Great article written by former International Rugby player friend of the box and co-owner of Cardiff affiliate Dragon CrossFit, on why CrossFit and Rugby is a good match.
Crossfit: How it can be used to enhance your rugby performance
Rugby is a multifaceted sport that requires the individual to have a high level of fitness. Fitness can be described as the ability to meet the demands of ones environment and within the sport of rugby these demands are broad and range from the physical to the psychological. As the sport of rugby evolves so do the training methods and the scientific rigour with which they are applied. There is a much greater focus on the physiological effects of training and playing than in previous years and this will only lead to better results. The key to training for any sport is the transference of results in the gym to on the field performances and during my personal rugby career I found this had a huge influence on my training.
I look at some of the International and Regional matches that I played in when I was close to the edge. I vividly recall playing in 2007 against the World Champions, South Africa, in front of a capacity 72,500 Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. The game was played at such a ferocious intensity that it placed serious physical and mental demands on me. However, it is in those key moments that you spend your life as a rugby player – preparing and planning for the biggest games, on the biggest stage in anticipation of hopefully giving your best performance. Sometimes as a player, you need to have that ability to dig in even deeper, both physically and mentally, to perform at a level greater than you would have imagined you were capable of giving. As an openside flanker, I took great pride in my physical conditioning and I always tried to replicate game intensity within in my workouts. The majority of conditioning based workouts were monostructural, such as repeated speed or rowing intervals and it was only until later in my career that I was introduced to the concept of CrossFit. I strongly believe that CrossFit is one of the most effective conditioning methods that can be introduced and implemented into a rugby players training programme to prepare them for the intensity of a match.
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is a concept that is hard to define, but in essence, it is a strength and conditioning programme that describes training that is “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement”. It has the stated goal of improving all round fitness (and therefore general physical preparedness), which CrossFit defines as “work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” Typically, CrossFit workouts are short—usually 20 minutes or less—but the workouts are intense and demand all-out physical exertion. This is followed by periods of rest and recovery. CrossFit combines movements such as sprinting, rowing, jumping rope, climbing rope, flipping tires, weightlifting, carrying heavy objects, and many bodyweight movements.
These elements are mixed in numerous combinations to form prescribed “Workouts of the Day” known as “WODs”. Each day of the week has a different “WOD” which introduces variety in to each session. This tends to eliminate boredom and staleness in an individuals training routine.
Typically, a CrossFit session will include:-
- an all-important warm-up period followed by
- a skill/strength development segment,
- the high-intensity WOD,
- then a period of individual or group stretching.
- A warming down sessionPerformance on each WOD is often scored and/or ranked to encourage competition that is ideal when training for a sport like rugby.
What are the benefits of CrossFit for Rugby?
A rugby player spends a large part of their playing career preparing for match situations. There are times in the game where you are at your limit both physically and mentally but it is that ability to dig in deep and continue to play that separates the good player from the average player. The key to all of this is in the physical and mental preparation, which I believe, does not always fit in with the sport science approach.
As a former player and now a Strength and Conditioning Coach, I believe CrossFit becomes a powerful tool in preparing for rugby. CrossFit workouts are designed to be physically and mentally challenging. The workouts are constantly varied, because the situations within a match are constantly varied. In one part of the game you find yourself in space with time to run with the ball, but then you find yourself jackaling the ball with an opponent on the floor. Consequently, your workouts need to be varied in order for your body to keep adapting and developing as a player.
Rugby is a sport that involves short, sharp periods of whole body movements, such as sprinting, tackling, lifting, pushing and pulling. All of these actions are full body compound movements and CrossFit uses functional movements with various objects as key features within your training.
CrossFit workouts are performed at high intensity and tend to be 20 minutes or less in duration, from a rugby point of view, the ball in play time for a semi-professional game tends to be around that 20-25 min mark, so workouts that are performed at high intensity for a 15-20 min duration would be useful in order to replicate match intensities within the gym environment.
CrossFit workouts incorporate 3 main components:-
- Metabolic conditioning.
Rugby is a contact sport that demands the ability to repeat powerful movements over and over again, the use of compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts and Olympic lifts (certainly of the power variation) is useful to incorporate into a conditioning element. The power clean is a great way of developing explosive power in rugby players and also teaches the correct mechanics for absorbing impact, which can not be underestimated in rugby. With the need for repeated powerful movements in a match comes a need to replicate this in training.
The gymnastic movements in CrossFit help with the ability to manage your own bodyweight. Movements like press ups, sit ups through to burpees, pull ups, muscle ups etc. In rugby you are continually making tackles, getting back to your feet, wrestling for the ball. So movements such as burpees are fantastic conditioning movements for rugby players.
The metabolic conditioning in CrossFit, such as running, rowing, skipping, cycling., helps develop yours bodies anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. CrossFit puts a large emphasis on the ATP-PC and anaerobic energy systems whilst also tapping into your aerobic system. Rugby is an 80 min sport and you need to be able to fully perform for 80 minutes, so demands on all 3 energy systems is required.
There are moments during a game where you are just about finished on your feet and gasping for breath. Conditioning plays a huge part in (your) ability to keep going as does your mental toughness. CrossFit improves your ability to dig deep and keep going.
On a personal level, there are times during my own CrossFit workouts when I have felt that I have reached my maximum output, particularly in the early part of the workout. You glance at the clock and see that you are not even half way through the work out, but you know that you just have to keep going.
My first taste of CrossFit was with Wales during a 6 Nations campaign, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, Mark Bennett, had drawn up a tough Saturday morning ‘gym based’ conditioning session that was to replicate the intensity of a match. It involved a handful of player’s .The session started with a 30 min strength component incorporating some compound movements, Box Squats, Bench Press and Prone Pull.
The conditioning element that, I would refer to as a CrossFit session, followed straight after and involved the following:-
5 Rounds for time
- 5 x 100 kg Power Cleans
- 10 x Barbell Jump Squats
- 1 x 15m Rope Climb
- 15 m Prowler Push 80kg
- 150 m Run
60 sec Rest between rounds
The session was competitive and each round was timed, this allowed us to compete against ourselves as well as each other. With the competitiveness, there was no place to hide away and cruise through the session. That brought about a huge amount of intensity. The session left my body feeling like it had gone through one of its toughest workouts in a very long time. It was taxing on my lungs as well as an all over lactic burn but I loved it, mainly due to the variety the session had brought. As we pushed each other hard as a group, at the end of the session there was a sense of achievement as individuals but also as a group. Rugby is a team sport and building a strong bond between players is vital, another positive of CrossFit is that regardless of whether you are training with a team, friends or strangers, once you have gone through a workout with a group of people there is a bond between you and your training partners. Building a team spirit is vital for a sport like rugby. Without a team spirit you have nothing!
As a player, CrossFit workouts are far better than the mundane repeated sprints that had been so frequent throughout my career. Yes, you may not be able to replicate the movements to be exact during a game in the gym but you can certainly try.
Rugby is a sport that relies on your ability as a player to repeat powerful movements over and over again for 80 minutes. When it comes to conditioning for rugby it should be geared to the ability to increase your overall work capacity as a rugby player out on the field.
There are many effective ways of preparing for rugby and some are more relevant to the game than others. I feel a player’s emphasis needs to be on building strength, speed and power as well as key game related skills.
As a Strength & Conditioning Coach and someone who has represented his country at the highest level, I feel that CrossFit is a method of training that I personally believe to be effective in developing any player’s overall physical strength and ability. Crossfit will inevitably test players physically and mentally in preparation for game day.Robin Sowden-Taylor | Wales & Cardiff Blues
Handstand press ups
150 Double unders