Preparing for the new rugby season – cardiovascular training – a case study.

Last week I had a visit from a client who is looking to get fit for the upcoming rugby season, starting in September. Steve is in his late forties and readily admits that he is 4 or 5 stones overweight. He’s not looking to play the full version of the game but just to form part of a local touch rugby squad and to just to get himself into better shape cardiovascularly.

Steve currently cycles to and from work in town every week day, clocking up about 6 miles per day this way. He also is on his feet quite a lot of the time at work, although it’s not arduous labour.He has also been attending my regular weekly boot camp in his village. So, truthfully, he is already probably more active than most of the UK population. However, he doesn’t like running, understandably because of the extra weight.

As I pointed out (and he is well aware), you cannot play touch rugby without running so it will be essential to start doing some at some point. However, we do need to consider the impact of too much running too soon on his overloaded legs. Steve is therefore going to start by fitting a 30 minute brisk walk into his lunch break each day. He will also join my Monday evening walking group when possible. He will gradually try to turn some of the brisk walking into a jog, progressively jogging more and walking less as the weeks go by. He also has the option of adding in other gentle aerobic exercise that’s not weight bearing, such as swimming (although he has a slight shoulder issue), more cycling, rowing etc. The aim of all this is to establish a better aerobic base.

Around the beginning of August he will introduce more running but still keeping going most of his gentler aerobic work for recovery. So now he will start doing interval training on grass, first once, then twice a week. Rugby involves a lot of walking and jogging and back tracking, interspersed with bursts of speed that can last for just a few seconds up to no more than 15-30 seconds maximum, so this is what we need to focus on – there’s not much point doing 400 metre repetitions therefore for this purpose. Speed off the mark with jog or walk recoveries is what we need for touch rugby.

Having warmed up, Steve will start with 10-15 second bursts of sprinting, interspersed with gentle jog or brisk walk recoveries of around 90 seconds. I suggest that, due to the unfamiliar nature of this activity, he do no more than about 6-8 of these the first time, building up to maybe about 16 repetitions, then start reducing the recovery time down to eventually 30 seconds.

If he’s training on his own, Steve could introduce a second session per week of ‘fartlek’ training, after a couple more weeks. This involves interspersing short and longer sprints, mixed up with jogging and walking on a ‘go as you please’ basis – so for example jog a few hundred metres, then sprint 50 metres, then walk 100 metres, then sprint 100 metres, then run steady for 400 metres etc. This will more accurately mimic the actual activity involved in rugby than fixed intervals, so is a useful add on.

If he were doing cardio training with me as a personal trainer, I would get him performing more drills specifically related to rugby in this second session. So we would be playing games of chasing and tag, evasion drills, running in triangles instead of straight lines, running backwards, side stepping, agility drills, focusing on being light on his feet, moving swiftly from side to side, zig zagging through cones etc, speed off the mark, reaction drills, changing direction rapidly etc.

Steve specifically asked for my advice on cardio for rugby and he is fairly strong and will continue with boot camp and the occasional rugby training sessions with his club. If he can stick with the cardio sessions outlined above I’m confident he will be able to compete in touch rugby this September, although it is a short period to build up for this and we would always prefer longer to allow for better adaptation to training.

However, as he well knows, the extra weight he is carrying will limit his ability to move quickly. Even a couple of kilos extra can make a massive difference to speed. Training can improve things up to a point but ultimately, if he really wants to be in peak condition, he needs to look seriously at a nutrition plan where he gradually substitutes healthier, tasty, nutrient dense real foods for some of the comfort food that he has grown to rely on. Like he says, he knows that it has to come down to him and his motivation ultimately, we can only guide him in the right direction.

I’ve heard from Steve today to say that he is implementing the first phase of his programme, using lunch times for a brisk walk, instead of slumped over his computer, so he’s on the right track. Will keep you posted as to his progress over the coming weeks. I wish him luck.

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