I trained like an AFLW player for a week, and OH LORDY

In the lead up to the 2022 AFL Womens league commencing, Melbourne-based writer Marnie Vinall wanted to put body to the test. Could she follow the gruelling training routine of one of the game’s star players? She certainly tried…  

I have always marvelled at the strength of AFL Womens players; their toughness, agility and prowess on the field. And although I’m self-aware enough to know I’ll never quite reach professional athlete status, I thought it might be a fun experiment to attempt to train like an AFLW player for a week.

So, I contacted St Kilda AFLW star Kate McCarthy who kindly agreed to run me through her regular pre-season training schedule so I could attempt to follow it. This in hindsight was a touch ambitious, but I gave it a good solid crack.

Ok – here we go!


To start off the week, McCarthy does main training at St Kilda. “Nick Dal Santo [coach] will take us for an hour of very basic but necessary fundament skills work,” she says, which is important because “you can never be too good at the fundamentals.”

So, for this, I roped my mate into going down to our local footy field to handball and kick to each other for around an hour or so. Pleasantly, a stranger in the park asked if we were players because we looked so profesh, so that really pumped up my tyres. But no, the amount of sweat I had after an hour would suggest otherwise.


OK, today was a big one. We’re talking pre-training activation, including single-leg glute bridges, crab walks, foam rolling and trigger ball, hitting between 8-10km in running and an hour in the gym with a heavy lower body focus, meaning lots of RDLs, Nordic’s, split squats. This all up is around three hours, which was a lot more than my usual 30 minute night class.

So, off to the gym I went! I was already feeling sore after the pre-run activation and only made it 5km on the treadmill (five shy of McCarthy). Then, I did some RDLs, lunges and squats before taking my shaky legs home.

At home, I made myself a smoothie via McCarthy’s guidance who stresses to me the importance of recovery, including a refuelling protein shake. “Easiest way to get the nutrients in,” she says.

She then follows this up with a 15 minute ice bath and heads home “to get as much sleep as possible before work the next day”. She says that “sleep is the best form of recovery and should be the priority for anyone increasing their training load.”

I opted out of the ice bath and had a cold shower instead. Still was quite a shock to the system. And then slept like a baby.


Uppers! McCarthy does one-two extra upper body sessions per week. “With the amount of running we do, it can be difficult to maintain muscle mass, so these sessions are very helpful for me to maintain any muscle I’ve been able to build in the offseason,” she tells me.

With the main focus here being on chest, back and isolated bicep, tricep, shoulder exercises, I took my body back to the gym for some upper body exercises such as curls, extensions and raises.

I downloaded some chest, back, bicep and shoulder body pump tracks from YouTube and then got to work on my upper body. About an hour in total.


Ok, today I woke up with a very sore body. My lower half was killing from two days earlier and my chest was feeling stiff and sore.

Luckily, today would be a lighter session McCarthy tells me, with a focus on fundamentals and education. This included hitting 5-6km and then heading to the gym for a focus on moving load nice and quickly. “Main movements in this session are trap bar deadlifts, bench press, sled drag (nice and heavy),” she says, which made me feel pretty nervous, to be honest.

Back to the gym I went. I ran another 5km on the treadmill, which at this point was a struggle. I couldn’t muster the rest as I was really feeling sore and fatigued at this point and had two more days to go. Sorry, Kate.


Fridays was uppers session numero two.

And this was tough, I’m not going to lie. I only did about 30 minutes and called it quits because I didn’t want to push my already incredibly sore body too hard. There was still Saturday to go, after all.


Three and half hours of main training! ARGH.

This involved hitting between 9-11km and match simulation and full ground drills. So, I headed back down to the footy field with a friend in tow. I definitely didn’t hit anywhere near the around 10km mark but I did get the heart rate going and the sweat was well and truly pouring. We stayed down there for around two hours (with breaks, ngl).

Then, for post-training recovery, McCarthy either slips into an ice bath or a pool for a swim. I choose the latter and headed to my local pool so some laps, which felt good and refreshing while also getting more cardio in.


R&R, baby.

AFLW-level fitness requires so much more than just sweat

I knew going in the training would be a lot but I wasn’t truly prepared for just how much of a demanding fitness regime it would be. We’re talking around 13 hours per week (whereas I’m used to around four) plus recovery. It’s also worth noting here that this huge workload of training is on top of McCarthy’s full-time job (plus coaching for U19 and media work, which thinking about makes me want to take a nap).

Although it was hard, it felt good. I had truly never slept better in my life, falling almost straight to sleep each night. And despite my shaky limbs and achy torso by the end of it, I was feeling stronger and fitter. Plus, I won’t lie, I wouldn’t mind some AFLW abs, too.

As for McCarthy, she says her gruelling training regime “can be a very delicate balance with work, training and even trying to have some social fun at times.

“I have learnt the hard way at times, how important this balance is,” she says, including for her mental health and making sure she says no to some things to get some time for herself.

“Whilst my schedule sounds fairly busy and hectic, I am someone who thrives on being busy and organised,” she notes. “It’s all about knowing how much you can manage. Sometimes you only truly discover this by “failing” or overcommitting but if we don’t fail, we don’t know our limits!”

The 2022 AFLW season began on January 7, 2022.

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