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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