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Recovery Strategies

The concept of rest and recovery is a much neglected one in sport in general. In particular, coaches frequently do not strike the right balance between training and recovery. The recovery process cannot be over emphasised. If training takes place then it is critical that recovery follows. It is during the Recovery period or period of rest from training that the player adapts to the loads placed on him during training. In simple terms, it is during the recovery period that gains in fitness are realised. Given the right combination of training, fuel and fluids and recovery the player's fitness and performance will improve.

There are different types of recovery that a coach needs to be aware of. These include short-term and long-term recovery strategies. Short-term recovery strategies include recovery within a session to allow the player to reproduce a quality effort, recovery immediately following a session, a recovery session in itself which will speed up the recovery process. Long term recovery strategies include the off-season break from the game. This long-term recovery is essential to ensure that the player returns refreshed to the pre-season. Additional long-term rest may occur as a result of injury. This places its own demands on the rehabilitation progamme.

Rest & Recovery during training Recovery following intense exercise & training Hyperhydration Recovery exercise following training and games
Recovery breaks during the in-season Recovery following injury Recovery during the Off-season

Rest & Recovery During

Training As coaches we often make the mistake of believing that the harder the player works the better he will get. Yes, hard work is important . However, recovery is an essential ingredient of hard work. If hard work is to be productive it must be balanced with planned recovery. For example, it is critical that recovery is planned into the session where acceleration, speed, power and maximal strength are being developed. Full recoveries are required if the player is to reproduce high quality efforts. The player will also benefit from recovery between the repetition of drills that are intended to improve a skill.

Greater detail of the rest recoveries for speed, power, strength development are given in the relevant sections on these components of fitness. back to top

Recovery Following Intense Exercise or Training

a) Cooling down

As soon as the player has completed an intense session, the recovery process starts with a cool-down. This may take 10 minutes but it is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, a gradual reduction in the level of activity is necessary in order to minimise the level of stress on the different systems of the body. Light jogging is effective as it allows the cardiovasular system to slowly rebalance. Blood pooling in the exercised limbs is thus avoided and the CV system returns to normal in a gradual manner. Stretching following exercise has been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of injury during the next session. This alone is sufficient reason for including stretching as part of a post training cooling down process. In addition, the muscles that have been worked hard can be gently stretched so as to restore their normal length during the cool down period.

It is also worth noting that the use of cold showers is more effective in the recovery process than warm showers. In fact recent evidence shows that cold water application will improve strength in the exercised limbs. If light jogging is not practical, especially after competitive games in a restricted stadium or pitch, then the player can benefit from taking a cold shower in the immediate post-game period. Ideally, a cold plunge bath is excellent at cooling the body. This used to be a very effective practice in Eastern Bloc countries following training and competition.

b) Replacing fluid loss

Body weight loss as a result of fluid and fuel loss during exercise is to be expected. During high intensity exercise and during prolonged exercise body weight loss can reach levels whereby performance is adversely affected. A loss of 2% and more can result in a reduced endurance capacity, reduced power output and can adversely affect concentration, reaction and acceleration. To reduce the likelihood of this happening players are frequently advised to drink lightly diluted carbohydrate drinks at regular intervals before, during and after exercise. However, while this strategy is somewhat effective in helping reduce the risk of dehydration it is important to have a more structured approach to pre-training and pre-game hydration and to ensuring post-training and post-game rehydration.

Following training and games weigh each player before he leaves the changing room. If the player has not attained his pre-training/game weight then he should consume the equivalent lost in fuel and fluids. For each 1 kg lost the player should drink 1.5 litres of water and eat medium to high-glycaemic index foods (fruits such as bananas and raisins) The addition of carbohydrates will speed up the replacement of fluid as well as refuelling the lost muscle fuel stores. A 75 kg player should ensure that he eats at least the equivalent of one medium to large banana in addition to the equivalent weight loss as water within 30 minutes following the training session/game.

Alternatively, lightly diluted carbohydrate sport drinks can be consumed. Consume 0.5 litres of a lightly diluted carbohydrate drink and 1.0 litres of water for every kilogram lost during training.

Ensure where possible that the foods eaten immediately post-exercise are of the high-glycaemic type. Sport drinks are considered high-glycaemic beverages. They are very useful during this post-training period, as they provide both fuel and fluid replacement but note that their consumption should be limited to the immediate post-training period, that is within 30 minutes following training. Encourage the consumption of solid foods during this period in preference to sport drinks. Fruits will provide additional nutritional value.

The consumption of sports drinks on a continuous basis throughout the day should be discouraged. The consumption of 2 litres of carbohydrate sport drinks is not uncommon. This volume of sport drinks contains the equivalent of approximately 600 calories. Presuming that the player consumes a balanced diet (where he consumes sufficient energy to meet his daily energy requirements), then the intake of additional calories from sports drinks is unnecessary. In this situation the continuous consumption of carbohydrate drinks outside of the training environment can result in over one pound of fat being gained in one week! back to top


Frequently, body weight losses between 2- 5kg can be found over the duration of a high level Rugby game. For a 100kg player a 2kg body weight loss is not unusual. One way of ensuring that the effects of dehydration are minimized is to ensure that players start the game in a state of 'hyperhydration'. This simply means that the players should weight in on the morning of the game at the weight greater than normal. There is evidence to show that players who are hyperhydrated perform better than players who are at normal body weight prior to the game. The following guidelines will help your players to be well hydrated for the game.

1. Avoid coffee and alcohol in the days prior to the game

2. Ensure that the player drinks water frequently on the day before and the day of the game

3. Get familiar with the player's normal hydrated body weight

4. On the morning of an afternoon game weigh players. Ensure that each player consumes 1% of his body weight in fluid 4-6 hours prior to the game

5. This should be done after the player has eaten breakfast

6. If the kick-off is scheduled for the evening ensure that the player have eaten breakfast loaded 1% of his body weight as water and has had an afternoon snack (easy to digest carbohydrates such as cereal, bread, salad, fruit juice, biscuits, etc)

Frequently, some players find it difficult to eat normally and drink on the day of a game. This is a normal physiological reaction to the anxiety that goes with competition. To help a player who finds eating on the morning of a game a problem, a tastly shake, consumed after a light breakfast is beneficial. Additionally, the player should try to hyperhydrate on the evening prior to the game. This will help to ensure that the body weight is at least normal on the day of the game.

It is important to try out any new strategy well in advance of the big game. Therefore, the guidelines given above should be well rehearsed during the pre-season so that players are familiar with the strategy for the in-season games.

Finally, it is recommended that pre and post training and game weigh-ins become a common and accepted feature of the Rugby player's lifestyle. Ensuring that the player's post game weight returns to the pre weigh-in level before he leaves the changing room will be a very positive step towards speeding up the player's recovery. back to top

Recovery exercise following training and games

On the day following a game players should become familiar with the practice of recovery training. This includes completing a resetting exercise programme (outlined in the Strength training section). The purpose of resetting is to restore the balance of tension and mobility into the exercised limbs. A 20 minute session incorporating a series of exercises will be effective in resetting. In addition, a hydro or pool recovery session is ideal for restoring mobility into the exercised limbs. This can be done in a 10-20 minute pool session which combines easy swimming with active stretching while in the pool. The guidelines below outline a typical pool recovery session following a game.

Pool Recovery Session

  • Swim for 2-5 lengths at a comfortable pace. Then complete a 30 second stretch for the hamstrings.
  • Swim one length again, at a comfortable pace and the stretch the quads. Again limit the stretch period to 30 seconds.
  • Swim one length at a comfortable pace and then stretch the lower leg.
  • Swim one length then stretch the hip flexors.
  • Repeat the routine for 1-3 sets.
  • Spend 15-30 minutes at this session and after returning to the changing area and drying down take a cool/cold shower for two minutes.

NB: if you have a 'dead leg' or haematoma (bruising in muscle) do not exercise or stretch the affected limb. Ensure that you apply PRICE: Pressure, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation intermittently over 48 hours. back to top

Recovery breaks during the In-season

Due to the intense demands of training and playing during the In-season players can become chronically fatigued. This fatigue may be evident in that the player does not have the same enthusiasm for training or for the game as he previously displayed. It is also well established that players can become overtrained if training is unvaried. To help avoid the occurrence of overtraining it is important to build in regular recovery periods - or unloading weeks into the programme. It is recommended that after every 5 weeks of training and playing that the training programme is unloaded such that the player does not complete formal fitness training. In other words he takes a complete break from resistance training, speed work, interval training, the Gym and if possible has a reduced Rugby practice time. While some Rugby practice may take place, especially if there is a game planned for the weekend, some variation in the format of the Rugby practice should be considered. For example, a change in training venue is useful and provides variety of setting. A reduced practice duration from 60 minutes to 30 minutes with a football game such as soccer, GAA or Aussie rules as a warm up can be helpful in stimulating a renewed energy in players. Alternative fitness maintenance training can be completed. Instead of interval running the player could complete an interval session while swimming. Instead of resistance training in the Gym the player could take part in athletic events - jumps and throws.

The coach must constantly be aware of the mental as well as the physical well being of his young players. Guided by the principles of training the coach can creatively prepare a varied and stimulating programme of training and game practice for his young players. back to top

Recovery following injury

Just as gains in fitness occur following a period of training, a player will also lose fitness following the cessation of regular fitness training. Detraining occurs quickly when a player incurs an injury that limits his participation in fitness training. The different components of fitness are affected in various ways. Immobilistaion of a limb as a result of a fracture or severe muscle, tendon or ligament injury will result in a decrease in muscle size (atrophy) and strength and power in approximately one week. Decreases in speed also occur albeit over a longer period of inactivity.

Maintaining fitness during a period of enforced inactivity is essential. A variety of methods can be employed to stimulate the muscles about the affected joint while not exposing the injury to further damage. For example, a player with an upper limb injury may be able to employ a lower body strength maintenance workout while incorporating certain upper body strength maintaining exercises. It is important that a player attends a physiotherapist for treatment following injury. The physiotherapist should be involved in designing the immediate post-injury rehabilitation programme. back to top

Recovery during the Off-season

Rugby players at all levels are playing more frequently and intensely. As a result the Off-season period is crucial in ensuring that the player is well recovered both physically and mentally before the commencement of the next Pre-season. The off-season should provide the young player with the opportunity of taking holidays. The duration of the Off-season could be from 3-5 weeks. During the Off-season the young player may participate in sporting activities (tennis, golf, swimming, soccer, Gaelic….) which do not include Rugby oriented work. Such activities are excellent for maintaining fitness and for developing a wider range of motor fitness. back to top

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25 May 2022
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