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The Ultimate AFL Off-Season Training Guide: Part 2 - Running & Off-leg Cardio

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

In part 2 of this Ultimate AFL Off-Season Training Guide series I will be sharing high level training principles to get the most out of your off-season conditioning.


If you have not read Part 1 on AFL kicking in the off-season you can view that here before returning to this post.


In this post you will learn:


As a former GWS Giant player, and now High Performance Coach, my goal is to make elite-level coaching accessible and affordable to all - not just the professionals.


I want to help you with your training no matter what level you play at. Continue reading to learn how to improve your fitness this off-season.


High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for the AFL Off-season


An essential form of training (on or off-legs) to prepare for an AFL season is high intensity interval training (HIIT).


There a different forms of HIIT that target specific physiological responses to create specific physical adaptations. The most important to be aware of are:

  1. Long Interval - working periods typically lasting less than 45s

  2. Short Interval - working periods typically lasting 1-4 minutes


Running


Similar to kicking, it's important to give your body a rest from running following the season.


Unless you thoroughly enjoy running, I suggest giving yourself 2-3 weeks off. Stick to off-leg cardio to avoid impact through your lower body while maintaining some cardiovascular fitness.


After giving yourself a couple weeks to physically and mentally refresh, you can start incorporating short and long HIIT sessions. When starting back up it is important to begin at a lower intensity with longer rest periods and build from there. Focus on long intervals in the early stages to build volume before running at a very high intensity. This is to avoid injury from running at high speeds.


Begin with a 1:2 work to rest ratio (ie. 1 minute run, 2 minutes recovery) and adjust the ratio to 1:1 (ie. 2 minute run, 2 minutes recovery) then 1.5-2:1 (ie. 2 minutes run, 1 minute recovery) as you advance your aerobic fitness. With these long rest periods it is tempting to run at very high speeds, but aim to run at an intensity of 5-6 out of 10 or less than 100% MAS to get good quality of running without risking injury from running at a speed your body is not prepared for. Not sure what MAS is? Keep reading to learn what it is and how it can help you.


Your rest/recovery period can be active (slow jog/adding light skills) or passive (walking or standing still).


There are many ways to manipulate running sessions such as the work to rest ratios, intensity, duration and mode of exercise. Making these manipulations allows you to develop different adaptations across the off and pre-season. While further manipulations to increase neuromuscular load can made by adding change of directions and specific-position running patterns (ie. making the running more game-like).



Off-leg Cardio Training


As mentioned, the mode of exercise can be changed to provide an alternative form of HIIT while still getting similar cardiovascular adaptations without putting load/impact through the lower body.


You can change the mode by performing HIIT on a cardio machine such as a stationary bike, ski-erg, assault bike, a rower or even through swimming and boxing.


Performing cardio exercise that does not put impact through the legs is commonly referred to as off-leg conditioning. It is a great way to get cardiovascular adaptations without putting excessive load through the lower body.


Intensity for an off-leg conditioning session can be prescribed through heart rate (if using a heart rate monitor), rating of perceived effort (RPE), or MAS.


An example of a short and long HIIT session can be seen in the video below where intensity was prescribed using RPE:


Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) for AFL


You may or may not have heard of Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) before, if not, it is more-or-less defined as the slowest speed at which an athlete reaches their V02 max.


As you saw previously, it is a measure which can be used to prescribe specific intensities for individuals or groups of athletes for a particular training session. It is a very common tool used in AFL clubs and high performance coaches on top of RPE.


To determine your Maximal Aerobic Speed, you need to undergo a test such as the one seen here:

Source: Walker., O. Science for Sport. Maximal Aerobic Speed (Aug 2017)


Completing one of these tests will give you a measure of your fitness which you can repeat at a later date to track your progress. But it can also be used to determine your MAS which you can use for prescribing intensities of future trainings.


A commonly used test in the AFL, and what I have my athletes undergo, is the 2km time trial.

An alternative test that you could undergo is a max effort 6-minute run where you record the distance you travelled in that time.


For this example I will use the 2km time trial:


Take the time it took you to complete the 2km time trial and calculate your MAS by simply converting it into metres/second.


For example:


Your 2km time = 6:45s


To get metres:

2km x 1000m

= 2000m


To get seconds:

6 minutes x 60s = 360s

plus the leftover 45s

= 405s


2000m divided by 405s

= 4.9m/s


Therefore, based on your 2km time trial your MAS is 4.9m/s


Now you can convert this figure into percentages to individualise your training to make it more efficient.


For example 70% of MAS: (4.9m/s x 0.7) = 3.4 m/s

Percentage of MAS


metres per second

70%

=

3.4m/s

80%

=

3.9m/s

90%

=

4.4m/s

100%

=

4.9m/s

110%

=

5.4m/s

120%

=

5.9m/s

130%

=

6.4m/s

An example of long interval running could be performing 800m at 90% MAS with 4 minutes active recovery x 3. This would mean that the athlete has just over 3 minutes to complete the 800m.


Calculation:

800m divided by 4.4m/s (from the table above) = 181seconds.

181s/60s = 3.03 minutes


An example of short interval running could be an effort of 15 seconds at 110% MAS with 15 seconds passive recovery x 5. This would mean the athlete needs to cover 81m in 15 seconds.


Calculation

5.4m/s x 15s = 81 metres


You can now use your MAS to progress your training over the off/pre-season. There are many ways to progress, but a periodised plan will help get you the best results without overtraining.


For further detailed information about MAS please refer to this article.


Summary


The above article can be summarised in the following points:

  • High intensity interval training is the best form of cardiovascular training that you can do to better your playing performance for Aussie Rules footy.

  • Incorporating off-leg conditioning into your off/pre-season training can help reduce stress through your body while still gaining the benefits of HIIT.

  • RPE is an simple and effective way to prescribe intensity but MAS can be used to measure your fitness and prescribe training intensities that are specific to you.


Apply these principles to your training and let me know how you go. Share this post with someone you know and if you have any questions comment them below.


Want a comprehensive Off/Pre-Season Training Program that incorporates HIIT & MAS running? Click the button below


The Kicking Consultant aka Josh Growden is a High Performance Manager & expert kicking coach, making elite-level coaching accessible and affordable to all - not just the professionals. He played for the GWS Giants when they first entered the AFL and then became a punter for American Football where he played in front of 100,000 people weekly! He holds a Masters degree in High Performance Sport from the University of Technology Sydney, and a Bachelors degree in Sports Science from Louisiana State University.



Sources:


Coutts, A. J., Hocking, J., & Bilsborough, J. 2019. Australian Football. In M. Buchheit & P. Laursen (Eds.), Science and Application of High-Intensity Interval Training. Human Kinetics. Champaign, Illinois 21; pp. 393-410













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