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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Rugby Conditioning - Aerobic or Anaerobic?

Conditioning is many players’ least favourite part of training for rugby. There are many different ways to do it but each method can always be classed as either aerobic or anaerobic, so what should you do? Today Rugbydump Academy coach TJ answers this and explains why it might not be what you think.

For many players pre-season is the most dreaded time on the rugby calendar. You know full-well that you will suffer, and not much time will be spent with the ball. You know this because you've done it before.

Conditioning training can be very taxing both mentally and physically. This is why it is incredibly valuable to you as a player to get your conditioning training done right - you want to make sure you're making the best possible use of your time spent suffering.

If you have some concept of training physiology, you know that there are 2 types of “fitness” or “cardio” - aerobic and anaerobic.

If you know more, (maybe you’ve watched the conditioning 101 Webinar on Rugbydump Academy), you’ll know that these two types can be split further, into 3 energy systems that the body uses at any one time.

  • Alactic  (Anaerobic, incredibly powerful, but runs out quickly)
  • Lactate (Anaerobic, high intensity, but only lasts a couple minutes at most)
  • Oxidative (Aerobic, anything lower and longer than the above two)

Now, here’s a question for you. Which do you think get’s used the most in rugby?

Most people would say either of the two anaerobic systems, and they’d be wrong.

It makes sense to think with the apparent non-stop nature of rugby and the different demands that you need for it that everything in rugby is high-intensity. The reality is that it isn’t.

TABLE 1. Comparison of basic movement variables for forwards and backs and for the five positional groups during professional rugby union match play

TABLE 2. Comparison of proportion of time spent in the four speed zones for forwards and backs for the five positional groups during professional rugby union match play

Above are two tables from our latest webinar on Rugbydump Academy. You can see how little of rugby is actually spent at high intensity.

This means two things are very important when training fitness for rugby.

  • You make sure that you can perform the high-intensity work at your very best.
  • You make sure that the rest of the time you’re recovering well and as comfortable as possible.

We’ll look into further detail about point 1 next week. But for now, we’ll look at point 2, which is all about training the aerobic system.

Basically it’s as simple as this, you need to be training the aerobic system if you want be a successful rugby player. I’ll give you three reasons why real quick.

1. Keep Performing

If you have a good aerobic base, you’ll be able to keep performing at your best. I remember playing against this huge Tongan some years back who clearly had no aerobic base at all. He was an amazing runner, but after each run he needed a 15 minute break to recover - that isn’t even an exaggeration. If this guy had a better aerobic system, he’d be able to recover in a few minutes and be a much better player.

On the other side of the coin you have Billy Vunipola. You could argue that this guy isn’t conditioned very well, and whilst he doesn’t strike me as the guy that’s going to be the best all-round athlete, his aerobic base allows him perform his job almost perfectly - he carries/hits hard, then he recovers quickly enough to do it again. His carries in the last few minutes are as effective as his carries in the first, this is the sign of a good aerobic system at its best.

2. Results For All

The harsh reality about much of sport is genetics. But, suck it up, no excuses, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard right? Well for aerobic training this is almost certainly the case.

If you train the anaerobic system, about 80% of your results are dictated by your genes. This can be pretty frustrating when you put in some excruciatingly hard work and get such little reward from it.

The results of your aerobic training, however, is much more down to the work that you put in, with less than 30% of your ability coming from genetics. This means that you’re definitely going to get the most bang for your buck.

3. Don't Keep Beating Yourself Up

Another harsh reality about brutal anaerobic conditioning training is that it is incredibly taxing on the body. If you're constantly in a state of fatigue you will really struggle to make progress, that is if you are luck enough to stay injury the whole time and motivated to keep grinding out such tough sessions.

Conditioning is only one cog in the training of a rugby player, you have skills, strength, speed and a bunch of other considerations too.

There was once the thought that low-intensity aerobic work can slow you down, and impact your strength and power work. This is far from the truth.

If you're doing quality aerobic training, you have a good chance of staying fresh and constantly progressing, not just aerobically but in your other training areas too. Note that this aerobic work should by no means be easy! But the nature of it makes it easier to recover from if you have other focuses.

Wrap Up

The purpose of this article was to make you guys aware of the benefits of aerobic conditioning. Now to be honest I am about as far away from a "cardio bunny" as you can get. If I had it my way, all of my training would be weights and power work, but the reality is that if you want to be a good rugby player, you need to do things that you dislike.

This doesn't mean just aerobic training either, it's a mix of both. It's just that aerobic work tends to get overlooked by coaches and players. This is a gap in your training that most players will be able to reap the most reward from, so make sure you're doing it!

About TJ Jankowski

TJ Jankowski is a former international rugby player for Poland rugby, who achieved their highest world ranking of 23 whilst he was part of the team.
Never the most talented player, he attributes the majority of his success to the hard work he put in at the gym, kitchen and training paddock. 

TJ has worked with international rugby players from 4 different continents and we are thrilled to announce that he can help you as part of the Rugbydump Academy.

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