This article is going to focus on individual training to be carried out away from the practice field that will improve your strength, speed, power and agility associated with rugby.
As a beginner to rugby your main focus of individual training should be your core stability and base fitness. Your core stability muscles are the intrinsic muscles that are responsible for posture, mobility and joint stability, and allow you to generate power by maximising the efficiency of your muscular effort. In other words you will be able to run faster, tackle harder and move more agile.
Your base fitness is your foundation aerobic fitness on which you add more intense weight training, sprint training and interval training. As you well know rugby requires continuous changes in energy pathways where aerobic and anaerobic energy systems are interchanging all the time as well as being pushed to the limit. Having a sound base fitness enables a player to build and focus on their demanding anaerobic energy systems.
Weight training for a beginner to rugby is not necessary. Too many novice players want to imitate professional players who are big and muscular and therefore commence a heavy and vigorous weights training program and totally ignore building on their core stability and base fitness. This will only make you an unfit rugby player but also cause unnecessary injury and despair.
The intrinsic muscles that aid core stability are the muscles surrounding the spine, notably the erector spinae group, deep abdominal muscles e.g. transversus abdominus, small back muscles e.g. multifidus and the gluteals.
Swiss ball exercises provide the best core stability workouts. Yes I said Swiss ball. Believe it or not but most professional rugby clubs have Swiss ball sessions in order to maintain their high levels of core stability. Even Jonah Lomu uses a Swiss ball for his core stability training. If your gym does not have a Swiss ball then I recommend purchasing one as they are cheap and do wonders for your over all fitness.
The following eight Swiss ball exercises are designed to improve your core strength as well as coordination, balance and flexibility. They will also help stabilize your spine to prevent injury to the lower back and hips, a common problem among rugby players.
Wall-Squat - View Exercise
Stand with your back about 3 feet from the wall, feet pointed forward about shoulder-width apart. Place the ball between your lower back and the wall. Slowly lower yourself as you bend your hips and knees, allowing the ball to support your back as it rolls toward your shoulders. Don't exceed a 90-degree bend at the knees. Return to the starting position.
Airplane - View Exercise
Lie facedown with the front of your hips on the ball and toes on the floor. Relax your arms, letting your hands touch the floor. Slowly raise your chest and shoulders upward, while spreading your arms up and out to the side and tightening your buttocks. Pause and return to the starting position.
Body Tuck - View Exercise
Lie facedown with your thighs on the ball and hands on the floor, your arms perpendicular to your body. Slowly tuck your legs toward your arms by flexing the hips and knees, letting the ball roll toward your shins. Pause, reverse the motion, and return to the starting position.
Abdominal Curls - View Exercise
Sit on the ball and walk your legs forward while leaning back until the ball is under your lower back. Place your hands on your shoulders or behind your head. Curl your upper body forward in a crunch motion, then return. You can alternate left and right curls to target the side muscles (obliques). As you get stronger, challenge the obliques more by moving your feet closer together.
Hand-Off - View Exercise
Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent at about 90 degrees and the ball resting between your feet. Extend your arms above your head. Squeeze the ball between your feet as you lift it while doing an abdominal crunch, reaching for the ball with extended arms. Take the ball in your hands and lie back flat with arms and ball above your head. Pause, and then reverse the motion by grabbing the ball with your legs
Triple Move - View Exercise
Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet resting on the ball. Press your feet into the ball and lift your hips until your body is completely straight from head to foot. While balancing one foot on the top of the ball, bring the opposite knee toward your chest, then return. Bring the other knee toward your chest, then return. Finally, return to starting position on the floor.
Pushups - View Exercise
Start in the same position as the Body Tuck, with arms extended to the floor. Keeping your body straight, bend your elbows to lower your chin to the floor. Pause and return by straightening your elbows. (You can make this exercise easier by locating the ball closer to your hips, or harder by moving it toward your feet.)
Body Arch - View Exercise
Start in a deep squat with the ball against your back. Slowly reach your arms over your head as you extend your legs. Let the ball roll along your spine as you stretch back to form a comfortable arch. Hold for 1 second, and then return slowly to the starting position. Repeat.
To obtain an adequate base fitness takes time. Rugby players of all positions need to be able to maintain extensive periods of intense energy consumption with minimum recovery time. Building up a high base fitness allows players to utilize their energy pathways better and therefore sustain longer periods of play.
The best methods of improving base fitness is to jog, cycle, row and swim. During these activities the heart rate needs to be around 150-160 bpm. Any higher and your anaerobic energy pathways will be used too much. Any less and you will not be working you aerobic pathways adequately. An adequate warm up/ cool down plus stretching should be performed for every activity.
This can be performed on a treadmill with a 1% incline at around the 10km/h pace or on grass with the same pace. At first running for 10 minutes maybe tiresome for some people; but greater endurance will build up over a period time. Each session aim to run 3-5 minutes more. When you can complete a 40-minute run at a 10km/h pace gradually increase the running speed, remembering to keep your heart rate within 150-160 bpm. Many rugby players suffer back and knee pain whilst running; this can be reduced with adequate running shoes and good running posture.
Rowing is a fantastic all over body work out that can be a great fitness tool in any sports person's armory. In order to avoid unnecessary injury try not to pull with the arms until you have fully extended your legs and remember to keep your back straight. Start off rowing for 5 minutes at a 2:20 minute per 500-meter pace. Then at each session try to complete 3-5 minutes extra. Once you can complete 40 minutes at a 2:20 minute per 500 meter pace gradually up the rowing speed. Aim for about a 2 minute per 500 meter pace sustained for 40 minutes.
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Cycling is a great way to train your base fitness, especially when you are coming back from injury. Always make sure that your seat is high enough for you to almost extend you legs fully when cycling. This prevents unnecessary back and hamstring trouble. Like jogging and rowing start off within your capabilities and gradually increase by 3-5 minutes at each session. Remember to keep your heart rate between 150-160 bpm. Once again aim for 40 minutes and then increase the pace while keeping your heart rate between 150-160 bpm.
Like cycling, swimming can provide great aerobic fitness when coming back from injury. As swimming pace is hard to gauge try to swim in lengths rather than by the clock. 5 lengths of a 25-meter pool is a good starting point for any beginner. Try to stick to breaststroke and freestyle as butterfly and backstroke are unnecessary. At each session try to increase the duration of the swim by 2 lengths. By the time you can manage 50 lengths of a 25-meter pool you will have a sound bass fitness.
Individual Rugby Training For Intermediate Players!