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Salem's lot: How the Demons rebuilt their running defender

The Demons have put plenty of effort into lifting Christian Salem's fitness - ${keywords}
The Demons have put plenty of effort into lifting Christian Salem's fitness
You learn a lot in rehab and coming back from that I've treated my body much better
Christian Salem

MELBOURNE has used the pre-season to rebuild promising youngster Christian Salem, better preparing him for a transformation into a full-time small defender in 2016.

Salem has been a "project" for the Demons' strength and conditioning staff, working with him on speed, strength and mobility training to ensure the hamstring troubles that hampered his 2015 season were a thing of the past. 

"What we've done with Christian is to ensure he's done enough speed work in the lead-up to the season," Melbourne high performance manager Dave Misson told AFL.com.au. 

To start last season, the Demons saw the need for a good ball user to construct play from the back half and they viewed Salem, pick No.9 in the 2013 NAB AFL Draft, as the right man to fill that role. 

The plan hit a roadblock when Salem pinged his right hamstring while chasing Hawthorn's Cyril Rioli in round seven last season. He then injured his 'good' left hamstring at training in June, meaning he spent 12 weeks in total on the sidelines. 

Salem returned to play the final three games of 2015 in the seniors but Misson and his fitness staff identified the 20-year-old had to make some changes heading into his third year at AFL level.

"When he did get injured against Hawthorn last year he had more, what we call 'fast-speed metres' in the first quarter of the match, than he'd had in his previous four games in total," Misson said.

"We've realised in some games that he's going to be exposed to some small forwards who are going to run him around and he needs to be prepared for that."

Like many of his teammates, Salem has added gymnastics into his strength program to improve his general mobility and has worked glute and hip activation exercises into his pre-game preparation. 

"You learn a lot in rehab and coming back from that I've treated my body much better," Salem said. 

Melbourne's fitness staff also monitor their players' eccentric hamstring strength with a machine known as the Nordbord, which has become a key measure in Salem's strength program.

The players strap their feet into the machine's ankle hooks and gently lower themselves towards the ground, in similar fashion to the Nordic hamstring curl Giant Dylan Shiel completed in a now famous video

"We use the Nordbord with all of our players, once a week as part of our leg weights program," Misson explains.

 

"It lets us monitor on a weekly basis whether the players are improving their overall eccentric hamstring strength (the lengthening of the muscle under tension) and whether there's differences between their left and right hamstrings that we need to be worried about."

Aside from the physical training he has completed over the summer, Salem has also worked closely with defensive coach Jade Rawlings and teammate Neville Jetta on his positioning and defending one-on-one.

"I'm down there to defend – that's my main role. I've done a lot of work with Jade over the last two years, especially now that I'm playing on dangerous forwards and midfielders," Salem said.

"I've got a good relationship with Nev. He's the best lock-down defender at the club so I've learnt a lot from him as well and there's been a few tricks that he's shown me."

Melbourne is gunning for back-to-back wins to start the season for the first time since 2005 in Saturday's clash with a depleted Essendon at the MCG.