The silly AFL and AFLW seasons are upon us once more here in Australia, and it is time for this commentator to again crawl out of the woodwork to give his five cents worth. There still seems to be some inherent training/preparation issues that are very concerning in regard to both the men’s and women’s versions of this high contact, high impact brand of Australian football. Notwithstanding the very real and separate biomechanical issues confronting women especially in this regard. In fact, the notion of better preparing the athlete's knees is a real problem facing all competitive sports which require sudden and unpredictable loaded changes in direction. Rugby and netball are other examples that currently also suffer from this debilitating injury scourge. This is abundantly clear, as the number of ACL injuries suffered, and subsequent total knee reconstructions each season seem to be increasing, rather than reducing (???). All in spite of the latest training/preparation techniques being employed by highly qualified exercise scientists, physios and sports medicine experts. This has been highlighted with a spate of ACL blowouts already experienced in the AFLW (a season of a maximum of nine games), and now the AFL, even though we have completed only three rounds!! Worse than the injury itself, is the prolonged rehab, which, while there is the odd instance of a player coming back before the normal rehab schedule, the expected time out of the game is still an arduous twelve months. A particularly worrying situation when you consider that in years gone by, prior to the advent of modern exercise science/physiology principles, the most commonly occurring knee problems were meniscus related, perhaps a two to four week recovery timeframe.
As these very serious knee injuries are so prevalent, and with no apparent and foreseeable easing to this dilemma, would athletes not be better off without the strength training components to their already heavy training loads. Why have there been no noticeable advancements or alterations to training techniques, firstly to actually reduce the instances of the innocuous ACL rupture (the preferred option), and secondly to at least provide a substantial reduction to the length of the required rehab schedule? Surely, there is no sense in continuing to do the same thing over and over, with the expectation being to achieve a different outcome? And if in the inner sanctums of individual clubs and the minds of the responsible strength and fitness specialists, changes have been made to best adapt athletes to potentially crippling directional forces, then unfortunately, the many recent cases show that these best intentioned remedies are not working.
Allow me therefore to offer my opinion. As viewed and commented on previously, both on and off the record, the problem lies principally in the fact that the fitness professionals charged with this onus of achieving better outcome/injury prevention objectives are not thinking laterally, and continue to apply one dimensional and single direction (180 degree) training protocols to sports that produce loads on vulnerable centres and joints through 360 degrees. They continue to base training/preparation on the totally inadequate “support and stability” principles of by-gone traditional strength and fitness regimens. Even though there is some understanding of the importance of the posterior chain, exercises are still targeting muscular strength through progressions in applied resistances, rather than focal training/preparation work incorporating more diverse, multi-layered use of variable load, through adjustments to posture and position using innovative multi-profile methods. What is of greatest value in this context, is the need to accept that resistance and load are not the same. It is both possible, and desirable, to be able to vary load without simply increasing resistance, and to also be able to recognise when an athlete’s adaptation progress demands reductions in load, but without necessarily reducing resistance.
In all 360 degree sports, current training/preparation strategies apply singular and predictable support and stability based resistances on at risk centres and joints, when actual sporting loads are most often delivered from multi-directional, unstable and unpredictable profiles. Often these more adaptive loads can be applied to targeted centres/joints simultaneously from more than one direction. Loaded, and in some instances where the lack of adaptation warrants, unloaded training/preparation drills and exercises must have the capacity to duplicate all possibilities as demanded by any particular sport. That is, if training/preparation is to have any real/positive and long lasting effects. Unfortunately, this reality is not yet a recognised facet to mainstream strength and fitness concepts. There is still an unhealthy prevalence towards methods that are irrelevant to the underlying essence of 360 degree sporting adaptations, while still lauding the cosmetic and superficial outcomes to outdated training/preparation practices.
For true complementary adaptations to 360 degree sports to occur, then preparation techniques must also be through 360 degrees. An explanation for the above comments follow: as a means to try to help athletes avoid these debilitating ACL ruptures, there is an on-going trend towards teaching/adapting them to better land their jumps. However, in this presenter’s opinion, and indeed experience, there are four contributing reasons why current approaches to achieve these objectives cannot be met.
Effective programming must have the capacity to also produce secondary loads from one plane of movement (Sagittal, Frontal, Transverse) while the principal movement is completed in an opposing plane. This will better prepare athletes for the sheer forces imposed during loaded changes to direction, and will create more functionally balanced and movement focussed contact/impact athletes. Athletes will still experience these serious injury issues until high performance principles stop focussing on simply" landing" through the legs, whilst resistances are engaged in a singular plane. Training loads deliver better outcomes when based around the principles of “Specific Instability” and centred on including the core in its more dynamic and ballistic interpretations, whether they are directed from one, two or three planes of movement. In turn, adaptation outcomes will radiate from the systems and structures recognised as the core (Bodii-Advantage Through Adaptation, Programmes I & II) to the peripherally individual aspects of the legs (hips, knees, ankles) and also the arms (shoulders, elbows, wrists). Unfortunately, in the modern world of mainstream strength and fitness culture, the “core” is still not given it’s absolute due, and is seen as a distraction from true training, requiring 10 – 15 minutes of devoted training a two or three times per week. Even when core training adaptations become more greatly recognised, as certainly they must, the traditional views of training the core do not go deep enough. In future, anytime and every time a lift is completed, at the most primal level, a concentration of awareness will reveal, even before the lift is actually commenced, how intrinsically the body is stabilised and braced through the core. And there is, as I have heard said, no such thing as “not a core type of person!”