How to optimise your rugby pre-season
An effective rugby pre-season requires careful planning, an understanding of the desired outputs and how to utilise valuable tools, like Blood Flow Restriction, to optimise recovery.
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Matt Daniels, Head of Strength and Conditioning, shares how St Helens rugby league team are using Blood Flow Restriction to gain an edge on their opponents.
In the Betfred Super League, matches come thick and fast. With a minimum of 29 games played over a seven-month period, teams need to maximise their entire squad to achieve success. Reigning champions – and current league leaders – St Helens have been using Hytro BFR wearables for the last two seasons to enhance their recovery between games, while also developing players’ strength and endurance.
“We’ve used BFR training sporadically for a number of years,” said Head of Strength and Conditioning, Matt Daniels. “However, in previous seasons such methods have been hard to employ team-wide. Now that we’re using Hytro BFR, we can cater for the entire squad. It’s simple to use and easy to distribute amongst players.”
Since becoming an official Hytro BFR training partner in 2021, St Helens have predominantly used BFR as part of their recovery protocol. Players have been given their own BFR wearables and are now self-sufficient in applying the straps. This gives them the freedom to use BFR whenever they like. “I’ve been using the shorts post-session and after matchday to flush my body of all waste materials,” commented second row Joe Batchelor. “It helps me to feel fresher the next day.”
Just 10-15 minutes of BFR is all that is needed to flush waste materials from the body, reduce inflammation and upregulate recovery hormones. Even simply strapping in on the coach home from a game can reduce muscle and joint pain by as much as 70%.
“Hytro has helped me to improve my recovery post-match,” added half back Jonny Lomax. “Strapping in after games has allowed me to recover faster and train harder throughout the week.”
So far this season, St Helens have reported increased player freshness and enhanced readiness to train. This has not only improved player availability for training and matches, but also allowed players to push harder in sessions to then achieve greater gains that maximise performance.
The day after each match, St Helens run a dedicated BFR session. This is split into three sections: first, players apply the BFR straps and perform active recovery. This is done using light resistance (just 30% of one rep max is enough), with typical exercises including trap bar deadlifts, kettlebell squats and landmine shoulder press. The following section adds an endurance element: players perform a single bout of 5 minutes of low-intensity cardio. This is typically performed on the Wattbike, rowing machine, treadmill or SkiErg. For the final section, players perform passive BFR recovery through low-level mobility and breathing techniques. In total, 15 minutes of BFR is performed across three sections.
Between each section, players unstrap to allow re-perfusion. This is where fresh blood and nutrients are pushed into the muscle cells and structural tissues (tendons and ligaments) while flushing out waste materials and inflammation.
And it isn’t just those who have played a game that benefit from BFR. Load-compromised and injured players are also prescribed BFR enabling them to train with intensity without loading their joints, supercharging the performance outcomes and accelerating rehabilitation. By allowing players to get the same benefits from lower resistance levels, load-compromised players can increase hypertrophy and reduce joint pain. Those who are injured, meanwhile, can strap in to enable muscle growth at an intensity that can be tolerated.
“Hytro has added a different dimension to our recovery,” concluded Daniels. “The players have really embraced it. Our continued use of Hytro BFR will only enhance the recovery protocols we already had in place.”
Follow St Helens’ journey this season and see if their use of Hytro BFR can drive them on to a tenth title.
Dr Warren Bradley, the founder of Hytro, joined Max Solomon of the Science for Sport Podcast to discuss the use of Blood Flow Restriction in elite sport. Dr Warren talks all about BFR, the science behind it and more.
After sustaining a back injury, professional rugby league player Charlie Willett was ruled out of the 2020/21 season. This year she has had to learn how to shift her mindset and practices to recover effectively with BFR and perform at her best.
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