

Despite injured athletes’ obtaining comparable TLs to uninjured players, training distribution is different until after RTP, indicating the importance of monitoring all types of training that athletes complete.

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Johann C. Bilsborough, Kate Greenway, Steuart Livingston, Justin Cordy and Aaron J. Coutts

The purpose of this study was to examine the seasonal changes in body composition, nutrition, and upper-body (UB) strength in professional Australian Football (AF) players. The prospective longitudinal study examined changes in anthropometry (body mass, fat-free soft-tissue mass [FFSTM], and fat mass) via dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry 5 times during an AF season (start preseason, midpreseason, start season, midseason, end season) in 45 professional AF players. Dietary intakes and strength (bench press and bench pull) were also assessed at these time points. Players were categorized as experienced (>4 y experience, n = 23) or inexperienced (<4 y experience, n = 22). Fat mass decreased during the preseason but was stable through the in-season for both groups. %FFSTM was increased during the preseason and remained constant thereafter. UB strength increased during the preseason and was maintained during the in-season. Changes in UB FFSTM were related to changes in UB-strength performance (r = .37−.40). Total energy and carbohydrate intakes were similar between the experienced and inexperienced players during the season, but there was a greater ratio of dietary fat intake at the start-preseason point and an increased alcohol, reduced protein, and increased total energy intake at the end of the season. The inexperienced players consumed more fat at the start of season and less total protein during the season than the experienced players. Coaches should also be aware that it can take >1 y to develop the appropriate levels of FFSTM in young players and take a long-term view when developing the physical and performance abilities of inexperienced players.

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Courtney Sullivan, Johann C. Bilsborough, Michael Cianciosi, Joel Hocking, Justin T. Cordy and Aaron J. Coutts

Objectives:

To determine the physical activity measures and skill-performance characteristics that contribute to coaches’ perception of performance and player performance rank in professional Australian Football (AF).

Design:

Prospective, longitudinal.

Methods:

Physical activity profiles were assessed via microtechnology (GPS and accelerometer) from 40 professional AF players from the same team during 15 Australian Football League games. Skill-performance measure and player-rank scores (Champion Data Rank) were provided by a commercial statistical provider. The physical-performance variables, skill involvements, and individual player performance scores were expressed relative to playing time for each quarter. A stepwise multiple regression was used to examine the contribution of physical activity and skill involvements to coaches’ perception of performance and player rank in AF.

Results:

Stepwise multiple-regression analysis revealed that 42.2% of the variance in coaches’ perception of a player’s performance could be explained by the skill-performance characteristics (player rank/min, effective kicks/min, pressure points/min, handballs/min, and running bounces/min), with a small contribution from physical activity measures (accelerations/min) (adjusted R 2 = .422, F 6,282 = 36.054, P < .001). Multiple regression also revealed that 66.4% of the adjusted variance in player rank could be explained by total disposals/min, effective kicks/min, pressure points/min, kick clangers/min, marks/min, speed (m/min), and peak speed (adjusted R 2 = .664, F 7,281 = 82.289, P < .001). Increased physical activity throughout a match (speed [m/min] β – 0.097 and peak speed β – 0.116) negatively affects player rank in AF.

Conclusions:

Skill performance rather than increased physical activity is more important to coaches’ perception of performance and player rank in professional AF.

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Sebastien Racinais, Martin Buchheit, Johann Bilsborough, Pitre C. Bourdon, Justin Cordy and Aaron J. Coutts

Purpose:

To examine the physiological and performance responses to a heat-acclimatization camp in highly trained professional team-sport athletes.

Methods:

Eighteen male Australian Rules Football players trained for 2 wk in hot ambient conditions (31–33°C, humidity 34–50%). Players performed a laboratory-based heat-response test (24-min walk + 24 min seated; 44°C), a YoYo Intermittent Recovery Level 2 Test (YoYoIR2; indoor, temperate environment, 23°C) and standardized training drills (STD; outdoor, hot environment, 32°C) at the beginning and end of the camp.

Results:

The heat-response test showed partial heat acclimatization (eg, a decrease in skin temperature, heart rate, and sweat sodium concentration, P < .05). In addition, plasma volume (PV, CO rebreathing, +2.68 [0.83; 4.53] mL/kg) and distance covered during both the YoYoIR2 (+311 [260; 361] m) and the STD (+45.6 [13.9; 77.4] m) increased postcamp (P < .01). None of the performance changes showed clear correlations with PV changes (r < .24), but the improvements in running STD distance in hot environment were correlated with changes in hematocrit during the heat-response test (r = –.52, 90%CI [–.77; –.12]). There was no clear correlation between the performance improvements in temperate and hot ambient conditions (r < .26).

Conclusion:

Running performance in both hot and temperate environments was improved after a football training camp in hot ambient conditions that stimulated heat acclimatization. However, physiological and performance responses were highly individual, and the absence of correlations between physical-performance improvements in hot and temperate environments suggests that their physiological basis might differ.

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Nathan W. Pitchford, Sam J. Robertson, Charli Sargent, Justin Cordy, David J. Bishop and Jonathan D. Bartlett

Purpose:

To assess the effects of a change in training environment on the sleep characteristics of elite Australian Rules football (AF) players.

Methods:

In an observational crossover trial, 19 elite AF players had time in bed (TIB), total sleep time (TST), sleep efficiency (SE), and wake after sleep onset (WASO) assessed using wristwatch activity devices and subjective sleep diaries across 8-d home and camp periods. Repeated-measures ANOVA determined mean differences in sleep, training load (session rating of perceived exertion [RPE]), and environment. Pearson product–moment correlations, controlling for repeated observations on individuals, were used to assess the relationship between changes in sleep characteristics at home and camp. Cohen effect sizes (d) were calculated using individual means.

Results:

On camp TIB (+34 min) and WASO (+26 min) increased compared with home. However, TST was similar between home and camp, significantly reducing camp SE (–5.82%). Individually, there were strong negative correlations for TIB and WASO (r = -.75 and r = -.72, respectively) and a moderate negative correlation for SE (r = -.46) between home and relative changes on camp. Camp increased the relationship between individual s-RPE variation and TST variation compared with home (increased load r = -.367 vs .051, reduced load r = .319 vs –.033, camp vs home respectively).

Conclusions:

Camp compromised sleep quality due to significantly increased TIB without increased TST. Individually, AF players with higher home SE experienced greater reductions in SE on camp. Together, this emphasizes the importance of individualized interventions for elite team-sport athletes when traveling and/or changing environments.