When it comes to tools to improve your conditioning for rugby, I’m all about keeping it as simple as possible, with as little as equipment as possible, and as effective as possible. This tool is one that ticks all those boxes in a big way: High Intensity Continuous Training.
This training method will improve your ability to perform and recover from explosive movements on the pitch, and lessen the likelihood of gassing out during the game by improving the aerobic abilities of your all important fast twitch muscle fibres.
Here’s why you do it
- One of the major reasons we fatigue and gas out in sports like rugby is an inability to supply and utilise oxygen in our working muscles. Whilst supply can sometimes be the reason, an inability to utilise oxygen is normally the real culprit.
- The major cellular apparatus for utilising oxygen is mitochondria a.k.a the power station of the cell. The more mitochondria we have, the better we can utilise oxygen, the less likely we are to fatigue.
- We need to target mitochondrial development in the fast twitch fibres, because our slow twitch fibres already have so many mitochondria that fatigue is not an issue for them. Make no mistake, fast twitch fibres are why we get tired.
I won’t dip too heavily into the science here as I want to get to the good stuff about how you can actually improve your conditioning on the pitch. However the short explanation for HICT is that we are trying to utilise a high load and low cadence to tap into fast twitch fibres, create hypoxia with a small but consistent amount of lactate, and focus the work on the prime movers of the running action.
Here’s how you do it
- Pick a cyclical activity. If you have access, my favourite tool is a spin bike. If not, sled walking works great. If you have zero equipment, walking lunges work just great, step ups too.
- If you are on the spin bike, crank the resistance right up. If you are on the sled, select 30-60kg in load. For bodyweight exercises do nothing.
- Start moving. Your goal is 20-30 reps per minute. Move slow and deliberate. Make sure you unload at the top of each rep to allow the lactate to clear your legs. Keep breathing freely throughout the exercise.
- If you think you are going to gas out, slow down. You should get a burn on, but be able to sustain the effort for 10 minutes. If you have a heart rate monitor, keep below your lactate threshold.
- After 10 minutes, walk around and recover for 10 minutes, then repeat for another 10 minute block.
Here’s how it should look on the spin bike:
How to implement HICT in your training
HICT can be implemented for 1-2 sessions per week in pre-season, less during the season. Although this session is targeting development of fast twitch fibres it isn’t that neurally demanding, so it can be performed on low days (I know of coaches who use this as a recovery tool 1 day post games). Rotate HICT for 2-6 weeks at a time, then move on to another conditioning method.