One of the hardest things a coach can be faced with is taking a physiological concept from the lab and applying it into the field setting. Not to mention with a whole squad of players. Coaches in the field usually have minimal resources at their disposal and the challenge is always to provide the most suitable and appropriate stimulus to your athletes, to make them a more efficient performer. For me this is my mission statement when it comes how to improve aerobic fitness.
‘Provide a stimulus to create and enhance improved recovery to enable subsequent performance’
Rugby Strength Coach has demonstrated that Aerobic training is an essential tool for rugby players and largely a lot of athletes. The aerobic energy system has a majority role in energy production, to which this process begins almost instantly during exercise. The Aerobic energy system serves to clear metabolic byproducts and ‘refuel’ the anaerobic systems.
We know that rugby union is classed as an Alactic-Aerobic Sport; which means the prime energy system involvement is purely aerobic, with short bouts of anaerobic activity. However this is an often misinterpreted principle for field sports. This misinterpretation stems from ‘ball in play’ data. Research has indicated that the average time the ball is in play during a match is roughly 45 seconds. But, within the 45 seconds the players aren’t actually performing much activity. An example of this could be 3 reset scrums. Coaches will then usually employ a more ‘anaerobic repeatability’ type training protocol; resultantly a fractional training adaptation is reached with an end result of tired athletes, not ‘stimulated’ athletes.
Ultimately this can put the athletes at a high risk of injury. Therefore in fact the anaerobic bouts of activity are not long enough to cause sufficient metabolic bi-product accumulation that will inhibit performance. For me, this is where Aerobic Power comes to the forefront in ‘plugging’ the hole the in energy system development argument.
Aerobic power is a training means by which you increase the aerobic systems oxygen delivery efficiency and its utilization. This is achieved by improving anaerobic threshold. Anaerobic threshold is usually marked by a specific heart rate and represents the limits of the aerobic energy system. This is an important mechanism where efficiency is at the highest level of importance. At this training intensity the anaerobic energy system becomes more dominant and fatigue will be reached very quickly. Hence the more efficient you can make this process the better your performance will be. The graph below, demonstrates this as a visual reference.
From this you can see that there has been a leftward shift in heart rate performance at a higher power output. This demonstrates the high level of applicability to this training means; to perform better more easily. In turn there has been a significant increase in biological aerobic energy production.
So, how do I do this?
With rugby players I prefer to use the training means of Threshold Training. I prefer this training method because it can be administered into an athlete’s program with minimal effort providing a very potent training stimulus for adaptions; most importantly with a large group of athletes, at one time. As we all know is a massive issue when it comes to the coaching process. Now I will walk you through a very simple way of applying this method into your training.
Firstly you need to establish your anaerobic threshold. For this you will need a HR monitor watch (not entirely essential but advised) and perform a fitness test. The fitness test selected for this protocol is the modified coopers test. This is a six minute time trial of running performance. The way I have performed this test is to step up a 50m square marking 5m intervals with cones. Each lap will give you 200m and on your final lap you stop on the closet cone once the time has elapsed and work out your total distance. The heart rate monitor will track your pulse throughout the test. Most monitors will give you an average for the duration of exercise. This average reading gives you a very accurate estimation of your anaerobic threshold. But if you don’t have a heart rate monitor, this isn’t essential as I will explain later.
From this you will have your total distance performed and your anaerobic threshold. Now I will show you how to apply it into a training modality. The total distance covered needs to be converted into a measure of power. For this example I have chosen metres per second (m/s). You achieve this by dividing your total distance by 360 (6 minutes converted to seconds).
1545 (total distance)/360 (total time) = 4.2 m/s
Your power output generated now sets your distance you need to maintain for an allotted time to enhance your aerobic threshold level. Now, as coaches we must confront the problems again we suffer most with, time, space and resources. Now, if you are fortunate to have ‘x’ amount of treadmills then this next part is pretty easy but I am assuming most of you were in the same position as I. So here is what I did:
Based on the space I had available I set distances to 20 second intervals. This gave me distances sub 100m (range 50-95m across positions). Sub 100m distances seemed acceptable based on the demands of the game. Typically players in the front 5 covered the 50-65m range and this relationship extrapolated throughout positions. I applied these to produce the grid pictured. There are two reasons as to why there is a turn utilised in the grid. One; being the space provided and two; breaks up the distances making the reps perceivably shorter. As a coach this gave me a motivational and encouragement tool for the later reps.
It’s important to note that turning also has an added metabolic response due to the nature of decelerations and accelerations but this was not a main concern of mine. To account for the turns 95% of 95% of the projected 20second distance was calculated and administered. Each set would last 3minutes, so the athletes would cover 9 total 20 second reps per set. An athlete would start on the base line, run to the end of the 50m track, turn, and run back to their cone marked at the correct distance. The athlete would then reverse the process for the second rep etc.
For the first few times I performed this with my athletes I worked off of 3minute rest periods, giving a 1:1 work to rest ratio. However upon application of a HR monitor I found that 90 seconds was a substantial rest period to see a satisfactory drop in HR. This was applied to an athlete’s covering all distances and not just one isolated occasion. A training dose was given in a 3 week block with one session per week. The athletes built up to 5 total reps. Here is an example of an athlete covering 55m per 20 seconds to see the volume increases per week of distance covered;
Distance per set: 495m
Week 1 (three sets): 1485m
Week 2 (four sets): 1980m
Week 3 (five sets): 2475m
It is important to note that an athlete with a 55m 20 seconds rep would cover roughly 1000m in the modified coopers test time trial. Therefore you can see the strong applications of power endurance via aerobic energy production. The graph below shows the physiological adaptations made by the application of this threshold method. Tests were conducted at the beginning of pre-season, the end of pre-season and half way through the competitive season.
Lastly I would like to thank Rugby Strength Coach for allowing the article to be posted and I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and find this method of application useful. Feel free to email me with any further questions. Sam.firstname.lastname@example.org