Rugby Training Challenges: Agility, Balance, Coordination & Power

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series, written by Ovidiu Octav Florea.  He is a Rugby coach and Rugby fitness coach in Canada, France, and Romania.  He earned his Masters degree in Sport Management from Université de Technologie de Troyes (UTT).

Understanding challenges in rugby training and why EMS could be necessary

The big challenge for a rugby coach is to develop all physical qualities/fitness components, to mix all forms of solicitation/stimulation with ONE supreme obligation – they have to optimize (or at least to preserve) players speed, agility, strength and velocity.  It’s not easy to mix all these elements in order to get to the best compromise.  As we know, endurance training could (at least temporary) limit the speed if not even worse. Also, strength cycles could diminish the “explosive capacity” or bring fatigue sensations if they are not "perfectly" balanced and programmed. In my opinion, nobody is capable to prove that he/she knows exactly when, how much, how long and in which order "things" are better to be done. We are getting close however, we got intuitions and feelings, but we are never sure!  That’s why the training process is a constant perpetual observation/evaluation and reformulation – they need permanently to be adapted.

In rugby’s physical preparation this uncertainty is a real issue and the trainer has to face it permanently. Its experience is probably more evident than in most of the other sports; players need speed (reactions), velocity, strength, power and endurance – all in the same time.  Until recently, substitutions were allowed only in case of injury, so those guys had to sprint, jump, wrestle, hit, push, lift and of course being hit/pushed/lifted, run and tackle all with no protection; also they need to read the game, take tactical decisions, handle and kick the ball during 80 minutes. The technique and tactics are not really basic skills or process, but sophisticated ones… Always under pressure (which sometimes can be extremely tough), always in movement (repairs are changing all the time) so oxygen  “has to arrive in enough amount to the brain cells”, otherwise catastrophes can happen. The break was only 5 minutes long and body protection were not allowed. In these conditions, it was obvious to see the play’s intensity decreasing as we approach the end of the game. Actually, games were fractionated and in spite of beautiful plays, games per ensemble were not very dynamic…

Talking about finesse, skills, reading spaces and opposition’s actions – is what we call game lecture – here we have a piece of jewel video on YouTube.

Beginning with the 90’s, a new generations of players were coming.  At a first glance, they do not look as their predecessors. They are big and surprisingly strong, fast, agile, resistant, skillful for their weight – it is the rugby’s new beginning era – it starts to be professional. The game started to be faster (much faster), longer (much "longer" – effective time playing grew up from 15′ to 30’ in boring matches to 55-60′ in intense ones) and it became dangerously tougher…much tougher!

I do not know if it was voluntary induced or it came as a natural result of the competition or concurrence process, or maybe because of the progresses in sport sciences (especially in nutritional and supplemental sciences!) – it may be a bit of all – but one thing is certain: rugby evolved into a different sport – it crossed the frontier and became a game of speed, agility and strength – actually one of the key word is POWER.  Today, players have to be capable to deliver constantly the same repetitive high intensity efforts and performance during the whole period of the game. In rugby some players are specialized more than the others; it depends on the positions they occupy in the field, but ALL of them have to participate in all the phase of the game – fixes, defensive, and offensive – so they are brought to execute the same tasks during the game. It does not matter which post they play, the rugby players have to run, tackle, pass, kick and catch the ball in full speed perfectly.

Rugby:  Agility, Balance, Coordination & Power

To resume, I would conclude this is what modern rugby is all about: agility, balance, coordination and power. In the same time the discipline necessitates an important endurance capacity… Well, it was at the beginning, during the "romantic era" as we like to call it. Today, rugby players need "less endurance" but rather fast recovering capacities. Some will say that they are linked.  The answer is “Yes”  but not necessary as some "classics" understand it.  More on this later.

All these changes – bigger, faster, longer – improved the quality of the show, money arrived, competitions multiplied – players passed from 13 games per year average (maximum 20 for national teams components) to a 30-35 games/year average (even 50 for national teams components). To the old dilemma of rugby coaching staff (i.e. how to make players competitive in all fitness components) a new one appeared and got added to it – to keep players healthy, fresh and competitive and if possible, to “last” as long as possible. Well, how to do that when it has been statistically proved that most injuries in rugby are due to the training process and not related to matches. This is by far one of the most complex issues that coaches have to face with and that pushes them in to rethink their perspective: objectives, methods, programs, etc.

It is hard to preserve a healthy body so harshly challenged to become in the same time specialized but also multipurpose adapted, without increasing the risks of damaging it "very soon" or "fast", especially in a running contact sport. In southern hemisphere a professional player’s career lasts in average 2 to 3 years. And that’s for more of 50% of them. Protections are not very effective – I’d say even “symbolic” and it’s the only sport were the contact means a 100 kilos of muscles, bones and determination can hit the ball carrier at 30 km/h… If the ball carrier runs at 30 km/h himself, I’ll let you do the math.  In Rugby League it happens that you can get hit by 200 kilos at the same speed. If the contact and impact comes on a small surface, a Mike Tyson punch could be a joke…. It is similar with American football or hockey (if not, worse), but without protection! For a better comprehension regarding contact and impacts, this short video in YouTube might help (apologize for the sound quality but today’s young audience needs epic stories :)

All these make rugby a potentially high risk discipline… So every method which could help saving some energy, reducing the risk of injury and “make it last longer”, it is extremely welcomed!.. And so is Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS)!


  1. jamie says

    Good article, looking forward to the rest. Any chance of giving the reference relating to:

    “it has been statistically proved that most injuries in rugby are due to the training process and not related to matches.”

    Thanks again

    • OKtav says

      Few observations deserves to be highlighted…Some i have to bring some specifications :

      1) The most important is the fact that I wanted to underline the idea that the training can damage the body as hard as a match (if not even worst)…And we all know that. But… basically training and matches can not be separated as causes of injuries. They are going together… they are tightly linked.

      2) My article concerns the adult players from professional rugby teams. Of course the same statement wouldn’t be very true for the amateur rugby. People who are training once or twice/week and than they are delivering their whole energy during the Sunday Game, have more chances to get injured during the matches than during trainings, because their bodies are not prepared for contacts as they are professional players ones. And because they are very carefully not to get injured at the training in order to be in the “first XV” for the Sunday match.

      3) Also my percentages will not be available for juvenile rugby. First because training “charges” (solicitations) are infinite lighter; their are absorbing differently the contacts and also their regenerating and recovering capacities are far away superior to those of adult players. They can be less “aware”/careful during games…or to sometimes too aware. But youngsters usually get hurt during games. As soon they start playing at superior levels and they start training more, injuries occurs quite often at the training sessions.

      4) Even if I never trained real rugby PRO Teams, I know how it works because, training kids at Racing-Metro (a real pro club and culture) for 2 years, I could observe regularly what was happening daily with pro-players (it was the next door)…. And also because all the “amateur” teams I’ve trained, they followed PRO training programs – we have passed from 2 or 3 sessions per week (3 to 5h) at 6 to 8 sessions per week (10 to 16h) . So even if their potential and performances were not competitive with the pro-players ones, they eaten the same bread…Although I’ve formed “2 or 3″ who could get in the PRO’s yard… Few of them being hunted by some scouter. As soon as I’ve changed their preparation programs, they started being more resistant during games (so frequency of injuries lowed), but injuries frequency increased during the training week… Is quite logical. Actually when rugby professionals understood that most of cases injury is just the manifestation of a chronic pathology or an cumulative effect…. they have introduced the obligatory “cold bath” at the end of the training or games.

      5) Well in my opinion making statements like – Rugby is not dangerous and neither violent ” are fake… and probably very hypocrite. Is the kind of PR made to make parents thinking that rugby is not dangerous so they should “let kids coming to play with u”s . No I do not agree. Rugby it can be very dangerous, and I love it how it is and for that.. Do ask me why am I stupid, but that’s the reason why I’ve chosen rugby instead of soccer. Not because I love danger, but because the danger is shaping people… So let your kid playing rugby, even if it looks crazy shit..We are trying hardly to reduce risks… but he will come out transformed.

    • OKtav says

      1st of all – Sorry about how long they are my comments

      2nd) Jamie I see myself obliged to recognize that I can not come with other references than the one I have gave you previously. The interview with president of the medical commission form the French professional league – – Dr. Jean Claude Peyrin. In his words, he does not say clearly that statistics are in favor of training or of the game…he just say many of accidents occurs during the training, but this is not a statistic proof. SO… MY APPOLOGIZES FOR THAT.

      3rd) I’m quit sure an afraid that I’ve made in my article and comments a confusion… or it is a confusion in our communication…I was talking about pathologies but I’ve used the term injuries, Actually in my article was about “lasting longer”…So I was mixed these two term – It might happen that more players are getting injured during games – most of the cases because of contacts. There are also the players getting hurt during or after the training. The interviewed French doctor says that usually happens during the oppositions drills or during physical conditioning especially at high intensity drills and speed work-outs. he do not says that, but for me is obvious that the cause might be the manifestation chronic latent pathologies, repeated traumas and micro-traumas, etc. so my intention was to include all medical factors which are susceptible to suspend players activities, but I used the wrong word – injuries. may I should use the word pathologies…because is more general and includes all. In this case I’m probably write..but once again my apologizes for the expression “statistic proved”.

      4th) Definitely it depends of the level of competition, the period of year – at the end of the championship appears more accidents during matches, the category of age. There are too many factors and actually I do not think that we can separate causes, except obvious hard hits accidents and traumas during matches and due to collisions and contacts… I’ve gave some explanations in previous answers….

      5th) Guys I’ve gave myself a mission… I have to find some study or statistics… If they do not exist (they surely do, but for unknown reasons they are published) well, may be is time that someone to tale this responsibility and to make it… Eventually to share it. :)

      6th)… If I find something I’ll definitely send it to you through Jimson. I promise. The problem is that I’m rather a “francophone” (than an English speaker) so I prefere looking for references in French language resources… I understand them easier…The question is for Jimson also… If I find something in French – a study about rugby pathologies … will speed endurance (and readers – at least one:) ) would be interested to have it!?

  2. OKtav says

    @Jamie – Actually exist a study made in France. I couldn’t get it, I can provide only an interview with the guy who lead this study (see at the end of my answer).

    My best reference is my coach experience – a match is 80′ – a pro is spending around 20h +/- 5 per week training. Probability to get injured is bigger during training than during matches… This is a kind of logical argument… Most of players show an increased awareness level during matches than during training sessions.. Witch also is logic. I never coached a PRO team, but it happened not being “very far” of them for two years.

    In the same time, injuries do not means only cases resulted from hits and contacts. There are a whole bunch of pathologies as a result of an accumulative series of training consequences… it’s exactly what my articles says… Over-training, body fatigue, mental fatigues could all lead to injuries or pathologies. So even if it happens during matches, the cause of some of them should be searched in the history of the athlete’s preparation – the best example is Wallaby’s Quade Cooper – in the “2nd final” of the RWC – at the 0’52″ . This kind of injury happens during the match, but actually it started week, months or years ago.. I know 4 similar cases in international rugby last year, and at least 2 in Romanian Championship.

    Now the only reference I’ve heard about, but as I’ve said unhappily I can not provide the full documentation is this study in France. So the only thing I can offer is an interview (for, one of best French medical web-portals for public information) with Dr Jean-Claude Peyrin the guy in charge – (here is the link of the interview took after the 2007 RWC – ). JCP is still (I think) the president of Medical Commission of French Rugby Super-Ligue (is not Rugby Ligue – is Rugby Union and it controls the Professional High Performance Championship as TOP14/PRO D2).

    In this article he explain that a study conducted on the 1400 injuries “produced” during 2006 “shows that in spite of what most of us would believe, many of the injuries occurs at the training and not during the games” (Original text – “Contrairement à ce que l’on pensait, de nombreuses blessures interviennent à l’entraînement et non en match, qu’il s’agisse de travail en opposition ou de préparation physique courte”).

    Well this is an article about how dangerous rugby is. So Dr. Peyrin hesitates or omits to say how this injuries occurs. Basically he is trying to explain that rugby is not dangerous or violent. He is announcing only how many, how serious they are and he makes a basic classification. Is not professional to say “trust me”… But the injuries causes can not be separated – in some of cases they shows symptoms during training and manifests themselves or get confirmed during matches…and vice-versa. What I want to say after few enough years of coaching – for one guy out of the field during a game, you have 3 or 4 out during the training. Actually not during…The very next morning “somebody” brings you the news.

    My statement is based on my personal experience. The French study confirms a part of it….Somebody should ask JCP if he wants to provide the result of their survey.

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