What do AFL players do for recoveryCategoriesFooty Tips

Recovery Protocols for Elite AFL Players

In the high-stakes world of the Australian Football League (AFL), elite athletes constantly seek strategies to enhance performance, speed up recovery, and reduce injury risks. This pursuit leads them to embrace a variety of recovery protocols, ranging from the traditional cold-water immersion (CWI) to the more technologically advanced recovery pumps. This blog post delves into the science, application, and real-world adoption of these recovery protocols, offering insights for athletes, coaches, and sports enthusiasts alike.



Recovery is not just a relief from the rigors of intense physical competition; it’s a critical phase where the real magic of athletic improvement happens. For elite AFL players, whose season spans numerous games with high physical demands, effective recovery protocols are not just beneficial—they are essential. They ensure that athletes remain in peak condition, minimize the risk of injury, and maintain high performance throughout the season.

Understanding Recovery Protocols

At its core, a recovery protocol is a structured regimen that athletes follow to maximize their body’s recuperation after training sessions or matches. These protocols encompass a range of activities, techniques, and tools designed to alleviate muscle soreness, reduce fatigue, and expedite the recovery process. Effective recovery strategies are scientifically backed, tailored to individual needs, and integrated into the overall training program to optimize performance and health.

The Science of Cold-Water Immersion (CWI)

Cold-water immersion has been a staple in sports recovery for decades. Its proponents argue that it significantly reduces muscle soreness and speeds up the recovery process. Research studies, such as those conducted by Yankouskaya et al., have provided scientific backing to these claims, highlighting CWI’s role in facilitating positive affect and enhancing the interaction between large-scale brain networks. This suggests that CWI’s benefits extend beyond the physical, touching upon mental well-being and cognitive function—a crucial advantage in sports where psychological readiness is as vital as physical preparedness.

However, the efficacy of CWI in muscle growth and long-term recovery is nuanced. Piñero et al.’s systematic review suggests that while CWI can be beneficial in the short term, its impact on muscle hypertrophy and strength gains may be less straightforward. These findings underline the importance of a balanced approach, integrating CWI judiciously within a comprehensive recovery strategy.

Cold-Water Immersion in Practice

Incorporating CWI into an elite AFL player’s recovery routine requires more than just plunging into cold water post-match. Protocols regarding duration, temperature, and frequency need to be personalized and based on current research. Generally, immersions are recommended to last between 10 to 15 minutes at temperatures ranging from 5°C to 10°C. Athletes are advised to gradually acclimate to the cold and combine CWI with other recovery methods for the best outcomes.

Alternative Recovery Modalities

While CWI is widely recognized, it’s not the only tool in an athlete’s recovery arsenal. Recovery pumps, which use pneumatic compression to enhance blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, have gained popularity for their convenience and effectiveness. Similarly, techniques such as contrast baths, where athletes alternate between hot and cold water immersion, and targeted stretching routines, offer additional pathways to recovery, each with its unique benefits and applications.

Integration of Recovery Protocols into Training Regimes

The art and science of recovery lie in its integration into the athlete’s overall training and competition schedule. Periodizing recovery—adjusting the type, intensity, and frequency of recovery protocols throughout the season—is key to addressing the changing demands on the athlete’s body. This approach ensures that recovery strategies are as dynamic and adaptable as the training regimes themselves, providing targeted support when and where it’s needed most.

Case Studies: AFL Players and Recovery Protocols

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the saying goes, and in the realm of elite sports, real-world examples offer invaluable insights into the effectiveness of recovery protocols. Many AFL players and teams have publicly shared their recovery routines, highlighting the use of CWI, recovery pumps, and other modalities in their regimens. These case studies not only demonstrate the practical application of recovery strategies but also inspire adaptation and innovation among coaches and athletes in other disciplines.

Emerging Research and Technologies

The field of sports science is ever-evolving, with new research and technologies continually emerging. Wearable devices that monitor physiological and performance metrics in real-time, advanced imaging techniques for assessing muscle and tissue health, and novel recovery interventions are just a few areas where advancements are shaping the future of athlete recovery. Staying informed and open to these developments is crucial for athletes and coaches aiming to maintain a competitive edge.

FAQs on Recovery Protocols for Elite AFL Players

  1. How often should elite AFL players use cold-water immersion?
    The frequency of CWI should be tailored to the individual’s training and competition schedule, but generally, it can be used after intense training sessions or matches, ideally 1-3 times a week.
  2. Can recovery pumps replace traditional recovery methods like stretching or CWI?
    Recovery pumps are a valuable addition to an athlete’s recovery toolkit but should complement rather than replace traditional methods. A multi-faceted approach to recovery is most effective.
  3. Are there any risks associated with cold-water immersion?
    While CWI is safe for most athletes, it’s important to start gradually, especially for those with cardiovascular issues or cold intolerance. Consulting with a medical professional is advisable.
  4. How do recovery protocols vary throughout the AFL season?
    Recovery protocols are adjusted based on the season’s demands—more intensive during peak competition periods and more restorative during off-season or lighter training phases.
  5. Can technology really improve recovery outcomes for athletes?
    Yes, technological advancements in monitoring, diagnostics, and recovery interventions offer precise, personalized insights and strategies, enhancing recovery outcomes.


For elite AFL players, recovery is not just a break from the action; it’s a critical component of their training ecosystem, essential for sustaining high performance, achieving athletic longevity, and minimizing injury risks. By embracing a science-backed, holistic approach to recovery—incorporating both traditional methods like CWI and modern technologies like recovery pumps—athletes can ensure they’re always at their best, both on and off the field.

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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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