Study finds higher training load increases injury risk for NRL player

Friday, 19 August 2011

Dr Tim Gabbett from Australian Catholic University’s School of Exercise Science has completed a study showing the harder rugby league players train, the more injuries they will sustain.

The study is the first to investigate the relationship between training load and injury in professional rugby league players over several competitive seasons.

Dr Gabbett, based at the University’s Brisbane Campus, said the study creates some interesting challenges for coaches.
“We know that high training loads are important for performance - training hard develops physically and mentally resilient athletes,” he said. “However, the results of this study also show that training excessively or inappropriately can lead to injury.”

The results showed that training load was related to overall injury, non-contact field injury, and contact field injury rates. However, Dr Gabbett said it was important to keep the study in context.

“Despite the reported relationship between training load and injury, there is also evidence to suggest that poor fitness and low training loads contribute to injury risk in rugby league.

“Reducing injuries is a multi-faceted issue. It requires excellent communication between those that are structuring training - the sport scientists and coaches.”

Dr Gabbett said that while rugby league involves bouts of high-intensity running, the game includes physical demands that are unique from many other team sports. The large number of collisions and tackles performed during a match contribute to playing intensity and player fatigue.

“Because of the contact demands of rugby league, the relationship between training load and injury is especially complicated.  Players need to be exposed to collisions during training so they are prepared for the most demanding passages of play expected during competition.

“I’d suggest monitoring training loads and recovery status, and carefully scheduling field and gymnasium sessions to minimise the effect of training-related injuries on professional rugby league players.  However, ensuring players reach minimum fitness standards is also likely to reduce the risk of injury, while also improving playing performance.”

Dr Gabbett found that muscular strains were the most common non-contact field injury, and the thigh, calf and groin were the most frequently injured areas of the body.