Have you ever wondered what it would be like to train full time as a professional rugby player? Rugby News caught up with John Dams this week, the Waratahs head of Athletic Performance, to find out exactly what the Waratahs do each week and why they do it.
Dams said the nature of the Super Rugby competition meant that every week was different, however for the purpose of the exercise, we looked at a typical week with a seven-day turnaround and no travel.
Sunday, or the day after a game is a family day so players are given the day off and complete their recovery individually. Dams said the Waratahs call it ‘satellite recovery’ and that the idea was to give the players some time off to relax away from the training base.
“We educate the players about what we think the best form of recovery for each player is and they’re expected to do that on their own,” he said.
“Most players know what works for them. Some like the water, some like massage so it’s whatever works for the individual.”
On Monday morning, players arrive at Moore Park at 7:30am and immediately undergo a recovery test. The medical staff measure the players resting heart rate and their autonomic nervous system.
“We measure that by a heart rate variability assessment to find out what the body is doing at rest. It basically tells us where they are at to start of the week and how their cardiovascular and nervous systems have recovered from the weekend.”
After breakfast, the medical team conduct a musculoskeletal screening of all players, which usually lasts until 8:30am.
“Players are then broken up into groups for the morning session. Some will do strength work, others will do individual review or unit review. Then we’ll do a core class to work on our core control and that usually finishes up at about 11:30am, then they have a team review,” Dams said.
“Usually they split between forwards and backs, but some times it might be the playing 23 and the non playing group, it depends on what the session is.”
After the team review, the squad has lunch together. Following lunch, players are strapped and take part in session prep ahead of the afternoons on field session, which usually lasts 60-75 minutes.
“If we’ve got a seven day turnaround, the Monday afternoon session is usually what we call an install day, where we take in some learning. It’s a relatively low intensity session where we begin to work on what we want to improve on through the week,” Dams added.
At the end of the session, players return to the training base for an individual recovery session.
“They can do some body work with trigger balls, foam rollers or bands. Others will stretch and do some activation work, or corrections as we call it, they can hop in an ice bath and do some contrast baths with hot and cold water. It all depends on the individual athlete.”
The day typically wraps up at around 4:30-5pm.
On Tuesday, players arrive at 7:45am for breakfast, then immediately head into triage.
“Triage allows players to address any issues from the day before with the medical team before the day begins. They get a quick look over and the medical staff then plan their treatment for the day or plan any modifications they might need for that day’s training.”
After triage, the players spend 20 minutes in session prep, before they split into backs and forwards. The forwards head to the gym and the backs head out onto the field for a unit session. After roughly 75 minutes, the two groups switch.
“The gym program depends on each individual athlete. A five year professional who is in the starting side every week has a different program to a rookie who is still developing and most likely playing club rugby and is in and out of the 23,” Dams said.
“Some elements are the same so that everyone is working hard together, but obviously every athlete and position is different.”
The group has lunch at 12pm, then a team meeting is held before the players are strapped and begin session prep. The team for the weekend is also usually announced on Tuesday.
“Session prep starts in the gym. It’s a combination of soft tissue work with balls and rollers, working on certain activations, and then we’ll do some movement skills. That will either be in a straight line or multi directional skills depending on the session ahead,” Dams said.
“We then head out onto the pitch and finish the last lot of movement skills on the field. That usually involves high speed running or changing direction ahead of the rugby session.”
Tuesday afternoons on-field session begins at around 2:15pm and lasts just over an hour.
“During this session, we work on what we learnt in Monday afternoons session. Typically, it involves a lot of contact and is very physical. Tuesday is our heaviest training day of the week.”
Following the afternoon session, the players return to the training base for massage treatment, which runs through to 6pm.
Wednesday is the player’s day off and although they aren’t required at the training base, the squad is spit into geographical groups and are expected to spend some time together in the morning.
“We’ve got a group on the northern beaches, an eastern group and a western group. They’ll get together and go to the beach, get in the sea or go and get some food in the morning, then they have the rest of the day to themselves,” Dams said.
“Some will come in for treatment and others come in for an extra gym session or conditioning block depending on what the individual needs.”
While the players aren’t typically expected to cover anything specific on Wednesday, Dams said he thought it was important for the players to spend time together away from the training base.
“If Tuesday was our highest volume day, Thursday is our highest intensity day. We ramp up intensity to start to build towards the weekend,” Dams said.
Players arrive at 7:30am for breakfast and a recovery test before a 45-minute team meeting.
“After strapping the players head into the gym for what we call our ‘pump up’.
“Usually it involves some high intensity work ahead of our on field training session. All the movements are really dynamic - jumps, throws, cleans, speed work. The idea is to start to prime their systems ahead of training to build towards the weekend.”
The players then head onto the training field for a one-hour session.
“This is the highest intensity session of the week. The idea is to surpass match intensity during training on a Thursday,” Dams said.
After lunch players take part in an individual needs session.
“Individual needs might be an extra gym block. Others need more correctives, some might have a massage or look at video. The idea is to tick off whatever else we need to do ahead of the weekend.”
Dams added that most players spend 15-20 minutes after each session working on specific skills or extras.
“That’s not structured, but each player knows what he needs to work on. Our halfbacks work on their passing accuracy, others work on kicking, or decision making, tackling, ruck work, handling.
“The best players are the ones that work hardest on those little things, so they’re all usually out there working on extras most days.”
Players usually leave by 2:30pm on Thursday, unless the team is travelling for an away game. Depending on flight availability and the location of the game, the group either travel in the morning before a training session, or they train in the morning and travel in the afternoon.
On Friday, those not in the matchday 23 arrive early for a core class and some body work. If they aren’t playing club rugby on the weekend, they’ll also do a conditioning session.
The main group also do a core class when they arrive on Friday morning, then they have a team meeting and get strapped for the captain’s run.
“The captain’s run usually doesn’t last much longer than 30 minutes. There is a little bit of structure from the coaches, but Hoops (Michael Hooper) usually takes control.”
The players then return to the training base and have lunch together.
“Breakfast and lunch are provided for the players every day when they are at the training base. Towards the back end of the week, players are given more flexibility and usually on Friday, they head out as a group together for lunch.
“Depending on the training day, the meals usually include a good amount of vegetables, a good amount of protein and depending on the athlete, some quality carbs.
“In the morning, we also have a nutrition station, so the players will have a green drink, with some fish oil in the morning. After each session, they have a post training snack, which is usually protein based. We also give them amino acids before gym sessions and protein shakes after each session.
After lunch on Friday the players head home.
On game day, the players usually arrive around 4:30pm or three hours before kick-off.
“We put on a bit of a snack for them in the training base when they arrive, then they begin their preparation. Over the next 60-90 minutes the players get strapped and complete their last bits of preparation. They’re expected to mentally and physically prepare in this time,” Dams said.
An hour before kick-off, the team walk to the stadium together for the match.