It's a thin line between highly trained and over-trained in the world of elite AFL footballers. PhD student Tania Gallo, aided by research supervisor Christian Lorenzen, is looking for the perfect balance to keep athletes in peak condition.
“Sport was my favourite pastime growing up. Whenever I had the opportunity, I was on the court, field or pitch – it didn’t matter which sport, as long as it was physical and there were teammates involved, I was there!
This naturally led me to complete an exercise science degree at ACU. I particularly enjoyed AFL, so I became involved with local football teams throughout my undergraduate degree, doing anything from massaging and strapping ankles to conditioning and running water.
I’ve always enjoyed the passion and team-first approach in football, so you can imagine my delight when my lecturer told me about an honours student research position with AFL club, North Melbourne. I applied for it and spent an incredible year working with the Kangaroos. The experience was amazing, not only did I learn, but the staff and players welcomed me like family from the day I arrived. Everyone was doing their bit to get the team to that ultimate place, a premiership.
This experience led me to my PhD topic. I quickly realised one of the most vital aspects of preparing athletes for elite weekly competition was the balance between load and recovery. The aim of my research is to provide a framework to identify a training imbalance by exploring measures of training load and preparedness, their relationship and their impact on performance.
For an athlete to be physically prepared for performance, a level of conditioning is required, so heavy training loads are implemented to improve fitness. Simultaneously with fitness, heavy training loads and matches also induce fatigue. Finding the balance between load and recovery is the key to successful long-term training, and to add to the challenge, each individual responds differently.
This issue is particularly relevant in AFL because of the requirement to perform each week, so being optimally prepared requires a very sensitive manipulation of training and recovery. Therefore, regularly monitoring an athlete’s fatigue-recovery cycle is a vital part of training regimes
The fatigue-recovery cycle is simply the level of fatigue in response to an exercise load and the level of recovery reached in between exercise bouts – if an athlete has not recovered from previous training loads when going into a match, the effects of fatigue remain, leading to substandard preparedness and a decreased performance potential.
I love the project, but the research is not without its challenges! The main problem I have faced so far is simply handling the data. For one reason, it is difficult to keep consistent as in a practical setting there is a range of reasons for missing data, such as player injuries or sudden changes to the schedule.
Also there is simply a massive amount of it. Collecting data daily from more than 45 players across two seasons means I end up with huge data sets that I have to find a way to investigate logically. Finally, there are so many factors, many uncontrollable, that impact on the variables under investigation, which leads to extra data analysis.
I hope that my research will help to uncover the relationships between load and preparedness, and determine how these factors impact on performance. I also hope exploring these relationships will provide a framework that other conditioning staff can use to monitor these variables and optimally balance training and recovery.”
“I was fortunate to supervise Tania during her honours year, and was very excited when she asked me to supervise her PhD. She is a great student working on an interesting project. We are constantly asking one another questions and Tania has challenged me on many occasions – hopefully I challenge her as well!
Tania’s research is very important in the context of Australian Football and sports science. Often football clubs are collecting enormous amounts of data, but there is no science behind it, they just collect whatever data they can. Tania’s work will validate or refute current practices, and hopefully allow clubs to tailor their practices to collect meaningful information to benefit the players.
I am also extremely lucky to have ACU’s Dr Tim Gabbett and Dr Stuart Cormack co-supervising Tania. They are both highly respected and experienced researchers and make my role as supervisor a lot easier. They also have many great ideas, so we are able to share a lot of information which creates a great learning environment.”