Melissa Hickey comes from a long and proud family of footy players. Hickey’s great, great uncle, Pat Hickey, played in the very first round of the Victorian Football League in the late 1800s, and she’s related to Geelong legend, Reg Hickey. Being a footy-obsessed kid with a Gary Ablett jersey hung on her bedroom wall, it was only a matter of time before Hickey made plans to pull on her own AFL jersey.

Hickey is now a marquee midfielder for the Melbourne Football Club (aka the Demons) and vice captain alongside Elise O’Dea. “I love the physicality,” says Hickey. “I’ve played team sports before, but there’s something about football. You really feel a deeper connection with your team out there.”

Being a part of the inaugural NAB AFL Women’s Competition in 2017 was a career highlight for Hickey. “It exceeded everyone’s expectations,” she says. “When we won our first game in round two against Collingwood, the rush after the game was awesome. The crowd and having your team badge on, it was pretty surreal.”

AFLW requires a great deal of strength and endurance. As well as beginning each day with stretches or Pilates to get the body moving, Hickey trains with the team three nights a week. On Monday and Friday she heads to the pool for upper-body-strength exercises, then back on a Sunday for an end-of-week recovery swim. There’s also high-intensity team running sessions that last for 30 to 45 minutes. But it’s the two-kilometre pre-season running trials that Hickey describes as “eight minutes of pure pain.”

For Hickey this regime is all down to mindset. “It’s always about the ‘why’”, she says, “I know why I exercise and why I want to be the best athlete I can be, because of my goals in footy. I think you need to know why you’re doing it. Is it to feel better? To get stronger or to have more energy? When it’s cold and the alarm goes off early in the morning, if you remind yourself of that ‘why’, it helps motivate you.”

As well as playing AFLW, Hickey works at KB. Performance in Coburg, a centre that trains female athletes. Hickey mentors and coaches young women, focusing on their skills, mindset and goal setting.

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We asked Hickey to share five pro exercises you can do at home to stretch, strengthen, tone and activate your muscles.


Cat/cow
Begin down on your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Slowly bring your stomach towards your spine and round your back up to the ceiling to get into the “cat” pose. To move into the “cow”, arch your back and look straight ahead.

Cat/cow is a yoga pose that focuses on flexibility. “This is a mobility exercise for your lower back,” says Hickey. “You’re on all-fours and then you’re arching your back to switch on your core and get your back mobile.”


Superman
Hickey says superman is another core exercise and a similar position to cat/cow. Start on all-fours again. Stretch your right arm out in front of you and then extend your left leg up and out behind. Swap over so you’re extending your left arm and your right leg. Repeat this movement 10 to 15 times.

“A lot of people think of your core as your six-pack,” says Hickey. “But there’s actually another sheath underneath that holds it altogether. So this helps to strengthen it.”


Push-ups
There’s more to the classic push-up than many realise. “Most people think it just focuses on your arms, but it’s actually a full-body exercise,” says Hickey.

Start in a plank position with your hands on the ground under your shoulders. If you can’t manage a full push-up, Hickey recommends starting on your knees. Lower your body to the ground, keeping your back flat and your body straight. “Do as many of these as you can,” says Hickey. A pro tip for the ultimate push-up is to engage your glutes as you’re working through the exercise.


Double and single glute-raises
There are two versions of this exercise, which is designed to tone and strengthen your glutes. For double-leg glute-raises, lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms to your side. Lift your hips, lower and then repeat.

For a harder version, Hickey suggests trying a single-leg glute-raise. Start on your back and lift your hips but this time raise your right leg. Hold and then lower your hips to the ground but keep that leg raised. Swap to your left leg and repeat.

As Hickey explains, this activates and strengthens your glute muscles, which are key for playing footy. “A lot of players are running, jumping, changing direction in footy, so we use our glutes a lot,” she says.


Walking lunges
Walking lunges strengthen and tone the lower part of your body: your glutes, thighs and hamstrings. Start this exercise standing with your hands on your hips. Walk your right leg forward and bend it at the knee while your left leg bends behind you. Lower towards the ground as you take a step. Alternate your legs as you take each step and repeat. As Hickey explains, your back should be straight and you should be looking ahead.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with AFLW.