Okay, Mark Moore and the amateur players among you, this is the post you’ve been waiting for.
Mark asked: How would you recommend an amateur rugby player should structure the morning before a game in terms of diet and conditioning? Our club’s games kickoff at 2:30pm. We meet an hour before that for warm-up and prep and it takes me up to an hour to make it to the ground.
Right then, starting from the night before, have a carbohydrate-based meal, something like a spaghetti bolognese. Get to bed early. At least eight or nine hours’ sleep.
In the morning, have a decent breakfast, but nothing too different to what you’d normally have during the week. And then just relax. Try not to use up any nervous energy.
Pre-match meal: should be eaten around three to three-and-a-half hours before the game. Something light, carbohydrate, like a rice pudding, or beans or poached egg on toast – something that’s easily digestible and won’t come back up during the game. Stuff like pancakes and syrup is quite good also. But no fry-ups!
If your journey to the ground lasts an hour – that is a great time to hydrate on the way. Have two or three litres of water with you and take little sips as you go along. When you get out of the car, have a bit of a walk to loosen yourself up. An hour’s a long time to be sitting in a car.
The warm-up: I would suggest the club warm-up should begin 20 minutes before kick-off and last about 17 minutes. I go to games where the team starts warming up an hour before kick-off, so by the time they start playing the game they are shattered.
Finally, you won’t need me to tell you that beer on a Friday night is a performance killer. You’ll just spend the whole day trying to catch up on hydration alone, never mind trying to play rugby. Steer clear!
More advice on Monday but keep those questions and comments coming. Cheers for now and enjoy your weekend’s rugby.
Posted in: Rugby
It’s tough for the fans heading over to Paris for France v Wales at 9pm on a Friday night, but what about the players?
The local time kick-off is late but, in truth, it shouldn’t make any difference to the men on the pitch. Wales have changed their training times, starting later in the day to adjust their body clocks, their circadian rhythms. That takes four or five days – and they’re all used to evening games anyway.
Lee Byrne, the Wales full-back who plays with us at the Ospreys, has been talking about keeping his usual routine of weight-training on the day of the game and having a kip in the afternoon.
We introduced him to lifting weights on game day, the optimum time for him being about 9 or 10am. It’s something that he feels he has to do to get a good performance, to fire up his central nervous system. To be honest, he’s a bit of a ‘gun’ freak – the guns being muscles. He absolutely loves his guns, even though I tell him that it has no functional improvement for his rugby. But who are we to say it doesn’t work for him? He’s improved no end this year and it’s something he wants to keep on with.
You can’t fail to notice how far he kicks the ball and the squatting work we do at the Ospreys helps that by improving the power in his quadriceps (thighs). When I used to work with Ronan O’Gara, we did a lot of one-legged exercises – squats, lunges and so forth. That was purely for the purposes of achieving greater length in his kicking.
Lee’s kicking is a combination of technique and leg strength. If your quads and hamstrings are strong you can generate more power.
From the French perspective, you’ve got to feel for the coach, Marc Lievremont. I think nine of his players were playing against each other last weekend and the players have a five-day turnaround. That puts them behind the eight ball straight away and you have to worry for them in the last 20 minutes – Wales may run riot then, when the game starts to open up a bit.
This season, the average ball-in-play time in Wales’ matches is around 41 minutes. That’s 4-5 minutes longer than last year and 4-5 minutes longer than any other nation in this year’s championship.
I’m sure Warren Gatland will be saying to his boys, ‘let’s do even better this week’. He backs his team as the fittest in the Six Nations and encourages them to keep the ball moving, not going for lineouts, believing that other teams will fade. And that’s what seems to be happening.
The new ELVs this season changed our whole way of thinking on conditioning. With the ball in play longer, the players have had to drop a few kilos to be more mobile over the duration of the game.
I introduced a conditioning game, we now call it the ELV Game, of continuous rugby. It’s something I did with Ireland and we play it in pre-season to make the players fitter aerobically, but at a high level, where the heart rate is 160-190 for 45-minutes. Really tough but enjoyable because it’s ball-in-hand. It’s been adapted now because the ELVs have required players to cover more distance, something like 800-1200 metres further per game.
Now, the question is being asked, are England fit enough? A lot has been made of their supposed lack of conditioning in recent weeks. But it’s all so subjective. The way I see it is this – if you win, you’re fit enough; if you lose, you’re not.
The word from the Wales guys was that England lasted the full 80 minutes – so from that perspective, they are fit enough. Are some guys overweight? Possibly, and you might say some could do with losing a few pounds. But if you last the game, it’s hard to criticise.
As a conditioning coach you have to ask what kind of game the team wants to play – then you deliver the athletes so that they can achieve that. So if Martin Johnson wants to play a high-tempo game, playing it wide, the conditioners should deliver the players able to do it. It’s about the communication.
And this weekend? Wins for Wales, Scotland and Ireland and if all goes to form then we should go to a Grand Slam decider in Cardiff. That would be fantastic but personally, I’ll be glad when it’s all over – wishing the Welsh and Irish lads good luck every game is costing me a fortune in texts!
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Welcome to my new blog which is here to answer your questions on fitness and give you an insight into the world of professional sport and, in particular, rugby. And where better to start off with some of the issues in this week’s Six Nations big match in Cardiff? Anyone who watched the opening round last weekend knows that, on form, Wales are big favourites against England.
However, in one crucial aspect, Martin Johnson’s team have an advantage that can prove crucial in top-level rugby union.
What England have in their favour this weekend is their ‘turnaround’ time, the period between matches. Having played on a Saturday last weekend they are a day ahead of their opponents in preparation. Not only that but the Wales team were delayed in their return to Cardiff by the weather, so they arrived back home on Monday rather than Sunday night. They will have done very little in terms of training on Monday, Tuesday and even Wednesday.
However, the Wales coaching team took some of that into account in their win over Scotland by bringing on their whole bench in the second half. It was “right, England next week, here we go – off you go, off you go and off you go”. They had the game won but their preparation for England was already beginning.
As a conditioning coach, the minute that final whistle goes is when you start to plan for the next game. What happened in the game doesn’t matter. You have to detach yourself from the emotion of the result. If you win win by 50 points, or lose by 30, you have to stick to your plan and avoid being reactive.
The emphasis is ensuring the recovery of players is spot-on. Rehydration, nutrition, flexibility and rest – basically time off feet. The good thing for Wales is that head coach Warren Gatland and conditioning man Craig White (both ex-Wasps) have a strong relationship and Warren will respect Craig’s opinion and advice.
Other coaches may not have that same relationship with their fitness team and because of their anxiety they might get the players back on the pitch too soon. Ultimately that leads to higher fatigue come the weekend and players fading in the second half. It’s all about the weekend in this game. It’s what you do in the match.
Something that struck some people as unusual last week was the injury to Mike Tindall – in the gym, 48 hours before a match. What was he doing in there just before a big game? Well, it may surprise you but at the Ospreys we do weight-training on match day. The players have taken that into the Wales camp and they lift weights on the day of the game as well. The conditioning process continues almost right the way up to kick-off and the anthems you’ll hear sung on Saturday.
Hope your weekend rugby went according to plan following my advice on pre-match preparation. It’s been great to read all your comments – and I’ll be answering more of them this week and next – but one question from my opening piece leapt out at me:
Leigh asked: What can my son do to improve his speed and general conditioning? He is a big lad for his age (12) and he wants to get faster and fitter.
Okay. Straight away, my own personal opinion is that any lad of 12 years old should JUST PLAY. They should not be following any structured conditioning or speed programme.
At that age they should just go out and enjoy the game – whatever the game is. If you put them into some kind of structured programme they are going to burn out and by the time they are 16 or 17 they’ll be fed up and walk away from the sport.
At 12 years old you should be out running around and climbing trees, playing football, whatever, but not being trained. It’s far too young.
So Wales, including some of the Ospreys boys, still had the edge over England at the weekend. Hope you enjoyed the game and the rugby-versus-football fitness debate we started in this blog.
On that argument, I’ll nail my colours to the mast here and now. From the perspective of the conditioning coach there is only one winner.
If you compare rugby to football, rugby is so much more driven, the players especially so. They are a lot more open to change and new methods. And that makes the sport far more ‘cutting edge’ than football, even at Premier League level, will ever be.
Rugby will embrace anything that it takes to make players better: nutrition, recovery, power training, anything at all. That’s good news for someone in my job.
The time I spent with football teams, some of them top-class, told me the sport is very traditional. They’re still behind the times when it comes to conditioning. Football is a very frustrating – the players in the game can achieve so much more as athletes. I firmly believe there is a lot more to come from soccer players.
Now, on rugby union versus rugby league, it’s fascinating. I think union has gone past league in many ways. If you had asked me five years ago, league would still have been number one, but not now. Not at the top level. Players are better conditioned and there is a better spread of knowledge in union of how to condition and how to recover.
This has a lot to do with money. There’s more cash in union these days, so we can prepare the players better. In terms of recovery, how we travel, how we eat and the equipment we use, union has surpassed league. I never thought I’d say it but, hand on heart, I think it has.
When I left St Helens after their Treble-winning season of 2000-1, I never thought I’d never come across any athletes that were better than in that particular team – the likes of Paul Sculthorpe, Sean Long and Kieron Cunningham. But guys like Paul O’Connell and the players I’m working with at the Ospreys would be if not on a level with them, slightly higher.
A double blog today – you can also read my advice on your pre-match preparation for your match this weekend.
Meanwhile, to the main talking point of the week – the three Wasps and England players agreeing deals to play in France from next season.
So what’s in store for James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer? Although, as Haskell has insisted, England training requirements have been written into contracts, he and anyone heading across the Channel are going to find life very different, and very tough.
I don’t have direct working experience of French rugby but I know guys who are there – like former Ireland internationals Trevor Brennan, now coaching at Toulouse, and Jeremy Davidson, who is with Castres – and the conclusion is that French rugby does not look after the players as well as they do in England and Wales.
In France, they play and train very hard – it’s very physical and with a long league season players don’t tend to be as well conditioned. They tend not to do as much power training in the gym – it’s more circuit-based, built around strength endurance rather than pure, explosive power.
The Wasps conditioning programme devised by Craig White and Shaun Edwards is good, very good. Players get three or four weight-training sessions a week, and they’re very big on nutrition and supplements. They’re also very big on short, sharp intense training sesssions that only last 30-40 minutes. They find that totally alien in France, where they tend to train for 90 minutes to two hours maybe. The sessions are longer, with a lot more contact.
Haskell and Palmer will find that the facilities at Stade Francais are second to none. But the money in the French game as a whole isn’t reflected in the conditioning. They beat each other up quite a lot in training and the sessions are extremely physical. It’s not unknown for guys to come off the paddock with black eyes and bloody noses. That’s the way they like it.
The long sessions, number of games and amount of contact – will all that affect the longevity of their careers? I don’t know, but anyone that goes across there from this part of the world doesn’t set the world alight normally.
The French also put huge emphasis on their club competition, the Top 14, and that has had a big effect on the national team. Players who have turned out for their clubs the week before can be just patched up and sent out onto the field for a Six Nations match.
Dan Carter knows about the French game. When he went to Perpignan (our Ospreys opponents in the Heineken Cup this season), I happened to do a session over there with All Blacks as part of my work with adidas. He said he was very aware that the French game was forwards-dominated. They like to keep the ball in the forwards and bash each other in training. It was a side of the game he hadn’t experienced. Not that he was perturbed, just interested to see how it would go.
Shame it didn’t last for him thanks to an Achilles injury. But that must beg the question – all-year-round rugby will lead to those type of injuries. At this level you cannot play 12 months a year. The body needs a break.
He’s back in the team this weekend. Gavin Henson, that’s who. He’s the one that gets a lot of bad press. But all in all I find that quite bewildering. I’ll tell you why.
Gavin is brilliant. Brilliant because he says what everyone else wants to say. It’s just that he has the balls to say it.
He’s such an honest person, which is great for me in my job. If he has something to say, he’ll just come out and say it like he did when Wales played Italy last weekend. Maybe sometimes he doesn’t say it in the right context or the right way, but he gets things off his chest. And it doesn’t matter who he says it to.
Having said that, he is normally a very quiet individual, quite introverted in a way. Even when he comes back from an injury and returns to the training group you would barely know he’s there. He’s not a big ranter and raver, he doesn’t talk a lot in meetings, in fact he doesn’t like meetings and the media stuff. He just prefers to do his talking on the pitch and that’s what he’s more comfortable with.
He’s fantastic as an athlete too, incredibly hard-working and also diligent. For example, when he turns up for training he has his four or five meals for the day prepared already. He makes them the night before.
So I don’t have any problems with him – I love his attitude. He turns up, does his weights, does his training, gets in the car and goes home to his family, and that’s it. He’ll also put in the extra bit that makes a difference. When he hurt his ankle this season, he did loads of rehab, extra weights and boxing sessions with me. He’s a hell of a boxer, let me tell you. I wouldn’t like to get on the end of one of his fists because when I hold the pads he leaves a sting on my hands.
Now Warren Gatland has put Gavin in the team even though he hasn’t played a great deal of rugby this season. But Gavin is very fit naturally and he’s incredibly strong in the gym for his size. So if it comes to a physical game he won’t be found wanting.
On top of that of course he’s just a great rugby player with sublime skills, who reads the game very well. If you want a bit of creativity, which Wales obviously do on Saturday, he’s the guy to go to. He put Shane Williams in against Italy and made it look so simple.
He’s got the power and the physicality but he’s not a robot – he has the rugby brain to set him apart. And that makes him the danger man in the Wales team on Saturday.
Brilliant to see Ruby Walsh win a hat-trick at the Cheltenham Festival yesterday. I’ve met him quite a few times through my old job with Irish rugby – and he’s a big fan and supporter of the team.
Rugby and horse racing are two different worlds but they are more closely related than you might think, particularly from a training point of view.
Horses do a lot of work in the water, as I did when I was a professional athlete, and it’s an approach I use with some the bigger rugby players.
At the moment I’m doing a lot of work with Duncan Jones, the Ospreys and Wales prop, who has had a stress fracture in his foot. On Tuesday I had him doing a 45-minute session of deep-water running at Swansea University. This is great for conditioning and has no impact of course, so it’s ideal for players recovering from injury.
The horses do a lot of work in flumes, where they can increase the flow of water they run against – in other words resistance training. These animals are extremely well-tuned athletes and get the best of care, diet and recovery. But unlike rugby players they don’t go out chasing females. That comes later if they’re successful!
I’ve come across quite a few horse trainers in my time and the big thing that I learnt was the ‘run-out’. At meetings, some horses will go for a gallop if they haven’t raced that day, essentially to get them up to speed. Quite interesting and, in a way, I’ve used that in our ‘captain’s run’ – the training session the day before a game – which we now do at top speed. Historically, it used to be slow, just a bit of a jog around, quite pedestrian. But I like to think that this change gets the players, like the horses, up to race speed a bit quicker.
While I’m thrilled for Ruby, I’m also delighted for our own Rhys Webb, who was part of Wales’ winning squad at the World Cup sevens last weekend.
The amount sprinting involved in the sevens game means these players do a lot more aerobic conditioning. The emphasis is away from the muscle bulk you find in 15-a-side. The contact and collisions are much smaller and you don’t want to be carrying around that weight with all that sprinting. But no mistake, they are fit, fit boys. Congrats again to Rhys and Wales.
So, I got it wrong two weeks ago and France lasted brilliantly despite their lack of preparation for that Friday night match against Wales. But as I said before, fitness is such a subjective thing. When you’re winning you’re deemed to be fit. Now the Grand Slam is gone for the Welsh guys, but they have a championship still to defend and the Lions to aim for. Toby – you asked about the summer tour in my earlier blog. Well, South Africa are a very physical team from 1 to 15 and the Lions will be looking to match that in their selection. Not necessarily with bigger players but to have enough power there to be able to compete.
We’re talking about players like Alun-Wyn Jones, Paul O’Connell, Stevie Ferris, Jamie Heaslip, Joe Worsley. They won’t necessarily be bigger than the opposition but they’ll be able to stack up in the physical battle.
The only negative is that the Lions players will be coming to the end of a hard season whereas the Boks will be coming to the middle of theirs. That has to be a distinct advantage.
Once the squad is decided – and we did this with the Irish players in 2005 – you can make a case for them not to play so much for their clubs and to go into a little conditioning window of three to five weeks to top up their pre-season levels. If they do that, it gives them a fighting chance when they travel to South Africa.
I mentioned Lee Byrne before but there are others out there who’ve been doing great things in the championship.
Naturally I’m also close to the Irish players, and Stevie Ferris had international standards of conditioning in 2005. When he came to Japan with Ireland on a development tour he set a PB, power cleaning 140kgs, which is a hell of a lift. That was four years ago, so he’s always had the tools, he just had to bring it into game situations, which he’s now doing.
Alun-Wyn Jones is a young version of Paul O’Connell. A fantastic athlete, very explosive and professional. He’s also very aggressive in the gym and one that people should look out for.
Adam Jones, the Osreys prop, is another player getting a lot of attention. He must have done 200 pre-season sessions EXTRA in the Welsh camp. His weight has dropped and he has now become an 80-minute player – under Steve Hansen he was a 30-minute player. I’m happy for him because he copped a lot of flak but he put the work in and now is getting rewarded.
RRJB, you wanted to know who’s the fittest of the Ospreys. Pound for pound, Mike Phillips is the man. With Alun-Wyn Jones breathing down his neck.
Last weekend was a dream for me. First, a Grand Slam for the Ireland boys, then that amazing night for Bernard Dunne in the boxing ring in Dublin, where I was on Saturday night. Real Rocky stuff, toe-to-toe.
It’s been back to the day job with the Ospreys this week and I suppose a lot of people will be thinking about how our players are for the Cup semi-final against Gloucester. I have to say they are in good nick and were buzzing again in training by Wednesday when we had some very sharp sessions. The Welsh set-up treats the players very well, they get a lot of time off and that means they’re still fresh.
Where there’s any fatigue, we’re able to measure it through a CMJ mat – Counter Movement Jump. Essentially it’s a device that measures a vertical standing jump – we take a base level score and compare it throughout the season. The players put their hands on their hips and jump as high as they can. We measure the time ‘in flight’ and how high they jump. If their scores are down, they just don’t train. If they’re too fatigued, they don’t play. Better off resting than have them miss a tackle.
When the Wales boys came back on Tuesday they were a bit dejected, there was gloom and frustration at what had happened in Cardiff. So we kept the sessions pretty light and for a bit of craic, and to wind him up, nobody spoke to Tommy Bowe all day.
Like me, he joined the Ospreys last summer. But for him, joining from Ulster, where he was very well liked, was a big gamble. But he took it and it’s paid off with nearly every pundit and ex-player naming him in their preferred Lions teams.
What I’d noticed with Tommy when I was working with Ireland is that he wasn’t really quick enough or big enough for an international winger. So we needed to do strength work on his legs – that meant loads of squatting in pre-season and of course speed work.
One of the compensatory benefits of the squatting is that it strengthens the upper body, so Tommy put on five or six kilos. That wasn’t down to body-building, just lower body work. He said those 12 weeks were the hardest pre-season of his life, but my goal for him was to be on the Lions tour. He hasn’t got there yet but he’s heading in the right direction.
Apart from his rugby he’d make a great tourist – people love him and he is so laid-back he’s horizontal.
But he realised that he wasn’t really moving forward in his career with Ulster and he wasn’t being picked for the national team. To be a regular he had to change something. So his decision to join the Ospreys, where he would be competing with the likes of Shane Williams, Nikki Walker, Lee Byrne and Sonny Parker, was very brave.
He had a lot of defining moments for Ireland in the Six Nations – that breakaway try against Italy, that tackle chasing back against Scotland, and the two breaks against Wales, including the try he scored. The irony was that people say he has got no pace – but he skinned Shane Williams!
Tommy knows how to take his chances. And that means Gloucester will be on the look-out this weekend.
With Easter upon us and chocolate stacking up on the supermarket shelves, it couldn’t be a better time to get going with my weekly fitness plan.
This is an intermediate programme, meaning it is suited for those with a training ‘age’ of six months to two years. It is NOT for beginners. You must be familiar with your gym’s training equipment and make sure you refer to a qualified gym instructor when undertaking this programme.
Below, we have week one of our three-week plan. All questions and comments welcome! Good luck.
Treadmill: 15 x 1-min run at HARD pace, 30 secs recovery. Cross-trainer: 15 minutes Rowing machine: 15 x 1-min HARD, 30 secs recovery (target distance 280-300m per min) Bike: 15 minutes HARD
Treadmill: 20-minute run Cross-trainer: 20 minutes
Weights/Strength Programme 1. Bench Press 3 reptitions of 10 2. Lat pull Downs 3 x 10 3. Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3 x 10 4. Leg Press 3 x 10 5. Dumbbell Arm Curls 3 x 10 6. Dumbbell Incline Press 3 x 10 7. Seated row 3 x 10
– WEDNESDAY – REST DAY
Treadmill: 14 x 2-min run at HARD pace, 45 secs recovery Rowing machine: 12 x 2-min HARD, 45 secs recovery (target distance 580 metres) Cross-trainer: 15 mins Bike: 15 mins HARD
Treadmill: 15-min run Bike: 15-min cycle Cross-trainer: 15 mins Weights/Strength programme 1. Machine Chest Press 3 x 8 2. Single Arm Row 3 x 8 3. Pec Dec 3 x 8 4. Barbell Curls 3 x 8 5. Machine shoulder Press 3 x 8 6. Dumbbell Shrugs 3 x 8
– SATURDAY AND SUNDAY – REST DAYS