- National Fitness Coach Paul Stridgeon explains SA altitude preparations
- Simulated altitude machines and spinning get England ready for Highveld
England are now on the elevated eastern plateau of Johannesburg in South Africa to prepare for three games at altitude, starting with the match against the SA Barbarians South in Kimberley on Wednesday.
In a rare glimpse into England's training methods, RFU.com went into the gym with a video camera to find out from National Fitness Coach Paul Stridgeon exactly how England are preparing for the challenge.
The Highveld hat-trick starts at the 1230m above sea-level GWK Stadium, is followed by the second Test against the Springboks at Johannesburg’s Coca Cola Park (1753m) on Saturday, June 16 and finishes against the SA Barbarians North at the Profert Olen Park in Potchefstroom (1350m) on Tuesday, June 19.
Playing rugby in the decreased oxygen levels of these heights, according to former Springboks captain John Smit, leads to burning lungs yearning for air, with aching limbs full of lactic acid presumably following.
Photo: RFU Archive
But England have gone some way to preparing their respiratory systems, as, surrounded by simulated altitude machines at 7am in the morning, Stridgeon explained.
“We’ve got the machines which restrict the amount of to the oxygen available to the player with a mask on,” he said. “The level is set to eight, which is around 3000m and that is higher than we’re going to play the games.
“We’re trying to get the boys to know how is feels at altitude, that feeling of breathlessness. We’ve had them out of the seat grinding and doing interval training on the bikes.”
The sessions the players were filmed doing involved five sets of 30 seconds sprint and 30 seconds easy, followed by four sets of 10 seconds hard grind, 50 seconds sprint and 45 seconds easy.
Photo: Getty Images
And, part of a continued effort towards to team unity – and mutual suffering – all squad members complete the same sessions, whether a wing or front row forward. Stridgeon, who has worked in rugby for 10 years, was happy to explain the detailed work of the conditioning staff but said there will be no excuses when it comes to altitude in South Africa.
“We want to keep the team ethic so we’ve kept the training the same, it’s been 10 or 12-minute sessions,” added the 31-year-old.
“It will tougher for the guys [to play at altitude] but we’re not making a big deal about that. They’re fit and we’re just going to get on with it.
“We’re giving them exposure to it by doing this early in the mornings and we’re going to take four of the altitude machines to Durban when we’re at sea-level to get more work done there.
“We’ve done early mornings so the boys are up, on autopilot, come in and work hard. They’ve been enjoying it.”