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FEATURE – How England recover between Test matches

25 March 2013

  • RFUtv goes behind the scenes with England fitness and medical staff
  • How do England players recover from Test match to Test match

Immense physical exertion goes into Test match rugby. Quite apart from the difficult-to-quantify impact the body suffers from huge collisions, pushing in the scrum and jumping in the line out, a typical back row might run seven kilometres, hit 40 breakdowns, make 18 tackles and carry the ball into contact 14 times.

So what happens in the seven days between Test matches to ensure the players are able to train to their full potential and, most pertinently, be ready to do it all over again the following weekend? RFUtv went behind the scenes with the England medical and fitness team – and gathered explanations from England Rugby Nutrition Partner Maximuscle and Hydration Partner Lucozade – to find out.

Medical check-ins – 24 hours post-match

Phil Pask, RFU Physiotherapist

“All the players have appointments to come in and we’ll do a screen. The screen is just to make sure they don’t have any bumps from the game but also to look at stuff that is ongoing, injuries that have been assessed at their clubs. We collect that data and then can filter that back to the clubs to keep continuity of treatment.

“The screen can tell us if the player is over-trained or under-cooked and we can modify their training week according to what we see. These days the players are usually in a pretty good state 24 hours after a game, unless they‘ve picked up a new knock. We’ve got a pretty structured week, which means by the end of that week they’re conditioned and ready to play.

Hydration explained

Tess Morris, Lucozade Sport Scientist

England centre Brad Barritt rehydrates after the RBS 6 Nations victory over Ireland in Dublin

Photo: Getty Images

“The players will have lost a significant amount of electrolytes or salts in their sweat loss and those electrolytes play an important role in the body. Within the circulatory system you’ve got points which measure the amount of salt diluted in the bloodstream, which essentially acts as your hydration guide.

“They need to top up the fluid and the electrolytes so the body will understand that it needs to keep or reabsorb the fluid you are adding, if not it will get rid of it. As soon as possible, players should aim to have their blood volume peaked.”

Prehab – 48 hours post-match

Phil Pask, RFU Physiotherapist

“There are two functions to prehab; it’s a preventative measure going into a game but also if a player has had a history of injuries it’s a way we can try and prevent that injury happening again. The whole idea of a training week is to prepare them to play at the weekend so we don’t want to be doing stuff that will affect their game-playing ability at the end of the week – we get it in nice and early.

England physiotherapist Phil Pask works on a prehab session with centre Manu Tuilagi

Photo: Getty Images

“For example, Manu is back in full training now but as part of his preventative work, having returned from an ankle injury, we need to keep on top of ankle strength, stability, what we call proprioception, the ability to control the joint and the load.”

Gym, whole-body strength – 48 hours post-match

Dave Silvester, RFU Fitness Coach

“We plan the session so it is the players’ big lift of the week, we want them to do a strength workout. We’ll get them to do a whole body workout and most will do that, depending on whether they have any knocks or injuries. They’ll do a push and a pull and then we’ll put some ancillary exercises in there that will assist with shoulder work and any area they feel they need to work on, in conjunction with what the physios are saying.

“This is the best time for them to do heavy lifting – between 48 and 72 hours after a game – some may need a bit longer but we can work the sessions around them. By and large, 48 hours after a match, they’re ready to go and will do their first rugby training session this afternoon.”

England flanker Tom Wood squats during a Test week gym session

Photo: Getty Images

Nutrition explained

Gareth Nicholas, Maximuscle Product and Education Specialist

“Like in any sport, for rugby players the key is getting the nutrition right. Supplements can aid and help that but it’s about getting the fundamentals right in terms of diet. Muscles are a protein and when you’ve worked them hard, you’ve broken them down, which is what happens when you exercise.

“The aim is adaptation, trying to improve strength, so to help repair and grow, protein is important. To help drive the engine, carbohydrate is also key. Protein is to grow, carbohydrate is to go and that is definitely important for a rugby player.”

Double rugby – 72 hours post-match

Paul Stridgeon, RFU National Fitness Coach

“It’s important the players are back fit and firing today as this our double day of training, we’ve got all 33 players here and lose ten back to their clubs tonight so this is when we get most of our rugby done as there is an opposition for units, scrum and line out.

RFU National Fitness Coach Paul Stridgeon chats to centre Billy Twelvetrees

Photo: Getty Images

“Because of the demands on them today we’ll have the boys on a bit more of a carb-orientated diet because they’ll get through a lot more work. They’ll have more carbohydrates at lunch because after the morning session they need to refuel and go with intensity in the afternoon.”

Hydration explained

Tess Morris, Lucozade Sports Scientist

“During a training session the players will lose about 1.5-2.5 litres of sweat per hour, which is a significant amount so they’ve got to replace that as soon as possible. Their physiology is affected by that loss of fluid; blood volume is significantly reduced and therefore thicker, which means the heart has to work harder to get the muscles the oxygen and nutrients they need to recover.

“On a double session day, the players want their circulatory system to be working as efficiently as possible and rehydration is important in that process.”

Gym, whole-body power – 48 hours pre-match

Dave Silvester, RFU Fitness Coach

London Wasps No.8 Billy Vunipola on a power session in the England gym

Photo: Getty Images

“The players have had their strength workout in the early part of the week to maintain their strength and fire up the muscles and get the neuro-muscular pathways going. Now as we come into the second phase of the week we want to work in a power session – they’ll move not such heavy weights but they’ll want to move them as fast as they possibly can. Some players will be doing sprints for example, which is their way of developing and producing power as they prepare for the game.

“The players had a day off yesterday and the physios will check them again to see where they are. Then after meetings to get them fully focused on the Test, they come to us for a warm-up specific to them. We start the weights session with a few warm-up sets, but then we’re going for full-on power – we want speed and velocity.

“The rugby session after this will be light, tweaking things and making sure the guys have run through what they need to do. But then it will be feet up and get ready for the match.”

Captain’s Run rugby session – 24 hours pre-match

Paul Stridgeon, RFU National Fitness Coach

England warm-up at a captain's run at Twickenham Stadium

Photo: Getty Images

“This is the last bit of physical activity before a game so it’s a pretty low-key. First a short five-minute warm-up, then about 12 minutes' teamwork to go through plays and final rehearsal stuff so the lads are switched on for tomorrow. Then the boys split and the forwards do a bit of line out work and the backs a bit of kicking. It’s done in 30 or 40 minutes.

“Physiologically, we’ve got the players as far as we can so it’s about tapering down to the game. The training volume and intensity drops off and we want the lads to feel good before tomorrow. They’ll rest up today and have a big focus on hydration in the next 24 hours, eat well and fuel up for the game.”