Rugby league is one of the toughest sports in the whole world to both play and train for. Not only does the physical contact aspect of the sport make it tough, but also training demands are very high. It is quite a unique sport with regards to training as every player on the team need to have certain levels of fitness, they all need:
- CV Fitness
- Explosive Power (upper and lower body)
- Strength (upper and lower body)
- Muscular Endurance
- Skills / Technique
Regardless of the position you play, every single player needs to have a decent level of fitness in all these areas in order to be competitive. If you’re following a strict rugby training regime containing all these aspects of training, it is important for you to consume at least 3000-3500 calories per day, this will promote growth of lean muscle tissue and also stop your body from using muscles as a source of energy.
Obviously it is important to have a certain level of general CV fitness to be able to play rugby, the basics such as warming up, retreating 10m in defence, and keeping up with play all require a player to be physically fit. To improve levels of fitness techniques such as Fartlek training and Interval training should be used in order to keep the training specific to rugby league. These methods of training demand high effort levels as the anaerobic threshold of your body is pushed to its limit, and over time that limit will raise and increased fitness levels have been obtained. The Cardio-Vascular and Cardio-Respiratory systems are responsible for keeping the level of oxygen in the lungs and muscles at a certain level so that lactic acid doesn’t become an issue and cramps are kept at bay. The fitter a player is, the more efficient the heart and lungs become, therefore allowing the body to do more minutes on the pitch for example.
Stamina is a huge part of rugby league and also links in with CV/CR fitness. Stamina is the ability to keep exercising for lengthy periods of time, without the onset of fatigue and reduce performance levels. Again, becoming fitter allows the body to become more efficient and peak performance can be maintained for longer periods.
An interception, a ‘big hit’, a leap into the air to catch a ball, all these are examples as to why explosive power is so important in rugby league. The impact at which tackles are made are ferocious and having more explosive power than your opponent often means he is the one lying on his back seeing stars, not you. Plyometric exercises increase power and strength, and also promote muscle fibre recruitment in both fast twitch and slow twitch muscles to allow your muscles to grow. Plyometrics are hard, but are the most effective form of exercises to keep the training specific to rugby. People who participate in plyometric exercises often complain that they are tired very quickly; this is due to your ‘ATP-PC (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate Phosphocreatine) energy system’ being used and emptied very soon after commencing exercise. This in turn promotes the ‘Glycolytic energy system’ (Lactic acid) to be used. The lactic acid system usually makes people feel like they’re muscles are ‘burning’; this burn is GOOD! As it promotes the secretion of the natural ‘Human Growth Hormone’ which allows for up a 20% increase in muscle fibre recruitment.
Again strength is a huge aspect of rugby league training. The game is tough, and you have to be able to cope with the demands of the game. If you’re a forward, you’re going to be toughing it out with other forwards so it is important to have a physical advantage over them, if you’re a back, you’re more than like going to be tackling forwards who could have a weight advantage of anything between a stone and 10 stone! Being able to tackle is all about technique, but brute force always helps!
Muscular endurance is all about maintaining peak performance for lengthy periods of time. The final 10 minutes or so put huge demands on rugby players as fatigue starts to set in, and energy stores are low. Improved muscular endurance delays the onset of muscle fatigue, delays the onset of cramps and also allows the energy systems to replenish energy stores more efficiently.
SAQ (Speed, Agility, Quickness)
For obvious reasons, speed agility and quickness are important parts of rugby. Whether you need to run 100m to score a full length try or there is a gap in your defensive line and you need to fill it quickly, SAQ is vital within this game. Even something as simple as being tackled, a nice piece of footwork in front of your opponent can create doubt and therefore give you that split second advantage which is oh so important.
Although not commonly seen in rugby, flexibility does have a huge part to play both in performance levels and reducing risk of injury. Performance could be improved with good flexibility as the muscles are elongated; there are fewer restrictions in relation to range of movement. For example, increase muscle length on the bicep femoris (hamstring) leads to increased range of movement at the hip, which in turn could lead to increased stride length and in theory increased speed. There are also currently several scientific studies that prove increased muscle length also leads to increased muscle power output. On the reduced risk of injury side, arms, legs, abs, back, neck are all places that can be injured in tackles due to lack of flexibility especially joint and muscle injuries. Increased levels of flexibility also allow the body to have a better muscle balance and a better posture which will reduce chronic injuries such as lower back pain later in life.
Skills / Technique
These are obviously an integral part of a rugby training programme. The basics such as passing catching and tackling are all core skills, but good habits need to be instilled into players to avoid complacency, along with more advanced skills to give you an edge over your opponents / competitors. Rugby league skills / technique sessions are also available as part of a sports conditioning session at the PT Studio, Wigan.
Written By Andy Wright.