by Rance Costa
There are different sorts of fitness. Yoga and tai chi produce very different results to running, weight training, ballet dancing or cycling. The truth is ‘fitness’ is a blanket cover term for a whole host of physical capabilities that often have little in common and can even be counter to each other. Strength and flexibility only go together if you make a point of working at both at the same time. Prioritise one over the other and in the long run your body won’t thank you for it.
The idea behind a gym session is that it gives every major muscle group a workout as well as putting you in the environment where your aerobic condition can be monitored and your flexibility factored into your workout.
A rounded approach
That’s the theory. What tends to happen is that the mirrors take over and people just work on the bits that will look good. It might be a recipe for good abs, but concentrating your efforts to produce flat stomachs and firm butts isn’t necessarily the best way to get properly and usefully into a good physical condition.
A healthier approach can be usefully developed by borrowing from a sport that makes more general demands on its participants. Rugby league is a great example.
First and foremost, rugby is a game of power. But that power needs to be exerted over an 80-minute period, so stamina is also a key part of the story. Throw in the flexibility and balance, the all-round conditioning necessary to survive the bumps and thumps and the explosive accelerations that it additionally calls for and you are well on your way to the perfect combination of conditioning requirements.
This is not to recommend the level of intensity that the likes of Super League’s various Warriors, Wolves, Vikings and Giants commit themselves to. In the ultra-competitive arena of professional sport, athletes tread a fine line between maximising what their bodies can deliver and over-training. Lest we forget, those professional sportsmen have teams of specialists monitoring what they do. They also have a lot of down time built into their training regimes.
Whoever wins the Super League (Wigan at the time of writing are generally 5/2 in the odds), it is a certain bet that they will not have got there without a huge commitment to their training and an equal focus on the right amount of rest. There are plenty of fans with a stake in the outcome, although, equally importantly, the right sort of refuelling also plays its part.
So what are the type of drills that rugby has to offer? Well, you can’t escape the requirement for all-round muscular strength. Squats, press ups, lunges and planks – all the dead weight exercises that we tend to shy away from – are all non-negotiable. Free weights rather than vanity muscle boosters and heavyweight gadgetry are the order of the day.
You also have to recognise that rugby is a game of 30-second bursts – around 100 of them per game. A training programme designed around 30 seconds of maximum output interspersed with 30 seconds’ recovery time is the default setting. It is a regime that is guaranteed to upgrade your performance from the word go. When jogging is resting you’ll know you’re on the right lines.
If that sounds a bit brutal – welcome to rugby! Rugby players have a simple motivation, but it is one that we can borrow – even if we may not want to replicate it in full. Those guys work on the basis that if they dodge the pain in the gym they will get back with interest on the pitch. It is a motivation that is not necessarily recommended, but it is one that undoubtedly works!
To finish with where you need to start, there is one other area that rugby players are really attuned to. All that intensity demands a full and thorough warm up. And what is true for rugby is equally true for any other strenuous work out. It may seem dull and it may not feel as though it’s doing any good but a thorough warm up will 1) vastly reduce your chances of suffering any sort of strain and 2) radically improve the effects of the exercise you do undertake. Those big guys don’t just sit on their exercise bikes for fun.
Whatever exercise you undertake, always, always, always warm up properly. Your body will thank you for it.