Semi-Professional athletes are athletes who are not full-time athletes and the majority participating in either part-time or full-time work.
Often or not, rugby league athletes who are looking to become a full-time athlete are either completing a trade or have finished their trade and are labourers. Labourers are responsible for doing manual work which require a high level of physical fitness and strength. These may include brick laying, building walls, plumbing, and digging. Therefore, load management and prescription are paramount for semi-professional athletes as they participate in daily physical activity for their work.
The following parameters can be used to measure internal and external load, particularly if you believe an athlete is experiencing fatigue.
1 – External load – External load can either be measured as the total volume of training, weight lifted, metres ran or hours that the athlete has completed. This can be separated into acute and chronic load. Acute can be seen as a daily load or weekly load while chronic can be seen as a weekly or monthly load. Coaches and athletes can record and analyse weekly or total load for each session.
2 – Internal load – Internal load can be measured as rate of perceived exertion (RPE), heart rate, heart rate variability, hormonal changes or blood lactate concentration. An example of an increased internal load can be that the coach prescribes an RPE of 5 for the sessions but the athlete states they are feeling an 8. This shows the athlete maybe experiencing fatigue or over training.
3 – Sleep – Sleep is a crucial element in monitoring load. When we sleep, the brain triggers a release in hormones that helps us repair and grow muscles. As we participate in physical activity, we need to rest and sleep to help us recover. Otherwise, if we experience minimal sleep we may not be recovering optimally. Therefore, the national sleep foundation recommends between 8 to 11 hours of sleep per night.
4 – Smart devices – Smart devices are becoming the norm, particularly in the fitness world with the rise of smart phones, watches and phone applications. If possible, coaches and athletes can use these devices to track and monitor energy expenditure, heart rate, heart rate variability and even total sleep time.
5 - Recovery Stress Questionnaire – A stress questionnaire can be developed that athletes can use. However, it should cover work, sports and personal related stress and load management. Athletes can either complete these prior to a session or at the end or start of the week. This can show the coach or athlete the external and internal load the athlete is currently experiencing.
Additionally, prescribing suitable exercises and programs will also be important to semi-professional athletes. For example, a semi-professional athlete maybe be digging trenches all day for their job, therefore prescribing heavy deadlifts and power cleans may not be suitable for that athlete. Coaches and strength and conditioning professionals need to be aware of the athlete’s current physical activity levels. Professionals may need to prescribe either Pilates or mobility drills to assist or enhance any shoulder, hip, knee or back related issues.
Furthermore, to assist the athlete’s performance, professionals will need to view the athlete’s total work week load before prescribing bigger compound exercises or power exercises. If the purpose is to increase lower body power then the professional needs to find an optimal time or day for the athlete.
There is no doubt that Semi-Professional athletes are the hardest workers. Particularly if their goal is to become a full-time athlete. However, without proper load management or exercise prescription, the athlete can succumb to fatigue or even injure themselves.
Therefore, proper load management and prescription is essential to ensure the athlete can reach their goal and become a full-time athlete.