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Developing Stamina For Rugby

Paul Sackey runs with the ball during an England training session

Photo: Getty Images

There are numerous methods to train the aerobic system, most of which involve the whole body. These can range from conventional running to activities such as rowing, swimming and cycling. Any activity that elevates the heart rate to between 60 and 80% of its maximum level for 20-40 minutes builds aerobic endurance.

This type of training is useful for general health and wellbeing, and may be used during the teenage years to develop the heart and lungs (sometimes referred to as a player’s engine). However, it is not specific to rugby and can work against developing rugby-specific aspects such as strength, power and critically, speed. The use of interval training is much more relevant to the intermittent nature of a rugby match.

Interval Training

The best way to train rugby players is via interval training. Intervals consist of a series of runs or activities over a specified distance or time with a set recovery period between them. The training programme will consist of high-intensity activities that raise the heart rate to 80% or more of its capacity.

The session becomes more effective if active recovery – in the form of walking or jogging – is undertaken between repetitions. Interval training will produce the benefits associated with other types of aerobic work and also lead to improvements in the player’s anaerobic system.

When looking at which methods of training to use in rugby, it is important to consider the demands of the game. Although the body needs a well developed aerobic system to help with recovery, it also has to be able to cope with phases of highly intense anaerobic work – e.g. chasing back after a line break and then defending, repeatedly tackling then regaining one’s feet, or mauling then running to the next breakdown and repeating.

To improve physical performance in all these activities, aerobic fitness is important, but once this is at an acceptable level, improving a player’s anaerobic threshold is far more important.

Types Of Intervals

An anaerobic threshold can be improved through quite short, very intensive intervals and longer, slightly less intensive intervals. These are best considered at three levels:

1.  Very short (less than 30 seconds), very high-intensity work with rest periods of less than 30 seconds. This training will produce heart rates at between 95 and 100% of maximum and primarily address the anaerobic systems, though evidence suggests that intervals of this length will also provide an aerobic stimulus.

2.  Work periods of two to four minutes and rest periods of between 30 seconds and two minutes, with a heart rate of approximately 90% of maximum, will work both the anaerobic and aerobic pathways.

3.  Longer, intensive endurance methods can also be used, particularly earlier in the training year or with young players. Workouts take eight to 15 minutes, and these are also conducted in blocks or intervals. Here, intensity is at 85% to 90% of maximum and recovery time is up to five minutes. The number of repetitions is four to five, and the frequency is once or twice a week.

Combined training

Stephen Myler runs with the ball during an England training session

Photo: Getty Images

For rugby, most training to improve fitness should be carried out using running activities. These should be as specific to the game as possible, i.e. they should involve the movement patterns and energy systems relevant to the game. This is even more important for the community player who may only train for 90 minutes twice a week.

It thus makes sense to combine skills, game-specific agility, decision-making and endurance training where possible. This can be done by a combination of skills drills, intense game-related conditioning activities and games if their intensity is correctly planned and monitored using the information in the Fitness section of this website.

Small-sided games often do not provide the anaerobic intensity that is experienced in a full game. Therefore, to mimic the demands of rugby effectively, some short, high-intensity activities – such as tackle-bag drills, wrestling and getting up and down from the floor – need to be included.

A combination of skill-based conditioning games, traditional conditioning activities and strength training will offer players variety, provide an appropriate training stimulus to the energy systems specific to rugby, and improve their game skills under pressure and fatigue.

The following sessions have been developed for use by any players aged 16+ to improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness. They are ideal for pre-season training or when a player is unable to attend club training during the season, or to supplement game-specific work. Interval training download one (PDF 11kB), interval training download two (PDF 17kB).


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