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Want to Be the Best? Be Fit!

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Rugby is often a battle of fitness (especially in 7s). What good is it if you can tackle well but can’t ever catch the opposition because you are too winded from the previous ruck? Oftentimes, I see some amazing athletes on the field who are wonderful for the first 20-30 minutes, but by the end of the 1st or 2nd half, they have nothing left in the tank.

Summer is a perfect time to get outside and increase your fitness! Here are some suggestions on how to increase your fitness:

1. Long, slow distance training

Long, slow distance training, also known as LSD, builds your basic fitness and aerobic base. Despite rugby being an anaerobic, start-stop sport, you’ll experience less fatigue and recover more quickly between bouts of high-intensity activity if you have a decent level of aerobic fitness.

For this workout, head out for a run, cycle, swim, or row and, maintaining an easy pace, keep going for 20-30 minutes. Your heart rate should be around 60% of your age-adjusted maximum, which equates to about level 5/6 on an RPE scale of 1-10. You should feel comfortable and able to maintain a conversation but be slightly out of breath. Build up to around 40 minutes, but resist the temptation to do more than this. Exercising for longer will not improve your fitness that much more.

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2. 30-30 intervals

Rugby is a sport where, despite a typical game lasting 80 minutes, you are only really active for bursts of 20-30 seconds at a time, usually alternated with similar-length rests. Replicate this by doing 30-30 intervals.

After a warm-up, run, row, or cycle hard for 30 seconds, and then slow down and recover for 30 seconds, e.g., sprint and walk. Repeat 20 times for a total of 20 minutes. As you become more accustomed to this workout, add more intervals. Work your way up to as many as 40 intervals to simulate a full half of rugby. This workout emphasizes the lactate energy system.

3. Reverse Tabatas

This workout emphasizes the ATP-CP energy system. By taking the traditional Tabata training system and turning it on its head, you work your type 2b fast twitch anaerobic muscle fibers and will boost your ability to sprint to the max, recover quickly, and then do it all over again. Using a rower, exercise bike, or sprinting outdoors, go as hard as you can for 10 seconds and then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat 6-10 times. Don’t worry if you don’t get especially winded during this workout; that’s not what it’s about.

So, how can you tell if you are fit?

A good way to test your fitness and consequent improvement is to run the Bronco test (explained to me by my friend and Lindenwood University Men’s Coach Josh Macy): This is a shuttle test: Run shuttles of 20m, 40, and 60m, and repeat the set five times. Rest for 2 min and repeat. Two things: How fast can you do one set and keep your second set equal to or less than your first time? According to Macy, anything less than 5 min is phenomenal for a rugby player. Try it out yourself and see where you score! Here’s a video of Nike Rugby Camp coaches running the Bronco Test.

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