The inaugural AFL women’s competition kicked off last month. We joined team members from Carlton FC and IFBB Bikini Pro Cara Saunders for a training session.
Aussies love their AFL, so it was only a matter of time before an inaugural women’s league was introduced. Only eight clubs were granted licenses to compete in 2017 – four Victorian teams (Carlton, Collingwood, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs) and four interstate teams (Adelaide, Brisbane Lions, Fremantle and Greater Western Sydney) – but there are plans to further expand the competition in 2018.
The season began on February 3 and will include six home-and-away rounds, with the top four then playing two semi-finals and a Grand Final. All games will be broadcast on Channel 7 and Fox Sports, bringing this ground-breaking new competition to AFL fans all over the country.
Carlton FC marquee players Darcy Vescio and Brianna Davey are two of the comp’s most promising new players. 22-year-old full forward Vescio, who also plays for the Darebin Falcons, started playing footy when she was five, and has represented the Victorian state team on two occasions.
Twenty-one-year-old defender/midfielder Davey began her professional sporting career playing soccer, even making the Matildas national squad as goalkeeper. After winning the 2016 W-League championship with Melbourne City, Davey decided to switch codes, making her one of only a handful of female footballers that have played another sport at the highest level. She currently plays for the St Kilda Sharks, and has represented the Western Bulldogs for the past two years.
Both women believe that AFL is an ideal sport for women, and want to encourage other girls and women to consider playing AFL, at any level.
“A lot of girls grew up watching AFL and loving the game,” Davey says. “Well, it’s even more fun to play. No matter what age you are you should have a go.”
Vescio agrees, pointing out that the versatile nature of the sport perfectly suits the versatility of female athletes.
“AFL is unique in that sense,” she says. “Regardless of your body type you can have a role on the field”.
Working it out
Muscle & Fitness joined the two players and IFBB Bikini Pro Cara Saunders at a workout session at Carlton Football Club to see what it takes to make it in the AFL
“Our strength training involves a bit of everything,” explains Vescio. “Your body gets thrown around a lot and you have to be really strong to beat your opponent, so you need an all-over body workout.”
As well as training in the gym, the team also has three on-field sessions per week.
“At the moment it’s been really hard work, but it’s enjoyable and rewarding,” Davey says. “We all feel really fit and ready to go.
“We need to be versatile players so we can play in different positions. Our gym programs have really been levelled out – not just working on one thing according to one position. We’re strengthening all parts of the body, as we could be playing anywhere on the field on game day.”
Saunders was impressed by the women’s athletic abilities, and enjoyed the opportunity to learn new ways to train.
“Their weight training is very functional, based on their sport,” she says. “They need strong cores, powerful legs and to work on explosive power.
“The fitness of elite AFL players is phenomenal. They need to be able to run at high speeds in short bursts for up to two hours while having enough of a body mass behind them to enable them to take full-on body contact. And the range of movement required for AFL? It’s very physical. I think it’s a great leap forward for women that the AFL has taken the step to put on a professional women’s team.”
Being an IFBB Bikini Pro is certainly nothing to sniff at. While their training goals may vary greatly, Saunders’ training program is just as demanding as an AFL player’s.
“I start each day with fasted cardio,” says Saunders, who also works full-time as an accountant and studies at university. “My weight training is in the evening followed by another 20 minutes on the stepper.
“Weights are currently two body parts a day, twice a week with one rest day. So my split is glutes/hamstrings, back/biceps and shoulders/triceps. Each muscle group consists of three to four exercises with 12-15 reps.”
Fuelling the fire
The Carlton players also have to carefully look after their nutrition, and have a team dietitian on hand to offer advice and support.
“The main nutrition advice provided to our female athletes is to adequately fuel their bodies with the correct nutrition, in order to meet the demands of training and to support performance,” says Carlton FC dietitian Sarah Jenner. “I use the analogy of: ‘A car doesn’t go far without any fuel.
“Carbohydrate is an important nutrient and a key fuel source for exercise. Carbohydrate requirements are dependent on the fuel needs of the athlete’s training, but most athletes require a source at main meals and snacks (especially in recovery, post games). I advise our players to choose high-quality, low GI sources of carbohydrate including sweet potato, brown rice and high fibre pasta.”
Of course, it’s also essential that the players provide their bodies with adequate protein, in order to promote muscle growth and to support recovery post-games. The team are currently using Optimum Nutrition Hydro Whey post-weights and Optimum Nutrition P35 ready-to-drink shakes post-games.
“One thing we’ve learned from our dietitian is how important it is to keep your fluids up,” Davey says. “Of course, a lot of us know this, but until you start doing it properly you don’t realise how much of an effect dehydration can have.”
Vescio, Davey and Saunders have all managed to achieve amazing things in their chosen sport, while also having to hold down jobs and study while following strict training and nutrition programs. It’s not everyone who could maintain such discipline, but the three are fantastic role models for future female athletes of all kinds, everywhere.
The inaugural AFL women’s competition is a positive step forward in women’s professional sport, and as the competition grows and develops, we can look forward to witnessing the same astonishing on-field athleticism that we already see in men’s AFL.
For full fixture details and broadcast details, head to afl.com.au/womens/matches. Follow Darcy Vescio @DarcyVee, Brianna @briannadavey_ and Cara @carasaunderss.