Monday / 14 / January

How do elite Athletes train? With Tiernan Stewart

TIERNAN STEWART WORKS WITH SOME OF QLD BEST FEMALE ATHLETES. WE CHATTED TO TIERNAN ABOUT WHAT A STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING COACH DOES AND HOW THEY PREPARE THE ATHLETES FOR THE SEASON. TIERNAN SHARED AN INSIGHT INTO HOW TO TRAIN LIKE AN ELITE ATHLETE.

What does a strength and conditioning coach do?

A S&C Coach is someone who you will find in an elite environment. They are usually someone who is degree trained in either Human Movements or Exercise Science. They will also usually hold Australian Strength and Conditioning Accreditation (ASCA).

My role within a team is to look after the Strength, Injury Prevention, Rehab and also any type of conditioning, depending on what that athlete needs. For me , it is a split shift day. We come in early in the morning and then come back in the afternoon. Unfortunately, womens sport aren’t full time athletes yet, but with a mens team the S&C coach will be at the facilities all day planning, writing individual sessions for each player, which takes up a fair bit of time.

Because we see the athletes so much we are also life coaches, especially in pre-season. We see them at least 5 to 8 times during the week.

The theme for Exercise Right Week 2018 is Motivation to Move. If you were someone who has been on an exercise hiatus for a while, what would you recommend to do to get back into exercise?

Start slowly, a high training load can be a good thing, but it needs to be prescribed well because you are at risk of getting injured. Just starting, going for a walk with friends. Exercise has been proven to release all of these good endorphins and make us feel good about ourselves. It should be something we enjoy and actually want to do. Whether that is in a group or one on one with an Exercise Scientist or a S&C Coach.

You are really passionate about injury prevention and especially, ACL Prevention, tell us more about that.

In netball a stat came out a year ago, that every team does one ACL a year, which is massive. It is a season ender for the player, and sometimes the team, if it is one of the stars of the team. It is our biggest fear as S&C Coaches. I believe it can be avoided and there is an element of luck. There are programs out now that have been quite successful like the FIFA11 program and the Netball Australia Knee Program. It actually has show quite good success rates of decreasing the injury rate. In the Lions and Firebirds programs we actually do the programs quite frequently and we try and get exposure to the specific performance stability exercises. Sometimes, you can’t avoid it, but there are programs that we are implementing that has shown we can decrease the chance of an ACL injury.

How do elite athletes train at different phases e.g. pre season versus in competition?

Ask any athlete and they will probably dread pre season. We do make it quite strenuous and hard, because they have to be prepared not only physically, but mentally. Sometimes, they turn up scared because they don’t know what they are about to do. It is about getting them ready in pre season for the demands in season, they are under going massive loads, so we need to build up their tolerance. With AFLW the season is only 8 weeks long so the preseason is about the same time. With the netball, we had a really long pre season this year, we got to tick off a lot of boxes. In the Firebirds environment we train three to four gym sessions, plus the four court sessions. In season, we back off the load in the gym, and let the coaches do their thing because at the end of the day they need to be able to play netball. So, it is quite a high training load for someone who isn’t an elite athlete yet.

It is inspiring to see the girls get up early train as hard as they do, have a shower and then go to work and then come back in the afternoon refreshed and ready to go. If you ask any of them they do it because they love it, that’s why they find it so easy to do.

What is your advice to coaches in motivating athletes and working out what they need?

You need to have a real honest chat to the person you are working with. By setting goals it does pave the way. Without setting goals it does make it hard and you do get lost in the process. It keeps both yourself and the athlete accountable to what you want to achieve. For example, during rehab having goals makes it a lot easier because it gives the athlete a feeling of accomplishment. For me personally, I have a long road to go in the S&C environment. One of my goals is to learn something new everyday, whether that be reading, listening to podcasts or speaking to my mentors. You just need to keep learning and don’t be afraid to ask someone else’s opinion.

Do you work with the Head Coaches to determine what kind of programming that athlete needs?

Our relationship with the head coach is extremely important. We talk almost on a daily basis, we discuss how we are going to program forward both on an individual basis and a team plan. For preseason, we will plan on strength as the priority over skill. At the end of the day, skill is king, we try and build them and make them resilient and the coach is making sure the player improves.

How important is recovery for exercise?

Recovery is extremely important in the adaptation phase. They need to be able to rest and adapt to the high load and prepare for the next session. If we don’t have the adaptation phase we put the athlete at risk of injury, over-training and mental exhaustion. The body needs to rest, science has proven that. There are so many recovery forms and each athlete has their own. For me, the best things for recovery are sleep and good nutrition. You can do all of the fancy stuff like ice baths and normatechs, but if you aren’t sleeping and eating well your body won’t perform. We do encourage naps throughout the day, which do tend to turn in to hour long naps.

What is your advice to young athletes who want to start strength training?

Train with someone who is qualified. Someone who has potentially worked with youth and junior development. To find a S&C Coach, you can find an Allied Health Practices and performance centres around Brisbane. It is always good to find an S&C Coach in that sport and who understand the demands of that sport. There is no right age to start, there are movements and functional movements that can get you stronger.

If you were booking a session with an S&C coach, would it be one off session or would it be weekly?

If you wanted to make a real difference, one of session isn’t going to get you better. Frequency is what gets you better at things. The more frequent the better, once a week touch in with S&C Coaches. I see athletes once a week and then they do 2-3 sessions on their own. There are also group options as well.

We chatted to Emma Zielke a few weeks ago about their talent scouting and Emma said they really value players who have been in elite athlete programs, even if they aren’t from an AFL background, what do you think are the fundamentals that athletes are learning at the top level that are universal?

In the AFLW, you have seen a lot of cross sport athletes, especially because the AFLW is new and exciting. From a physical stand point, if someone has a really good fundamental base like catching, throwing, with fitness you will see a difference. Netball is used to the short, sharp change of direction where as your AFL players have a longer distance to run. In AFL, there is a lot more contact than in netball. We look at things like are they strong in the upper body, good core stability and great single leg power. An athlete that is very robust and elite in their standards, both on and off the field, would stand out in any sport.

Feature Image via Kate McCarthy Instagram

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