1. Jack Mclean is a professional AFL strength & conditioning coach who knows a thing or two about preparing athletes for the rigours of the season
2. In this blog post, he shares his top tips on how to develop an AFL body
3. He explains that it’s not just about going to the gym and lifting weights – diet and recovery are just as important
4. He outlines a typical week in his training regime, including conditioning, strength, and skills work
5. Finally, he offers some advice on dealing with injuries and staying motivated throughout the season
What muscles do you use in the AFL?
The pelvic area is an important component in the AFL due to the high demands of running. High degrees of stability reduce muscle imbalances and improve biomechanics, reducing injury rates for football players who typically kick with only one leg over time.
As you build up your own imbalance from kicking as all the stress goes onto its opposite side through muscular strength alone – thus putting greater force onto this area–you’ll develop pain in what would otherwise be perfectly healthy tissue.
The shoulder is an open, unstable joint that requires strength to keep it strong and safe. In many cases where athletes have been injured or unable to perform at their full potential due to injury their shoulders were not able enough stability so they ended up getting hurt more than once even if everything else seemed fine with them! This leads us to why you need delt exercises like rear and lateral raises which will provide support for this important muscle group as well help protect against further injuries from happening.
Knee injuries are a very common occurrence in football, especially when changing direction or looking to give off the ball. The most severe of these is the “ACL” (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). It can be injured by direct contact with another player during twisting motions such as stopping suddenly and then changing direction.
Strengthening muscles around your foot and hip complex in conjunction with efficient running and jumping techniques develop stability and reduce the load on an athlete’s knees.
Check our injury mitigation exercises here:
Does size matter in the AFL?While some successful AFL players come in all shapes and sizes, there are a few physical attributes that seem to be important. For instance height gives an advantage when trying reach for the ball or jump higher than your opponent because it takes less energy for you do so with greater altitude; arm length can affect balance since longer arms mean more time spent balancing on one foot before running back into position. Due to the large running demands of the game it helps to be around 10 – 15% body fat and as it’s a heavy contact sport having enough critical muscle mass around the torso to protect the internal organs and assist in contested ball performance is key. Overall each player will have their preffered optimal weight and this will largely depend on their role for the team and their individual strengths.
How do AFL players gain weight? You should eat around your training times to optimise gains. You’ll be fuller for longer, so don’t worry about trying too hard with food or not being able eat in between meals; just focus on getting some good nutrients into each one! A great way of doing this while still following the rest of our guide is by adding extra scoopfuls into whatever you’re eating at that moment – whether it oatmeal during breakfast time slotting right before workouts…or a protein shake after weights session has ended. You can also improve the nutritional content of your workout by adding further nutrients to the food you already eat. For example, if training early in the morning then try eating breakfast before going to the gym floor so that it contains enough energy for intense workouts and adds a rich sources of necessary vitamins such as Vitamin B12 which is only found naturally occurring within bodily fluids (such as sweat).
How much sleep should I get each night?Professional athletes typically need more than most—it’s recommended that they get 8-10 hours every night.Individual sport athletes are reported to sleep on average 6.5 hours per night while team players get 7 hrs, according to an article from The Conversation. It was also revealed that individual sportspeople were more prone than groups who played together for long periods of time at any given moment due in part by their unwavering commitment towards regular sleeping routines, high quality mattresses and pillows as well most importantly naps during the day which helps them stay fresh before returning back into competition later on throughout tournaments or seasons respectively. Everyone needs sleep in order to feel restored and function their best the next day. Other physical benefits include:
Allowing your heart rate or breathing patterns, which are controlled during waking hours by thoughts and emotions; these change back as you fall asleep so that they may be re-established on an even keel throughout slumber’s restorative cycles. This helps promote cardiovascular health by stabilizing blood pressure levels at night similar to what occurs when we lie down after being upright for awhile
What type of diet does an AFL footballer need to lose weight?
The pre-fueling for a training session or a game is a time when athletes must think about their energy needs, carbohydrate intake, and protein consumption. In addition, fruit vegetables provide important micronutrients which assist the immune system with high-stress levels prevalent in this phase of training.
The more you put into it, the better your results will be. It’s important that during training days eat foods like protein-based meals or snacks with wholegrain carbohydrates because this helps ensure adequate recovery from workouts so athletes can back up training sessions with energy and focus!
I elaborate more on tips you can start actioning here:
Who has influenced your coaching philosophy the most?
I have always tried to maintain a balance between developing my experience-based knowledge and knowledge-based experience. With the former being practical and the latter theoretical. Although, far from being world-class, having a background as a track athlete gave me a great sense and perception of what speed, power, and strength training aimed at enhancing running should feel like. I have benefited from some amazing mentors over the years who have been more than generous with their time and knowledge. Vern Gambetta’s GAIN faculty has had a big influence on how I think and what I do. These professionals include Frans Bosch, Gary Winckler, Jimmy Radcliffe, Bill Knowles, John Pryor, Kelvin Giles, and Vern himself of course. Others include Bill Sweetenham, Frank Dick, and Esa Peltola. One professional I would have loved to have met was the late Charlie Francis.
What are some key considerations for sprint running for football codes?
Track athletes aim to have perfect mechanics in a predictable, ‘closed-skill’, and stable environment. Sprint running in field sports creates the best mechanical outcome in a highly unstable, ‘open-skill’, and unpredictable environment. Coaching and programming based on this philosophy is something John Pryor does better than anyone I know.
There needs to be a balance in how acceleration and max speed is addressed depending on the sport and position played. Whilst acceleration development must be principle-based, field sport athletes typically accelerate from an upright posture. As such, training/teaching acceleration must orientate around creating pre-tension and hip projection from standing and rolling starts. Sometimes max speed requirements in field sports are underestimated. However, how it is trained and coached is certainly different to track sprinters. A footballer needs to obtain max speed or a high % of max speed over shorter distances, whereas a track athlete is intentionally delaying the attainment of max speed as long as possible. Practically speaking, I believe we should aim to develop max speed in field sport athletes from a stride frequency standpoint rather than a stride length standpoint. Noting that, a field sport athlete can develop a substantial max speed based on stride frequency rather than prioritizing the development og a long stride length. This approach will transfer best to a field-sport environment, as a field-based athlete must have one foot on the ground to change direction, accelerate/decelerate, resist and break contact.
Running must be approached as a skill that can be taught and enhanced. As we know, running in field sports doesn’t occur in isolation; handballs, catching, passing, and kicking all need to be executed at speed. As such, when appropriate running and sports skills should be trained concurrently. This requires upper/lower body independence when executing ball skills at speed.
Can you explain your approach to holistic preparation?
To improve speed we must create appropriate and adequate training stimuli. Only providing field sport athletes with 1-2 brief speed-based warmups is an inadequate stimulus. There are many indirect methods of speed development that are often overlooked, including flexibility, leg power, and removing counterproductive modalities.
Flexibility – often our single greatest limitation to speed. You can become faster simply by getting more flexible. Furthermore, a lack of hip extension is one of the greatest predictors of injury.
Leg power – unless you can produce it vertically then you don’t have it to apply horizontally. Acceleration is the easiest speed quality to improve, as it is most affected by strength qualities. Having a good countermovement jump usually enables an athlete to accelerate well over 10m. In short, unless you have leg power you will not be able to develop an athlete’s speed potential
Often an opportunity that isn’t taken advantage of is in a return-to-play set. Medium to long-term injuries can be utilized to improve a player technically and athletically.
Removing counterproductive modalities – the disproportional use of cycling is one sure way of dulling speed development. Remove ‘junk’ running from all aspects of the program. In particular, jogging has no application as an endurance mode for any field game. Jogging reinforces poor running mechanics, and poor posture and tires athletes in between high-quality running efforts. Jogging should be seen in the same light as walking, in that, it should not be prescribed or coached. Faster, high-quality running training develops all the endurance required for all aspects of sub-maximum locomotion.
What would you recommend as areas of focus for developing coaches hoping to improve their application of sprint running for pro sport?
Develop an understanding of how to TRAIN and TEACH speed. Training is below the shoulders and teaching is above the shoulders. Developing athletes are often told how ‘fast’, how ‘far’, and which ‘direction’, but not ‘how’ to run. Real coaching requires knowledge of running and the skill of seeing and teaching athletes how to execute technical elements of training. The attention to detail and coaching skill required to develop sprint running at an elite level puts some coaches off, especially those coaching at the youth level. Consequently, mediocrity is routinely accepted with many young athletes adopting a poor running technique. These poor habits can be carried through their careers.
What would you recommend as areas of focus for developing athletes?
I believe there are five primary areas of functional and technical capability that must be addressed in conjunction with the appropriate progression of athletic qualities. These five critical areas will be apparent in various degrees across ages, gender, sports, and individuals. Importantly, these five areas are not mutually exclusive and are very much interdependent.
Strength training technique
Force reduction ability
Other key growth and development considerations:
Develop key physical capabilities before puberty to minimize the loss of coordination during puberty. Place an emphasis on moving body weight at a young age to prepare for changes due to puberty and continue to reinforce this throughout puberty
Children grow up and then grow out; we must take into account the strength-to-length relationship. Get them strong before they grow long
Establish pristine movement patterns through full ranges of motion and through all planes from the youngest age groups on
Understand the difference between developmental age and chronological age
What are common challenges performance practitioners can make in developing speed?
Under the training and not challenging athletes. As an example, I see so much programming of jumps and plyometrics for developed elite athletes that would be applicable to 14-year-old kids. Furthermore, athletes can often ‘sleepwalk’ through sessions, not being challenged. Research shows us that unless we have an error rate of 15-20% then we aren’t challenging our athletes. Unless we have ‘success or failure’ consequences built into our sessions then learning will be very limited.
How do you measure speed development in team training?
Coaching observation is a dying art. I do feel that current technology is ahead of coaches’ capability to apply it. However, hardware/software platforms are becoming a lot more accessible and easier to use. To measure speed properly we must isolate it as a quality. I have always assessed speed formally with timing gates and assessed specific leg strength qualities with jump mats and via the speed bound index. Ultimately a coaching eye, experience, and judgment are still required to interpret video/data and apply it to the practical environment. What can be heard, seen, or sensed, still largely cannot be measured. In many ways, it is better initially to learn how to coach speed without the use of technology.
What is the relationship between general running capacity and speed?
This relationship is very important. It is often not well understood and often overlooked. Some considerations:
It makes sense to profile players that are either ‘fit-not fast’ or ‘fast-not fit’. General running capacity is not a difficult quality to attain or maintain. Speed, however, takes longer due to the higher degree of motor skill involved. As such, ‘fit-not-fast’ players should have speed training and complimentary strength programs as their primary training direction, whereas ‘Fast-not fit’ players should continue to be allowed to run fast for maintenance.
Maximal aerobic speed (MAS) training does not have to be distance dependent. Field sport athletes do not have the ability to maintain good running form at a constant speed for any longer than 3-4 seconds. Therefore, setting long intermittent distances at 100m or greater develops and reinforces poor running mechanics, which in turn, develops poor running economy
Running drills were originally designed to specifically strengthen the muscles in postures and actions that are like those that occur during the sprint action. It is through strengthening in the specific positions that technique is improved. Running drills promote good posture, specific lumbopelvic strength, and functional flexibility drills. These drills can also be used very effectively as a local lumbopelvic conditioner and general conditioning modality
What does a typical speed session look like?
Probably an oversight I see a lot of younger coaches is proper planning going into a session. By that I mean, clear objectives and consideration of appropriate methods. Good-detailed planning should take just as long as the session takes to coach – often twice as long. If coaching a larger group of players implicit methods are essential. Implicit coaching is infinitely more effective, but session preparation requires much more foresight. Implicit, or outcome methods are where the exercises and drills are the coaches. This increases effectiveness and task-intrinsic-based learning, which is more permanent and effective. Consideration in terms of the type of feedback is also important. Whether this is extrinsic, intrinsic, or a mix of both.
The structure and sequence of the session require thought. John Pryor’s motor racing analogy is brilliant and a great way for young coaches to conceptualize the planning of a session:
Where will you pump up the tyres? – a warm-up can be utilised for more than it implies. It takes about 10mins before an athlete is ready to undertake speed and leg power development. Therefore, this period can be utilised for specific mobility and functional development via specific drilling that develops calf and lumbopelvic integrity. If done well, there is a seamless blending of mobility and drilling that escalates to more dynamic movement. We all accept athletes can’t sprint in the part of the session, but they should be under challenge either
Where will you build the motor? Elastic and reactive leg strength developed through jumps and plyometrics not only underpins speed qualities, it is also a great way to prepare the nervous system for speed development. We must not forget too: if you want to get faster you must run fast. Having an appropriate and adequate speed of volume is essential but requires judgment
Where will they learn to drive the car? Running is a skill and drills don’t equate to skill. If you want to improve your running skill you must teach it directly whilst running. The primary benefit of running drills is to specifically strengthen athletes in postures and actions similar to those that occur during the sprint action
Where will they race the car? The best way to facilitate training intensity is competition. Matching players of similar ability to race against each other creates a great atmosphere and energy