Running Technique in Australian Rules Football

Cyril Rioli is a dynamic and explosive Australian Rules Football player, but his club physiotherapists and fitness staff have resolved to alter Rioli’s running technique in a bid to stem his chronic hamstring injury woes. Running Technique has begun to emerge as an area of interest for Australian Rules Football clubs as they seek to minimize time spent on the sidelines by their star players as they chase premiership glory.  Maximizing the running potential of player lists in a game that features a heady mixture of sprinting and endurance running that resembles a fartlek training session gone awry is also a primary concern.

In the last few weeks it has emerged that Cyril Rioli has been attempting to modify his running technique.  The modifications include reducing over-striding and running in a more upright posture. In his own words “not lengthening my legs out too far” and “standing taller using my arms more.”

It may give some comfort to regular runners out there trying to improve their running form that Rioli, a professional athlete with numerous fitness trainers and physiotherapists on hand to help out, has been finding the going tough, “it’s been doing my head in,” he told Fairfax media’s Emma Quayle.

From my perspective it sounds like Rioli is on the right track, the upright posture will tend to engage his glutes (buttocks) more and help prevent over-striding and the fact that he is using his arms more will hearten arm-swing running technique advocates. He has also indicated that he feels faster using the modified running form, which is consistent with the upright posture and better gluteal muscle activation.

I’m hoping the fitness team has been prescribing plenty of squats and back extension work to complement the retraining process and help bed-down the changes in muscle activation patterns.  A few years ago St Kilda Saints Coach Ross Lyon bemoaned the lack of meat and potatoes strength work in his team’s strength and conditioning program.  He was referring to the missing element of squats, which he saw as being a key factor in his teams poor run with soft tissue injuries to the hamstrings.

However, a change in running technique in the middle of the season is a fairly risky endeavor and generally something that would be better addressed in the off-season and pre-season training period.  This is exactly the same running technique tip I give to any runner looking to improve their form – do the hard work away from the glare and pressure of competition.  While Rioli may have the mental cues for the new technique down in his mind and be able to execute them during training, it will be interesting to see how he goes when he stretches out to lay his first tackle or makes another dynamic run towards the goal mouth.

It’s a measure of how close Hawthorn believe they are to challenging for the AFL premiership in 2011 to risk a mid-season running technique change to arguably their most valuable player.

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Image by Tristen Murray

Foot note:

Some more information from the fitness coach working with Rioli.  The focus is on reducing heel-striking, over-striding and preventing collapse through his lower back.  Learn to love squats is all I can say.



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