AFL Strength Conditioning Evolution

The Evolution of AFL Strength Conditioning: Insights from Loris Bertolacci

In the dynamic world of Australian Rules Football (AFL), strength and conditioning play a pivotal role in shaping elite athletes. In episode 34 of the “Prepare Like a Pro” podcast, Loris Bertolacci, an experienced AFL strength and conditioning coach, shares insights into his journey spanning four decades. From coaching multiple AFL clubs to working with Olympic-level athletes, Bertolacci’s wealth of experience offers a unique perspective on the evolution of strength conditioning in the AFL.

In this episode of the Prepare Like A Pro Podcast, I am speaking to Loris Bertolacci, Strength And Conditioning Coach at Shanghai Sports Institute. Loris has coached across four decades with multiple AFL clubs, Olympic-level athletes, and squads including the Australian women’s volleyball team. His experience as a track & field coach for sprinters and a former competitive hammer thrower himself meant he had a lot of experience developing speed & power! It was fantastic to get someone so passionate about developing athletes with such a rich background in Strength and conditioning in a range of sports. We discussed his learnings in the ’80s, and ’90s for AFL strength & conditioning and it was interesting to hear how his thought process was back then and how ahead of their time Essendon FC & West Coast Eagles FC were.

Highlights from the episode:

  • Who Loris is (background, education, and current role)
  • His learning’s working as a strength & conditioning coach at Essendon, Western Bulldogs, & Geelong Football clubs – Roles in high-performance sport
  • The value of driving your development
  • The challenge of getting the balance between training hard and injury prevention in elite sport

Early Beginnings and Passion Discovery

Bertolacci’s journey into the realm of elite sports conditioning began in the mid-’70s. A member of the Preston Athletics Club, he found himself assisting athletes with training programs. This early experience planted the seed for a lifelong passion for strength and conditioning. In 1982, after retiring from his athletic pursuits, Bertolacci delved into sprint coaching, setting the stage for his impactful career.

AFL Coaching Experience

The transition to AFL coaching marked a significant chapter in Bertolacci’s career. Joining Essendon Football Club in 1987, he brought a unique approach influenced by his sprint coaching background. The team, guided by Bertolacci’s emphasis on speed and power, achieved remarkable success in the ’90s, dominating with a squad bred through a focus on performance enhancement.

Balancing Act: Performance vs. Injury Prevention

As Bertolacci reflects on his coaching journey, he acknowledges the need for a balance between performance enhancement and injury prevention. The late ’90s saw a shift in his methods towards a more comprehensive approach. Exploring Pilates, yoga, and individualized programs, he aimed to prioritize athlete well-being without compromising on performance. This transition highlights the ongoing debate in sports science – the delicate balance between pushing limits for performance gains and safeguarding athletes against injuries.

Influences and Self-Development

Throughout his career, Bertolacci remained committed to self-improvement. Influenced by European training camps and the greats of periodization, he combined formal education with a self-taught approach in the ’80s. His dedication to sourcing the best information and staying ahead of industry trends contributed to his success.

Identifying Future Stars

Bertolacci’s keen eye for talent became evident as he discussed the traits that stand out in young, developing athletes. While discipline and motivation are common factors, he emphasizes the uniqueness of individual traits. The conversation delves into the challenges of predicting success at an early age and the role of personal development in an athlete’s journey.

The Changing Landscape of AFL Recruitment

Touching on the evolving landscape of AFL recruitment, Bertolacci provides insights into the challenges faced by young athletes. He sheds light on the influence of background, interviews, and personal traits in a player’s journey to professional ranks. The discussion hints at the shifting dynamics in talent identification and the role of resilience and adaptability in an athlete’s success.

Beyond AFL: Team Pursuit Cycling Fascination

In a surprising twist, Bertolacci shares his recent fascination with team pursuit cycling. Having transitioned to coaching the discipline, he highlights the sport’s rapid growth and the intriguing mix of physiology, science, and training methods involved. This unexpected turn in his career showcases the versatility and curiosity that define a seasoned coach.

Conclusion: A Lifelong Dedication to Excellence

Loris Bertolacci’s journey through the decades paints a picture of dedication, evolution, and an unwavering commitment to excellence in AFL strength and conditioning. From his early days in sprint coaching to shaping the future of AFL conditioning, Bertolacci’s influence reverberates through the industry.

People mentioned:

  • Peter Powers
  • Matt Barber
  • Danny Corcoran
  • John Quinn
  • Dustin Fletcher
  • Scott Cummings
  • David Weidan
  • Kevin Sheedy
  • Paul Chek
  • Peter Tschiene
  • Adam Kingsley
  • Garry Odonnell
  • Michael Long
  • Dayne Kelly
  • Bondarchuk

Listen: iTunes | IGTV | Spotify

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