Strength Training for AFL Players – Week 1
The Barbell Back Squat.
The 2015 AFL season is fast approaching, now is the time to start focusing on elements of training that will improve your on field performance and help you to get the upper hand on your opponents. Remember, premierships are won and lost in the preseason.
Whilst it is hard to argue that AFL is a sport based primarily on skills, one element that is often overlooked by players and coaches alike is the importance of an effective strength training program.
Stronger players will be able to outrun opponents to the ball, find it easier to fend off defenders, tackle opposition players more effectively and make their presence felt in ruck contests. Increased muscular strength also has the benefit of aiding in the prevention of on field injuries.
Whether you are new to strength training, or have been doing so for years, there are four compound exercises that must be included in your program. Compound exercises are those that work several muscles or muscle groups at one time and typically recruit a large number of muscle fibres when worked. This week we will focus on the Barbell Back Squat.
BARBELL BACK SQUAT:
The Barbell Back Squat is often referred to as the king of all exercises and for good reason, as it works up to 94 different muscle groups in the body.
The muscle groups that do the bulk of the work are the Quadriceps and Adductors, the Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings, and Calves (posterior chain). The lower back and trunk provide a lot of support during the movement as well.
As so many muscle groups are worked during the Squat, there are a great number of benefits to AFL players, overall strength being number one. The Back Squat also trains hip drive directly, through the muscles of the posterior chain. This contributes directly to jumping, kicking, and the ability to accelerate explosively.
Training the posterior chain is vital for AFL players to help in mitigating the prevalence of hamstring injuries that are seen at all levels of the game each season. There are some factors that can increase the risk of a tear: reduced flexibility, poor fitness and game endurance, but the biggest factor is an imbalance of strength between the posterior and anterior muscles groups of the legs.
AFL Players are prone to becoming “Quad Dominant” over time, signs of this can include being tight in the hamstrings, and an inability to squat below parallel or show difficulty maintaining balance at certain points of a bodyweight squat. In a sport that relies so heavily on explosive movement, sudden change of direction, acceleration/deceleration, and repeated ballistic loading in the form of jumping and kicking, relying too much on the anterior muscles of the legs, and not the posterior muscles has been shown to significantly increase the chance of hamstring injuries.
The Gluteus Maximus (glutes) is the primary muscle of the posterior chain, is involved in hip extension and plays a major role in a player’s deceleration during running and sprinting. If the glutes are weak then secondary muscles in the chain, mostly the hamstrings, are forced to work even harder. This leads to overuse. Keeping glutes and hamstrings strong, and regular mobility drills to increase your flexibility are the best ways to prevent this from occurring, and then leading to injuries.
Squat heavy, working in the 1 – 5 rep range and in varying sets, 5 sets of 5 reps is a good place to start. The Squat should be included in your routine at least once a week, preferably twice. It is important to make sure you are squatting using a full range of motion, so that you break parallel, (your hip crease is below your knee crease in the bottom of the squat).
It is important to have your toes pointing forward and at a slight angle (5-12 degrees), with your knees pointing in the same direction during the descent and ascent phases. This will engage your quadriceps correctly.
In the descent phase of the squat, ensure your knees do not extend over the ends of your toes, the further past your toes they extend, the greater the shear force that will be placed on the patellar tendon and ligament.
In the ascent phase make sure that you consciously engage your posterior chain, clenching your glutes on the way up out of the bottom of the squat will do this, and ensure you are reaching full hip extension at the top of the squat.
Always work at a weight that you are able to achieve the set number of reps in a set, and most importantly, that you are able to break parallel and ascend to full hip extension with good form.
In conclusion, no strength routine is complete without the addition of the Barbell Back Squat. This is evident not only from the benefits that being faster, stronger and more explosive on the field will bring, but also for the prevention of injuries related to a weak posterior chain.
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