The nature of the game of rugby involves high and low-intensity action. Also, the physical demands of the game are specific to each player’s positional role. However, despite the player's position, all need to be aerobically fit. Each must also have a high lactate tolerance and be strong and powerful.
Challenges facing rugby players
Most of the game of rugby is sub-maximal. This means that the intensity at which the player performs increases at a steady rate. Furthermore, this sub-maximal exercise will only work the player up to 85% of their maximum heart rate.
However, integral to the game are intermittent sprints, tackling, scrums, rucks and mauls. These are supra-maximal. And it’s this part of the game that pushes players beyond their maximum limit. Consequently, breathing effort will be a challenge.
The pattern of exertion rugby has on players places extreme demands upon their breathing. This is because these activities are anaerobic and generate high levels of lactic acid. Furthermore, the lactic acid stimulates their breathing to increase. In addition, a unique feature of rugby is the involvement of high-intensity upper body activity. This can induce conflicting demands upon the breathing muscles, which as well as bringing about breathing, are also essential in activities that involve the upper body.
This 2018 study from Brazil reiterates the fact that the respiratory muscles need adequate work to maintain sustained effective breathing in the sport of rugby.
The scientific study
This scientific study set about analysing the effects of high-intensity inspiratory muscle training (IMT) in 20 amateur rugby players. These players are from the city of Uberaba, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
For the trial, the amateur players undergo a pulmonary function test, respiratory muscle strength and physical capacity assessment. Researchers then split them into two groups: the IMT group and the control group, each consisting of 10 players. The study has approval from the Research Ethics Committee of the Federal University of Triângulo Mineiro under protocol no. 2398.
Rugby training & conditioning for the trial
During the trial, players begin training with a warm-up by jogging for 5-minutes. They then perform dynamic stretching of the major muscle groups. Following this, the researchers have the players simulate specific moves applied to the game of rugby to improve its fundamentals. These include such moves as passing, blocking, feinting and collective strategic moves. Ultimately, the training session ends with stretching.
Players in the Inspiratory Muscle Training group perform three weekly sessions of an inspiratory muscle training programme, using the POWERbreathe Plus, for 12 consecutive weeks. These sessions are supervised by a physiotherapist and a physical education professional.
The IMT group protocol
This group protocol consists of:
- 10 minutes’ stretching of the trunk muscles, upper and lower limbs
- 10-minute inspiratory warm-up by performing a full and vigorous inspiration through the POWERbreathe Plus IMT device
- A series of 30 repetitions using 80% of maximal inspiratory pressure using the POWERbreathe Plus IMT device. After the fourth training session, the level is increased.
The control group protocol
This group of 10 players perform the same protocol as above, except they do not perform the 30 repetitions of inspiratory muscle training using the POWERbreathe Plus.
Effects of high-intensity IMT in Rugby Players
Results show that the 12-week course of high-intensity POWERbreathe IMT provides significant increases in maximal voluntary ventilation (22%), maximum inspiratory pressure (38%), PEmax (32%), and distance travelled (13%) in the YoYo Test.
Also worthy of note is how physical capacity will be compromised if the respiratory system does not provide sufficient oxygen supply to satisfy the demands. Researchers explain that when the arrival of blood to the respiratory muscles decrease, it experiences fatigue and leads to lactic acid buildup. Consequently, this situation causes a decrease in the strength and resistance of the respiratory muscles.
Results of this trial suggest therefore that the POWERbreathe IMT training protocol provides beneficial, positive effects for rugby players.