The old saying goes that rugby is a man’s game played by gentlemen, but these days only half that statement still rings true.
Rugby is actually a game for everyone but the old line about it being played by gentlemen is just about right – save for the occasional spear-tackling head case. Adam Bishop, of Harlequins, is one of those gentlemen.
Strength and Conditioning coach for AVIVA Premiership giants , he’s been kind enough to offer some insight to loaded readers on the blood, sweat and tears that go into being a top-level rugby star week-in, week-out.
What can you eat? What does the average week of training entail? And do they really drink as much as their university counterparts? Bishop reveals all…
loaded: What does the average week of training look like in the lead up to a match?
Bishop: The guys will come in on a Monday, which is generally a very light day because they will be a bit sore and a bit tired from the weekend’s game. Monday starts with their physio treatment followed by meetings with coaches. We will then get them in the gym to do a bit of light exercise to loosen them up; no heavy lifting. They then have an afternoon rugby session which won’t have a lot of contact work in it, but it is a proper rugby session so they are getting straight into some hard work.
loaded: Cardio v strength training: Is there more emphasis on one during the week?
Bishop: In season, most of the players’ cardio vascular conditioning is via the rugby training itself. They do a lot of running during their rugby sessions, lots of drills and set plays, so we are limited by the amount of additional cardio vascular conditioning we can do. Players, depending on how fit they are, may have additional cardio vascular conditioning with us in the gym. But we won’t do any more cardio training with the players unless we feel their Goal Positioning System (GPS) scores are low. Most of the time if the guys are playing week to week, their cardio vascular work will come via the rugby itself.
loaded: Are there any exercises that you dish out that you know the players will hate/not want to do?
Bishop: All players are different. Some players won’t like doing back squats and some guys love doing back squats. There are exercises that guys are not going to like but they are all essential for them to do for their professional development and injury prevention. So sometimes you do have to look after them a bit, and nurse them through it but most of the time they are very good. They get on with it and actually most of the stuff they hate is actually the stuff that they need to work on the most.
“we understand that some players may want to drink alcohol on occasion”
loaded: What do their diets look like?
Bishop: Our Harlequins nutritionist, David Dunne, does extensive work with the players. They get two meals a day when they are at the club, but most of their time is spent away from us, at home. That is why players’ nutritional education is very important, so they know what they can and cannot eat at home and what is going to be best for them in the build up to a game.
David is really good at organising the guys and sending out information by email to give them ideas on what dishes to eat. It’s all about having a balanced diet. Sometimes they can have a bit more food depending on how big they are. Their diet includes lots of proteins, carbohydrates and fats because fats are essential for loads of different processes in the body.
Ideally we try and push the players away from junk/processed foods and that’s where David has done really well. He has put together a load of dishes that taste great and have nutritional balance. The number of calories consumed will depend on the size of the player and whether we are trying to lose a bit of fat, maintain or build more muscle.
loaded: Do you advise players to avoid alcohol always?
Bishop: We understand that after a game, especially if we win, some of the guys are going to want to celebrate. Rugby has still managed to hold onto that social side which is really great, and we understand that some players may want to drink alcohol on occasion. However, it’s all about managing this. David Dunne is great at helping players understand what they can and can’t have, and also how much water to drink to keep hydrated. But in the build up to a game players will of course stay away from alcohol.
loaded: How do players prepare for the match in the 24 hour period before game time?
Bishop: If we have a home game we will have a team run on the Friday, or if we are away we are probably travelling on the Friday. In that 24 hours it’s very individual. Some guys like to just sit back and watch movies and chill out, while others prefer to keep busy. A couple of the guys like to be in the gym in the morning, just to get themselves going. We will support them with whatever they want to do, whether it’s a stretch session, a pull session and so on.
loaded: Do the players take part in any other forms of physical exercise aside from the training here. Like Yoga for example?
Bishop: We have a Hotpod yoga session twice a week. The first one on Mondays is a stretch session to help the players recover from the match. The second session is much more dynamic and is for anyone who wants to take part.
loaded: What are the big no-nos for rugby players building up to a big game?
Bishop: Some of the guys like to go out cycling and mountain biking which is a concern for us because it increases the likelihood of them being injured. Having said that, the players are all pretty sensible and know what’s right and what’s wrong without us having to tell them.
“We have a Hotpod yoga session twice a week”
loaded: How you have seen coaching and training develop over the years; do you think it’s come a long way?
Bishop: Massively. As a professional sport ours is still very young. It turned professional between 95 and 97 and in terms of the development/ sports science side, rugby is still developing. Having said that, most of the time the most effective methods are the traditional, tried and tested methods. It hasn’t really changed in terms of how to get the body to perform well. We do implement new technology, though, like the GPS which we use heavily. This is basically a small unit that fits in the back of the shirts which tell us live, or at the end of a session, how a player performed.
The data we gather from the GPS is things like: how far each player has run, how many high speed sprints they did and their heart rate data. We can look at how their bodies are responding to these sessions and comparing this data with the player’s rate of perceived exhaustions scores out of 10, we can adjust things moving forward.
There is a big demand in rugby from our side because players aren’t just required to know how to play the game, and to play it well. Players need that intuition but also they need to be strong, powerful, fit and fast. It can be quite technical which is why we have a large team. We have two sports scientists, four full time S&C coaches that work exclusively with the first team and then we also have three volunteers who help us out massively. We are lucky that John Kingston (Director of Rugby at Harlequins) is a big supporter of what we do.
loaded: Strength exercises: Are traditional exercises better?
Bishop: The tried and tested traditional methods are what we build our programme on. If guys can squat, they will squat. If they can’t squat then it will be a variation of a squat as their main leg stimulus. The larger the compound lift – so the more joints it’s using – the bigger the stimulus. It’s not about trying to be trendy, and trying to use the new and different training methods that seem to come out every week. It’s about sticking with something you believe in and moving forward with it and we seem to have good results with that.
loaded: Pre-match rituals?
Bishop: Pre-game it’s all about getting the guys mentally ready. There is a short warm up before the game where we really try and ramp it up. Pre match is very routine driven and the guys will have developed their own routines over time. After their warm-ups we supply them with the right nutrition before the game – high carbohydrate, high caffeine, supplements and just making sure they are ready to go.
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