Physiotherapist Josh Needham offers rugby players
ten top tips to staying injury-free this season

The sport of rugby is one of the most diverse in the world. There were crunching tackles, people sprinting at sprinters’ speeds, and players powerful enough to rival something from the world’s toughest competitions. It is truly an assault on everything our bodies are capable of and as you can imagine, we see rugby players a lot in sports physio.

Here we are going to take you through ten injury prevention tips on how to be as rugby ready as you can be this season.

The best place to start though is in understanding our body’s flight or fight response. Sports like rugby that involve high amounts of danger, impact and quick thinking, tap into our subconscious brain often way more than our conscious brains. Every collision subjected to our body results in it bracing itself and preparing itself for a response. It has to come up with a contingency plan. Fight? Or flight?

More often than not it is a fight. This means that our nervous system then creates a protection mechanism and it is often this protective mechanism that we need to resolve after the event. Pain is a great example of the body’s protection mechanism. If you receive blunt trauma during a game? Your body creates pain to protect the area. It is simple cause and effect. And rugby is guilty of this continually.

So here are our tips on how to help manage this, prevent issues and recover from problems when they occur.

Tip 1: Injury prevention is everything
If you prevent injuries from happening before they occur that is always the best place to be in. Having sufficient strength to support your joints is key. Having good coordination and balance is so important too. Being flexible as you’re thrown into different positions is vital. Yoga, albeit not something typically associated with Rugby, would be a great option to improve your balance, flexibility and also strength in key stabilising and supporting muscles.

Tip 2: Get strong legs
Our legs contain the biggest and strongest muscles our body has. It also contains the strongest and largest bones in our body. The femur (our thigh bone), for instance, can sustain forces 50 times our body weight! Ensuring our legs are strong are a great way of reducing injury because this is where a lot of the force in rugby is generated from and inflicted upon. Squats, and in particular deadlifts (think of the rucking position) are great ways to improve your leg strength for rugby.

Tip 3: Rest
As mentioned before rugby is an assault on the body. If you are going to limit your injury risk then you need sufficient rest in between training and matches. Your tissues need time to heal and replenish. Good sleep but also good active recovery strategies are so important. This brings us on to our next tip….

Tip 4: Ice
After any form of exercise, there are leftover chemicals left in our tissues. Toxins are by-products of exercise. These toxins and chemicals are left behind as a result of trauma too. So add the two together and you have a horrible concoction of pain, something rugby is rife for. Ice baths are common practice after games in rugby. This helps to reduce the effects of these toxins and help reduce inflammation in our tissues from the stress of exercise and the damage from all those brutal tackles.

Tip 5: Training workload
Manage your workload. As mentioned before we need strength training as part of our routine to be rugby ready. However, if your training week has too much accumulative load then you need to ease up. Be strategic of when you can do your strength training i.e. avoid 48 hours before a game or an intense drills session. Maybe plan any balance and stability work on days when you are sore from strength training or still recovering from a game.

Tip 6: Improve your balance and stability
As mentioned before plan balance and stability work into your training week. Every time you tackle someone or try and avoid a tackle, such a good level of balance and global coordination is required. Look at ways how you can improve your body’s ability to cope with its mass being asked to be in different positions and angles. As we’ve said before try a yoga class. Try standing on one leg on a Bosu-ball or trampoline. Try and hold a plank while a friend tries to push you out of it.

Tip 7: Core strength
Speaking of planks! We mentioned before about your mass. Your centre of gravity is rooted in your core. Your core’s ability to be able to cope with constant changes of direction, rotational forces and shock absorption, from external forces, is crucial. And sorry but sit-ups won’t cut it. Your core needs to be able to provide stability. Look at exercises that focus on static stability like planks. Or exercises that require a high amount of eccentric (lowering/lengthening) control like ab wheel outs.

Tip 8: Flexibility
Despite speed and power being the hallmarks of the sport, being flexible is surprisingly important. Whether it’s stretching a flailing arm to achieve a tap tackle on the guy destined for the line or getting head deep in the base of a ruck, so many aspects of rugby require incredible flexibility. Something which, because of big muscle bulk, strong but short muscles make much harder. Add stretching as part of your routine. Put it in before and after working out. Make sure you make it a key part of your recovery after games. Also, look at how you can get stronger in your end of range….

Tip 9: Don’t just lift massive weights
Yes, to create a big force, you need to have big powerful muscles, but you also need strength throughout the range. The sport of rugby requires you to work hard, in awkward and ever-changing positions, requiring an overall strength capacity. What is your overhead strength like for instance? Look at doing some Is, Ys and Ts for your shoulders and do some active hanging. In regards to your legs, when you squat and you rack up 150kg, great. But what can you squat when your bum has to go all the way to the floor? What is your overhead squat like?

Tip 10: Vary your training
As we’ve mentioned rugby challenges so many different aspects of your capability. This should be reflected in your training. So some days you might focus on 4-6 rep ranges and push for maximal strength gains. Some days you may leave your ego at the door and do less weight but challenge your strength endurance and do 15+ reps in a set. Include speed work, agility work. Include bodyweight training. Bodyweight training improves our muscle recruitment because we get more stimulation in our nervous system than from doing weights. It also helps improve your joint stability from surrounding muscle co-contraction. So make sure you get as much variety as possible!

As we’ve mentioned there are lots of things to factor in to be rugby ready. The key takeaway is to cover all bases. Train well. Recover well. Try and prevent problems before allowing them to occur.

If you would like more advice or to book a physiotherapy session or find a physiotherapist near me