Background: Australian football (AF) is a highly intermittent sport, requiring athletes to accelerate hundreds of times with repeated bouts of high-intensity running (HIR). Players aim to be in peak physical condition for finals, with anecdotal evidence of increased speed and pressure of these games.
Purpose: However, no data exists on the running demands of finals games, and therefore the aim of this study was to compare the running demands of finals to regular season games with matched players and opponents.
Methods: Player movement was recorded by GPS at 5 Hz and expressed per period of the match (rotation), for total distance, high-intensity running (HIR, 4.17-10.00 m·s-1) and maximal accelerations (2.78-10.00 m·s-2). All data was compared for regular season and finals games and the magnitude of effects was analyzed with the effect size (ES) statistic and expressed with confidence intervals.
Results: Each of the total distance (11%; ES: 0.78 ± 0.30), high-intensity running distance (9%; ES: 0.29 ± 0.25) and number of maximal accelerations (97%; ES: 1.30 ± 0.20) increased in finals games. The largest percentage increases in maximal accelerations occurred from a commencement velocity of between 3-4 (47%; ES: 0.56 ± 0.21) and 4-5 m·s-1 (51%; ES: 0.72 ± 0.26), and with <19 s between accelerations (53%; ES: 0.63 ± 0.27).
Conclusion: Elite AF players nearly double the number of maximal accelerations in finals compared with regular season games. This large increase is superimposed on requirements to cover a greater total distance and spend more time at high velocity during finals games. Players can be effectively conditioned to cope with these increased demands, even during a long competitive season.