Rugby Union: Forward Conditioning

Strength and conditioning in a gym is one thing and field based training is another. Today I will focus on field based training regimes that will help the anaerobic capacity for forwards. But first let’s get a little more insight in what it takes to play Rugby Union.

Rugby union is a funny old game and quite the nightmare for a newly qualified strength and conditioner. It is an intermittent high-intensity sport, in which activities that call for maximal strength and power that are spread out with periods of lower intensity aerobic activity and rest.

It’s been well documented that amateur players perform poorly in rugby-specific fitness tests and this may be due predominantly to poor training habits. Too many amateur clubs are behind in modern day sport science.

What’s really helped coaches and trainers recently is the use of global positioning systems (GPS) that can objectively show us quality data in work rates that rugby players perform in rugby games. It can also help fine tune position specific strength and conditioning for players. It can show us how prop forwards move compared to the number 8’s for example. Obviously no game is the same but over time with the amount of studies carried out we are getting a clearer picture now.

One study shows how a team spent 37% walking/resting, 27% jogging, 10% cruising, 14% striding, 5% H.I.I.T and 6% sprinting during an elite competitive rugby game. In addition it revealed that on average players were working at 88% of their heart rate max. 88% of HRmax is pretty nasty to maintain!

The same study showed that backs take part in a greater amount of higher intensity work when compared with forwards, although the forwards were found to cover a greater average distance per sprint burst activity (15.3 m back, 17.3 m forward). Unfortunately the GPS does not consider static and tackling work so the forwards would seem to be working even harder than what the studies suggest! This is essential as isometric (static) muscle contractions is the quickest way to gain fatigue and it’s very difficult to recover from repetitive bouts of it as well.

One team may appear larger in physical size to the other but if their muscles are not used to specific game situations (the scrum for example) they will stick out like a sore thumb and be beaten every time by a smaller team that are isometrically stronger than them. 60% of forward energy expenditure is from isometric muscle contractions. So it is vital!

Anyway here are some methods that can really boost a team of forwards anaerobic work capacity:

  • General Fuel Mix Drills
  • Pyramid Intervals
  • Speed play (fartlek)
  • Tabata
  • Wrestling Drills
  • Pad Resistant Drills

Be sure to make these as fun as you can, use the rugby ball, bring in game scenarios and bring in an element of competition. The take home message would be this:

You cannot demonstrate skill if you are physically unfit to do so. The majority of injuries occur in the latter stages of a game when fatigue sets in.

You can learn all these methods and qualify in our L3 PT course in an area near you.