Rugby Fitness: Recovery Protocols and the Science

MultipowerMatt Cross is the Head of Strength and Conditioning at Bond Fitness in Hertfordshire, and has put together a series of articles, sponsored by Multipower for The Rugby Blog. The first looks at how to warm down and recover after rugby.

As the season draws to a close and we all think of taking a couple of weeks away from the game, I start to think about my players and their recovery strategy. One question I get asked all the time by players that I train is how it is best to recover after a match and what strategy they should use? The other question I am often being asked is if any of the common recovery protocols employed actually speed up recovery or are they just a myth?

Performing a Cool Down

This is a simple, effective and often unenforced part of any post-game protocol. The cool down is the one recovery method where the supporting research greatly outweighs its negative research.

It should always start with a period of light activity that involves the use of multiple muscles and joints i.e. running. Recent research has suggested that this activity should be performed at different speeds and not just at steady state to further increase the lymphatic drainage and subsequently the removal of metabolic bi-products and to enhance the replenishment of energy. It also stops blood pooling, normalizes blood pressure and maintains a steady blood flow to the major muscle groups. After this, players should undertake a period of static stretching of the major muscle groups used during the game.

Post-Match Rugby Nutrition

This is without a doubt imperative to recovery and is a massive topic of debate which I will try to summarise briefly here. It is known that an optimal ratio of 4-part carbohydrate to 1-part protein should be consumed after a game within 30 minutes of playing (the time is important because after this the energy absorption of the muscle greatly reduces and carbohydrate cannot be used as readily). The small amount of protein will help the regeneration and repair of muscle tissue. Ideally the carbohydrate will be high on the glycemic index to further increase absorption rate.

It is also known that dehydration can lead to a massive drop in performance, but what people don’t often realise is that dehydration can greatly reduce the body’s ability to recover. This is one reason why alcohol is not recommended for consumption after a game. One easy way to check your hydration is to weigh yourself before and after the game and for every 1kg lost your should replenish with 1.5 litres of water.

Hopefully your weight won’t change too much because adequate hydration has been undertaken during the game. Finally we also need to replenish the electrolytes that have been lost through sweating; any good quality sports drink will do this. Supplementation can be effectively used to enhance recovery (this will be tackled in a separate article).

Ice Baths

Ice BathIce has long been an integral part in the treatment of injuries – as you can see from this image of Jason Leonard and Trevor Woodman, the kings of post-match. Rugby can produce a number of minor areas of tissue damage and joint inflammation that may not be immediately evident. Ice baths work because blood vessels become constricted, causing the displacement of blood from the muscles. Subsequent re-dilation of the blood vessels allow for new blood to return to the muscles assisting recovery. Research tells us that a temperature of between 5 and 10 degrees is the optimum range, and you should be completely immersed for a minimum of 5 minutes for a reasonable effect. Any less than this will not work!

Wearing Compression Garments

Compression clothing is claimed by its manufacturers to reduce muscle soreness after exercise, to increase circulation to the muscles and to enhance drainage of Creatine Kinase (an indicator of muscle tissue damage). In an example of a recent study using 23 elite rugby players Creatine Kinase levels were measured before and after a premiership rugby match. The levels were significantly reduced in the group that wore the compression garments against those that did not. Most research supports the use of compression garments; interestingly lower body compression wear seems to be more effective than upper body wear (maybe due to the larger muscle groups residing in the legs).

Vibration Training

Vibration training is a new idea to the realms of recovery and works along the same basis as self massage. The high frequencies rapidly contract and relax each muscle which has been suggested to lead to a high level of neural recovery. Other supporting articles claim that when stretching, vibration technology can increase muscle ROM by 5% – 10% and 95% of muscle fibres are activated during each stretch under vibration. This kind of training and recovery was used by the British and Irish lions in 2009. Many sceptics don’t believe in vibration training due to the current lack of research on the topic (although it is important to remember that research often runs behind), however new independent research currently looks promising.


Nothing scientific here! The sooner you stop to dwell on the result and switch off whether by listening to music, watching a film or otherwise, the quicker your psychological systems can recover. Rugby is a physical and fast-paced game that places considerable stress on the mental aspect of the body. Post-game relaxation is as effective for recovery as a pre-game ritual is for motivation

This is by no means an exhaustive list of recovery options available to players but is a list of some of the most common ones. If you have any questions or comments about the above protocols feel free to drop me a line at the email address below.

By Matt Cross

Multipower are the nutritional sponsors of Mark Cueto, RC Toulon and Leeds Carnegie. For Sports nutrition tailored to your individual needs visit Follow Multipower on Facebook at www.facebook/multipowersportsfooduk

Matt Cross is currently Head of Strength and Conditioning at Bond Fitness and is based in their bespoke performance centre in Hertfordshire. Matt works with elite athletes from many sporting disciplines that include rugby, football, golf and triathlon. He specialises in sport specific training, functional movement training and injury rehabilitation.

After playing rugby to a high standard himself Matt started his journey into the fitness industry by completing his BSc in sport & exercise science from Loughborough University and followed this by completing his MSc in sport & exercise medicine and rehabilitation from Exeter University. Matt has previous experience as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for premiership side Harlequins and also as fitness and nutritional consultant to teams within the RFU national league structure and invitational sevens teams on the global playing circuit. At only 24 Matt is considered well respected within the fitness industry and can be contacted personally at with regards to any queries, questions or training opportunities.

4 thoughts on “Rugby Fitness: Recovery Protocols and the Science

  1. Very good, useful article. Having said that, at a very amateur level it’s difficult to remain on the pitch for a cool down and especially to stay away from the bar!

    Look forward to more in this series.

  2. great article
    in my 30s now and recovery is becoming more imortant than ever!

    that ice bath is full of beer, why else would the fun bus be in there!

  3. nice to see an article like this that is well writen and about something that improves the wellbeing of players.

    Many people underestimate how important recovery is after a game and also after a long season!!

    Looking forward to more

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