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LTAD - a critique
Demands of the game
Profile of players
Functional screening
Resistance training
Speed and agility training
Integrated game conditioning

Repeated sprint ability (RSA)

Overview of RSA

Rugby Union as stated consists of high-intensity sprints, physical contact and grappling and low- to moderate-intensity activities such as walking and jogging. This type of activity can be replicated using repeated sprint training as its core activity. The aim is also to promote greater recovery and to maintain performance in subsequent sprints and activity bouts.

According to Bishop et al (2011) the main limiting factors associated with decreasing repeated sprint performance are:

  • limited energy supply
  • metabolic fatigue
  • failure to contract muscle rapidly

Figure 2. Training to reduce the impact of fatigue is a key focus for the S&C coach.

Short sprint or acceleration efforts dominate the game. The main energy systems that contribute to repeated sprint ability include the primary and secondary systems (the ATP-PC and lactic acid systems). Research shows that the ability to restore the important high energy units in the muscle cell (that is ATP and PC) during repeated-sprint exercise is likely to have a significant influence on the ability to sustain repeated sprint or acceleration ability (Bishop et al 2011, Spencer et al 2010). It is generally assumed that should a player have better aerobic fitness then during the recovery phase he or she might perform better during repeated sprint training and also during match play. Yet, the relationship between aerobic fitness, as determined by maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max), and repeated sprint performance is not well supported. If having a higher level of aerobic fitness was important and beneficial to the player then we would see high VO2max levels in elite or professional players.

As we noted in an earlier topic - Profiling the player - the absolute VO2max of the Rugby sevens player and indeed the 15-a-side player is not exceptionally high. For example a moderate aerobic power reported for the Rugby sevens player is 54 ml/kg/min, substantially lower than what is reported for endurance athletes whose VO2 max levels range between 65 and 75 ml/kg/min. In support of this, Higham et al (2013), when fitness testing well-trained Rugby sevens players, noted that the cumulative time to complete repeated six 30m sprints was more closely related to single sprint times than aerobic capacity.

Thus, in summary, it is not essential to have a high level of aerobic fitness to excel in either rugby sevens or the 15-a-side game. Specifically, repeated sprint ability is likely governed by several physiological factors, which to an extent may include aerobic capacity but also anaerobic capacity, muscle buffering capacity, muscle excitability and the ability of the player to withstand fatigue. Training that includes repeated sprint challenges will condition the player to be better able to withstand fatigue. Further, the opportunity to engage in activities that mimic and replicate the game such as contact challenges where wrestling, grappling, tackling, opponent pulling and pushing are included will allow for greater specific fitness in the Rugby player.

Figure 3. Integrated conditioning such as RSA and HIT can also include specific Rugby related drills such as tackling.