Senior Physiotherapist, Matt Goodman, is a specialist in treating performance athletes and has extensive experience within the field of rugby, working with the Worcester Warriors (Premiership Rugby) as well as Western Force (Super Rugby) in Australia. Here he outlines some of the fitness management strategies used within professional rugby.
Rugby is a contact, running and collision sport, with a match injury incidence of 96/1000 hours in the English premiership. Each top-level rugby club has their own high-performance team which consists of nutritionists, strength & conditioning coaches, physiotherapists, doctors, psychologists and soft tissue therapists. The role of the high-performance team within each club is to manage these injuries and ensure a successful and safe return to rugby in the quickest time possible. This process involves a huge amount of integrated work between the different members of the team, ensuring each aspect of the athlete’s rehabilitation is mapped out with clear timelines and targets (key performance indicators) to be achieved at each phase. This process would ensure that nutritionally the players were getting the optimum support they required; that they maintain muscle mass and optimally load the injured joint or tissue during the different phases of their rehabilitation; they are provided psychological support where required and develop their rugby skills within the context of each individual injury.
Another significant role of the performance team is to reduce the injury risk of the players, this was done through a couple of different processes including monitoring each athlete’s wellness throughout the week, which would look at hydration, training load, sleep quality, levels of fatigue and any self-reported areas of soreness. If the athletes flagged anything on here, they would be assessed further by the high-performance team. Assuming match day was on a Saturday we would also screen the squad on a Monday and Wednesday morning looking at their recovery from the match and how their scores of strength and muscle length compared to their baseline scores. These would be flagged with a traffic light system were a change of >10% would require further assessment from the performance team. Part of the athletes training schedule would incorporate individual athletic development sessions which would target key areas from an injury prevention perspective, for example the front row would work on neck and shoulder stability whilst the wings and centres would focus on hamstring robustness.