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Rugby Fitness Sessions You Should Be Doing and Why

BY tjjankowski  ·  Thursday Aug 18, 2016

Struggling for ideas to help improve your rugby fitness? This week academy S&C coach TJ gives you a bunch of fitness sessions that he uses with his players, and importantly discusses why you should be doing them.

Conditioning is a tool that I’ve found in rugby is often misunderstood, people just run or do sprints or even circuit training for the sake of it. This is why rugby conditioning is probably the most misunderstood part of training.

There are a number of different factors that need to be addressed if you are to implement a conditioning plan successfully, which in this case is for better rugby performance, nothing else.

Let’s look at some sessions that I use for my athletes and why. Ideally you’d have a heart rate monitor for these sessions to make sure you’re at the right intensity, but if you can’t there are alternative ways. We’ll build up the intensity of the sessions as the article goes on.

Cardiac Output Work

People will always argue about the value of low-intensity training for rugby, but it certainly has it’s place. Most of this work is about increasing the efficiency of the heart.

With a good amount of low-intensity work, over time you’ll increase the size of the heart’s left ventricle, this means it can pump more blood (and therefore more oxygen) per beat. This in-turn will result in muscles that can continue to work and recover for longer as they are being supplied with more oxygen.

Cardiac Output Continuous Training

Intensity: Heart Rate 50-70% / Hard enough that you can just about maintain conversation.

Duration: 30-90 minutes. Longer for lower intensity, shorter for higher ends.

Method: You can basically use anything for this because the only muscle that is important is the heart.

Cardiac Output Circuit Training

Intensity: Heart Rate 50-70% / Hard enough that you can just about maintain conversation.

Duration: 2-3 sets of 5-15 minutes

Method: One good way to do this training is to use rugby drills to improve skills at the same time. Failing that, light circuits also work well. I’ve used the following one quite well – 30 seconds on each exercise, continue working for given time (start at 6 minutes) – left side medicine ball pass, right side medicine ball pass, overhead medicine ball throw, TRX row, sled push.

Tempo Work

The benefits of tempo work are great, although exactly what happens isn’t as clear cut yet. It improves your ability to quickly increase and decrease heart rate and allows you to get lots of quality work in without causing too much fatigue.

Tempo Sprint Intervals

Intensity: HR 70% (never above 85%) / Should be coasting, just short of sprinting.

Duration: 15 – 25 sets 100m Every Minute On the Minute (EMOM)

Method: This one’s simple, run 1 pitch length every minute. As this is only tempo work it shouldn’t be a full-out sprint, this is a good time to practice your running technique.

Tempo “Malcolm” Intervals

Intensity: HR 70% (never above 85%) / Down-ups should be fast but should only be striding between lines

Duration: 40 seconds work, 80 seconds rest.

Method: “Malcolms” are the name for a nasty drill where you start on the halfway line on chest, get up and back pedal to 10 meter line behind you drop down to your chest, get up and sprint to far 10 meter line then down on chest, get up back pedal to the halfway line then drop down to chest again. This is one rep. Keep going for the time stated.

Tempo Bike Intervals

Intensity: Working HR 70% / You can go pretty hard on a normal bike but if you’re using an airdyne bike you should back off the intensity a bit.

Duration: 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest.

Method: Bike. Non-running intervals are an effective way of getting some temp work, either when you’re in a general off-season phase of training, or if you’re doing a great deal of on-feet work that you need to recovery effectively from.

Lactate Threshold Intervals

Obviously the goal here is increase your lactate threshold. This is done by increasing the aerobic efficiency of the muscle itself, which is why running is by far the best method to use, because you are looking to improve your running efficiency.

In my opinion the best way to do this is use your 3km speed, so run a timed 3km and then to get your speed you can either use the HR that you were at (should be around 85%), or you can use your average speed.

Intensity: 3km Pace

Duration: Week 1 – 6 mins x 2 sets, week 2 – 5 mins x 3 sets, week 3 – 4 mins x 4 sets. Rest should be half the time working (so for week 1, 3 minutes).

Method: Sprint around the pitch. Once you have completed 3 weeks, you can either increase each interval by 1 minute or you can decrease rest.

High Resistance Intervals

The goal with this type of training is to reduce the recovery efficiency of fast-twitch fibers, as well as developing the force they produce. I wrote in detail HERE about the effectiveness of using the hill to meet these training targets. But I’ll try to offer alternatives here too.

You should be struggling a fair bit lung-wise, but still have the ability to produce the effort, it is important to note that if your legs are burning you’ll need to adjust the load/distance and maybe rest longer.

Intensity: All out. As hard as you can possibly work.

Duration: 5-7 seconds work, rest as long as you need to make sure your HR doesn’t go over 90%. If you don’t have a HR monitor then simply EMOM works, if you cant keep up, rest longer. 1-4 sets of 12-25 reps.

Method: The Hill. Sled Drag with 50% bodyweight. Sled push with 100% bodyweight. Stair sprints.

Cardiac Power Work

This is probably the most intense of the session-types, if not then it’s definitely the most fatiguing. This is why I would only use these during the mid-late stages of pre-season, much of the effects of a session like this can be gained from small-sided rugby games if used effectively.

The goal here is to thicken the heart wall so it can beat with more force.

Cardiac Power Intervals

Intensity: As high as you can keep up for the set time.

Duration: 2-4 minutes work (build up). Do 4 sets with 4 minutes rest in between.

Method: The Hill. Sled Drag with 50% bodyweight. Sled push with 100% bodyweight. Stair sprints. Assault bike. Spin Bike.

Cardiac Power Circuits

Intensity: As high as you can keep up for the set time.

Duration: 30-60 seconds on each station. Work through each non-stop before resting.

Method: Choose 4 stations of the following. Burpees, sled push, down-up bag hits, tire flip, Malcolms, wrestling, barbell high-pulls.

Cardiac Power Suicides

Intensity: As high as you can keep up for the set time.

Duration: 4 minutes. Do 4 sets with 4 minutes rest in between.

Method: Start on the try line on your chest facing the pitch. Every time you hit a line drop to your chest before getting up and continuing, keep going for the duration.

Bringing it Together

As mentioned earlier, these sessions got more intense as the article went on. They also got more fatiguing, this means that you’ll be able to effectively use the ones at the top more often, with the intense cardiac power and high resistance intervals left until important times in your training plan.

It is important to understand that you must manage fatigue. But with that said, saddle up and get going.

As always if you have any questions about any of what I discussed above, COMMENT BELOW.

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. 

Priding himself on a system of coaching and creating plans for people in the real world, not robots, 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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