By Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
An elite-level sevens match is to rugby what a microwave is to food. Things get cooked in a hurry. Sevens players can, through proper training methods, increase their ability to perform even when every fiber in their body screams, “stop running!” Experience tells me you can’t play sevens at a high level and feel comfortable, but you can improve your ability to compete without overtraining. In this piece we will examine training methodologies for elite sevens.
At Cal we believe that you can never become fit enough to become comfortable in a rugby match. The more fit you become, the more work you can get through, but you are still miserable. In sevens, match play intensity greatly increases as the “ball in play” time is reduced to approximately three and one half minutes per half. This might be the single most-significant factor to consider when designing training methods for sevens. Three and a half minutes is a long time when you are sprinting from point to point slowing only to exert even more energy to make a tackle or contest for possession. Important to creating productive training methodologies is understanding which of the body’s energy system will be most heavily taxed during match play.
To explain energy systems without getting lost in the weeds of exercise physiology, acknowledgement is required that there are three basic energy systems the body uses to perform work. One of these systems is the glycolytic system. The glycolytic energy system is used during high-intensity activity that lasts longer than 30 seconds but less than 2 minutes. During glycolysis, the body breaks down carbohydrates to resynthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and the byproduct, lactic acid, is produced. Lactic acid causes your legs to feel like cement after high intensity running and has long been the unwelcome result of hard work. Exercise scientists have exonerated the strictly negative role lactic acid plays in highly conditioned athletes, discovering that lactic acid can be used as a fuel source for those athletes who have reached a significant fitness level.
For sevens training to be the most productive, it should be calling on glycolysis to provide energy to the players. This means coaches are required to map out their training methodologies, including the drills, activities and durations in a very thoughtful way. A traditional sevens training approach of “let’s play touch” might have a place during a light training session, but if touch is played, it should have a clear set of training objectives.
I suggest employing a non-linear periodized approach when designing your training sessions, meaning vary the intensity of the training in a non-linear fashion. For example, execute a light session on one day followed the next day by completing a high-intensity level practice. Follow this up with a session that is of moderate intensity.
Training hard for an extended time, followed by an even harder practice, followed then by a harder session, yet again will promote injuries, not necessarily improvement.
Once the training session periodization has been planned out for the week, look at performing various skill drills and activities for specified time periods at match-like intensity. For club teams that only train twice per week, individual player workouts will need to be considered into the training periodization so to accurately reflect the athlete’s weekly efforts. Begin by using short work periods of twenty to thirty-seconds followed by a recovery period to gradually increase the effort and intensity of play. The objective is to have players working at match intensities during these increasing longer work bouts. Since the daily intensity levels (light, moderate, high) have previously been mapped out via the non linear periodization plan, coaches can tailor the work to recovery ratios to fit the appropriate intensity level for that given training session. By utilizing a methodical approach players are able to consistently improve without being overcooked.
As goals are created for this summer’s sevens team, examine what training methods are used to accomplish them. Obviously there are multiple different ways to prepare to compete, with no single approach the best way, but diligent training plans and methodologies are at the core of successful teams. Best of success this summer.
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