The worrying rise in Wallabies hamstring injuries
Australia's James O'Connor is tackled by Wales' Toby Faletau. AP Photo/Rob Griffith
One of the things that strikes me is the number of leg injuries among Australian players (including many Wallabies), particularly a spate of acute hamstring injuries (Turner, Elsom, Horne, O’Connor, Mitchell, Palu etc.).
My hunch is the rate of injuries has increased in recent years and is high relative to other countries/competitions. I have a strong suspicion that many of these injuries are related to the leg weight training that our players are doing in the gym.
What is very interesting is that some players that suffer other non-hamstring related injuries and are obviously doing a lot of gym work to either compensate for lack of running training, boredom, or build strength subsequently suffer significant hamstring injuries on return to the field.
James O’Connor and Drew Mitchell being recent cases in point. Wycliffe Palu is another who has been plagued with hamstring injuries after spending a lot of gym time post shoulder injuries.
I am not a professional in the health sciences or human movement field and have absolutely no expertise in this area. However I do believe that this issue really needs looking into.
Australians have been obsessed with building body strength/bulk and leg drive but as even lay scientists can deduct, ligaments and tendons and bones do not develop in the same way as muscles – they remain as strong or weak as they are naturally formed.
It is also the case that muscle bulk, while ostensibly improving power, does inevitably restrict movement and logically place more tension on ligaments and tendons and bones and related connective tissue.
There is a lot of evidence that we have a bit of a ‘gym’ culture happening around our Super Rugby franchises in the professional era – players with lots of time on their hands, iPods thumping out the music and comparing how many kgs they’re pressing, lifting, repping.
The best team in the world currently are the All Blacks – my understanding is that they have some differences (albeit subtle) in their conditioning and strength building programs, with a better balance of running training and do not focus as obsessively on bulk/strength at the expensive of mobility, agility and endurance.
Leg drive on contact has as much to do with timing, body position and technique as it does with freakish looking thigh muscles. The Doberman has to catch the Greyhound before it can have it for breakfast.
What proportion of our leg injuries are partially or wholly self-inflicted through training and conditioning regimes? Greg Growden named a perfectly respectable Wallabies team from injured players on Friday morning in the SMH – how many of these relate in some way to good intentioned but flawed rehab and strength training regimes?
Perhaps Robbie Deans should take note – this could be the real coach killer perhaps? I am sure the people in charge of this stuff in the professional era are all ‘qualified’ and basing their programs on conventional wisdom – but then science is always developing and changing (ask the fish in the Tasman!?)
Perhaps this is something worth looking into?
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