During the week I was fortunate enough to speak with Wallabies strength and conditioning coach, Peter Harding. Harding joined the Wallabies last year after spending several years involved with the English Institute of Sport and various European Rugby teams including Clermont and London Irish.
Below is an outline of the training and fitness schedule for the Wallabies that will be the template for the entire season with the only adjustments being made for travel or fatigue issues.
Sunday – day after game
Team arrives to the city where the week’s game will be played around lunchtime. Players who were not involved in the prior test will also fly into the city that afternoon.
When everyone has assembled at the team’s hotel there will be a team meeting to outline what is going on for the week and then everyone is free for the evening to go their separate ways.
The team is very much still in the recovery phase however after 48 hours since the game, there is no problem with them getting back into some physical work.
These will be for players who may be a bit bashed up from the previous game or those who have on-going concerns.
Weights Sessions – Upper Body
This session is compulsory for the dirty dirties and the players who may not have had much involvement in the previous game. The session is optional for the starting XV and those who may still be feeling jaded from the previous game and generally there is around 20 players who attend this session.
Monday – p.m.
This session involves “touch footy” based games aimed at getting the players moving and working out any soreness from the weekend. This is a short, sharp session of around 30-35 minutes and also serves as a skills session for the players
“Most teams would do some sort of recovery on the Monday, a pool session or something, we just happen to think that it’s a good idea to also do a session that will benefit their footy skills as well”
Tuesday – a.m
Team named but not released to the media until the afternoon.
Full training session – the Wallabies toughest session for the week.
This session is referred to by Harding as the “full metal jacket rugby session” and involves the whole squad. This session sets the Wallabies up for the week and this is where the hard physical work is done.
“We grade this session in terms of intensity depending on where we are in the cycle. For the game last week (the Baa-Baa’s game) we had to do a fair bit of work leading into that game so some of the players may have felt a bit fatigued going into that game, but it’s not a problem, once the adrenalin takes over, the players are fine”
Tuesday – p.m
Once again this is an all-in session with the players who missed the optional weights session the day before doing a whole body workout, while the players who did the upper body session on the Monday now concentrate on lower body strength work.
A day off for the team except for the non-selected players who will do a pretty tough fitness session in the morning.
Harding says this is the best way to set up the week in terms of getting the balance right between the hard session on the Tuesday and the vital training session on the Thursday.
“A lot of teams will train three days in a row, I know the English do and I couldn’t convince them otherwise. This is the best way to set up the week because it gives you time in between the hard sessions on the Tuesday and the rugby session on the Thursday, which is vitally important in terms of putting your game plan in place. The player’s aren’t tired this way”
Thursday – a.m.
This is a full rugby session without the same fitness aspects as the Tuesday session. As mentioned, this is where aspects of the game plan are practiced and refined.
The session I saw went from 8.30 am until 11.00 and the players were certainly getting stuck in, I asked Harding if the length of these sessions would be brought back as the season progresses.
“You’d hope not, if you look at the schedule, there’s enough time off to get over that sort of stuff. Different if we’re travelling, when we go to Cape Town for instance, that session might be bought back, same when we go to England. When we go to Japan we should be right to go right through as we are not going across time zones”
“We’ll be assessing that as we go and we’ll also be looking at what’s in front of us, we look at fatigue monitoring and if we detect something then we might lessen the session time wise” said Harding
Power-up weight session
This is a new session the Wallabies have implemented this year after taking a more traditional approach to their late week weight session last season. The session is done straight after the training run on the Thursday and revolves around dynamic movement rather than power.
Again, as with most things the Wallabies seem to do in training, it is based on competition, with the players split into groups and the results recorded.
So what’s a power-up session…Harding explains.
“We’ve got monitors that measure the speed of the (weight) bar, how fast the bar moves, how much power is generated. We put a certain percentage of weight on the bar, we make it uniform, around 30 % (of their normal lifting weight). Then we just try to move the bar as fast as possible, we don’t do a lot of work, but it just sparks the nervous system up. It’s fun, we put them into teams they compete against each other, it’s a good little session we’ve got going.”
“We’ve only just started this, we took a more traditional approach last year but this is definitely the way to go so we’re just changing some cultural things”
Thursday – p.m.
Thursday afternoon is free as most players will generally have sponsor engagements etc and the players who aren’t required for that weekend’s test, break camp and head back for club duty.
Friday – a.m.
If the previous four days have gone to plan, this is in no way a heavy session and is used more as a leg-stretcher for the players.
Wallaby Captain Stirling Mortlock provided some insight into the Captain’s Run and what the benefits of it were.
“The beauty of the Captain’s Run, if the preparation has been good, is that you really don’t have to do too much. It’s more about getting out to the ground and getting the guys a bit more familiar with the ground and knowing the environment they will face the next day, and having our ritual game of touch football!”
Friday – p.m.
Players have the afternoon off and use this time to get out and away from intensity of the team environment and refresh.
Saturday – game day
There is nothing formally organised for the team during the day apart from a couple of get-together sessions at 11.00 am and 3.00 pm to throw the footy around and do something rather than sitting in their rooms. These are not compulsory and in no way are they part of a structured preparation in terms of compulsory attendance.
The players will gather around 5.45 for their journey to the ground and then the actual game preparations being.
“They’re just normal people, we try to keep it as normal as possible so they don’t think about the game all day. If you were at home and playing a home game you wouldn’t show up to the ground until an hour and a half or so before the game, it’s the same here, we try to keep it so they have a normal day” reasoned Harding
Recovery is a critical part of the week, particularly during this period when there a test matches every weekend. While some players have different preferences for their recovery methods, Peter Harding outlines what he believes are the ‘non-negotiables’.
“Everybody will either bike or ice-bath, some people will hot and cold but I’m not really sure that works, nobody really knows whether that works or not”
“Freezing them in a cold pool for 10 minutes really does help bruises or anything that’s going on. Sitting on a bike for 10 minutes for the tight-five really frees up their legs and makes sure things are moving around after the game and then chuck them in an ice bath”
“Then it’s back to the Hotel for a feed. When you talk about recovery, the two most important things are sleep and food, everything else is peripheral”
So that’s it, the week as a Wallaby.