As a first blog post, I want to write about the kind of training you can do to improve yourself as a rugby player.
First a quick caveat: I am not a fitness professional. These are my thoughts from many years in the sport of rugby and in other sports. Tyler and Mike, and anyone else with an opinion, feel free to weigh in!
To begin with, to my mind, rugby is primarily an endurance sport. Power and speed are also extremely important, but you need to be able to apply these attributes over an 80 minute period during which players will actually run 5 to 6 miles. You may be able to run through a brick wall in the first 5 minutes, but can you maintain that pace and power through to half time, or right into the final 5 minutes of the game?
In planning your training, there is definitely a place for muscle hypertrophy, and improving muscular endurance. If you are trying to build lean muscle mass, the best time to do that is in the off season. The recovery time required from heavy lifting, and the difference in type of effort
between heavy weights and the effort required to play rugby means that the 2 different training types are difficult to accommodate. If you want to make weight training a regular part of your fitness program, look for explosive movements that will have a direct effect on muscular endurance, flexibility, explosiveness, etc. In other words, all the muscular attributes you need in a game. In a game, nobody will ask you to stop and lift your body weight 2 or 3 times and then rest 2 or 3 minutes before you do it again. Explosive movements that get your heart rate
pumping and require full body, 3 dimensional effort are more applicable. More about resistance training in a later post.
With that in mind, the single biggest improving factor you can make to your game, in the shortest period of time, is to improve your aerobic fitness. Particularly when we are working on explosive movements and functional strength at organized training sessions, it would help to complement that training with a good aerobic base so that you can feel fresher longer in a match, move around the pitch more easily and be where you need to be in the crucial moments when you can make an impact on the game. Improving your endurance will give you the biggest fitness bang for your training hours bucks.
How best to achieve this? The answer to increasing endurance might seem obvious, but you want to optimize your training so that the type of endurance you develop is most applicable to the sport of rugby. During a rugby match you are not sprinting for 80 minutes. Nor are you running at the same pace the way you might if you were running a 10 k, or a half marathon. The effort in rugby tends to be short and intense, followed by a short rest period, before you are sprinting again, tackling, rucking or wrestling for the ball. You need to be able to put in a maximum-type, aggressive effort, rest for a short period of time, and then do it again.
To be able to do that, with consistent intensity, you need a base of endurance. Without a good base of endurance, as the game proceeds, the tiredness you feel is greater, and the intensity of your effort reduces both in terms of physicality and in terms of aggression. When you have greater endurance, you are able to make it to more active game situations: more breakdowns; get yourself into support position; be in a position to make a cover tackle, and be aggressive.
The best type of training in sport, generally involves specificity, i.e. the training you do is specific to the type of athletic effort you train for. However, you need to graduate your effort according to your fitness level. Also, you need to condition yourself to the type of training you are going to do before raising the intensity levels into progressive overload. In simple terms, don’t go running 10 miles if you are not used to running. Don’t start with long run intervals with short rests if you are not used to running (outside of rugby). If you can follow a graduated program, you will see steady progress and minimize the risk of injury.
Is running the only option? No, not all, just the most obvious and the most accessible. Start out with whatever you can do relatively comfortably. 3 miles or so, twice a week is enough to see some benefit in your aerobic endurance. Once you get comfortable running 3 miles, you can start to think about introducing some intervals – more about that in a future post. Other great options for increasing endurance for rugby are: concept II rowing (indoor rowing machine); Jacob’s ladder (ladder treadmill available in most YMCAs); versaclimber. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is something you enjoy and find challenging, so that you want to come back for more. Do it regularly, and see the
results in terms of improved health, fitness and sleep patterns roll in. Increase your intensity gradually.
For more advice on developing your fitness for ruby, talk to Tyler, Mike or Coach Ross.