AFL ACL 2024 injuriesCategoriesStrength & Conditioning Coaches Tips

How to Structure an AFL ACL Rehabilitation

Have you ever wondered how elite AFL athletes recover from an ACL injury? The process involves meticulous planning, structured phases, and expert intervention to ensure a full recovery and return to high performance. This article will guide you through the essential steps and considerations in structuring an effective ACL rehabilitation program for AFL athletes. We’ll explore the phases of recovery, key exercises, and the role of strength and conditioning in the process.


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ACL Phase 1: Preoperative Preparation

Goals and Objectives

– Reduce swelling

– Regain range of motion

– Achieve 90% strength in the quadriceps and hamstrings compared to the uninjured leg

Preoperative preparation is crucial for optimizing surgical outcomes and speeding up post-surgery recovery. The primary goals during this phase are to reduce swelling, regain a full range of motion, and strengthen the muscles around the knee. Achieving these goals ensures that the knee is in the best possible condition before surgery.

– Passive Knee Extension and Flexion: These exercises help regain full knee extension and flexion. Techniques include heel props, prone hangs, and wall slides [oai_citation:1,Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Rehabilitation – Physiopedia]( [oai_citation:2,ACL Rehabilitation | IMove Physiotherapy](

– Quadriceps and Hamstring Strengthening: Exercises like static quadriceps contractions and hamstring curls are essential to build strength. Using modalities like Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) can further enhance muscle activation [oai_citation:3,Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Rehabilitation – Physiopedia]( [oai_citation:4,ACL Rehabilitation | IMove Physiotherapy](

– Proprioception and Balance Drills: Single-leg standing exercises and balance board drills improve proprioception, which is critical for knee stability post-surgery [oai_citation:5,Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Rehabilitation – Physiopedia](

Phase 2: Recovery from Surgery

Duration and Focus

– Duration 1-2 weeks post-surgery

– Focus: Achieve full knee extension, reduce swelling, and begin quadriceps activation

The immediate post-surgery phase focuses on managing pain and swelling and initiating gentle movements to maintain joint flexibility. The aim is to achieve full knee extension and prevent complications like knee stiffness.

– Range of Motion Activities: Gentle knee bends and extensions help maintain flexibility.

– Swelling Reduction: Ice and compression techniques are vital for managing post-surgical swelling.

– **Quadriceps Activation**: Static quadriceps contractions help maintain muscle engagement without stressing the knee [oai_citation:6,Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Rehabilitation – Physiopedia]( [oai_citation:7,ACL Rehabilitation & Recovery Time | Sportsplus Physio]( [oai_citation:8,ACL Rehabilitation | IMove Physiotherapy](

Phase 3: Strength, Balance, and Control

Goals and Objectives

– Regain single-leg balance

– Build muscle strength

– Improve neuromuscular control

This phase marks the transition from basic recovery to more active rehabilitation. The focus shifts to regaining strength, balance, and control through progressive exercises that challenge the knee while ensuring safety.

**Key Exercises**

– **Bodyweight Exercises**: Squats, lunges, and step-ups are fundamental for building strength in the legs [oai_citation:9,ACL Rehabilitation & Recovery Time | Sportsplus Physio]( [oai_citation:10,ACL Rehabilitation | IMove Physiotherapy](

– **Gym-Based Regime**: Incorporating machines like leg press and leg curls to progressively load the muscles.

– **Balance and Proprioception Drills**: Exercises like single-leg squats and balance board drills enhance neuromuscular control and stability [oai_citation:11,ACL Rehabilitation & Recovery Time | Sportsplus Physio](

Phase 4: Running, Agility, and Landing

Goals and Objectives

– Improve running mechanics and agility

– High Force and Velocity jumping and landing

– Enhance strength and endurance

As athletes progress, the rehabilitation program introduces more dynamic and sport-specific movements. The goals in this phase are to ensure the knee can handle the demands of running, agility drills, and landing mechanics.

– Running Drills: Begin with light jogging and progress to more intensive running drills.

– Agility Training: Slalom runs, shuttle runs, and ladder drills to enhance agility and coordination [oai_citation:12, ACL Rehabilitation & Recovery Time | Sportsplus Physio]( [oai_citation:13, ACL Rehabilitation | IMove Physiotherapy](

– Jumping Exercises: Start with controlled jumps and progress to more complex drills like box jumps and single-leg landings [oai_citation:14, ACL Rehabilitation & Recovery Time | Sportsplus Physio](

Phase 5: Return to Sport

Goals and Objectives

– Ensure mental and physical readiness for sport-specific activities

– Gradual return to full sport participation

The final phase focuses on preparing the athlete for a return to full sports participation. This includes not only physical readiness but also mental preparedness to ensure confidence in the injured knee.

– Sport-Specific Drills: Gradual integration of sport-specific drills that mimic real game scenarios.

– Strength and Agility Maintenance: Continuation of strength and agility exercises to ensure the knee remains strong and stable.

– Psychological Readiness: Mental conditioning and confidence-building activities are essential for a successful return to sport [oai_citation:15,ACL Rehabilitation & Recovery Time | Sportsplus Physio]( [oai_citation:16,ACL Rehabilitation | IMove Physiotherapy](

The Role of Posterior Tibial Slope and ACL Fatigue

Recent research has highlighted the importance of anatomical and activity-related factors in ACL injuries and their rehabilitation.

**Posterior Tibial Slope**

– The study by Lee et al. (2024) investigates whether the posterior tibial slope (PTS) affects the likelihood of graft rupture following ACL reconstruction. Their findings suggest that a steeper PTS can increase the risk of ACL graft rupture, indicating the importance of considering individual anatomical differences in rehabilitation programs to mitigate this risk. Rehabilitation should incorporate exercises that enhance knee stability and reduce strain on the ACL graft [oai_citation:18,Primary surgery versus primary rehabilitation for treating anterior cruciate ligament injuries: a living systematic review and meta-analysis | British Journal of Sports Medicine](

ACL Fatigue Failure

– A retrospective survey by Grodman et al. (2024) revealed that levels of ACL-straining activities increased in the six months prior to non-contact ACL injuries, supporting the theory of ACL fatigue failure. This suggests that monitoring and managing the intensity of training activities is crucial in both preventing ACL injuries and structuring effective rehabilitation programs. This underscores the need for a balanced approach that includes adequate rest and recovery periods to prevent overuse injuries [oai_citation:19, JCM | Free Full-Text | Comparative Effectiveness of Supervised and Home-Based Rehabilitation after Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction in Competitive Athletes](

Structuring an effective ACL rehabilitation program for AFL athletes requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both the physical and mental aspects of recovery. By following a phased approach and incorporating key exercises and strategies, athletes can achieve a successful return to sport while minimizing the risk of re-injury. This structured rehabilitation journey emphasizes the importance of strength and conditioning, balance, and psychological readiness in achieving optimal recovery outcomes.

By adhering to these guidelines and continuously monitoring progress, athletes can ensure a smooth and effective recovery, ultimately enhancing their performance and longevity in the sport. Understanding the impact of factors like posterior tibial slope and ACL fatigue can further refine rehabilitation protocols, ensuring tailored and effective recovery plans for each individual athlete.

Injury Prevention

– Prevent re-injury through continuous strength and neuromuscular control exercises

Preventing re-injury is an ongoing process that extends beyond the return to sport. Incorporating injury prevention exercises into regular training routines is crucial for long-term knee health.

Key Exercises

– Plyometric Drills: High-intensity drills like jumping and bounding to improve explosive power and stability.

– Balance and Coordination Exercises: Continuous focus on exercises that enhance proprioception and balance.

– Strength Training: Regular strength training to maintain muscle support around the knee [oai_citation:17, ACL Rehabilitation | IMove Physiotherapy](


1. Beard, D. J., Davies, L., Cook, J. A., Stokes, J., Leal, J., Fletcher, H., … & Abram, S. (2022). Rehabilitation versus surgical reconstruction for non-acute anterior cruciate ligament injury (ACL SNNAP): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. *The Lancet, 400*(605).

2. Frischmann, G., Kós, P., Kopper, B., & Berkes, I. (2024). Comparative Effectiveness of Supervised and Home-Based Rehabilitation after Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction in Competitive Athletes. *Journal of Clinical Medicine, 13*(8), 2245.

3. Grodman, L. H., Beaulieu, M. L., Ashton-Miller, J. A., & Wojtys, E. M. (2024). Levels of ACL-straining activities increased in the six months prior to non-contact ACL injury in a retrospective survey: evidence consistent with ACL fatigue failure. *Journal of Clinical Orthopaedics, 29*(4), 555-563.

4. Lee, C. C., Youm, Y. S., Cho, S. D., Jung, S. H., Bae, M. H., Park, S. J., & Kim, H. W. (2024). Does Posterior Tibial Slope Affect Graft Rupture Following ACL Reconstruction? *Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 12*(3), 323-330.

5. Smith, N., & Smith, T. (2022). Primary surgery versus primary rehabilitation for treating anterior cruciate ligament injuries: a living systematic review and meta-analysis. *British Journal of Sports Medicine*.

6. Webster, K. E., & Feller, J. A. (2021). Rehabilitation and Return to Sport in Athletes. *Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 24*(3), 238-246.

7. Filbay, S. R., et al. (2017). Delaying ACL surgery improves outcomes five years post-surgery: a randomized controlled trial. *American Journal of Sports Medicine, 45*(3), 505-514.

AFL recoveryCategoriesFooty Tips

Best Practices for Managing Fatigue Throughout the AFL Season

Are you looking for ways to manage fatigue throughout the demanding AFL season? As an AFL strength & conditioning coach, I have developed strategies to help athletes maintain peak performance while preventing burnout. This comprehensive guide will explore the best practices for managing fatigue, focusing on strength & conditioning, high performance, and sport science principles to keep athletes fit and conditioned throughout the season.

Understanding Fatigue in AFL

– Acute Fatigue: Short-term, immediate fatigue resulting from a single session or game.

– Chronic Fatigue: Long-term fatigue that accumulates over weeks and months, often due to inadequate recovery.

Understanding the different types of fatigue is crucial for implementing effective management strategies. Acute fatigue can often be addressed with proper rest and recovery protocols, while chronic fatigue requires a more comprehensive approach, including monitoring and adjusting training loads and recovery practices.

Monitoring and Managing Workloads

– Track Training Loads: Use GPS devices and wearables to monitor running distances, speeds, and intensities during training and games. This data helps in understanding the physical demands placed on players and allows for adjustments in training to prevent overreaching and chronic fatigue [oai_citation:1, Sports | Free Full-Text | Monitoring and Managing Fatigue in Basketball](

– **Adjust Intensity**: Based on the collected data, adjust training intensities to ensure players are not overreaching. This proactive approach helps in maintaining performance levels while reducing the risk of injury and burnout.

**Regular Assessments**

– **Fitness Testing**: Conduct regular fitness assessments to monitor players’ physical conditions. These tests provide objective data on players’ fitness levels and help in tailoring individual training programs.

– **Wellness Questionnaires**: Implement daily or weekly wellness questionnaires to gather subjective data on players’ perceived fatigue and overall well-being. These questionnaires can include questions about sleep quality, muscle soreness, mood, and stress levels.

Recovery Protocols


Sleep Hygiene: Emphasize the critical role of sleep in recovery and performance. Adequate sleep is essential for physical and mental recovery, and poor sleep can negatively impact performance and increase the risk of injuries.

– Sleep Strategies: Encourage good sleep hygiene practices, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a restful environment, and avoiding screens before bed. Educate athletes on the importance of sleep and provide strategies to improve sleep quality.

– Nutrition and Hydration: Ensure athletes consume a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients to support recovery. A diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help meet the nutritional needs of athletes.

– Hydration: Maintain proper hydration levels, particularly during and after intense training sessions and games. Dehydration can impair performance and recovery, so it is important to encourage athletes to drink enough fluids throughout the day.

– Active Recovery:  Incorporate light activities such as swimming, cycling, or yoga to promote blood flow and aid recovery without adding significant stress to the body. These activities help reduce muscle soreness and enhance recovery.

– Stretching and Mobility:  Regular stretching and mobility exercises can help prevent stiffness and promote muscle recovery. Incorporate dynamic stretching routines before workouts and static stretching post-workout to maintain flexibility and prevent injuries.


– Cold water immersion (CWI) is a popular recovery strategy. It has been shown to help reduce muscle soreness and inflammation, and improve mood and interaction between brain networks [oai_citation:2, Sports | Free Full-Text | Monitoring and Managing Fatigue in Basketball]( [oai_citation:3, Managing Mental and Physical Fatigue During a Collegiate Soccer Season in: International Sport Coaching Journal Volume 1 Issue 1 (2014) ](

– Effectiveness: Studies indicate that while CWI can aid in recovery, it might not significantly impact muscle hypertrophy or body composition. For instance, Piñero et al. (2024) found that CWI had no significant effect on muscle growth induced by resistance training [oai_citation:4, Managing Mental and Physical Fatigue During a Collegiate Soccer Season in: International Sport Coaching Journal Volume 1 Issue 1 (2014) ]( However, other research has shown that CWI can be beneficial for reducing the perception of fatigue and improving psychological well-being [oai_citation:5, Sports | Free Full-Text | Monitoring and Managing Fatigue in Basketball]( [oai_citation:6, Managing Mental and Physical Fatigue During a Collegiate Soccer Season in: International Sport Coaching Journal Volume 1 Issue 1 (2014) ](

Periodization and Training Adjustments

– Macrocycles and Microcycles: Implement periodized training plans that include macrocycles (season-long) and microcycles (weekly or monthly) to balance training loads and recovery. Periodization helps in optimizing performance and preventing overtraining.

– Deload Weeks: Incorporate deload weeks with reduced training intensity to allow for recovery and prevent overtraining. These planned periods of reduced training load can help in maintaining performance levels and preventing injuries.

– Tailored Programs: Develop individualized training programs based on each athlete’s needs, fitness levels, and recovery capacity. Tailored programs ensure that athletes are training at an appropriate intensity and volume, reducing the risk of fatigue and overtraining.

– Injury Prevention: Focus on exercises that strengthen muscles and joints to prevent injuries, which can contribute to fatigue. Include exercises that target the core, and lower body, and stabilizing muscles to enhance overall stability and reduce the risk of injuries.

Mental Health and Stress Management

– Psychological Services: Provide access to sports psychologists or counselors to help athletes manage stress and mental fatigue. Mental health is a critical component of overall well-being and performance, and addressing mental health issues can help in preventing burnout.

– Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Encourage mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, to reduce stress and improve mental clarity. These practices can help athletes manage anxiety and stress, enhancing their overall performance.

– Positive Environment: Foster a positive team environment where athletes feel supported and motivated. A supportive team culture can enhance overall well-being and performance.

– Open Communication: Encourage open communication between athletes and coaching staff to address concerns and adjust training as needed. Open communication helps in identifying potential issues early and implementing appropriate interventions.

Utilizing Cold Water Immersion in Recovery

Cold water immersion (CWI) is widely used for recovery due to its potential benefits in reducing muscle soreness and inflammation. However, its impact on muscle hypertrophy and body composition is still debated.

– Positive Psychological Effects: Yankouskaya et al. (2023) found that short-term, head-out whole-body CWI facilitates positive affect and increases interaction between large-scale brain networks, suggesting psychological benefits.

– Effects on Muscle Growth: A systematic review by Piñero et al. (2024) concluded that post-exercise CWI might hinder resistance training-induced hypertrophy, indicating that while beneficial for recovery, it might not be ideal for muscle growth [oai_citation:7, Managing Mental and Physical Fatigue During a Collegiate Soccer Season in: International Sport Coaching Journal Volume 1 Issue 1 (2014) ](

– Performance and Body Composition**: Horgan et al. (2024) found no significant effect of repeated post-resistance exercise CWI on in-season body composition and performance responses in academy rugby players, suggesting its limited impact on these factors.

– Comparative Effectiveness: Moore et al. (2023) conducted a meta-analysis comparing CWI with other recovery modalities, finding that CWI effectively reduces perceived fatigue and soreness, making it a valuable tool for recovery.

Managing fatigue throughout the AFL season is essential for maintaining high performance and preventing injuries. By monitoring workloads, implementing effective recovery protocols, adjusting training plans, and supporting mental health, athletes can stay fit and conditioned all season long. As an AFL strength & conditioning coach, these best practices have proven invaluable in helping athletes achieve their peak performance while minimizing the risk of burnout.

For more insights and personalized training programs, visit [Prepare Like A Pro](


– Halson, S. L. (2014). Monitoring Training Load to Understand Fatigue in Athletes. *Sports Medicine, 44*(S2), 139-147.

– Kellmann, M., & Kallus, K. W. (2001). Recovery-Stress Questionnaire for Athletes: User Manual. Human Kinetics.

– Meeusen, R., Duclos, M., Foster, C., Fry, A., Gleeson, M., Nieman, D., … & Urhausen, A. (2013). Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of the Overtraining Syndrome: Joint Consensus Statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine. *Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 45*(1), 186-205.

– Luke, R. C., Morrissey, J. L., Reinke, E. J., Sevene, T. G., & Adams, K. J. (2014). Managing Mental and Physical Fatigue During a Collegiate Soccer Season. *International Sport Coaching Journal, 1*(1), 24-32.

– Spiteri, T., Piggott, B., Bonhotal, J., Haff, G. G., & Joyce, C. (2018). Monitoring and Managing Fatigue in Basketball. *Sports, 6*(1), 19.

– Piñero, A., Burke, R., Augustin, F., Mohan, A. E., DeJesus, K., Sapuppo, M., Weisenthal, M., Coleman, M., Androulakis‐Korakakis, P., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2024). Throwing cold water on muscle growth: A systematic review with meta‐analysis of the effects of postexercise cold water

What do AFL players do for recoveryCategoriesPodcast Weekly Updates

Episode 84 – What AFL players do for recovery

Maximizing Recovery for AFL Players: Essential Techniques and Strategies


Recovery is a critical aspect of athletic performance, and AFL players are no exception. The demands of the game, including intense physical exertion, quick turnarounds between matches, and the risk of injury, necessitate effective AFL player recovery techniques. In this blog post, we will explore key techniques and strategies that AFL players can employ to optimize their recovery and enhance their overall performance on the field with a focus on AFL player recovery techniques.

Highlights of the episode:

  • Developing a library of effective recovery techniques
  • Have a process you stick to
  • What do you believe works best
  • Free Workout: Cross-training swim program

Developing an Effective Library of Recovery Techniques

The first step towards maximizing recovery is to build a comprehensive library of techniques. AFL players can draw upon these techniques throughout their training, including the pre-season, off-season, and most importantly, the in-season period. During the in-season, it is crucial to ramp up recovery efforts and be aggressive in their implementation. By utilizing a diverse range of recovery methods, players can elicit adaptation, facilitate quicker recovery, and minimize the risk of overtraining.

Emphasizing Routine and Consistency

Having a structured routine is paramount for effective recovery. While new and innovative recovery methods may emerge, it is essential to prioritize consistency and stick to a proven routine. The recovery landscape is ever-evolving, with pros and cons associated with various techniques such as ice baths and saunas at different temperatures. However, as long as a routine contributes to post-game recovery and promotes better sleep, it can be considered a winner. Consistency in low-level recovery activities, such as active movement and mobility exercises, aids in restoring range of motion and overall physical well-being.

Individualization and Athlete Input

Coaches and support staff should involve athletes in the recovery process. It is crucial to consider individual preferences and solicit feedback from players regarding what techniques work best for them. Athletes who believe in the efficacy of a particular recovery methodology are more likely to experience positive responses. The placebo effect plays a significant role in recovery, so aligning the chosen methods with athletes’ perceived benefits can further enhance the overall recovery process. However, education remains vital in preventing athletes from making counterproductive recovery choices.

Objective Measurement and Assessment

Incorporating objective measures into recovery assessment provides valuable insights into an athlete’s readiness to perform. AFL athletes often utilize tools like force plates to evaluate their power and neural recovery levels two to three days after a game. By monitoring these objective markers, coaches and support staff can make informed decisions about the intensity and duration of recovery protocols. Objective measurement also enables timely intervention if athletes are not adequately recovering, minimizing the risk of long-term fatigue or injury.

Cross-Training Swim Program for Aerobic Fitness

In addition to comprehensive recovery strategies, AFL players can benefit from cross-training activities that improve their aerobic fitness. One such program is a swim routine that can be incorporated into their weekly training regimen. This program involves a five-minute steady-state warm-up swim to establish a rhythm, followed by a series of 25-meter efforts with 45 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest. The workout progresses to six 50-meter reps with a work-to-rest ratio of 2:1 and concludes with 400-meter efforts every three minutes. This swim program offers a time-efficient and effective way to elevate heart rate and improve overall aerobic capacity.


Maximizing recovery is a vital component of an AFL player’s training and performance. Remember, recovery is not just a passive phase but an active process that contributes to long-term success in the AFL.

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