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Rugby league is a collision sport that involves a lot of running. However, you don't have to be on the field for long to realize that those who do most of the high intensity intermittent running (the backs) do the least colliding (tackling, grappling, wrestling).
Fitness in rugby league means different things according to what position a player in the team occupies. For a prop, fitness is about getting back the ten metres quickly, six times a minute, every second minute, and colliding with, and then wrestling, an opposing player every second minute.
For an outside back the running is less frequent, but faster and over a longer distance, with involvement in fewer tackles.
This is obvious stuff, but trainers and coaches just don't recognise it. It's up to you, the player, to organise your fitness sessions outside of team trainings so that your match fitness increases.
If you want to know how you compare, there are good data published in 2004 by Dr Tim Gabbett and another. They measured the fitness of elite (all of whom held scholarships with the Queensland Academy of Sport rugby league programme) and sub-elite (all members of the same club) teenage rugby league players. The averages for the elite players were
|under 17||under 16||under 15|
|10m sprint (s)||1.83||1.81||1.89|
|40m sprint (s)||5.46||5.42||5.65|
|Vertical Jump (cm)||58.9||53.1||50.0|
The 10m and 40m sprints commence with a standing start. In this study electronic timing gates were used. If you are using gates, start with both feet behind a line 30cm back from the starting gate. Make sure your first movement is forward. Have a cone 5m past the finish line and sprint past the cone before slowing down.
If you are using a stopwatch ADD 0.3 seconds to the 40m sprint time (and 0.2 seconds to both the 10m and 20m time). Alternatively, if you have a mate whose sprint has been electronically timed, time him or her using a stopwatch and add the difference between his/her electronic and stopwatch times to your stopwatch time. If you are using a stopwatch, have the athlete start with both feet behind the line. String some tape at chest height at the finish line and click the stopwatch when the runner hits the tape.
The agility test used in this study is the 5-0-5. The running strip is 15m long, with a 'gate' (which may just be a line) 10m from the start. Athletes commence from a standing start sprint to the 15m line, pivot there and sprint back. Timing starts when they pass the 'gate' or line at 10m and ends when the athlete returns to that point.
For the vertical jump, athletes start with their feet flat on the ground, reach up as high as they can, and mark that point on a pole/wall/ladder (they might put ink on their middle finger if you don't have a Yardstick device). This is the standing reach height. Then, after assuming a crouch position the athlete springs upwards and marks the pole/wall/ladder as high as they can. The difference between this height and the standing reach height is the vertical jump. It is rounded to the nearest centimetre.
There are lots of different versions of the beep test, which is also called the yo-yo test or the multistage fitness test (and lots of other things by players). In this one, athletes hear a beep, run to the 20m line before the next beep, run back before the next beep, and so on, until they have had enough and pull out. Each minute the beeps get closer together. They start at a pace of 8km/hr and increase by 0.5km/hour after each minute. So, at level eight (you start at level zero) you are running at a speed of 12km/hr. The beeps, which started off 9 seconds apart are now 6 seconds apart. The sounds for a beep test are available for download from multiple sites online. Free phone apps are also available (but some are not very good)
Sports scientists showed some time ago, that those players in an NRL squad selected for the first game of the season were more experienced, leaner, faster over 10m and 40m, better vertical jumpers, better tacklers, and better at draw and pass, than those not selected.
During the season, in Queensland Cup at least, players selected to play had better figures for 3RM squat, 3RM chin-up, body mass bench press, vertical jump and beep test than players not selected to play.
These findings are interesting. In game one, coaches look for experience, speed, and skills. Later on, they want strength and fitness. So, to make the team and then to stay in the team your fitness program must change.
Tackles become weaker, and are more frequently missed, as players tire. It is also known that this loss of performance is less in stronger (rather than fitter players). Players with a better 3RM squat, tackle better than weaker players when they are tired. The tackling performance of fitter, weaker players decays faster than that of less fit but stronger players as they both get tired.
The aim of pre-season fitness training is to get faster and stronger while losing fat and improving basic skills such as draw and pass.
The aim of in-season fitness training is to maintain both strength and beep test performance while managing injuries.
You will benefit greatly from a daily exercise routine. This should take about twenty minutes to complete, and might be your warm up routine on gym days.
The exercises in this routine will be 'own body weight' ones such as press-ups and chin-ups. You might also complete two or three two minute trounds against a punching bag with one minute rest between rounds.
Skipping for ten minutes is of great benefit as is bounding - jumping onto a platform and off it.
This is the time to do your prehab or rehab exercises.