What changes in the brain after strength training?

What changes in the brain after strength training?

In recent years, the curiosity into the adaptations occurring in the brain after strength training, have become a focal point of discussion in neurological based conversations. Research has shown that strength resistance training improves muscle function through an improved neurological ability to activate and control muscle fibres (Marston, Newton, Brown, Rainey-Smith, Bird, Martins, Peiffer, 2017). The research in the past decade surrounding the adaptations that occur in the brain from strength training, are associated with the central nervous system (CNS). Past research has also identified that exercise stimulates the growth of neurogenesis which combats cognitive decline especially in elderly people (Kerr, Clark, Cooke, Rowe & Pomeroy, 2017). This also has a potential to increase an individual’s executive function and memory. Strength training is one of many different types of ways that create changes in an individual’s brain, however, there are many reasons as to why these changes occur.

Although a change in structural plasticity is hard to achieve for an adult, it is still possible to develop and strengthen motor skills after the brain fully matures through strength training. (Hötting & Röder, 2013). These positive adaptations occur through an increased blood flow to the brain that accompany strength training. Weight training, even as infrequently as once or twice a week, has been shown to improve executive function. (Rogge, Röder, Zech & Hötting, 2018).

Research in the past has highlighted how strength resistance training improves muscle function through improved neurological ability to activate and control muscle fibres (Marston, Newton, Brown, Rainey-Smith, Bird, Martins, Peiffer, 2017). Previous studies have discovered that through strength training there is an improved ability for the brain to utilise and make the system most effective. A study by Kidgell, et al., 2017, explains how this occurs through the findings which identified, that if healthy young adults participate in strength training it may result in a reduction of intracortical inhibition. The reduction of intracortical inhibition from strength training means that there is a cutback in how much obstruction there is between the different cortex’s in the brain. This discovery highlights that the excitability of the motor cortex is thought to modulate the acquisition of newly formed motor skills. The study discussed believes that strength training does not appear to modulate corticospinal excitability rather, it modifies cortical inhibition. (Kidgell, et al., 2017). These findings illustrate that the neural adaptations to strength training involves the removal of local intracortical inhibition from the motor cortex, that mechanistically increases muscle strength (Kidgell, et al., 2017).

In the past few years, research has identified that strength training may stimulate the growth of neurogenesis in a positive manner. An important benefit of neurogenesis is that it can combat cognitive decline especially in elderly people (Kerr, Clark, Cooke, Rowe & Pomeroy, 2017). Age-related cognitive decline is caused partly by changes in neural function which is now known to be counteracted by the benefits of strength training. This is an important find because for many people, the aging process brings along the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. (Liu & Nusslock, 2018). This decisive result occurs due to strength training having an effect on how much of certain proteins are formed in the brain. (Ma et al., 2017). The most important protein that strength training has a part in developing is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). An increase in this protein from strength training has long been known to stimulate neurogenesis. (Ma et al., 2017). From this knowledge, BDNF has also been shown to enhance mental abilities at the same time as acting against anxiety and depression. (Sleiman et al., 2016). This further promotes the suggestion that strength training may stimulate the growth of neurogenesis in a positive manner through the protein of BDNF.


There has been a wide range of research that promotes how strength training can induce structural plasticity in the human brain and has the ability enhance a variety of cognitive functions. Structural plasticity is one of two types of neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to change its physical structure as a result of learning. (Nagamatsu, 2012). The best form of training to achieve a change in an individual’s structural plasticity appears to be strength training, which focuses on developing various motor skills with an emphasis on technique. (Rogge, Röder, Zech & Hötting, 2018). Although a change in structural plasticity is hard to achieve for an adult, it is still possible to develop and strengthen motor skills after the brain fully matures through strength training. (Hötting & Röder, 2013). These positive adaptations occur through an increased blood flow to the brain that accompany strength training. Weight training, even as infrequently as once or twice a week, has been shown to improve executive function. (Rogge, Röder, Zech & Hötting, 2018).  Strength training triggers biochemical changes that spur the production of new connections between neurons in the brain. (Nagamatsu, 2012). Studies suggest that strength training is capable of inducing structural plasticity in a variety of cortex’s such as the superior temporal cortex, visual association cortex, posterior cingulate cortex and in the superior frontal sulcus. All of these places in the brain provide a range of cognitive functions which can be positively changed via strength training. (Rogge, Röder, Zech & Hötting, 2018).


Hötting, K., & Röder, B. (2013). Beneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37(9), 2243-2257. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.04.005

Kerr, A., Clark, A., Cooke, E. V., Rowe, P., & Pomeroy, V. M. (2017). Functional strength training and movement performance therapy produce analogous improvement in sit-to-stand early after stroke: early-phase randomised controlled trial. Physiotherapy, 103(3), 259-265.

Kidgell, D., Bonanno, D., Frazer, A., Howatson, G., & Pearce, A. (2017). Corticospinal responses following strength training: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal Of Neuroscience, 46(11), 2648-2661. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13710

Kidgell, D., & Pearce, A. (2011). What Has Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Taught Us About Neural Adaptations To Strength Training? A Brief Review. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 25(11), 3208-3217. doi: 10.1519/jsc.0b013e318212de69Powered by wordads.coSeen ad many timesNot relevantOffensiveCovers contentBroken

Liu, P., & Nusslock, R. (2018). Exercise-Mediated Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus via BDNF. Frontiers In Neuroscience, 12. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00052

Marston, K. J., Newton, M. J., Brown, B. M., Rainey-Smith, S. R., Bird, S., Martins, R. N., & Peiffer, J. J. (2017). Intense resistance exercise increases peripheral brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport, 20(10), 899-903.

Ma, C., Ma, X., Wang, J., Liu, H., Chen, Y., & Yang, Y. (2017). Physical exercise induces hippocampal neurogenesis and prevents cognitive decline. Behavioural Brain Research, 317, 332-339. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2016.09.067

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Nagamatsu, L. (2012). Resistance Training Promotes Cognitive and Functional Brain Plasticity in Seniors With Probable Mild Cognitive Impairment. Archives Of Internal Medicine, 172(8), 666. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.379

Rogge, A., Röder, B., Zech, A., & Hötting, K. (2018). Exercise-induced neuroplasticity: Balance training increases cortical thickness in visual and vestibular cortical regions. Neuroimage, 179, 471-479. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.06.065

Sleiman, S., Henry, J., Al-Haddad, R., El Hayek, L., Abou Haidar, E., & Stringer, T. et al. (2016). Exercise promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) through the action of the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate. Elife, 5. doi: 10.7554/elife.15092

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Monitoring and Recovery Protocol for Australian rules Football (AFL)

Monitoring and Recovery Protocol for Australian rules Football (AFL)

The Importance of monitoring and recovery

The ability to accelerate athletes to pre-training/competition status on a psychological and physiological level, along with preventing injury is arguably the most important task fitness and coaching staff encounter. The accumulation of fatigue as a result of competition or training is detrimental to the athlete, yet unequivocally essential for improving neuromuscular and cardiovascular conditioning as it allows damaged muscle fibres to cultivate, adapt and produce a damage-resistance for future competition (Kraemer 2009).

However, the inability to recover from and monitor fatigue can decrease athletic performance, inhibit adaptation and increase susceptibility of injury. Therefore the installation of monitoring and recovery protocols is crucial to provide athletes with the optimal chance of adaptation, preventing injury, and therefore the best opportunity to perform at an elite level consistently.

Athlete monitoring allows a greater understanding on the effects of training loads on individual performance and well being, as data collected through various protocols has the ability to identify adaptations and over-training whilst additionally reducing the risk of sustaining an injury (Halson 2014). Monitoring training loads is conducted via the collection of internal loads; such as rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and heart rate, incorporated with external loads; such as power output and training volume. By collecting data on internal and external loads, the data can further be analysed and training loads/programs adjusted. This allows for the instalment of appropriate periodisation techniques, providing athletes with structure for optimal adaptation whilst minimising the risk and impact of variables negatively effecting performance.

Whilst athlete monitoring prevents over-training and identifies suspicious trends in data associated with injury and performance decrements, recovery methods must also be installed to allow athletes to train and compete at an elite level consistently. Although fatigue is multi-faceted; following the onset of fatigue through training or competition athletes will accumulate blood and muscle lactate. Lactate metabolism becomes important to eliminate lactate from the body, as insufficient removal will inhibit future performance and negate the ability to train optimally (Martin 1998), therefore reducing the likelihood of adaptation and improvement. Recovery protocols are important for increasing metabolic rate and systematic blood flow, which promotes lactate metabolism through oxidation and glycogenesis. Muscular inflammation and oedema following training and/or competition can also be appropriately managed and the severity minimised through recovery techniques such as water immersion and Cryotherapy.

Recovery Protocols

At the conclusion of training or competition athletes will have accumulated multiple forms of fatigue, that being on a physiological and psychological level. As mentioned earlier fatigue is multi-faceted, ranging from intramuscular by-products such as lactate, to inflammation and muscle oedema, and additionally mental fatigue. Such accumulation can be detrimental to future performance and training, inhibiting athlete’s ability to perform at an optimal level. Therefore concluding training and competition it is essential for athletes to minimise the severity and duration of fatigue through recovery protocols. Attention should also be given to athlete’s well-being and perception of recovery methods. Athletes perceiving less pain and muscle soreness possess a higher sense of wellbeing and furthermore tend to have increased performance (Stacey 2012). Literature suggests perceptual recovery of athletes is enhanced through a combination of recovery strategies and not a singular strategy (Bahrnet 2013). Therefore the prescription of recovery methods should be flexible for different individuals, however for this article a recovery protocol consisting of five methods will be prescribed.

Active Recovery

Literature suggests active recovery is appropriate and commonly used post competition and training due to its lactate metabolism qualities. Multiple studies have reported that incorporating an active recovery following high intensity exercise promotes lactate removal and decreases intramuscular acidosis, which when accumulated decreases performance and in particular force production (Martin 1998). Active recovery has also been found to reduce athletes perceived exertion of high intensity training sessions, enhancing well-being and potentially performance (Stacey 2010). It is suggested that active recovery additionally assists with an increased removal of metabolic waste products such as hydrogen ions and potassium, which both accelerate the fatigue process (Coutts 2002). An active recovery commonly consists of low intensity aerobic exercises such as walking, light jogging, cycling and swimming for 5-10 minutes concluding performance.

Post-Training/Competition Nutritional Intake

Concluding an AFL match athletes will face dehydration, glycogen depletion, muscle damage and other factors of fatigue. In addition to other recovery methods, nutritional intake is essential in replenishing and rehydrating athletes to aid in muscle repair, rehydration and reduce the severity of muscle soreness (Nedelec 2013). During a football match muscle glycogen stores are usually depleted by up to 75% from pre competition level, and therefore should consume 1-1.2g per kilogram of body mass per hour following competition (Coutts 2002).

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Post-match meals should consist of high-GI carbohydrates and protein to improve muscle function and repair damaged muscles. Literature suggests 20 grams of milk protein, or an equivalent 9 grams of amino acids is sufficient for muscle protein synthesis during the first 2 hours of recovery (Nedelec 2013). Sports drinks with high-sodium content should also be consumed directly after competition, with a basic rule of 1.5L for every kilogram lost during the match. This can be easily calculated by weighing athlete’s pre and post match.


There is conflicting literature on the benefits of massage and it effect on performance, as most studies state there are no clear benefits of massage on sport performance or injury prevention (Hemmings 2000). Therefore this recovery method will focus primarily on psychological benefits. The common ideology is that massages increases blood flow and therefore increases the rate of lactate removal. Although somewhat conflicting, there is sufficient literature to suggest massage does increase blood flow, however whether the severity of blood flow is adequate enough to aid in lactate removal is still yet determined.

Literature support for psychological benefits of massage is significantly greater than physiological benefits, as multiple studies have identified positive relationships between massage and mood state, perceptions of muscle soreness and recovery (Hilbert 2003). Consistent with these findings are those by Weinberg (1988), stating that massage improves wellbeing, reduces tension and perceptions of fatigue. As discussed earlier having athletes in a positive mindset and enhancing their perceptions of recovery and soreness is shown to improve performance (Stacey 2010). Therefore athletes should also recovery psychologically to increase their perceptions of an accelerated recovery, and massage has been proven to do so.

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Contrast Water Therapy

Contrast water therapy (CWT) involves alternating full body immersion, excluding the neck and head, from hot to cold baths. The hydrostatic pressure associated with water immersion is suggested to create fluid displacement, and the contrast from hot to cold water has been shown to increase blood flow through a “pump” like effect through vasodilation and vasoconstriction, therefore increasing the rate of by-product removal (Versey 2013). Literature supports the use of CWT for improving performance and psychological benefits. CWT has been seen to reduce intramuscular fatigue, such as reducing creatine kinase and localised oedema (Versey 2013). Other physiological benefits include increased diffusion rates of metabolic waste products and increased blood flow. Improvements in performance have also been seen following the prescription of CWT as a recovery technique, with improvements in cycling time trial performance and total work output evident in a study by Versey (2011). Literature also suggests there are psychological benefits associated with CWT, with common findings stating athletes have feelings of “lighter legs” and lower perceptions of muscle soreness. Bieuzen (2013) states that thirteen studies on CWT when pooled showed significantly lower perceptions of muscle soreness. The most beneficial methodology for such benefits is suggested to be 6-15 minutes in duration, alternating every 1-2 minutes from baths between 14-15 (cold) and >36 degrees (hot).


The application of ice, also known as Cryotherapy, is a common recovery method used for intervening muscular inflammation and oedema in soft-tissue injuries. Applying ice to aggravated, sore or injured parts of the body will result in vasoconstriction and decreased blood flow, reducing oedema, swelling and pain (McMaster 1977). Cryotherapy has also been suggested to reduce pain and the severity of muscle tissue damage (Knight 1976). As soft tissue injuries are the most common in AFL, the use of Cryotherapy is an essential recovery method. Ice should be applied to muscles and joints with sensations of pain or soreness. Reducing the severity of muscle oedema and tissue damage will allow an accelerated return to training for athletes. There is contrasting methodology for Cryotherapy application, however the most common in literature is 20-30 minutes of application, then allowing the skin temperature to return to normal before re-applying, which can be anywhere between 1-3 hours. Cryotherapy should be initiated as acute as possible to provide maximal benefits (Bleakley 2004)

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Basic Overview of Recovery Protocols After Training and Games

  1. Active Recovery
    – 5/10 minutes of light aerobic exercise (cycling/walk, light jog)
  2. Nutritional Intake
    – Replenish fluids (1.5L per kg lost), protein milk drinks, Hi-GI carb meal (chicken and salad roll)
  3. Contrast Water Therapy– 6-10 minutes after training, 10-15 minutes after games, ratio of 1:2 (cold:hot)
  4. Massage (optional)
    – 5/10 minutes before/after game and training if needed
  5. Cryotherapy (optional)
    – 20-30 minutes directly after training/competition on swelling or aching areas


Recovery Method



Active Recovery*
5-10 minutes of low intensity aerobic exercise (60% max HR)Walking/cycling/light jogCan incorporate stretching if needed10 minutes of (60% max HR) aerobic exerciseWalk/light jog/cycling/swimmingBeach session after game or the next morning, walking in water

Nutritional Intake*
1.5L per kg lost (high-sodium sport drink) and waterProtein shake after trainingHI-GI carbohydrate meal; chicken and salad roll1.5L per kg lost (hi-sodium sport drink) and water20g of milk protein (Up’N’Go)HI-GI carbohydrate meal; chicken and salad rollFruit; bananas, apples, oranges

Before and after trainingNot mandatory, only if needed5 minutes or until feeling freshBefore and after games if needed5-10 minutes recommended after games
Contrast Water Therapy*
Mandatory after high-intensity sessionsOptional after regular sessions, recommended if feeling stiff/sore6-10 minutes, ratio of 1:2 (cold:hot)Hot bath: >36 degreesCold bath: 14 degreesMandatory after games10-15 minutes, 1:2 ratio (cold:hot)Hot bath: >36 degreesCold bath: 14 degrees

Optional after training if feeling sore or aching, or rolled joints during training20-30 minutes of application, rest an hour then repeat 2-3 timesRecommended for those with pain, swelling or “corkies” (edema)20-30 minutes of application, rest an hour and repeat 2-3 times

*Indicates mandatory recovery method

Method of Determining Change and Analysis for Recovery Methods

As used in multiple literatures in regards to recording individual perceptions of fatigue, a 10-point Likert scale will be used for assessment. A recording of 1 will indicate no fatigue, whilst 10 will indicate extreme fatigue (Juliff 2014). Such data will be collected post-game and training before recovery protocols, and then 24 hours post recovery. Additionally, a post-intervention questionnaire will also be conducted; simply asking whether the athletes believe each recovery modality has accelerated fatigue. Athletes will answer on a visual analogue scale (100m in length), with 0mm strongly agree and 100m disagree at each end of the spectrum. The use of visual analogue scales for the measurement of fatigue has been supported by Leung (2004) and used by Juliff (2014) on the perceived benefits of CWT. The analysis of the data will be conducted through SPSS software. A t-test will be used to analyse differences between the perceptions of fatigue from pre-post intervention and whether athletes believed the recovery modality accelerated fatigue, with a level of significance set to p <0.05.

Monitoring Protocols

The monitoring of athlete training loads allows for the manipulation and periodisation of training programs to minimise the risk of over-training and allow for optimal adaptations to be achieved. Through the collection of training load data, worrying trends can be identified and interventions can be installed, such as reduced training loads or player-coach discussions to better understand how individuals are feeling intrinsically. Athlete monitoring requires internal and external loads to be recorded via questionnaires and micro-technology such as GPS, however due to validity reasons the use of GPS for recording un-predictable changes in direction and collisions is still yet to be supported by literature and therefore all contributions to load during training or competition cannot be recorded (Gallo 2015). Therefore the use of internal loads such as rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and sleep data enables a better understanding of athlete total load and the impact of training loads on individuals. In recent years significant emphasis has been placed on the importance of sleep quality on performance, with the trend in literature suggesting sleep deprivation can inhibit performance. Training load will be measured through GPS data and RPE, whilst sleep monitoring will also be conducted.

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The importance of sleep is evident throughout literature, with persistent sleep loss negatively impacting on quality of training sessions, reducing cognitive functions, concentration and the performance of fine motor skills (Robson-Ansley 2009). Multiple literatures have discussed the significant effect of sleep deprivation on reaction time and decision-making (Taheri 2011). It has also been suggested that sleep deprivation damages muscle physiology and impairs muscle recovery, which inhibits muscle hypertrophy (Datillo 2011). Therefore the importance of sleep in relation to AFL performance is apparent, as it is crucial for athletes to repair damaged muscles to achieve physiological adaptation and improve performance, particularly through heavily based resistance training programs and high cardiovascular conditioning workloads. Sleep logs are commonly used to record quality of sleep, with sleep quality and duration easily recorded. For example recording sleep quality can be collected through a scale of 1 (very poor) to 5 (very good), and with modern technology both variables can be recorded through iPhone or when entering the club via computer (Richmond 2007).

Training Load: GPS and RPE

GPS systems are arguably the most commonly used technology in regards to athlete monitoring as data collection and extrapolation has become easily accessible in recent years. GPS allows the tracking of player movement and quantitative variables of performance, such as percentages of high speed running, accelerations/decelerations and total distance. Such variables provide legitimate indications of athlete load, and therefore the analysis of collected data can identify suspicious trends in relation to overtraining and inferior performances. The ability to analyse such performance variables can identify athletes carrying fatigue or micro-injuries during competition or games, therefore indicating insufficient individual recovery and the implementation of reduced training loads to avoid over-training and/or further aggravation to injuries. In contrast to reducing training loads, appropriate monitoring and management of periodised rehabilitation programs is achieved through GPS data collection. Athletes returning from injury will be designated periodised training loads and programs, allowing for adequate progression through stages of rehabilitation. Such data can be collected, managed and monitored through GPS therefore reducing the risk of re-injury. Catapult GPS units (10Hz) have been identified as valid and reliable for the collection of such data for training and competition (Jennings 2010). Catapult also worked intimately with 17 AFL clubs during the 2014 season, and therefore with the support of literature will be the brand of GPS units used.Powered by wordads.coSeen ad many timesNot relevantOffensiveCovers contentBroken

Whilst GPS data provides accurate results in regards to performance variables; there are validity issues with GPS in regards to acute changes in direction, high-speed movements and collisions inhibit accurate measures of absolute training load of individuals. It is also suggested GPS may underestimate exercise intensity for certain playing positions in AFL, therefore failing to provide an accurate measure of individual playing loads (Gallo 2015). Therefore the use of RPE becomes appropriate, as training load can easily and accurately be calculated for each individual using RPE multiplied by duration. This method of calculating training load has been heavily supported by literature and used in multiple football training load studies. RPE is scored on the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale, which ranges from 6 (no exertion) to 20 (maximal exertion). RPE will be collected 30 minutes prior to the conclusion of training to ensure the score if based on the entire training session rather than the most recent exercise intensity (Impellizzeri 2004). When analysing RPE results, athletes consistently scoring high on the test suggest they are inadequately recovering from games or training. Therefore the prescription of reduced training loads will be allocated to such individuals to allow for appropriate recovery and the avoidance of over-training.

Basic Overview of Monitoring Protocol

  1. Sleep
    – quality and duration recorded through sleep logs (excel or iPhone)
  2. Training load (GPS)
    – total distance, percentage of high intensity running ect. Recorded through catapult software
  3. Training load (RPE)
    – measured via Borg RPE Scale, recorded through excel


Monitoring MethodWhen?How?What?

Daily (morning) within 1 hour of waking up

Sleep log (iPhone or excel)1 = poor sleep5 = very goodDuration = asleep to awake (hours)Sleep qualitySleep duration

Training load (GPS)
TrainingCompetitionIntra-club gamesRehabilitationGPS unit (Catapult)Distance% High-Intensity running# of Accel/DecelTraining Load

Training load (RPE)
Before/After trainingAfter competitionAfter rehabilitationRecorded 30 mins prior to concluding sessionBorg Scale of RPE (6-20)Recorded through iPhone or laptop (excel)Intrinsic fatigueIntensity of sessionTraining Load (x duration)

Method of Determining Change and Analysis of Monitoring Methods

With the purchase of the Catapult 10Hz units comes additional software for the analysis and manipulation of data. Therefore GPS data will be analysed through catapult software to determine trends and changes in player load variables. Running and training programs can further be periodised accordingly.

RPE will be carefully monitored through excel spreadsheets. High training loads as a result of high RPE scores can therefore be identified and adjusted accordingly, and sufficient recovery can be prescribed to individuals. Athletes reporting significantly high RPE’s before training sessions following competition can also be designated to lower-intensity recovery groups and be carefully monitored.

Sleep data will also be analysed through excel, with each athlete having an individual optimal sleeping range in hours. When athletes begin to record values below that value, or record poor quality sleep, they will be instructed to focus on lighter training loads and going to bed earlier. Poor sleep quality can also be a result of personal factors, therefore athletes reporting continuous recordings of poor sleep quality should also consider talking to the club psychologist/counsellor.


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Guest Writer: Jake Giannakis | Collingwood Magpies VFL Assistant High Performance Manager

Guest Writer: Jake Giannakis | Collingwood Magpies VFL Assistant High Performance Manager

Note: This post was originally published May 11 2018

Bridging the gap from amateur to Elite

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As a young aspiring footballer, the dream is to always play at the highest level. While the main emphasis is on skill development and game understanding through amateur ranks (which it should), there is little emphasis placed on the physical preparation aspect. No matter how good your skills are, if you are not fit and healthy to train, perform and then repeat on a daily and weekly basis, it is impossible to showcase your skills and perform at the highest level.

A fantastic quote I always refer to is “Fitness will never win you a title, but it will certainly lose you one” Darren Burgess -former High Performance Manager of Port Adelaide Football Club. This means that fitness is only one piece of the puzzle, but a crucial one at that.

Obviously, there is large differences between professional and amateur footballers, but if we can continue to bridge the gap between the two, we not only see greater improvements in football performance, but reduce the potential risk of injury. The main differences between the elite athletes and the majority of those below the elite level is a lack of education and understanding of the physical requirements of the game. Typically, for a lower level athlete, a gym session would involve some form of bench press, possibly some leg press and the remainder of the session dedicated to arms. While this is not “bad”, time could be much better invested into movements and exercises that have been proven to transfer (or partly) to football performance.

Strength and fitness is not going to have a huge influence on being drafted, as the main reason AFL clubs draft players is for their football abilities. But as soon as you’re within the clubs four walls, if you’re not fit and strong enough to match the demands of the game and your fellow team mates and opposition, you’ll be out of there in no time. The main thing developed in 1st-3rdyear AFL players in the gym is a strength and movement foundation. Training movement patterns under different loads through different planes of motion over a long period of time sets this foundation.

From my experiences, the main areas up and coming players tend to miss are good quality strength sessions with an emphasis on whole body movement and coordination. If this can be developed from an U18’s or even U16’s level, the chance of potentially being drafted increases because the chance of you performing more consistently over a long period of time increases. It also allows you to settle into the elite environment better as you already have a training history. From experience, Strength & Conditioning Coaches love inheriting new players with a previous history of strength and conditioning training.

At the end of the day, AFL footballers are there to play football to the best of their abilities. But because football success is very multifactorial, each part of the puzzle piece must be invested in. For some, it might be working on goal kicking or improving lower body strength to tolerate 2x body weight in certain exercises, while other may need to improve their contested handballs or repeat speed efforts and aerobic recovery rates. By treating qualities such as the abovementioned like metaphorical buckets, you can work out which buckets (football qualities) need to be filled (improved) and which ones need to be “topped up”.

Jake Giannakis

Lactic Acid; Friend or Foe?

Lactic Acid; Friend or Foe?


In recent years, the argument of whether or not lactic acid contributes to muscle fatigue, has become a focal point of discussion in exercise physiology. We have to start from the beginning and fully understand what fatigue and lactic acid are. Fatigue can be defined as extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness (Surenkok, O. 2008), whereas Lactate is produced when muscle glycogen or glucose is broken down to produce ATP (Patlar, S 2017).

A 1924 research study, conducted by Nobel Laureate A.V. Hill and his associates, concluded that in prolonged exercise activities, fatigue resulted from lactic acid accumulation in the muscles. Sullivan et al. (2009)suggested that, when intense exercise occurred, a lack of oxygen supply to the muscles caused an individual to use their anaerobic energy system. It was later thought that the anaerobic system produced lactic acid, lowering pH and resulting in fatigue (Hill, Long, and Lupton, 1924). This crucial piece of evidence is still highly respected in the modern exercise physiology society. It has played a vital role in understanding muscular fatigue in most athletic activities. However, a 1995 study (Pate, et al, 1995) introduced a contrasting opinion. It was theorized that high levels of lactic acid do not interfere with muscular contractions, where body temperatures are within ‘normal’ range (Surenkok, O 2008). As a result of this new evidence, we find ourselves at the present day argument of whether or not lactic acid contributes to muscle fatigue. This article will present and agree with the argument, that lactic acid does not promote muscle fatigue.

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Recently, muscle physiologists have conducted studies concluding that induced acidosis has limited effects on muscle contractile function at body temperatures (Patlar, S 2017). Acidosis can be defined as an excessively acidic condition of the body fluids or tissues (Black, M. 2017).The body temperatures in this study ranged between 28 degrees Celsius and 37 degrees Celsius. The study conducted by Shalayel, M (2010) has encouraged us to reassess whether Hydrogen ions (H+) are not hazardous but rather ergogenic. An ergogenic aid in this case is anything that gives you a physical edge while exercising or competing (Perciavalle, V 2015). This physical edge comes in the form of lactic acid. “But how” do you say? It comes back to why we produce lactic acid or lactate. The anaerobic glycolysis system is commonly referred to as the “Lactic Acid system”. It is through this system that lactic acid exists in the body along side H+. As previously mentioned, lactate is produced when muscle glycogen or glucose is broken down to produce ATP. This process occurs during moderately high exercise intensities, where the glycogen is broken down into pyruvate (Black, M. 2017).The majority of the pyruvate is broken down to generate more ATP. The lactic acid synthesis cycle can be capitalized on through specific anaerobic training. Benefits of anaerobic training include an increased ability to clear lactate from the blood, and an increased efficiency use lactic acid to create energy.

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There are few associative indicators that may suggest that lactic acid is a potential cause of fatigue. However, these ‘indicators’ are unable to prove of the effect of lactic acid on muscles and the cause of lactic acid. There are several factors that explain why the muscles in the human body fatigue. The decline of force in a muscle, causing fatigue, is associated with the decline of ATP levels (Patlar, S 2017). This regression is a result of lactate produced in high intensity efforts, not receiving enough oxygen to break down. This in turn means the lactate is unable to build more ATP, and essentially energy to support the body’s efforts (Shalayel, M 2010). Another factor of fatigue is an individual’s muscles. The individual’s muscles may not have enough strength to produce a desired amount of force for the expected duration of exercise (Surenkok, O 2008). Central nervous fatigue (CNF) can also occur, resulting in muscle exhaustion. CNF is associated with changes in the function of neurotransmitters with the central nervous system(Sullivan. 2009).This can affect muscle function and exercise performance in many ways. It can occur in healthy individuals after a prolonged period of exercise at moderate to high intensities.

A definition of lactic acid was not provided at the beginning of the article for an important reason. Lactic acid can be defined as many things. However, in conclusion to this article it is defined as not a muscles foe but a muscles fuel. If well trained, lactic acid can be beneficial enough to push an athlete from getting bronze in an 800m final to winning gold. The information provided throughout this article, should allow you to fully understand why the definition given will not be found on any google search.

Justin Sanseviero


  • Black, M., Jones, A., Blackwell, J., Bailey, S., Wylie, L., McDonagh, S., Thompson, C., Kelly, J., Sumners, P., Mileva, K., Bowtell, J. and Vanhatalo, A. (2017). Muscle metabolic and neuromuscular determinants of fatigue during cycling in different exercise intensity domains. Journal of Applied Physiology, 122(3), pp.446-459.
  • Lactic acid concentration in the blood during muscular work. (2009). Acta Medica Scandinavica, 68(S24), pp.25-39.
  • Patlar, S., Baltaci, A., Mogulkoc, R. and Gunay, M. (2017). Effect of Vitamin C Supplementation on Lipid Peroxidation and Lactate Levels in Individuals Performing Exhaustion Exercise. Annals of Applied Sport Science, 5(2), pp.21-27.
  • Perciavalle, V., Alagona, G., De Maria, G., Rapisarda, G., Costanzo, E., Perciavalle, V. and Coco, M. (2015). Somatosensory evoked potentials and blood lactate levels. Neurological Sciences, 36(9), pp.1597-1601.
  • Shalayel, M. and Ahmed, S. (2010). Lactic acid – the innocent culprit of muscle fatigue. Sudan Journal of Medical Sciences, 5(2).
  • Sullivan, Å., Nord, C. and Evengård, B. (2009). Effect of supplement with lactic-acid producing bacteria on fatigue and physical activity in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Nutrition Journal, 8(1).
  • Surenkok, O., Kin-Isler, A., Aytar, A. and Gültekin, Z. (2008). Effect of Trunk-Muscle Fatigue and Lactic Acid Accumulation on Balance in Healthy Subjects. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 17(4), pp.380-386.

ACL Re-Injury

ACL Re-Injury

ACL Re-Injury: (originally published April 9, 2018)

Absolutely shattering news from a few weeks back with scans confirming Tom Liberatore has ruptured his 2nd ACL in 3 years. His recent ACL injury is to his right knee, which is the opposite side to which he injured in 2016 (left knee). Some of us are left asking a few questions; like is the opposite side more likely? Was he 100% ready to return to play? Let’s have a look at some of the answers and statistics.
The biggest risk factor for ACL injury is PREVIOUS ACL injury, whether that be to the re-injured limb or opposing limb. Individuals who have a previous ACL injury are 4-6 times more likely to sustain an injury than those with no ACL injury history
Injury recurrence is more than 2x likely to occur on the OPPOSING limb than the previously injured limb. Individuals are often compensating for their injury for such prolonged periods of time to protect the injured knee that they force additional loads through the un-injured leg, and therefore even when fit-to-play can favour the un-injured side sub-consciously through habit.

So how can we prevent re-injury?

Returning both limbs to similar testing results for a variety of test batteries; including strength, power, agility and the like. The 10% rule is often used as the golden standard, however is this variance too much? Should it be dropped to <5%?
Our opinion is that force plates/transducers and in-depth movement analysis should be the golden standard for return to play; as they arguably produce the most accurate and reliable data. For example: a single leg hop and single-leg leg press should be performed with force plates and data analysed. If the results show the individual is able to exhibit results that are <10% in variance, they should be deemed sufficient to play.
Force-testing batteries should be the final battery; given the individual has re-learned how to accelerate and decelerate, jump and land, and cut sufficiently on both sides.

A solid on-going physical preparation program in key; if you fail to maintain and improve your strength levels through tailored programming you are setting up to fail. Strengthening your quad: hamstring ratio and gluteal group is essential to reduce the likelihood of re-injury.

What are you doing to prevent re-injury? Contact us for a proper physical preparation program, preventing injury comes before performance. You can’t perform from the sidelines.


NFL Draft combine: The 40 Yard Dash

NFL Draft combine: The 40 Yard Dash

The Spectacle of the NFL Draft combine, and why the Australian Football League should substitute their 20 metre sprint for a 40 yard dash

Hobart offensive lineman Ali Marpet runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) ORG XMIT: INJC12

A few weeks ago the NFL Draft Combine showed some amazing feats of athleticism in events such as the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, bench press.

The 40 yard dash is somewhat of spectacle when you consider the raw size of some of these athletes and how they move across that distance with power and ease, all while keeping in mind these are field athletes with different skill sets from an out and out sprinting athletes (athletics).

In the video you see some athletic qualities from Denzel Ward (Ohio State). http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-combine/0ap3000000919505/Top-CB-in-the-draft-Denzel-Ward-runs-a-4-32-40-yard-dash

Contrast your mind to the Australian Football League and their testing battery for potential draftees out of the state leagues and Underage competitions, where for a measure of max speed we often see the 20 metre sprint (equates to 21.9 yards) and why in our opinion the 40 yard dash is a better test.

With the 20 metre sprint there are 2 split times recorded; 0-10 metres and 11-20 metres this can show acceleration from a stationary position to 10 or 20 metres, whereas the 40 yard dash has 3 split times, 0-10, 11-20, 21-40 yards. We can clearly see on a 40 yard dash if the athlete is able to improve or maintain a top speed (often the athlete will improve their time per split as they are in full stride between 20-40 yards).

I believe that testing  the 20 metre sprint is a disadvantage to some athletes, as it is biased to those who start well, but it does not provide the full picture that explains the acceleration over a bigger distance as the 40 yard dash does. Think of how often players sprint a greater distance than 20 metres in a match, it does not show a true acceleration and that change of speed over a rolling start (moving) as the 40 yard dash does.

You can see in the following video that the acceleration factor is a huge benefit for athletes, where by having the ability to cover ground quicker than your direct opponent often leads to a change in momentum of the play or to directly affect the prevention of a score  (see tackles number 7, 5, 2 & particularly 1 https://youtu.be/N1VksxiOA5Q or this super effort from Marley WIlliams of North Melbourne https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TjENJ5G7F4)


AFL Preseason vs In Season Training

AFL Preseason vs In Season Training

Aerobic capacity is arguably the most important aspect of modern-day AFL due to the high-intensity/fast paced nature. Professional midfielders often cover anywhere between 15-20km in a game. High intensity running is the most commonly utilised and sport-specific way to increase aerobic capacity as it simulates game-day running speeds and distances while additionally strengthening high-risk injury sites such as the hamstrings. A proper warm-up that activates the thigh/hip muscle groups is also essential to injury prevention and running mechanics.

Given the physical nature of AFL, strength & power are crucial if an athlete is to withstand the body to body contact. Resistance training, in addition to increasing muscular strength and hypertrophy, may also aid in the prevention of injuries. (Fleck and Falkel, 1986). The approach most AFL clubs utilise is a focus on aerobic and anaerobic cardiovascular interval training to build cardiovascular fitness, (as touched on in the introduction), while focusing on AFL specific cardio requirements such as repeat effort running. This is a major part of AFL as players are constantly performing repeat efforts to win a contested ball or gain distance on the opposition.

If players are unable to repeatedly contest a ball it can easily be identified through GPS units, which track top-speed, high-intensity efforts, repeat efforts and total distance to name a few. Nowadays, due to technology there is no-where to hide on the football field, and data can identify those who are underperforming and/or identify those carrying injuries.

An AFL conditioning session can include any and/or multiple of the following:

  • Shuttle runs: Increase in anaerobic capacity and metabolising function
  • Boxing circuits: Hand-eye co-ordination and off-leg conditioning
  • Ball work: Small sided competitive games for aerobic conditioning
  • Repeat effort running: Increase in anaerobic capacity and metabolising function
  • Swimming: Aerobic fitness while deloading the body
  • Cycling and Core strengthening for decrease in injury

When in-season training commences, the contrast between preseason and In season training is a strategic and periodised focus; which changes from hitting peak fitness/strength levels (pre-season), to maintaining a steady level of fitness while also reducing chances of injury (in-season). As recovery and rehabilitation becomes the focus in-season, intensity and frequency of strength and conditioning sessions are lowered to ensure a maintenance of fitness is still maintained.


Ankle Injuries: Occurrence and Prevention

Ankle Injuries: Occurrence and Prevention

Ankle Sprains and how to fix them // Prehab

Injuries to the ankle are among the most common for all athletes, at any age and at any
level. Ankle injuries often occur when the foot suddenly twists or rolls, forcing the ankle
joint out of its normal position. These can be as a result of contact or non-contact. During
physical activity, the ankle may twist inward (inversion) or outward (eversion) as a result of sudden or unexpected movement. This causes one or more ligaments around the ankle to stretch or tear.

How do we prevent this from happening? There are a few interventions recommended by the literature and by us. Firstly, there is evidence suggesting that ankle braces are effective in the prevention of acute, as well as recurrent and ankle sprains. Proprioceptive training such as balance drills, is effective at reducing the likelihood of injury through increases in flexibility, balance, strength, endurance and load tolerance (amount of load placed upon the ankle before another injury occurs). These injury prevention exercises are ideally performed unilaterally and are commonly used with balance boards/balls.

Injuries to the ankle are among the most common for all athletes, at any age and at any level. Ankle injuries often occur when the foot suddenly twists or rolls, forcing the ankle joint out of its normal position. These can be as a result of contact or non-contact. During physical activity, the ankle may twist inward (inversion) or outward (eversion) as a result of sudden or unexpected movement. This causes one or more ligaments around the ankle to stretch or tear.

How do we prevent this from happening? There are a few interventions recommended by the literature and by us. Firstly, there is evidence suggesting that ankle braces are effective in the prevention of acute, as well as recurrent and ankle sprains. Proprioceptive training such as balance drills, is effective at reducing the likelihood of injury through increases in flexibility, balance, strength, endurance and load tolerance (amount of load placed upon the ankle before another injury occurs). These injury prevention exercises are ideally performed unilaterally and are commonly used with balance boards/balls.


Balance board ball tosses, single leg hand-eye coordination and single leg squats are all effective proprioceptive training drills performed on balance boards. Our recommendation for ankle injury prevention is simple and effective, which is barefoot beach running or battle rope walks. The rigidness/dynamic of these surfaces allow the ankle to be tested and moved into unfamiliar ranges of motion, which strengthens surrounding musculature, improves muscle memory and increases the ankles tolerance at hazardous ranges of motion.

Coach Justin

Strength Training for Runners

Strength Training for Runners

Want to improve your running performance?

Strength Training for runners

The common regime for the recreational runner is quite simple, get out and run with a gradual increase in volume over time. Running is a task that can often leave you injured through its highly repetitive nature. Strength training can help reduce the likelihood of injury by making your muscles more compliant through your running technique and developing greater force absorption. For the time poor person, a run would seem like the ideal regime to commit to. In reality, however, for goals like increased sports performance, weight loss (body fat % loss) and to drop time in a specific event or race it may not be your best option.

Strength training has been proven to improve running efficiency. This is due to neurological adaptations which can include increased motor unit recruitment and firing rate. It has also been shown to increase the time it takes to reach exhaustion levels. How good is that? All this has been proven to have an impact in as little as 12 weeks.

Also see this: warm up routine

Introducing a strength program is quite simple. You can learn some basics in this document inclusive of a squat and hinge pattern into your program. Some unilateral (Single leg) movements and some glute and core work, and away you go. To maximise your performance try sticking to your Run 2-3 days a week and strength train 2 days per week to begin with, and build from there. 

It would also be important to take note of your recovery practices to minimise risk of injury, see here: Practical Recovery Modalities

If you would like to learn more, or start training with Melbourne Athletic, click here.

5 Tools every athlete should own

5 Tools every athlete should own

Every athlete needs a few key peices of equipment to help them stay fit, strong and injury free. Here are a few quick examples.

  1. Foam Roller/Massage Balls – Self massage is a huge component of a warm up and your cool downs and can also be used intermittently throughout the day
  2. Resistance Bands – Bands can be used for a variety for reasons, stretching, muscle activation or even for small workouts on the go or when you cannot make it into the gym (travelling)
  3. Gym membership – Stating the obvious! in the absence of a gym membership some dumbbells at home will do just fine for most cases.
  4. Quality Runners/sneakers – not only for the health of your joints, but also comfort.
  5. Training Diary/Smartphone – A diary can keep you on top of your training as well as your load monitoring, this way we know where to progress or regress and we can also plan for upcoming big events/games. Obviously a smartphone has exponential benefits over a notebook, this includes step tracking, the ability to upload and film your workouts for review, track your dietary intake  and much more.

If you want some ideas on what to do with your resistance bands or some guidance for the best apps to use in collaboration with your training email us here!