Training volume, intensity, and distribution are important factors during periods of return to play.
To quantify the effect of injury on training load (TL) before and after return to play (RTP) in professional Australian Rules football.
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.
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.
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.