Q&A with Rugby Strength & Conditioning Coach, Adam White

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With the rugby 6 Nations tournament due to kick-off imminently, we went to see Adam White, the strength & conditioning coach at Bury St Edmunds RUFC, to ask him about his predictions for the weeks ahead, and his thoughts on fitness and nutrition for the sport. Here is what he had to say:

Six Nations Predictions

Q. Who do you think will win the Six Nations?

A. I think despite the injuries England should win, although Ireland will be tough contenders.

Q. Do you think there will be any surprises?

A. I’d like to see Italy do well, but don’t think there will be any massive surprises.

Q. Which players do you think will emerge as stars in the tournament?

A. I expect Nick Easter, now back in the squad, to play a big role after his stunning season so far in the premiership; also George Ford I think will do well.

Strength & Conditioning

Q. Did you always know you wanted to be an S&C coach?

A. Not really to be honest, I knew I wanted to be involved with sport but it wasn’t until university I decided that S&C was an interest of mine.

Q. Who were your sporting inspirations growing up?

A. Has to be Jonny Wilkinson, a true professional and a very good role model.

Q. From an S&C POV, what would you consider the biggest changes or advancements in the sport over the past few years?

A. I think in recent years, not only are some of the player’s huge guys, but they’ve become very athletic and dynamic, due to the emphasis on S&C. The speed of the game has also increased. Strength and conditioning support has improved massively at the top level and we are seeing better conditioned athletes with all players now being finely tuned athletes.

Q. What do you consider the 3 most important elements of player preparation?

A. What the player has eaten and had to drink the day before, and on the day of the game is very important. How the player has managed their training and recovery leading up to the game is vital too.

Q. How might training differ for players in different positions?

A. In rugby there a large array of body types on show, such as props, and scrum halves, to completely different body types, with completely different roles on the pitch. However, the core principles of strength and power are the same, it’s just adapting them to functional movements that suit the player for their position.

Q. What is a typical training split – on the field and in the gym? What do you focus on?

A. On the field and in the gym you can split forwards and backs, or you can be more specific and split front 5, back rows, half backs and outside backs, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Normally I would try to focus on the latter of those splits, but you still have to be aware that you also need to cater for individual’s needs, also different lifting experience/playing experience.  We tend to group our players conditioning dependent on level of experience and specific needs. For example our young players will focus on strength gains and technique, while some of our more experienced and better conditioned players can focus on specific olympic lifts and movements that complement their playing position.

Q. Which current rugby players do you admire the most for general fitness and application on the pitch?

A. I admire Burger, the Sarries number 7, his work rate and tackle count is unbelievable.  He has also overcome a serious knee injury showing that with good rehab and dedication to S&C work, players can make a good recovery and still play at the top level.

Q. How important is recovery and what techniques (if any) do you use to promote it?

A. Recovery is without doubt very important; the quicker you recover the quicker you can train again and get back to your full capability. Hydration is big at Bury. We weigh the players in and out, before and after games, to see how much fluid they should be taking on and ensure this fluid is replaced post game. We also use BULK POWDERS™ Complete All in One™ post game to get protein and carbohydrates on board, to help start the recovery process straight away. We ensure this is done immediately after the game and follow this up with a meal and further hydration. Stretching and foam rolling are also two techniques I like to use, and we encourage our players to stretch daily as part of their pre-hab work.

Q. When does pre-season conditioning usually start in advance of a season and how do you prioritise the programming?

A. We normally start around July time; at Bury we have quite a few younger lads as, well as the more experienced lads, so the younger lads that are trying to get a bit bigger/stronger would be on a standard hypertrophy/strength programme, whereas some of the more experienced lads adopt more strength/power programmes, with some circuit based training. We try and incorporate a lot of aerobic and anaerobic conditioning through playing games, this ensures players are working hard but also developing technical skills of rugby, when tired.

Q. What aspects of fitness would you say are the most important for a successful rugby player?

A. Being strong and powerful is key, rugby is a battle of the gain line; whoever gets over the gain line more often invariably wins the game. To get over the gain line you have to be dominant in the collision, which is where the strength and power comes in. However, with the speed of rugby these days, aerobic and anaerobic capacity is very important.  We regularly test our players on anaerobic performance and with strength based tests such as 1RM. This ensures players maintain levels of fitness and we can identify which players need specific assistance in certain areas.

Q. What 3 exercises should be staples for any player serious about increasing performance?

A. This can depend on a player’s needs; however I would say squats, deadlifts and olympic lifts are all very important in helping a rugby player increase their performance and explosive power.

Q. What are the biggest weaknesses you see in players starting out? How are these overcome?

A. Normally people have adopted bad habits, therefore technique and the way they move can be a weakness. To overcome this, we often strip down the weight, do some flexibility work and build up the weight progressively, making sure form and technique is maintained.

Q. How important is strength & conditioning for injury prevention?

A. It is very important; normally injuries occur because the connective tissue isn’t strong enough to withstand the force being applied to it. This said, not all injuries can be prevented, but if you can strengthen muscle tissues and increase range of motion and flexibility, you can reduce the potential risks.  We work very closely with the medical department at Bury, identifying possible individuals who may be suspect to certain injuries and ensure we manage them as best we can, designing specific exercises to reduce the possibility of breaking down in training or in games.

Q. How do you get the players prepped physically on match days? Any pre-game rituals?

A. Normally on a match day I wouldn’t get too involved with the players, as they all have their own habits and things they like to do in the changing room. For the warm up normally I will just start by raising the heart rate and muscle temperature, then go into some dynamic stretches to start preparing their bodies for the game ahead.  We will then look to move towards rugby specific preparation. We are continually encouraging players to take fluids on board and BULK POWDERS™ Complete Hydration™ is a great product to help with this.

Q. Which sports supplements do you advise your players to take in order to increase their recovery?

A. Simple whey protein is always a good start; I would say supplements like this, Complete All in One™, which we use post-workout, and Complete Hydration™ are effective choices for recovering rugby players. It’s important that the lads are consuming enough protein to support the physical demands of games and training, as well as replenishing energy levels and lost fluids quickly.

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