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  • Writer's pictureJo Clubb

Expert Speaker Series: Darren Burgess on Load Monitoring as an Injury Prevention Tool

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

As part of the Performance and Injury: Prevention and Management module led by Dr David Opar on ACU’s Masters in High Performance Sport, we have been spoilt to hear from a number of world class speakers. Over the next few blog posts I will be sharing a summary on the following presentations plus a few of my own thoughts:

  1. Darren Burgess: Load Monitoring as an Injury Prevention Tool

  2. Anthony Shield: Hamstring Strain Injuries

  3. Ben Serpell: ACL Injury in High Performance Sport

  4. Kristian Thorborg: Prevention of Groin Injuries in Sport

Darren Burgess: Load Monitoring as an Injury Prevention Tool


Dr Darren Burgess is currently Head of Performance at Port Adelaide FC and formerly with Liverpool FC and the Australian Soccer team.  Below are some of the key points from his discussion on the uses and challenges of monitoring load in team sports.

Evidence Based Practice vs Common Sense

Darren emphasised the importance of knowing all the various considerations for your specific programme in the applied High Performance environment.  While it is important to try to use evidence based practice, at times there is no evidence base for your situations, for example how you train a team playing three games in a week including a mid-week away match in the Europa League.  Another example was the environmental considerations for their prevention/activation strategies.  For instance, while you may build a perfect prehab plan based on evidence you need to consider challenges within your environment, such as fatigue, player boredom over an entire season and even the artificial grass in the activation area freezing over during the winter!

Valid & Reliable Screening Tools

Darren went through a number of screening tools that he has/is still using that included FMS, Optojump, physio screens (groin squeeze, knee to wall, hamstring test) and subjective wellbeing.  However, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of each of these tests.  For each test they employed, the department put together an information sheet that included the methods, reliability, references and the alert system.  You may even try to improve the suitability of the test for the High Performance environment, as they did with a modified FMS – whilst this reduces the validity of the test compared to the research, the reliability was tested in house.

The analysis and outcomes of the screening should also be relative to each individual and therefore it is important in the environment to calculate each player’s average and smallest worthwhile change.  Similarly the programmes based on these screening tools should be individualised – according to history, culture and preference.  Once again, common sense and individual considerations may outweigh the evidence base, which I think is a crucial point for us to remember.

Monitoring as a Cross Checking Mechanism

One of the take home messages in my opinion was employing monitoring tools to use as a cross checking mechanism of your training programme and how the players are responding to it.  For instance, the isometric mid-thigh pull is one they currently use to assess the response to Ian McKeown’s strength programme.  Similarly Darren shared some of their work analysing 14/21/28 day moving averages for training load, based on Tim Gabbett’s training stress balance research, which can also act as a cross checking mechanism of the load you are placing on each individual.  Also that training itself can act as a fitness test everyday if you are consistently collecting internal and external load on individuals.  This is something I am a firm believer in – we must make the most of the tools we use every day to assess load, fitness and fatigue.  Sometimes it is not the answer to add another test, technology or variable; can we scrutinise the data we are already collecting to find our answer.

Using a Model/Plan

Another key point was the need to have a plan or approach, and Darren presented a couple of different examples such as Ian McKeown’s strength model and a popular on pitch football coaching periodization (including some of my own work!).  He felt it was important to have guidelines to work within, in terms of volume, intensity and recovery.  I believe whilst it is important to have a plan you absolutely must be flexible with it because as we know in the High Performance environment things change or do not always go to plan.  Just as Darren said things get in the way of carrying out a true strength periodization programme in team sports for example but it is still important to apply in some way for injury prevention.

Do Not Overcomplicate Things

Despite finishing his discussion by showing some of the complex fitness/fatigue modelling and neural networking work they are carrying out at PAFC, a key message I think throughout the talk was to not overcomplicate certain things.  For instance, he presented a session report he used to use for coaches and players which only consisted of 3 variables.  Also with recovery which is often over complicated, Darren believed 85-90% of it is taken care of by sleep and nutrition.  This reinforces the need to get the basic right first in High Performance before you go chasing the ‘marginal gains’.


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