7s rugby

Our rugby fitness expert – Max Physick gives some invaluable advice for the ultimate performance at this years Emirates Airlines Dubai Rugby Sevens


It’s that time of year again. Teams here in Dubai have started their Christmas break from 15s, and the autumn internationals are in full swing with some great rugby being played.

As some teams wind down match day Fridays and up the training over the coming months, competitive focus now shifts to 7s rugby, with the Eden Park tournament and the Dubai Sevens just around the corner.

Most teams in the region will be entering a squad into each competition, with the Dubai Sevens obviously being the bigger and arguably more attractive event to succeed in. Whether you’re part of a serious entry or less so, it is a great opportunity to enjoy a weekend of competition, team-bonding and socialising with some high standard rugby available to play and watch.

With such potential high-level performances comes a great deal of planning & preparation, both on the pitch and in the kitchen, to ensure player & team are ready for the fast-paced, fitness-demanding 14 minutes of lactic acid following the whistle.

As there are only 7 players in each team covering a full-sized pitch, the physical demands of 7s rugby is different to that of 15s. Due to this, you will generally see more of the back row and back line players making up the squads than the big front 5 (however not always the case).

I remember my first outing as a 7s player, bearing in mind that my usual position is hooker, sitting at 80-90kg (depending on my body composition and period of training) and 176cm. My usual tactic is hit first and ask questions later, however I soon learned that this is not the best strategy during 7s. ‘Marking’ players, covering ground and using space and width to your advantage is a much better idea so as to not gas yourself out through contact.

Let’s break this down and talk about energy systems. You have 3 energy systems during exercise that your body will use depending on the intensity and level of exertion.

In order of preferential use:

  1. Phosphocreatine System (PC) – explosive, fueled by ATP
  2. Aerobic System – sustained activity, fueled by fat & oxygen
  3. Anerobic/Alactate System – higher intensities but shorter duration, fueled by sugar as a preferred source

rugby tackle

During collisions and contact situations, you are exerting more resistive/explosive force (as if you were moving weight), in concentric, eccentric and isometric patterns (think lifting, lowering and holding) in response to whatever position you are in with regard to your opposition. For example, if you are clearing over the ball in a breakdown, that will be largely explosive concentric as you are moving forward at pace into resistance, whereas if you are driving against a well matched pack in a scrum and not moving, this would be isometric as you would be contracting against force without going either forward or backwards.

These types of muscle actions, together with sprinting use the PC system, which can sustain output for around 10 seconds before fatigue sets in and your body switches over to a different system – the anaerobic system (which produces lactic acid as a waste product, hence why your legs burn like hell after pushing for extended periods).

Linking back to the original point; 7s is predominantly an aerobic and anaerobic activity, depending on how hard you are working and what your anaerobic threshold is (how much you can handle pre-fatigue). If you were to exert these powerful forces in contact situations, expend your PC system fuel reserves and then move directly into an anaerobic activity where you are running the length of the pitch, you are more than likely going to be sucking wind all the way from Al Ain after only a few minutes with your legs about to explode.

This is why I quickly realised the best defensive strategy was to not go full-pelt into the opposition, but to cover ground and make contact when necessary.

So, all these big words sound great, but how does it apply to me, you may ask?

dubai rugby sevens

You can use a combination of these energy systems during your training & preparation to effectively train your body to switch between energy systems and increase your overall fitness levels. You can combine all 3 into one session, or you can program single energy system sessions across the week; in experience however, you’d be better suited to combination sessions due to being more match specific. That doesn’t go to say that strength & conditioning takes a backseat however; lifting weights to build strength & mass is still important, but this type of conditioning work should also be included.

Match specificity is key here, as i’m sure you’re aware after experiencing the difference between pre-season and the first competitive fixture – it just doesn’t compare. You can be Mo Farah on the road and Bolt on the track, but when combined on the pitch with a Pocock character being an absolute nuisance at the breakdown, the demands just go to another level.

Let’s put these into work then, in an example of a combined training session below. Bear in mind that this is only an example and should be tailored to the individual/team demands where necessary.

Warm Up – 5-10 mins

Mobility, release and dynamic stretching, combined with light aerobic activity to raise heart rate and get the blood pumping.

PC System Work – 10-15 mins

Short sprint bouts of up 5-10 seconds and/or plyometrics

Note – this should always be done at the start of the session.

Anaerobic System Work – 20-30 mins continuous

Sled drags, prowler pushes, tire flips etc., (partner resisted sprints if you don’t have access to this kit), immediately followed by distance run efforts (around 80% max effort) with short recovery.

Note – The idea here is to induce lactic acid build up and push through the barrier to the best of your ability. This then (theoretically) improves your lactate threshold (how much you can tolerate before exhaustion)

Aerobic System Work – 20-30 mins

This could be basic running drills such as pitch suicides/shuttle runs or just set distance efforts, again using short rest times to keep your lungs burning, though not too short to compromise performance due to jelly legs.

Combination Work

Now you can also put all of these together into a torturous circuit instead of a singular structure to really maximise your training returns, keeping the demands more match specific.

  • Sled Drag / Prowler Push for distance
  • Jog Return Recovery
  • Maximal Sprint
  • Tire Flips for distance
  • Jog Return Recovery
  • Partner Wrestle/Grapple
  • Jog Return Recovery
  • Best Effort Lap of the Pitch

Repeat this 3-5 times, throw up and pass out.

As you can see, the training from 7’s to 15’s is not too dissimilar in terms of using your 3 energy systems. It would be wise however to focus a lot more on running (aerobic & anaerobic) fitness as this is much more appropriate to the demands of sevens rugby. For example, during a 15’s match when a player makes a line break, he/she will more often than not sprint like hell (PC system followed by anaerobic – short lived) to the try line to secure the points. Compare this to 7s when there is a break, the player will get past the gain line / clear the opposition at a sprint or fast run (PC, anaerobic) and then slow down to a jog (aerobic) across the line to conserve their fuel.

So, if you’re feeling up to it, plug this into your weekly training / gym sessions over the next few weeks and see how it affects you. Even if you’re not competing in the upcoming 7s tournaments, it will be great fitness and will only benefit your health and body composition.

By Max Physick

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