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Using Vuemotion to maximise on field athletic performance

Dean Benton

The Era of Rapid Insights with AI Gait Analysis

Can you explain why video analysis is used to assess various aspects of running mechanics?

Primarily to assess the qualitative aspects of all forms of running, which could be acceleration, deceleration, max speed, and change of direction (COD). Film as a means of visual feedback has been around for a long time. Although, it took a long time for coaches 50 years ago to access it. However, compared to 30 years ago, it is simply more available – instantly available of course. iPads and iPhones are a compelling form of feedback when working with athletes in very small groups. I would argue that it is too relied upon by younger coaches. It is important to develop observation skills in real-time. Ultimately, a well-trained coaching eye, experience, and judgment are still required to interpret video 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 without the use of technology. Although, used judiciously video is a very powerful tool.

Now with Vuemotion’s AI gait analysis, we can have video analysed in 24 hours. It was only 20-25 years ago this information took biomechanists about a week to get the same information back to athletics coaches. Although, we now have a situation presently where we are drowning in information, but devoid of wisdom in how to apply it – particularly in a team sport setting. Mainly because it is so easy and seductive to collect this information. However, how is it interpreted? Used in programming and ultimately coached?

Decoding Metrics for Speed and Acceleration

ALTIS Kinogram Method and Beyond

When evaluating max velocity and acceleration what specific metrics or patterns do you look for in the data?

I think the ALTIS Kinogram method is excellent. It can have some relevance to field sports. Although, it is only descriptive in nature and stops short of detailing the ‘reason’ and ‘correction’ for errors. The Kinogram method is valuable for describing linear max speed, but we know it doesn’t reference acceleration and deceleration, which form a significant part of field sport running.

The VueMotion 20m fly and 20m acceleration offer excellent insights into the direct descriptors such as time, speed, stride length, stride frequency, and contact/flight time. The 2-D kinematic analysis also provides a valuable understanding of how a player runs. Acceleration is about what you do on the ground, so I look at how a player does this. Max speed is about what you do in the air, so considering how someone repositions limbs preparing for the ground, is very insightful.

 

Athletics has been assessing gait for years. This provides a good guide for us. However, field sport athletes do run differently and are often heavier than track athletes. This does influence stride length, stride frequency, and contact/flight time parameters, but the art is knowing how to interpret these differences.

 

Optimizing On-Field Performance with Video Feedback

How do you tailor running gait analysis to address rehab needs for injured players? What role does technology play in the process?

Depending on the injury, rehab is where significant performance gains can made. If gait analysis is made part of the return-to-run process it can offer tremendous improvements in objective decision-making when a player is ready to return to team training. We must remember that gait is the foundation of function. We can only infer an athlete’s capabilities from 1-dimensional force plates and Nord boards etc. If we revert to the well-established max speed and COD deterministic models by Dr. Warren Young, they underline the importance of reactive leg strength. With the Prepared to Play Triple Hop Test, we can now measure reactive strength in a much more applied way that takes into vertical, anterior-posterior, and mediolateral forces. Therefore, asymmetries, dysfunction, and lack of coordination with hopping are also observed in running-based tests. Namely through differences in stride length, stride frequency, contact times, and of course, kinematics. Having a focus on the process of ‘how’ a player regains running function is more important than a player’s result. Look after the process the product looks after itself.

 

Collaborating for Comprehensive Training Plans

 

In terms of performance enhancement, how do you leverage video feedback to fine-tune running mechanics and optimize players’ on-field speed, acceleration, and deceleration?

I would only use video feedback in a very small group – when I had time. Deceleration is getting a lot of attention of late. In my opinion, it is being complicated and looked at in a reductionist fashion. A discrete deceleration rarely happens in sports in isolation. However, acceleration and a quick transition to reacceleration are much more common. This should greatly influence how we train, teach, and test deceleration. If we simply look at deceleration as a mirror opposite to acceleration, then it is easy to see what are appropriate techniques for both qualities.

 

With the data obtained from video analysis, how do you collaborate with other professionals like physiotherapists and strength coaches to design comprehensive training plans?

Your average professional knows how to fix problems (retrospectively). The very smart professional prevents problems before they occur. Research and experience show a clear connection between running techniques and common injuries. Frans Bosch wrote an outstanding article on the relationship of injury and running technique in 2015. We can now measure these parameters very easily in our own training environment. As such, using gait analysis to 1. assess injury risk; 2. enhance running performance directly; 3. guide rehabilitation; and, 4. influence how running can be enhanced directly via allied programming.

Integrating Vuemotion for Australian Rules Football

What advice would you give to fellow coaches and practitioners looking to integrate Vuemotion analysis into their approach for enhancing player performance in Australian Rules football?

Not to trivialize the severity of contact in AFL, which can be as severe as any football-rugby code at times. However, it doesn’t have the same amount of contact as the rugby codes. Therefore, this should then influence strength training to be slightly less orthodox and be more about enhancing running performance. Depending on the position played, AFL demands all forms of running (acceleration, deceleration, max speed, and COD). If we accept this, what influences these forms of running? How can they be enhanced? In particular, within the limited time made available. Opportunities to enhance running performance ‘directly’ with players in full training are limited. However, there are numerous opportunities and methods to enhance running performance ‘in-directly’. Some are flexibility and gym-based exercises – namely specific plyometrics, reflex strength training, and functional hip exercises.

We know max speed occurs in training and matches, but not always in absolute terms in relation to a player’s max speed PB. However, depending on the position played, AFL players do spend meaningful time at very high and high-speed running where mechanical efficiency is a huge advantage. So, if we see improving mechanical efficiency as advantageous how do we go about it?

We can’t escape that running speed is determined by stride length and stride frequency. Measuring a player’s leg length will tell us what their stride length should be theoretically. This will inform if they are within, or outside norms associated with speed targets you desire them to attain. For example, some players might have a disproportionally low stride frequency, which is often associated with overstriding. Conversely, some players might be overly dependent on stride frequency (human sewing machines) and not apply enough effective force to attain a desired speed or accelerate to speed. As such, judiciously knowing what plyometrics, what flexibility, and what running drills can correct these outliers can make a big difference in a short period of time – both in terms of performance and risk mitigation.

 

Bosch, F., & IJzerman, J. (2015). Running mechanics in injury prevention and performance. In Sports Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation (pp. 106-120). Routledge.

 

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Dean Benton: Sprint running for football codes | Prepare Like a Pro

AFL W Injury crisisCategoriesBlog Training Program

From Risk to Resilience: Dean Benton’s Approach to mitigate ACL Injuries

Dean Benton

What is the true magnitude of the ACL injury problem in sports today?

It is a significant global issue. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup has really illuminated this, with a host of big names that won’t feature in the tournament due to ACL injury. Also, ACL injuries in the English Women’s Super League and the US NCAA football have never been more prevalent.

However, Australia is leading the world with ACL injuries. Based on estimations, the annual number of ACL injuries in Australia is expected to more than double by 2030-2031 compared to 2017-2018 levels, with a projected cost being estimated at a staggering AU$300M. Sadly, our AFLW competition statistically leads the world when compared to other team sports. The ACL injury rate in the AFLW competition is 3–7 times higher when compared to other female team sports and 10–19 times higher when compared to male team sports, such as European handball and football (soccer).

How can we shift the focus from curing ACL injuries to preventing them in the first place?

Sometimes we have significant barriers to interventions with serious and complex medical conditions. In these situations, there is understandably extensive research required, ethics committees, financial resourcing, trials, etc. When it comes to ACL prevention, there are no real barriers to intervention. The only apparent barriers are knowledge (coaching), compliance, and allocation of time. At times many leading experts around the world have suggested there exists a culture of acceptance of ACL injury as being something that ‘happens’ to women.

In contrast to anatomic risk factors, power, strength, and neuromuscular coordination deficits can be addressed with proven interventional strategies. These interventional strategies do not require expensive equipment and/or facilities. A lot can be said for good quality coaching, the appropriate time to implement, and the time for the athlete to adapt.

 

Which sports have successfully addressed and reduced the disparity between male and female ACL injury rates?

There are many examples of other sports around the world, such as skiing, dancing, and some women’s rugby programs that have put in place proven methods to significantly mitigate ACLs. World renown expert, Bill Knowles originally built a reputation over 20 years ago when he was at the Burke Mountain Ski Academy. Bill reduced ACL injuries with mogul skiers from approximately 30+ per year down to 2-3 per year. The Australian Women’s Rugby 7s program has an excellent track record with ACL injury over the past 7 years with only 2 ACLs (1 contact & 1 non-contact). The program was led by respective S&C coaches Craig Twentyman in the Rio Olympics and Tom Carter in Tokyo Olympics. Both these coaches did a superb job providing these athletes with advanced, but appropriate leg power development and coordination training modalities. There are other examples of physical development programs in the US that have resulted in an 88% drop in ACL injuries. This should be the rule – not the exception. We all accept the ‘non-modifiable’ factors associated with female ACL injury. However, infinitely more can be done with modifiable factors such as total body coordination and strength.

 

What are the contributing factors that make AFLW (Australian Football League Women’s) rates of ACL injuries particularly high?

The issues facing the AFLW athlete are not unique. The same issues will be faced by NRLW athletes this year and are also being reported by field and court sports in Europe and North America. There has been an explosion of female athlete participation in our field sports in particular, which is great. However, for various reasons, our female athletes have not had the background, or been afforded the same opportunities as our male athletes. The covid lockdown period has and will have implications for us. Our children are not as physically active as they used to be. Furthermore, early specialisation with single sports is depriving our developing athletes of the broader movement vocabulary they require. Particularly, body awareness and control with locomotive skills, which field and court sports demand such as running, jumping and landing, etc. These generic skills are the foundation for being able to express sports skills.

 

If a sport does have a distorted number of ACL injuries, then it is obvious these athletes are not adequately prepared for the demands of the game. As such, preparation is either inadequate or inappropriate. The question is how?

 

The subject of the quality and quantity of coaching and support staff for female field and court sports is something that is discussed globally. The argument of financial resources is typically raised, but conversely so is the duty of care. Some would suggest it becomes false economy to take shortcuts here. Particularly when you take into account the cost of surgery and rehabilitation (~AU$15K per athlete) and replacing players. Also factorising, of course, the long-term issues of not regaining pre-injury levels of performance and early onset of osteoarthritis. However, there are many fine examples around the world of women’s programs being resourced appropriately.

 

How does the Prepare to Play (P2P) Triple Hop Test help in assessing ACL injury risk?

Prepare to Play has partnered with VueMotion in designing the P2P Triple Hop Test, which has been specifically designed to assess both locomotive performance and related coordination; the lack of which, is correlated to ACL injuries. In comparison to expensive and time-consuming laboratory-based testing methods, it offers a much more functional, economical, and readily available method for field or court sports at all levels. The test utilises AI technology that analyses an athlete’s movements. This approach offers an unprecedented, prospective, and preventive approach to field or court sports preparation. The test can be completed with minimal equipment and on any firm and level surface, ideally in an athlete’s own training environment. An analysis is made available as an individual athlete and a group report within 24 hours. From there, interpretation and recommendations can be made available, which provides valuable insights for practitioners and coaches from a coaching and programming standpoint. The uniqueness of the test is that it is able to assess performance and injury risk synonymously.

 

The test also offers a paradigm shift, in that, we no longer need to be ‘chained’ to one-dimensional movement analysis via in-situ laboratory-based testing equipment such as force plates or jump mats. We can now seamlessly analyse training modalities organically but with lab conditions.

 

The test is also advantageous for those athletes wanting to rehabilitate from injury, as effectively as possible. Given that bounding and hopping are respectively exaggerated and unilateral forms of running, the triple hop test shows a clear relationship to gait analysis. Given ACLs are predominantly a running-based mechanism, we must relate the restoration of function to running.

 

The test has also been validated by Australian Catholic University (ACU) against the Vicon camera-based motion system in a laboratory setting, showing a 95% accuracy. It is not the intention to try and compete with systems like Vicon. The P2P Triple Hop Test is a coaching tool. The intention is to make it readily available to more people – more often.

 

There has been a good deal of interest and uptake from Australian clubs and national bodies. Namely, A-League teams, Queensland Rugby League, NRL, Melbourne Storm, and a leading football club from the Netherlands.

 

What are the key gaps or limitations in the current research on ACL injury prevention?

We should never stop researching or looking for gaps within our research. However, we have a plethora of research. In fact, there is now 6 times the research relating to ACLs in comparison to 20 years ago. A quick search on PubMed will reveal this. A lack of research isn’t our issue, but simply the utilisation of it. The narrative and statistics regarding ACLs haven’t changed in 30 years – in fact, it’s getting worse as we know. We must remember that the transfer of sports science/medical research into practice must require a coach. The whole point of sports science is to challenge, change and improve coaching practice – not research for the sake of it. Although, at times there can be a reductionist approach to the research, in there is an exclusive focus on the stance leg and in particular the knee in isolation. It requires strength and coordination of the entire body to ensure forces are absorbed in other parts of the body rather than the knee per se.

 

Many of the answers are staring at us in plain sight. Go and watch any world-class coach of vertical and horizontal jump events. The techniques and methods these coaches teach axiomatically offer substantial insights into preventive measures for ACLs associated with high-speed stepping.

 

In what ways can coaching practices be improved to better address ACL injury prevention?

Quite often we have a false dichotomy of injury prevention and performance enhancement. These two important aspects of athlete preparation are absolutely synonymous.  What is required athletically and technically for ‘stepping’ and ‘stopping’ in terms of performance enhancement also has a protective benefit. Research clearly shows it is eccentric rate of force (RFD) development that distinguishes elite v sub-elite athletes in the speed and power events. Eccentric RFD also separates Men and Women as the effect of gravity takes effect. However, eccentric RFD is the most important quality for the prevention of impact injuries – particularly in women.

 

The primary training modality to improve this quality is plyometrics, which as we know, develops the important quality of reactive strength. Often there is an unfounded perception that plyometrics as a modality causes injury; conversely, it prevents injuries. This perception has resulted in quite a lot of conservatism with the programming and coaching of this training modality – particularly with the female athlete. It could be suggested that the fear that plyometrics can cause injury may well result in many field and court sport athletes being undertrained in terms of preparing them for their respective sports. We must remember that when we change direction, we must tolerate forces up ≥4.5 times body weight. Or, depending on how fast we run at speed, up to >6 times body weight. As such, we need to apply the training principle of progressive overload to ensure our athletes can tolerate and negotiate these forces. Ask an experienced S&C coach how many injuries have resulted from when they have coached plyometrics as a modality over the years. I think you will find you will draw a blank.

 

Importantly, we shouldn’t just think that the development of reactive strength is only relevant to the lower body; it is a total body quality. Mainly as the trunk/core has a significant role to play in force reception and production. This is not to suggest that traditional strength training doesn’t have a role with field and court sport athletes – it does. Although, as Vern Gambetta has always said, “if the only thing you do is weightlifting, then all you end up with is weightlifters”.

 

There are some differences between female and male athletes, which require consideration when designing strength training programs. Essentially females should undertake the same strength training methods as males. However, we need to consider the following generalisations with the female athlete:

  1. Compared to males, females are approximately 50% and 30% weaker in upper body and lower body strength respectively
  2. Females lose strength and muscle tone faster than males

 

Due to these challenges, as well as structural and hormonal considerations, strength training is even more important for female athletes than male athletes. As such, some training variables and training principles require consideration:

  • More frequent exposure to strength within a training week
  • For strength training to be periodised through all phases of the training year. This is a requirement for the female athlete – not an option

 

It is worth noting that, the female athlete is typically ready to commence formal strength training at a younger age in comparison to the male. If we consider the years when the female athlete is most vulnerable to ACL injury (late teens-early 20s), then it makes sense to commence training interventions post-puberty with females from age 13-16 years. These are the critical years to formally commence coordination with jumping, landing, and foundational strength.

What role does strength and conditioning training play in ACL injury prevention?

I suggest it’s critical our S&C coaches have a well-developed coaching skill set and knowledge in developing running, jumping, and landing skills. Also, to consider a move away from the mindset of just having quantitative performance measures and shift to physical mastery with our younger field and court sport athletes. For example, not having a sole emphasis on how much can be lifted; or how fast can they run. Namely, a more qualitative approach to how the athlete runs, lifts, jumps, and lands. Importantly, mastery of these skills. Quantitative performance can then be appropriately pursued at the elite level.

 

Dean Benton: Sprint running for football codes | Prepare Like a Pro

Mastering the AFL Marathon - 6 Essential Strategies for Prolonging Your Playing CareerCategoriesPLP Podcast Weekly Updates

Episode 82 – Mastering the AFL Marathon – 6 Essential Strategies for Prolonging Your Playing Career

Introduction

In this blog post, we will explore six essential strategies that can help AFL players achieve “AFL Marathon Mastery,” not only propelling them to prolong their playing careers but also enabling them to excel on the field. From strength training to recovery and lifestyle choices, these two times “AFL Marathon Mastery” will serve as the cornerstone of your longevity and success in the Australian Rules Football (AFL) marathon. Playing AFL requires exceptional physical and mental stamina due to the sport’s high-impact nature and long game duration, making it imperative for players to prioritize their fitness and well-being around “AFL Marathon Mastery.”

Highlights of the episode:

  • Consider training age
  • Consider your body mass
  • Know your medical limitations
  • Know when to do plyometric training
  • Make sure your intent is to move faster

Emphasize Key Compound Movements in the Gym

One crucial aspect of maintaining a successful AFL career is building and preserving strength. Compound movements, such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and bench pulls, play a vital role in developing overall strength and stability. By consistently incorporating these exercises into your gym routine, you can fortify your muscles, protect your joints, and enhance your ability to resist tackles and maintain balance during high-intensity gameplay.

Incorporate Explosive Movements

Speed and agility are paramount in AFL, and incorporating explosive movements into your training regimen is essential. Sprinting should be a regular part of your training sessions, not just for maximum velocity exposure but also for working on accelerations, which occur more frequently in games. Focus on your first three steps, using power bands and emphasizing proper technique to enhance your acceleration and change of direction abilities. Additionally, include power training sessions in your routine to improve explosiveness and prime your body for peak performance on game days.

Maintain an Aerobic Conditioning Stimulus

AFL is a physically demanding sport that requires both endurance and the ability to recover quickly. In season, it’s crucial to reduce ground contact forces to protect your joints. This can be achieved through off-feet conditioning, such as cycling, swimming, or total body circuits. By incorporating aerobic conditioning exercises, you can build a strong foundation and improve your overall fitness. Pre-season is the ideal time to focus on developing your aerobic base, enabling you to handle high-intensity efforts and recover efficiently throughout the season.

Prioritize Body Health and Recovery

Taking care of your body is paramount to sustaining a successful AFL career. Recovery plays a significant role in preventing injuries and optimizing performance. A simple approach to recovery is to work in minutes equal to the time spent working out. For example, if you spend 45 minutes in the gym and have a 60-minute on-field session, aim for two hours of recovery activities. These activities may include deep tissue massages, light recovery sessions in the pool, stretching, and foam rolling. By prioritizing recovery, you can enhance your resilience, build robustness, and reduce the risk of injuries.

Focus on an Elite Lifestyle: Sleep, Stress, and Nutrition

To perform at your best on and off the field, it is crucial to prioritize three essential aspects of your lifestyle: sleep, stress management, and nutrition. Adequate sleep is vital for recovery and cognitive function, so aim for a consistent and restful sleep routine. Additionally, manage stress effectively by practicing mindfulness, seeking support when needed, and developing coping mechanisms. Lastly, pay close attention to your nutrition. Fueling your body with the right nutrients will provide you with energy, aid in recovery, and optimize your performance. Make healthy food choices and ensure you’re properly hydrated to excel in the demanding AFL environment.

Consult Experts and Injury Prevention

Injuries can be significant setbacks in an AFL career, so it’s crucial to consult with experts to prevent and manage them effectively. Whether you’ve experienced a significant injury, such as an ACL tear, or a minor strain, seek guidance from specialists who can help you restore and improve your range of motion. Working with AFL strategy coaches and injury-specific experts will equip you with the knowledge and techniques to reduce the risk of further injuries. By prioritizing injury prevention, you can continue to perform at your best and avoid potential setbacks.

Conclusion

Prolonging an AFL career requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses strength training, explosive movements, aerobic conditioning, recovery, lifestyle choices, and injury prevention. By implementing these six essential strategies into your training and daily life, you can enhance your performance, increase longevity, and enjoy a successful AFL career. Remember, it’s not just about the game itself but also about the commitment you make to your physical and mental well-being. Master the AFL marathon, and the rewards will follow.

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