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Use of GPS to measure external load and estimate the incidence of muscle injuries in men’s football: A novel descriptive study

Authors

Marc Guitart, Martí Casals, David Casamichana, Jordi Cortés, Francesc Xavier Valle, Alan McCall, Francesc Cos, Gil Rodas

ABSTRACT

Measurement of external load in players provides objective information to optimise the weekly balance between training and recovery to improve performance and prevent injuries. Our aim was to evaluate the incidence of sports-related muscle injuries of the lower limb in relation to external load, measured by global positioning system (GPS), in football players. A descriptive study was carried out. Data were collected from 71 professional male football players (30 professionals and 41 youth players) from an elite football club competing in the Spanish and European League in the 2017–2018 season. As external load variables, we measured High Metabolic Load Distance (HMLD), High Speed Running (HSR), Player Load (PL), and Total Distance (TD) through GPS. Injury rate (IR) was calculated both in relation to such GPS load metrics and to load exposure time. We considered categories (youth and professional), playing positions (centre back, full back, midfielder, and forward), and training day with respect to match-day (-4MD, -3MD, -2MD, -1MD, MD, +1MD, +2MD). The GPS load metrics HMLD, HSR, PL, and TD showed very similar patterns across categories and positions, but varied according to training session or MD. The highest loads were observed on MD and three days prior to the match (-3MD). Similarly, the overall IR, both calculated per load exposure time and per GPS load metrics, was highest on MD and -3MD. Again, no differences were observed between youth and professional players. Midfielders demonstrated the highest IR in all metrics, followed by the forwards. In conclusion, this study suggests that external load and incidence of muscle injuries are directly proportional. Therefore, the measurement of more external load variables other than load exposure time, such as the GPS metrics HMLD, HSR, PL, and TD may help to describe the pattern and magnitude of injuries. Future studies based on ours may help to further improve the understanding of the incidence of muscle injuries on the basis of external loads measurements in different football teams.

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