Injury Prevention and Strength & Conditioning for AFL Players.

Feeling Strong, Playing Strong!

These days with the increasing speed and skill of the game, footy players are suffering from all sorts of injuries. These injuries range from soft tissue to bone breaks; and without proper strength and conditioning your body will continue to break down. Additionally, it is imperative that you recover well from your match, as this will allow you to back up matches with training.

The 2 main roles of football conditioning are:

·       Enhance your performance as a player

·       Prevent injuries from occurring

Together, you will have the ability to play at higher levels of intensity for longer, and reap the rewards being a strong and competitive footballer.

There are two types of injuries that occur within football:

1)     Acute injuries: Which are traumatic. Direct contact and blows

2)     Non-contact injuries: Strains, overuse (tendonitis , soft-tissue).

The 4 main types of injuries that occur in football are:

1)     Hamstring Strain

2)     Osteitis Pubis

3)     Shoulder Injuries (dislocation of Acromio-Clavicular joint)

4)     Knee/ACL Injuries

So then, why do injuries occur?

There are number of reasons why injuries occur in footy, to name a few:

·       Non-specific warm-ups: Is it specific to football?

·       Lack of periodised trainingand planning

·       Avoiding recovery

The Warm-Up

The warm-up is seen as one of the most important aspects of injury prevention. Here are some reasons why it is essential:

·       Prepares your body for the activity ahead (musculoskeletal and neuromuscular)

·       Enhances performance

·       Prepares the athlete psychologically

Most importantly, your warm-up needs to be specific, which means completing movements and skills that you will use during your match!

A quality warm-up will therefore include:

·       Football specific skills: lane kicking, handballing, dribbling ball

·       Speed work: Repeated sprints, building from 50% to 100% efforts

·       Coordination and Proprioception: Handball drills using more than one ball

Strength Training

Strength training is very important in the modern game of football.  The word strength is interchangeable in many ways. You will need muscular strength to wrestle out your opponent; you need pelvic strength for injury prevention and running ability, and “core” or lumbo-pelvic strength to help you keep your feet during contact.

Pelvic Strength and Stability:

Being strong through your pelvic area is one of the most important elements in a running based game. Having a high degree of pelvic stability discounts muscle imbalances and the biomechanics of your running technique will be sound and quality.

However unfortunately injuries occur in football as a result of ‘pelvic instability’, and the most common occurrence is what is known as Osteitis Pubis. In short, this is described as groin pain resulting from poor pelvic stability, placing greater strength through the pubic symphisis. In relation to footballers, over time you will build up a muscular imbalance from kicking as all the stress predominantly goes through one leg. 

Below are 2 exercises to try to help build up that pelvic stability. (You'll love our high budget production techniques!)


 Working Gluteus Maximus and Hamstrings. Try doing 2x20 repetitions daily.

Side Hip Abduction

Working Gluteus Medius, essential for pelvic level and strength. Try 2x20 daily

Transversus Abdomnis Activation:

Working your deepest “core” muscle, responsible for spinal and pelvic stability. 

Shoulder Stability

Shoulder injuries are very prevalent in football, mostly due to the open nature of the sport, but also a lack of shoulder stability. In a lot of strength programs, the rotator cuff (a group of 5 muscles that are responsible for shoulder rotation) are not set properly, therefore are deemed ‘unstable’. This therefore places stress on the position of the humeral head and leaves the athlete vulnerable to anterior dislocations of the Acromio-Clavicular joint.

You will also need to strengthen the deltoid of the shoulders, as this will provide stability to the joint capsule, a membrane sac that outlines the joint.

This can be completed through:

Dumbbell Side-raises

·       Complete 2x15reps, by taking your arms out to the side

Shoulder Scaption

·       Complete 2x15reps, by completing shoulder flexion in a 45degree plane, as this is the scapular’s most natural movement. Quickest way to build shoulder strength.

Example exercise to help strengthen the rotator cuff:

·       Theraband internal and external rotation

·       Progressing to internal and external rotation with the shoulder in 90 degrees of abduction

·       Push-Ups: This will activate a muscle called Serratus Anterior, which help to maintain proper scapular position and rotator cuff control.

Knee Stability

The most common knee injuries in football occurs at the site of the ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) and Medial Meniscus. The mechanism is a common movement , stop and twist. This is often when changing direction or looking to give off a handball.

Other common knee injuries seen in footy is when the player lands from a mark with a straight leg, hyperextending the knee joint. This therefore sprains your PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament), and is often a result of weak hamstrings and overactive quadriceps.

Here are some great exercises to help strengthen the legs up. At PACE, we like to keep exercises very functional and add in multi-dimensional aspects to the exercise.

Lunge and Woodchop

·       Working glutes and surrounding knee musculature, also adding in a woodchop for oblique and shoulder control.


Stretching & Flexibility

Stretching is almost seen at the most important physical conditioning quality in football, as it can have several benefits and improvements to the individual.

Some benefits of stretching include:

·       Reducing injury by optimizing muscle length

·       Enhancing performance by increasing stride length

·       Accelerates recovery


Dynamic Stretching pre-game is proven to be the best. This is because it is specific to the movements of the game, and static stretching is considered to decrease muscular power.

Example stretches include:

·       Hamstring swings

·       Adductor swings

·       Shoulder swings

Releasing your key hip flexor Psoas is extremely important in running and especially injury and pain prevention. If this muscle becomes tight, it will anteriorly tilt your pelvis and cause low-back pain due to increased lumbar lordosis.

Below is how to effectively stretch your Psoas muscle:

Other key muscles and structures to stretch is you ITB (Illiotibial Band). This band of fasica runs on the lateral surface of your thigh, from the hip to your lateral aspect of the knee. When tight, this can cause knee pain, due altered patella position. It can also alter the mechanics of your hips, as it will abduct your thigh when tight.

To effectively release this, roll up and down for 1 minute per side on a foam roller of tennis ball at home.

In terms of specificity to AFL, you should be stretching your chest muscles regularly. Not only will his help with your posture, but it will also help you to take overhead marks easier. Think this for a minute; will a person with rounded and shrugged shoulders be able to take a fully extended overhead mark? Certainly not. When your shoulders are rounded, so it your humeral head therefore movement will be limited above your head.

To effectively stretch your chest, step into a doorway and hold your arm against the doorway up at 90 degrees, gently push forward. You will feel a stretch in the chest and anterior shoulder.


Recovery for Football



These days in football recovery plays a vital role in performance and training; it’s almost all about how you recover.

When you see footballers standing in the cold water of the beach, mid-winter wearing a warm hoodie, surely you must think they are mad? Does standing in cold water really make a difference in recovery?

There is a lot of varying research and suggestions to say it doesn’t, but however there is some method to this madness!

Hydrotherapy is the most commonly used method by AFL clubs. This included ice baths, contrast baths, hot spa and the beach.

Ice and beach immersion is the most painful. Standing in 10 degree water for 20 minutes isn’t pleasant; however the literature suggests it has its benefits.

So here it is. After intense exercise, such as a footy match, there are tiny micro-tears in your muscle fibres, which is directly linked to DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness). As a result, inflammation occurs, therefore the cold water vasoconstricts the blood vessels to help reduce the swelling.

Contrast spas are equally topical; however has its physiological backing. By jumping in between a hot and cold immersion bath, for 1 minute at a time, you help to rid your body tissue of by-products such as lactic-acid. This type of hydrotherapy helps to stimulate blood flow

Hot spas are a recovery method mostly used throughout the week. The main purpose of a hot spa is to relieve aches and tightness associated with training. However you do need to choose when to immerse yourself in a hot spa. For example, in the acute stages of a cork (contusion) you would absolutely avoid a hot spa, as it will promote blood flow to the area and therefore cause more bruising.

The final note about hydrotherapy for recovery is that the water acts against gravity, therefore the buoyancy takes the load off your joints and assists in the weight bearing aspect. This is effective when you have sustained a joint injury, or the inflammation is too painful to weight bear.

The indications towards hydrotherapy mostly point towards positive, after all something is better than nothing! I’m sure your body will feel better for it.