Rugby Strength Show #9 – Energy Systems and Endurance Workouts

I have made a BIG mistake in the way I thought rugby players should be conditioned. Please read the following story:  

I recently started playing rugby again (after 2 busy years getting my gym off the ground!) and needed to get in shape, so I began training 200m sprints once a week. I got to the point (after 5 weeks of training) where I managed ten 200m sprints with 90 seconds rest. This was on a Tuesday and then I played my first full game of rugby the following week’s Saturday.


This is a good time to say that a lot of training methods for rugby conditioning promote the traditional interval training method of 30 seconds on, 90 seconds off for 6-10 sets. Well….


What a waste of time that training turned out to be! My legs turned to jelly within the first half an hour, my lungs were killing me and, whilst I was definitely one of the fittest on the field (was at a pretty low standard team at the time!), I was annoyed that I felt this way. So let’s break down my training methods:


Ten 200m sprints of approx 40 secs each means 400 seconds of high intensity work for a total that is less than 7 minutes of training.


A rugby game lasts 80 minutes. Was 7 minutes enough work?




These 200m sprints were stressing the glycolytic energy system which provides the majority of energy production for work periods of approx 30-90 seconds.


A rugby game lasts 80 minutes and therefore is predominantly aerobic. Was I training the right energy system?




Running for 200m considerably reduced the power output of my body during the last 25-30 seconds of each sprint (once I’d gone past 10-12 seconds and used up my immediate anaerobic or ATP-PC stores) and required at least 90 seconds to recover due to the extremely fatiguing and extended nature of each set.



A typical game requires high intensity work for <20 seconds (sprinting at top speed, tackling, rucking, scrummaging etc.) then low intensity for 20-60 seconds (walking, jogging, submaximal sprinting, passing, kicking etc.) interspersed with infrequent and short (30-60 second) passive rest (standing around between plays). Was I simulating these demands with my 200m sprints?




So basically, with my 200m sprint training I worked for too long (~40 seconds), with too much rest (because I needed extra rest due to the long 40 second working periods) and couldn’t sustain this for longer than 7 minutes. Doh!


But hey, better my mistake and your lesson than we both do something stupid!


To train the right way for rugby you must either work at a really high intensity for 20 seconds or less and then have 20-60 seconds of active recovery (skipping or jogging) and then repeat this for at least 20 total minutes of training to simulate a rugby game and train both your ATP-PC (alactic) energy system AND your aerobic system to develop what is known as alactic capacity.


OR you could work at a moderate intensity for 2 minute ‘rounds’ with one minute of passive recovery (standing, stretching or walking) for 6-12 sets to train your aerobic system and develop aerobic power.


Here is a video of both of these methods:



Simply put, performance in rugby comes down to this:


Build your strength levels to the point where you can work at a higher intensity than anyone else on the field and develop a powerful aerobic system that lets you recover quickly between these bouts of high intensity work.


ALWAYS get stronger, it will help everything you do, but then develop your ability to STAY strong whilst working over a long period of time by developing alactic capacity and aerobic power.


For the visual learners amongst you (like me!) this should explain it nicely:



Also, remember that your rugby matches (and hopefully team training nights) are conditioning too! So count everything you do each week in your training program and work HARD, results will come.


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